Gloria Patri is an ancient Christian doxology sung by many churches even today. In English, it goes like this:
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be,
World without end.
What is meant by Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost? Are they praising three gods? No, they are praising one God in three Persons.
This line from another hymn says it well:
Jehovah! Father, Spirit, Son! Mysterious Godhead! Three in One!
This is the God whom Christians worship—the triune Jehovah.
Although the term ‘revealed mystery’ sounds strange, the Trinity is a revealed mystery, and this is the heart of Christian faith in God.
Trinitas is a Latin word meaning threeness.
Christianity rests on the doctrine of the trinitas, the threeness, the tri-personality, of God.
People think that just because the doctrine of the Trinity is mysterious, you can get on with the Christian life without bothering about the theology behind it. The way churches have handled this doctrine seems to reflect this kind of thinking.
The Church of England prescribes 13 times for the Athanasian Creed to be recited in public worship. (Now the Athanasian Creed is the classic statement of the doctrine of the Trinity.)
But it is rare to hear the Athanasian Creed recited on any of these days,
The average Anglican clergyman never preaches on the Trinity, except perhaps on Trinity Sunday.
As for the average non-Anglican minister—he probably never preaches on the Trinity at all.
I wonder what Apostle John would say about our practice.
For according to him the doctrine of the Trinity is an essential part of the Christian gospel.
In the previous chapter GOD INCARNATE, we saw how John introduces the Son in the prologue to his gospel.
In the opening sentences of his gospel, He introduces us to the mystery of two separate Persons in the unity of the Godhead.
No doubt, this is the deep end of the theology swimming pool. But it does not stop John from throwing us straight into the deep end.
“In the beginning was the Word,” | The Word is eternal
“and the Word was with God,” | The Word is a Person in fellowship with God
“and the Word was God.” | The Word is divine
Putting it all together, this is what John conveys in those first sentences of his gospel—that the Word is a Person who is Himself personally and eternally divine.
John goes on to tell us that He, Jesus the Word, was the only Son of the Father.
John sets this mystery of one God in two persons at the top of his gospel—because he knows that nobody can make head or tail of the words and works of Jesus of Nazareth—till they have grasped the fact that this Jesus is in truth God the Son.
But John did not stop with just explaining about the two Persons of the Godhead. He had more to say about the plurality in the Godhead than that. So in John’s account of the Lord’s last talk with His disciples, he tells us how the Savior explained that He was going to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house and then promised that they would receive the gift of “another Comforter”
And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may be with you for ever (Jn 14:16).
Note this phrase Comforter. It is so full of meaning. It is talking about a Person, and a remarkable Person too. You can see the richness of the idea behind the word by looking at the way different Bible versions have translated it.
– “Counselor” (RSV),
– “Helper” (Moffatt),
– “Advocate” (Weymouth),
– One “to befriend you” (Knox).
So, we can see that this word conveys thoughts of encouragement, support, assistance, care, and being responsible for someone else’s welfare.
Another Comforter—yes, because Jesus was their original Comforter, and the newcomer’s task was to continue this side of His ministry.
So, to be able to appreciate all that our Lord meant when He spoke of “another Comforter,” we will need to look back at all that He Himself had done by way of love, care, patient instruction, and provision for the disciples’ well-being, during His own three years of personal ministry to them.
In effect, Jesus was saying: “The Comforter will care for you in the way that I have cared for you.”
This Comforter was truly going to be a remarkable Person!
Our Lord went on to name the new Comforter.
even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. (Jn 14:17)
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (Jn 14:26)
This name Spirit denoted deity.
In the Old Testament, God’s word and God’s Spirit are parallel figures.
God’s word is His almighty speech. | God’s Spirit is His almighty breath.
Both phrases convey the thought of His power in action.
The speech and the breath of God appear together in the record of creation.
“The Spirit [breath] of God was hovering over the waters. And God said . . . and there was. . . ”(Gen 1:2-3).
“By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath [Spirit] of His mouth” (Ps 33:6).
John told us in the prologue to his gospel that the divine Word spoken of here is a Person.
Our Lord now gives parallel teaching, to the effect that the divine Spirit is also a Person.
And Jesus confirms His witness of the fact—that this personal Spirit is deity (is God)—by calling Him the holy Spirit, as later He was going to be speaking of the holy Father.
