History of the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit
June 6th, 1965 @ 8:15 AM
HISTORY OF THE DOCTRINE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-6-65 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the third in a series of messages on the Holy Spirit. The series will continue for a long, long time. Somebody has asked me, “Do you think that you will continue preaching on the Holy Spirit through the summer?” I said, “I would suppose that this time next year I will still be preparing and delivering these messages on the Holy Spirit.” I do not know how long it will continue, but I have it in my soul to study and to present these messages until all of us—and that includes your pastor—until all of us come into a powerful knowledge of the presence of the Spirit of God. There is so very much that I have already learned, and there is almost an unfathomable and illimitable sea that is yet to be explored and gloriously to be experienced.
Now these three sermons––and I could hope that I will finish the one today––these three sermons, the two already delivered and the one at this hour, concerns the historical background of the doctrine of the Holy Comforter. And we have taken as a background text John 14:16, “I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another paraklēte, even the Spirit of truth; that He may abide with you for ever” [John 14:16-17].
And the thought has been, if the Lord says that the Holy Spirit of God is to be poured out upon us––which took place at Pentecost [Acts 2:1-4]––and that He will abide with us for ever [John 14:16], then the Holy Spirit has been in this world from Pentecost through all of the centuries following and will be unto the consummation of the age. If therefore the Holy Spirit, poured out at Pentecost, has been with us through the centuries following, we have a record of those centuries. It is a part of the ecclesiastical history of the world, and we can follow it. We can see it on the pages of history. And that is what we are now doing. We are following the story of the presence, and power, and doctrine, and movement of the Holy Spirit from the day of Pentecost until this present hour.
Beginning in the apostolic age, and then in the age of the Christological controversies, these resulted in the apostolic creed, the Apostles’ Creed. A creed came into being because of a controversy, and the people of the Lord sought to write out what they believed, succinctly, briefly, clearly. And all of those ancient creeds are very short and very concise.
There was the first one, the Apostles’ Creed. Then after several centuries of conflict, in 325 [AD] there was written the Nicene Creed, the gathering of all of the representatives of the church in a little place called Nicaea in Asia Minor. And that eventuated in one of the famous creeds of all time. But in the Apostles’ Creed and in the Nicene Creed, there was nothing other than just an avowal: “We believe in the Holy Ghost.” After the Nicene Creed, which was written in 325 AD, there was a controversy continuing concerning the Holy Spirit, so in 381 [AD], in the Council of Constantinople, an addition was made to the Nicene Creed concerning the Holy Spirit. And in the Council of Constantinople, the churches added these words to the Nicene Creed, and I read them:
We believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father,
who with the Father and Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.
You notice in this addition to the Nicene Creed that they follow the Word of the Holy Scriptures, in John 15:26:
When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of Me.
In the creed in Constantinople, they followed that word exactly. “We believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father.” Now that was the universal orthodox position of all of the churches of the civilized world—just as it is written here, “The Holy Ghost, who proceedeth from the Father” [John 15:26].
Then followed a bitter and terrible controversy that eventuated in a division, a split, of all Christendom, between the Latin church of the West and the Greek church of the East; the Latin church, led by the pope of Rome, the bishop of Rome, and the Greek church, the Eastern church, led by the patriarch of Constantinople. And it arose over a violent dispute concerning the Holy Spirit, which dispute still divides the Latin Catholic church of the West, presided over by the bishop in Rome, and the Greek church of the East, which for the most part is presided over by the patriarch of Moscow.
Now what happened was this: in 589 [AD] there was a convocation of the leaders of the Western church in Toledo, Spain. And they added one word, filioque, “and the Son,” filioque, they added one word to this creed written in Constantinople: “We believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father,” and the Latin church added, filioque, “and from the Son.” In keeping with John 16:7, “Nevertheless I tell you; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter, the paraklēte, the Spirit will not come; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.”
The Eastern church was not conferred with when the Western church added filioque, “and the Son.” There immediately was a violent doctrinal division between them. The Eastern church, quoting John 15:26, “Even the Spirit of truth, who proceedeth from the Father,” and the Western, the Latin church arguing from John 16:7, “Whom I will send unto you”; the Western church saying He proceeds, He is poured out from the Father and the Son [John 16:7]; the Eastern church saying He proceedeth only from the Father [John 15:26]. And so terrible and so bitter was that dispute that in the year 1054 [AD], the sixteenth day of July, the representative of the Western church, the legate from the pope at Rome, placed the bitterest anathema that the ecclesiastical mind could compose, and laid it upon the high altar of the church at St. Sophia, the church of the patriarchate of Constantinople, the leader of the Eastern church. And this is that bitter anathema, an excommunication and damnation that the papal legate placed upon the high altar in St. Sophia in 1054 [AD]:
Let them be anathema maranatha, with Simoniacs, Valerians, Arians, Donatists, Nicolaitans, Severians, Pneumatomachi, Manichees, Nazarenes, and with all heretics; yea, with the devil and his angels. Amen. Amen. Amen.
