The Holy Spirit is one of the most mysterious aspects of Christian faith. Yet belief in and about the Spirit has been central to life and doctrine for the two-thousand-year history of the church. While there has been plenty of disagreement, there is a rather constant witness that God, through His Spirit, continues to dwell in the midst of his people, empowering and enlightening.
Bringing together classic (before 1950) and contemporary (after 1950) readings on the Spirit poses certain challenges requiring certain decisions. So the reader might be interested in some of the criteria.
Since a large part of the purpose of this volume is to introduce the reader to the breadth of the tradition and to bring that tradition into conversation with more current material, the readings are divided pretty evenly between those before and after 1950. Some attempt has been made to cover a wide spectrum of history in the pre-1950 readings.
Much of the material from the first five hundred years is controversial, trying to establish the divinity of the Spirit. Due to its ancient nature and purpose, it is often thick reading, but important things are being said, and brief excerpts from those readings are included here.
As I have come to the more contemporary readings, I have chosen the more accessible and inspiring readings, as opposed to the heavier theological treatises (though you will find a Barth reading), which do not lend themselves to brief excerpting.
I also have chosen not to engage the debates between those who believe in current miraculous manifestations of the Spirit and those who do not, since those debates are complex and brief excerpts could not possibly present the writers fairly. You will find writers here who represent all the possible positions.
In the end the final goal is to encourage the reader to walk “not according to the worldly nature but according to the Spirit,” to open us to the mysterious and wondrous presence of God that leads us into transformed lives in very concrete ways, to be fit dwelling places for the King of Kings, to indeed be filled with the Spirit.
I believe not only that the Holy Spirit is truly God with the Father and the Son, but also that no one can come in and to the Father through Christ and his life, suffering, death, and all that is said about him, nor obtain any of this without the work of the Holy Spirit. With him the Father and the Son stir, awaken, call and beget me and all who are his. Through and in Christ he makes us alive, holy and spiritual, and so brings us to the Father, for he is the one by whom the Father works and makes everything alive through Christ and in Christ.
I believe that there is on earth (as wide as the world is) no more than one, holy, universal, Christian Church, which is nothing other than the community or assembly of saints—devout, believing persons on earth—which is gathered, kept and ruled by the same Holy Spirit and grows daily in the sacraments and God’s Word.
I believe that no one can be saved who is not found in this community, harmoniously holding with it one faith, Word, sacraments, hope and love . . . no sinner will be saved with it unless reconciled to it, united and become one in all things.
I believe that in this community (or Christianity) all things are in common, and one’s own goods belong to others and no one has anything of his own. Therefore, all prayers and good works of the whole community come to help and must stand by and strengthen me and each individual believer at all times in life and death, and so each one bears another’s burdens as St. Paul teaches.
I believe that there is in this community and nowhere else the forgiveness of sin, and that outside of it there is no good work (no matter how much or great) that can help to make possible the forgiveness of sin. But in it nothing can harm (no matter how much, great or often one may sin) the forgiveness of sin, which remains where and as long as this one community remains, to which Christ gave the keys. . . .
I believe that there is in the future a resurrection of the dead in which all flesh (that is, all persons still in the body or flesh, devout or evil) will be raised again by the same Holy Spirit, so that even the same flesh that died, was buried, decayed and perished in different ways, will come again and become alive.
I believe that after the resurrection there will be an eternal life for the saints and eternal death for sinners, and without any doubt, the Father through the Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, with and in the Holy Spirit, will let this part all happen to me. Amen, that is, this is surely and certainly true.
MARTIN LUTHER (1483–1546), a professor of Scripture at the University of Wittenberg in Germany, sparked the Protestant Reformation when he posted his “Ninety-Five Theses” in October 1517. His most influential works include The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, The Freedom of the Christian Man, his world-renowned hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” and the first German translation of the New Testament. Biography: Roland Bainton, Here I Stand (1950).
How does one know the voice of God? Willard says God has a certain identifiable Spirit that helps us discern His voice. RH
The voice of God speaking in our souls also bears within itself a characteristic spirit. It is a spirit of exalted peacefulness and confidence, of joy, of sweet reasonableness and of goodwill. It is, in short, the spirit of Jesus, and by that phrase I refer to the overall tone and internal dynamics of his personal life as a whole.
Those who had seen Jesus had truly seen the Father, who shared the same Spirit. It is this Spirit that marks the voice of God in our hearts. Any word that bears an opposite spirit most surely is not the voice of God. And because his voice bears authority within itself, it does not need to be loud or hysterical.
Bob Mumford has a vivid illustration of this point. One day the voice of God spoke to him when he was in Colombia, South America, and very distinctly said, “I want you to go back to school.” His description of this experience brings out the quality and spirit of the voice:
It couldn’t have been any clearer if my wife had spoken the words right next to me. It was spoken straight and strong and right into my spirit. It wasn’t a demanding, urgent voice. If it had been, I would immediately have suspected the source to be someone or something other than the Lord. The vocal impression was warm, but firm. I knew it was the Lord.
The sweet, calm spirit of God’s voice carries over to the lives of those who speak with his voice: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy” (James 3:17). If we would only heed this statement, we would never lack for sure knowledge of who speaks for God and who does not.
DALLAS WILLARD (1935– ) is professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California. His writings, especially The Spirit of the Disciplines, helped pioneer the recovery of the spiritual disciplines in our times. His recent writings include The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God and Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ.
The Holy Spirit is one with Father and Son. He has all of their divine characteristics. RH
Likewise we believe also in one Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life: Who proceedeth from the Father and resteth in the Son: the object of equal adoration and glorification with the Father and Son, since He is co-essential and co-eternal: the Spirit of God, direct, authoritative, the fountain of wisdom, and life, and holiness: God existing and addressed along with Father and Son: uncreated, full, creative, all-ruling, all-effecting, all-powerful, of infinite power, Lord of all creation and not under any lord: deifying, not deified: filling, not filled: shared in, not sharing in: sanctifying, not sanctified: the intercessor, receiving the supplications of all: in all things like to the Father and Son: proceeding from the Father and communicated through the Son, and participated in by all creation, through Himself creating, and investing with essence and sanctifying, and maintaining the universe: having subsistence, existing in its own proper and peculiar subsistence, inseparable and indivisible from Father and Son, and possessing all the qualities that the Father and Son possess, save that of not being begotten or born. For the Father is without canst and unborn: for He is derived from nothing, but derives from Himself His being, nor does He derive a single quality from another. Rather He is Himself the beginning and cause of the existence of all things in a definite and natural manner. But the Son is derived from the Father after the manner of generation, and the Holy Spirit likewise is derived from the Father, yet not after the manner of generation, but after that of procession. And we have learned that there is a difference between generation and procession, but the nature of that difference we in no wise understand. Further, the generation of the Son from the Father and the procession of the Holy Spirit are simultaneous.
All then that the Son and the Spirit have is from the Father, even their very being: and unless the Father is, neither the Son nor the Spirit is. And unless the Father possesses a certain attribute, neither the Son nor the Spirit possesses it.
JOHN OF DAMASCUS (676–754) is described in the one extant writing concerning him as a pristine, devoted Christian, untouched by the evils he was surrounded by. Also, he is said to have been a phenomenal student in a wide range of subjects. He was the chief counselor of Damascus and was well known for his defense of the Christian usage of icons. His most important work is probably his Concerning the Orthodox Faith, which has been seen as authoritative in the Eastern and Western churches.