And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, which You have given Me, that they may be one, even as We are one. (Jn 17:11).
John’s gospel shows us how Christ connected—
– the Spirit’s mission (on the one hand)
– to the will and purpose of the Father and the Son (on the other hand).
John shows us two ways of understanding this.
Firstly: The Father will send the Spirit just as He sent the Son.
The Father sent the Son as—
– the Father’s Agent to do the Father’s works
– the Father’s Spokesman
– the Father’s Witness
– the Father’s Ambassador
Jesus told His disciples that in a similar way, the Father would send the Spirit, and the Spirit would come in Jesus’ name.
The Spirit would act in the world as—
– Jesus’ Deputy with Jesus’ authority to do Jesus’ will
– Jesus’ Witness
When the Son’s mission was done, the Father would then recall Him to glory and send the Spirit to take His place.
The Son sent by the Father—
“. . .Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:23).
The Spirit to be sent in Jesus’ name, just as Jesus was sent in the Father’s name—
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My (Jesus’) name . . .” (Jn 14:26).
“I (Jesus) have come in My Father’s name . . .” (John 5:43),
The Son as the Father’s Agent to do the Father’s works—
– For I (Jesus) have not spoken on My own authority, but the Father who sent Me has Himself given Me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that His commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told Me.” (John 12:49-50),
– Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name bear witness about Me.” (John 10:25)
– “I (Jesus) glorified You (the Father) on earth, having accomplished the work that You gave Me to do.” (John 17:4)
– While I (Jesus) was with them (the disciples), I kept them in Your name, which you have given Me. I have guarded them . . .(John 17:12)
The Spirit to proceed from the Father, just as the Son came from the Father—
“But when the Helper comes, whom I (Jesus) will send to you (the disciples) from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me.” (John 15:26)
“I (Jesus) came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.” (John 16:28)
Secondly: The Son will send the Spirit from the Father.
As the Father sent the Son into the world, so the Son will send the Spirit into the world.
“But when the Helper comes, whom I (Jesus) will send to you (the disciples) from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me.” (John 15:26).
“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I (Jesus) go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.” (John 16:7).
Thus we have the following set of relationships:
– 1. The Son is under the authority of the Father—because the Father sent the Son.
– 2. The Spirit is under the authority of the Father—because the Father sent the Spirit (in the Son’s name).
– 3. The Spirit is under the authority of the Son as well as the Father—because, as we have seen in the previous point, the Spirit was sent in Jesus’ name. Another indication that the Spirit is under the authority of the Son is that Jesus breathed on the disciples and told them to receive the Holy Spirit.
And when He (Jesus) had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit (Jn 20:22).
From what Jesus disclosed to the disciples about the mystery of the Trinity, John tells us—
– that there were three Persons,
– that there was one God,
– that the Son did the will of the Father, and
– that the Spirit did the will of both the Father and the Son.
John also stresses that—
That the Spirit comes to Christ’s disciples as a Comforter in the place of Christ.
And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may be with you for ever (Jn 14:16).
– The ministry of Christ the Comforter was important, so the ministry of the Holy Spirit the Comforter is important too.
– The work that Christ did matters to the church, and so the work that the Spirit does also matters to the church.
The Ignored Member of the Trinity—Divine Yet Ignored
We have just said that the ministry and work of the Holy Spirit is as important as the ministry and work of Jesus. But in practice—whether you look at today’s church or whether you look in church history—you will find the Second Person and the Third Person of the Trinity treated differently from each other.
|In the church, Christians have constantly debated the person and work of Christ.||In the church, Christians have largely ignored the person and work of the Holy Spirit.|
The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is the Cinderella of Christian doctrines. Comparatively few people seem to be interested in it.
|Many excellent books have been written on the person and work of Christ.||Very few books, worth reading, have been written on the person and work of the Holy Spirit, even in this charismatic era.|
|The average Christian has no doubt about the work that Christ did. They know that He redeemed us by His atoning death—even if they differ among themselves as to what exactly this involved.||The average Christian, deep down, is in a complete fog as to what work the Holy Spirit does:|
– Some talk of the Spirit of Christ in the same way they would speak of the spirit of Christmas—as a vague pious-sounding word to be used in friendly conversation.