That was the final severance between the Western church, the Latin church, and the Eastern church, the Greek church.
In those tragic and terrible days, there was increasing pressure against the churches of the East by a bitter and implacable foe, the Muslim Turk. It became eventually apparent that the Greek church, the Eastern part of the empire, could not survive without help from the West. So appeal was made in 1414 [AD] to the Council of Constance––that’s right in the center of Europe––for help against the encroaching enemy, the Muslim Turk. It was turned down by the West. In 1431 [AD] the appeal was made again, desperately, for help. It was turned down by the West.
In 1439 [AD] at the Council of Florence, the emperor of the Roman Empire, with his capital in Constantinople, and the patriarch of the Eastern church, the primate of St. Sophia, personally came to the council to make appeal for help against the encroaching Muslim Turk. All of those appeals were turned down. And in 1453 [AD], the final fall and end of the Eastern Roman Empire and the destruction of Constantinople by the Muslim Turk came to pass. It is one of the great tragedies of Christian history.
I suppose there is not a more brilliant passage in English literature than Edward Gibbon’s description of the fall of Constantinople to the Muslim Turk in 1453 AD. It ranks with all of the great issues involved with the fall of Jerusalem under the hammering legionnaires of the Roman general Titus. The war was led by two great and able generals. The Muslim Turk was led by Sultan Mohammed II, a fierce and a cruel man, but a genius in war. And the Eastern Roman Empire and the Greek church was headed by Constantine Palaeologus, the last of the Roman emperors, and a man worthy to sit upon the throne of his illustrious forbearers. When it became apparent that the city was going to fall, there was no panic, but a great religious service was held in the city in which was heard the agonizing cry of a people ascending toward God. When the walls were broken and the Turks poured into the city, the emperor refused to outlive his empire, and he dashed into the midst of the conflict and was slain with the multitude of the dead. Mohammed gave the city up to plunder, and the last bastion was the glorious cathedral, St. Sophia. Soon the great doors of that cathedral yielded under the axes of the Muslim Turk. The old were slain and the young were carried off into a far more tragic fate, and that ended the Roman Empire, and that ended the ascendancy of the Greek church in the world.
Walking under the great dome of St. Sophia, in 1453 [AD] converted into a Muslim mosque, a dome so large that its––you could play baseball in it. And that in the day when there were no such things as steel trusses, a miracle of architecture, built in 500 AD by Emperor Justinian, I suppose the most famous church in all of the world, and now an Islamic mosque. As I walked under that vast dome of St. Sophia and recounted in my mind once again the story of its loss, “Oh, the tragedy,” I thought, “of ecclesiastical divisiveness”; the bitter hatred engendered in the name of the Lord, to anathematize each other, to excommunicate each other, and to deliver each other unto death.
“I had rather see Constantinople and St. Sophia,” said a Christian of the West, “I’d rather see it Islamic, I’d rather see it turned over to the infidel than to see it survive and flourish.” That spirit of bitterness and jealousy and hatred has characterized the people of God from the day of the first Christian century until now, and a part and a fruit of that terrible schismatic expression is found in St. Sophia, a Muslim mosque.
After the separation between the churches, the East and the West, in 1054 AD, we enter the Middle Ages, and in those days there was no sensitivity to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit at all. There was no sensitivity to the need of personal regeneration. The work of the Holy Spirit was assumed by earthly priests. They alone interpreted the Word of God to the people, and the Holy Spirit was lost—the very doctrine was lost in a wilderness of sacramentalism, and scholasticism, and priestcraft, and ignorance, and superstition.
Then in the 1500s, God visited Christendom with a marvelous outpouring. We call it the Reformation. The Reformation was itself a mighty work of the Holy Spirit of God. The Bible was exalted, the Word of God was translated into the vernacular, and the doctrine was preached that not by a human priest do we come into the understanding of the truth of God, but by the illumination and by the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit [John 14:26, 16:13]. And every man is a priest for himself [1 Peter 2:5-9]; he can read the gospel, he can read the sacred Word [2 Timothy 3:16], and the Holy Spirit can be his teacher to understand the meaning of divine grace [1 John 2:27]. And once again, as in the apostolic age, the Holy Spirit was looked to for the regeneration of the human soul [Titus 3:5], and the doctrine was preached, Christ’s work for us [1 Corinthians 15:1-3; 1 Peter 3:18], and the Holy Spirit’s work in us [John 15:17; Philippians 2:13]. It was a great movement of the Holy Spirit of God, the days of the Reformation in 1500 [AD].
