I just finished a three-month sermon series on the Holy Spirit, and surprisingly, preaching the Holy Spirit was a far more difficult task than I imagined that it would be. In preparation, I read John Owen’s magisterial work on The Holy Spirit, quite a bit of George Smeaton’s The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and a few chapters from Abraham Kuyper’s The Work of the Holy Spirit, and none of these authors had any shortage of things to say. I am certainly not at the level of these giants, but I reference their works to demonstrate that my problem wasn’t a lack of material.
The problem was more that, as I prepared to preach the Holy Spirit, I felt a continual pull toward preaching Christ. If I ignored the impulse, I felt that was losing the gospel; however, if I embraced the impulse, I felt that I was losing the sermon’s focus on the Holy Spirit.
So, on the far side of preaching the Holy Spirit, then, I resonate strongly with this blog post from Jeremy Walker at Reformation21 on “The humility and jealousy of the Holy Spirit“:
Then the oldest brother stood, a man who remembered what it was to have the Lord God of heaven and earth draw near, in this particular way, to his creatures in mercy and grace. He gently corrected his fellows. “What we need,” he said, “is not sermons on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is not pleased to bless such. What we need is sermons on the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then the Spirit of Christ will come, for he delights to glorify Christ, to take of what is his and declare it to men.”
In the last few weeks I somewhere read something brief about jealousy for the Holy Spirit. Now, do not misunderstand me: I do not, by any means, wish to dismiss or neglect God the Spirit. He is truly God in himself and ought to be worshipped and honoured as such. But what is his particular work? While we often speak, and rightly, of the humiliation of the Son, how much do we consider the humility of the Holy Spirit, who – himself being God and worthy of divine praise and glory – makes it his particular work not to draw attention to himself, but to throw the divine spotlight upon the being and doing of the incarnate Son, through whom alone we know the Father and enjoy the blessings of the Spirit?
I feel that I have also personally experienced the Holy Spirit’s jealousy for Christ and humility as I preached this past summer. In a new way, I desire to preach nothing other than Christ and him crucified, feeling a fresh prompting directly from the Holy Spirit himself to do so. Now, this isn’t a completely new thought, as the entire premise of the sermon series was that the Holy Spirit does not do anything rogue, off on his own, but he rather applies the work that Jesus Christ has accomplished–see my earlier blog post on the subject here. I had to wrestle with this concept through preaching, though, before I could really feel the weight of that idea.
But at the same time, I take new joy in worshiping the Holy Spirit, particularly for his divine condescension (as John Owen puts it) to submit to the authority of the Father and the Son who send him to us, even though the Holy Spirit is in every way equal with the Father and the Son in regard to his divinity. Owen writes:
There is in it [the mission of the Holy Ghost], in a most special manner, the condescension of the Holy Ghost, in his love to us, to the authoritative delegation of Father and Son in this business; which argues not a disparity, dissimilitude, or inequality of essence, but of office, in this work. (Communion with God, p. 356)
Thus, Owen writes, Jesus explains that blasphemy against the Spirit is the only unpardonable sin because (1) the Holy Spirit is fully God; and (2) the Holy Spirit condescends to act on behalf of all the members of the Trinity as he applies the accomplished work of Jesus to sinners:
Hence is the sin against the Holy Ghost (what it is I do not now dispute) unpardonable, and has that adjunct of rebellion put upon it that no other sin has–namely, because he comes not, he acts not, in his own name only, though in his own also, but in the name and authority of the Father and Son, from and by whom he is sent; and therefore, to sin against him is to sin against all the authority of God, all the love of the Trinity, and the utmost condescension of each person the work of our salvation. (Communion with God, p. 357)
And so Owen pleads with us not to grieve the Holy Spirit, but to pursue holiness on account of his love:
‘The Holy Ghost, in his infinite love and kindness towards me, has condescended to be my comforter; he does it willingly, freely, powerfully. What have I received from him! In the multitude of my perplexities how has he refreshed my soul! Can I live one day without his consolations? And shall I be regardless of him in that wherein he is concerned? Shall I grieve him by negligence, sin, and folly? Shall not his love constrain me to walk before him to all well-pleasing?’ (Communion with God, p. 416)
In Christian worship (including Christian preaching), there is a magnificent balance where, on the one hand, we are absolutely called to love and worship the Holy Spirit with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, for the Holy Spirit is fully God. But, on the other hand, as we love, worship, and adore the Holy Spirit, he continually points us back to Jesus Christ the Lord, who reveals to us the glory of God the Father.
This tension is simple enough to describe; however, the glory and humility of the Holy Spirit is something absolutely magnificent to experience.