– Some think of the Spirit—as something that inspires people with moral convictions like we would say Gandhi was inspired, or something that inspires people with mystical ideas like we would say Rudolf Steiner of the Theosophical Society was inspired.
– But most do not think of the Holy Spirit at all, and have no clue about what He does. For all practical purposes, they are in the same position as the disciples who Paul met at Ephesus who told him—“We have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” (Acts 19:2).
|Christians know what what difference it would make, if there had never been an incarnation or an atonement. They know that if Jesus had not died for their sins, they would be lost, and that they would have no Saviour.||But many Christians have really no idea what difference it would make if there were no Holy Spirit in the world. They have no idea, whether in that case they would suffer in any way, or if the church, would suffer in any way.|
It is amazing that those who profess to care so much about Christ should know and care so little about the Holy Spirit?
Surely something is wrong here. How can we justify neglecting the ministry of Christ’s appointed Agent in this way?
Is it not a hollow fraud to say that we honour Christ when we ignore the Holy Spirit? Are we not dishonouring Christ when we dishonour the One whom Christ has sent to us as His Deputy, to take His place and care for us on His behalf?
Should we not then pay more attention to the Holy Spirit than we do?
The Importance of the Spirit’s Work
But is the work of the Holy Spirit really important?
Yes, it is important!
If it were not for the work of the Holy Spirit there would be—
– no gospel,
– no faith,
– no church, and
– no Christianity in the world at all.
Firstly, without the Holy Spirit there would be no gospel and no New Testament.
When Christ left the world, He committed His cause to His disciples. He made them responsible for going and making disciples of all the nations.
In the upper room, before He was crucified, Jesus said:
“And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” (Jn 15:27)
Again, His parting words to them on the Mount of Olives, just before His ascension were:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
So, we see that the disciples were given the task of being witnesses for Jesus. But what sort of witnesses were they likely to become?
– They had never been good pupils,
– They had consistently failed to understand Christ, and
– They had missed the point of His teaching throughout His earthly ministry.
How could they be expected to do better now, considering that He was not even with them?
It was pretty certain that, even if the disciples wanted to do their best, they were sure to get the truth of the gospel totally mixed up with a lot of well-meant misconceptions.
And their witness would soon become a twisted, jumbled, hopeless mess.
But did their witness turn into a hopeless mess?
It did not happen that way at all, because Christ sent the Holy Spirit to them—
– to teach them all truth, and by this to save them from all error,
– to remind them of what they had been taught already, and
– to reveal to them the rest of what their Lord wanted them to learn.
The Holy Spirit would convey to the disciples whatever Jesus instructed Him to convey.
The Holy Spirit would be Jesus’ Mouthpiece.
“The Counselor … will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (Jn 14:26).
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take what is Mine and declare it to you.” (Jn 16:12-14)
This is similar to how Jesus spoke only what the Father commanded Him to speak.
The Holy Spirit would be Jesus’ Messenger, just as Jesus was the Fathers’ Messenger.
“For I (Jesus) have not spoken on My own authority, but the Father who sent Me has Himself given Me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that His commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told Me.” (Jn 12:49-50)
“For I (Jesus) have given them the words that You (the Father) gave Me, and they (the disciples) have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from You; and they have believed that you sent Me . . . I have given them Your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” (Jn 17:8,14)
The promise was that the Holy Spirit would testify and then the disciples would testify.
“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me (to you, My disciples, to whom I send Him) and (when you have been equipped by Him and enabled by His testifying work) . . . you also must testify . . . (Jn 15:26-27)
The promise was that the Holy Spirit would teach these original disciples. And after this, they would be enabled to become mouthpieces for Christ.
In this way—
just as the Old Testament prophets had been able to introduce their sermons with the words, “Thus saith the LORD Jehovah,”
the New Testament apostles would also be able to say with the same authority, “Thus saith the Lord Jesus Christ” of their teaching, both oral and written.
Paul explains that the apostles’ teaching and the matters to do with salvation in Christ were taught to the apostles by the Holy Spirit, and did not occur to them by human wisdom.
But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words both oral and written not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit . . . (1 Cor 2:9-13)
The Spirit testified to the apostles by revealing to them all truth and by inspiring them to communicate it truthfully and accurately.
This is how the gospel came to us.
And this is how the New Testament came to us.
Without the Holy Spirit, the world would have had neither the gospel nor the New Testament. But this is not all.