Then after the days of the Reformation, came again those schismatic heresies: Unitarianism under Socinus, and Arminianism under Arminius, and deism—oh, the curse of deism that laid England waste! It began in England and spread to the continent. And a typical exponent of deism is Voltaire. Can you imagine a doctrine of which Voltaire would be the exponent as being the prevailing doctrine of the churches of England and of the continent? Deism laid waste the churches of Christ!
Then once again, in the 1700s, was a marvelous outpouring of the Spirit of God. We call it the “Great Awakening.” It came under the preaching of John Wesley and George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards. Lectures were prepared on the doctrine and the presence and the meaning of the Holy Spirit of God, and people were marvelously converted, and a whole nation turned to God; the days of the Great Awakening, the 1700s. And that eventuated also in the days of the marvelous world missionary movement. In 1792 [AD] was when William Carey and his fellow Baptists gathered together for the spiritual conquest of the world; the 1700s, the “Great Awakening.”
Then followed again that dearth and that sterility that seemingly has characterized the Christian churches from the apostolic day until now. There will be periods of mighty revival, and mighty visitation, and mighty outpouring; then there will be periods of doctrinal devastation. So it happened in the nineteenth century. There came into the world what is called mostly “German rationalism,” higher criticism. And men began to devastate the doctrine of the inspiration of the Scriptures [2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21], and they attacked the doctrine of the Trinity [1 Corinthians 12:4-6; Ephesians 1:13-14, 4:4-6], and they made Jesus not God but a man, and that carried with it the deity of the Holy Spirit [Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14], denied by the higher critic, by the German rationalist. And that rationalism spread through the universities and through the schools and through the seminaries until it covered the entire earth, and it stifled the great missionary movement that seemingly was on its way to win the whole earth to Jesus. It looked for a time as though Japan would be solidly Christian, and in those days, German rationalism, in the nineteenth century, destroyed that marvelous missionary movement.
I saw that in Japan; I saw it in Siam, in Thailand: what rationalism, destructive criticism, will do to the Word of God and the preaching of regeneration and the persuasion of the supernatural gift of the Holy Scriptures. And that German rationalism, that higher critical attitude toward the Word of God, spills over into modern theology, and neo-orthodoxy today has no certain doctrine of the Holy Spirit. I suppose for the most part they would deny His personality at all, and if they referred to Him in the least it would be as a mere activity or influence of God in the earth.
Now in those days of German rationalism and higher criticism, and the destruction of the Bible in their hands, and the denial of the supernatural, and the denial of the deity of Jesus, and the deity and personality of the Holy Spirit, in those days there came a reaction in the nineteenth century. And one of those reactions we call the Pentecostal movement; the Pentecostal movement. In 1886 [AD], in eastern Tennessee and in western North Carolina, there was a group, a small group of Baptist people and Methodist people, who received what they said was the baptism of the Holy Spirit. And they began to speak in tongues, and they began to preach in the presence and the reality of the gifts of the Spirit today. I think there are as many as two hundred and more groups that we call “Pentecostal” in our United States alone today. I have many of them listed here. We haven’t time to mention it. I’ll just make one observation about it, one or two.
First: I thank God for it for one reason. If for no other thing they did at all, they did bring attention to the presence and the doctrine of the Holy Spirit of God, and they still do it. Whether it is for good or whether it is for bad, they do draw attention to the power and presence and reality of the Holy Spirit. Now, their doctrine follows a little order kind of like this. They believe in entire sanctification. They believe that this experience purges away the original sin, the sin that we’re born with in the world, and that it is possible to live above sin; that we can be completely sanctified. That doctrine was preached by John Wesley. And so many of these Pentecostal churches have the word “Methodist” in their name: the Free Methodists, the Wesleyan Methodists, the Primitive Methodists, the Holiness Methodists, the Apostolic Methodist Church, the Reformed Methodist Church, the Apostolic Church of God, the Pilgrim Holiness Church; on and on it goes. They believe in total sanctification, in living above sin.
A second thing: they believe this experience comes subsequent to salvation, and that’s why they call it “the second blessing.” You are saved, but there is also another, a distinct and a separate experience, and that is the experience of entire sanctification, the second blessing.