Secondly, without the Holy Spirit there would be no faith and no new birth—In short, no Christians
In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Cor 4:4).
The light of the gospel shines. But unbelievers cannot see that light.
Unbelievers are blinded by the devil, and blind people do not respond to the stimulus of light.
Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (Jn 3:3)
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (Jn 3:5)
Christ told Nicodemus, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” Notice that Jesus talks about “seeing” the kingdom of God in Verse 3, although when He explains it again in Verse 5, He speaks about “entering” the kingdom of God.
Our longing is for men and women to enter the kingdom, but without the new birth, unbelievers cannot even see it.
Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. (Jn 3:11)
Jesus, on behalf of Himself and His disciples, tells Nicodemus: “You people do not accept our testimony”
Jesus was not singling out Nicodemus when He said this. Nicodemus belonged to the class of religious people who were not born again, and this diagnosis of Jesus applied to them all.
If someone is unregenerate or not born again, the unavoidable consequence is unbelief.
Just by itself, the gospel produces no conviction in those who are unregenerate, because unbelief holds them firmly.
What happens next?
Should we conclude that preaching the gospel is a waste of time?
Should we write off evangelism as a hopeless operation that is destined to fail?
No, because the Spirit lives with the church to testify—to bear witness—of Christ.
How does the Holy Spirit testify of Christ?
To the apostles,
He testified by revealing and inspiring.
As we have seen, He taught them and helped them to remember Jesus’ words and inspired them to write the New Testament.
To the rest of us, down the ages,
He testifies by illuminating.
By illuminating we mean—that the Spirit opens blinded eyes. When that happens, spiritual vision is restored, and finally sinners are able to see that the gospel is indeed God’s truth, and that Scripture is indeed God’s Word, and that Christ is indeed God’s Son.
“When He [the Spirit] comes,” our Lord promised, “He will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn 16:8).
It is not for us to imagine that we can prove the truth of Christianity by our own arguments.
Nobody can prove the truth of Christianity except the Holy Spirit, and He does this by His own almighty work of renewing blind hearts.
It is the sovereign prerogative of Christ’s Spirit whether to convince someone’s conscience of the truth of Christ’s gospel or not.
And when we share the gospel, what must we ground our hopes of success on?
NOT ON MAN’S clever presentation of the truth.
BUT ON THE HOLY SPIRIT’S powerful demonstration of truth. We must look for the Holy Spirit to powerfully demonstrate the truth to the unbeliever.
Paul points the way here:
“When I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom . . . My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Cor 2:1-5)
So, because the Spirit bears witness in this way, people come to faith when the gospel is preached.
But without the Spirit there would not be a single Christian in the world.
Our Proper Response
Do we honor the Holy Spirit by recognising His work and relying on His work? Or do we insult Him by ignoring the work of the Holy Spirit? If we do that, we not only dishonor the Holy Spirit, but also the Lord who sent Him?
Honouring the Holy Spirit in our faith:
Do we really really believe that it is God Himself speaking to us in the Bible?
Do we acknowledge the authority of the Bible—the prophetic Old Testament and the apostolic New Testament—which the Holy Spirit has inspired?
Do we read and hear it with the reverence and receptiveness that the Word of God deserves?
If not, we dishonor the Holy Spirit.
Honouring the Holy Spirit in our life:
Do we live recognising that God’s Word is absolutely true?
Do we apply the authority of the Bible in our lives, knowing that what God has said He certainly means—and He will stand behind it?
Do we live by the Bible whatever anyone may say against it?
If not, we dishonor the Holy Spirit, who gave us the Bible.
Honouring the Holy Spirit in our witness:
Only the Holy Spirit, by His witness, can authenticate our witness.
Do we remember this?
Do we look to the Holy Spirit to authenticate our witness by His witness?
Do we trust Him to do so, and show the reality of our trust, as Paul did, by staying far away from the gimmicks of human cleverness?
If not, we dishonor the Holy Spirit.
Without a doubt, we can say that the life of the church today is so barren, because we are under God’s judgment for the way in which we have dishonored the Holy Spirit.
And, in that case, how can we hope for the church to be restored unless we learn to honour the Holy Spirit—
– in our thinking
– in our praying, and
– in our practice.
“He shall testify . . . ” (John 15:26)
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev 2:7,11,17,29 & 3:6,13,22)