Then a third thing that characterizes them: they so many times experience that second blessing with unusual phenomena, sometimes speaking in tongues, and other things that accompany the marvelous transformation in their lives that they call “entire sanctification.” They have a marvelous attitude about it. I copied, I mean I cut out, last week in one of their magazines this article which likens the church to a missile, one that’s flying around the world today, and if it’s off course, they can take instruments and guide it back with rockets. So the church was launched on the day of Pentecost, and for the centuries since has continued on her mission in the world. Now the church is nearing her destination and the latter rain is being outpoured from God, and the Holy Spirit is receiving a new and divine visitation. That is why Pentecost has come in these last days. They look upon this Pentecostal movement as being a visitation from God in these last days to guide the church unerringly to its great and final consummation. We’ll be looking at things like that a great deal later on. I have to close the sermon this morning. May I do it with a summation?
First, first: these are the signs of the lack of the Holy Spirit of God among the people and in the congregation, looking back over almost two thousand years of history. These are the signs of the lack of the Holy Spirit of God, the absence of the presence of the Spirit of God. First and foremost: rationalism, destructive criticism; somehow, any regenerated mind, any regenerated mind is offended by the destructive attitude and the destructive attack of higher criticism. When the theologian or the minister or the teacher arises in any pulpit, or in any chair, or in any place in the earth, and begins to rationalize away the supernatural and the inspiration of the Holy Scripture, denying the resurrection of Jesus and the deity of our Lord and all of the multitudinous other things that follow after, any time that happens, a regenerated heart and a regenerated spirit will be highly offended. One of the things that come to pass in the regeneration of a man’s heart is this: he immediately is able to receive as from God the inspired Word of this Holy Book, believing every miracle in it, believing every word in it, believing every revelation in it, believing every prophecy in it. And that’s one test by which you might know whether you are regenerated or not! A regenerated soul and a regenerated mind immediately receives all of the marvelous things written in this Book as being the very work of God and a revelation from heaven. A sign of the lack of the Spirit in the congregation is rationalism, destructive criticism.
All right, a second sign: ritualism. Isn’t that an amazing thing? I never realized that so much as in this study of the historical background of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Ritualism substitutes sensuality, what our five senses are able to enjoy—eye to see, ear to hear, nose to smell, all of the other things that go with ritualism—ritualism is an attempt to substitute sensuality for the real charm and glory of the church, which is the power and presence of the Holy Spirit of God. I want to quote to you from Dr. George Smeaton, who wrote one of the great books on the Holy Spirit of all time, wrote it in the last century. It is entitled The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit. In one of the last pages of his book, on page 328, he writes this, and you listen to it:
To one fact all history gives a harmonious testimony. In the ratio in which the ritualistic element ascends, the spiritual element descends; the elevation of the one being the depression of the other.
[Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, George Smeaton, 1882, p. 328]
He would say it’s like a seesaw. When ritualism begins to rise in the church, the spiritual power of the church goes down like a seesaw, and when the spiritual power of the church begins to rise, the ritualistic elements in the church begin to descend. And the more ritualistic you are, the less spiritual you are. The more spiritual you are, the less ritualistic you are. Isn’t that an amazing thing to learn in these two thousand years? And it has been my experience. I have been in cathedrals without number. I’ve been overawed by the marvelous architecture and glorious accouterments, but I’ve never seen anybody converted in one in my life, not in my life.
A little old lady was in Westminster Abbey, and the guide was talking about all of the glorious things in that marvelous cathedral. And the little old lady interrupted and said, “Stop that chatter, young man. Stop that chatter, man! Tell me, has anybody been converted in this place lately?” Law, me! Think of that: “Has anybody been converted in this place lately?” Who would ever think of anybody being converted in a place like that? Yet it’s a cathedral, and they have Christian services there all the time. The more ritualistic we are, the less the power and the glory of the Holy Spirit. But many a time out in an arbor, or in a warehouse, or on a street corner, or on a sawdust trail, have I seen the glory of the Lord come down, and men born again, and souls saved, and God adds to His congregation.
All right, a third observation of history: these sporadic endeavors to make religion effective are soon exhausted and end in despair and despondency. Whenever human power and ingenuity seeks to prop up the relevancy of religion and the power of the gospel of Christ, it soon burns itself out and ceases even to exist.
“This is the word of the Lord, Not by power, nor by might, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” [Zechariah 4:6]. And the place of the church, if it seeks the unction from above and the visitation from heaven, is not by human mechanisms and energies of the flesh, but in a call to prayer and repentance, and maybe fasting, and in lifting up our souls to heaven, and in imploring the forgiveness of God.
O Lord, for a fresh outpouring! O God, for a marvelous visitation! O God, for Thy presence and power among us! “And when the Lord comes down, our souls to greet, glory fills the mercy seat” [Author and work unknown]. “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord” [Zechariah 4:6].
Now our time is gone, and while we sing this hymn of appeal, somebody you, give himself to Jesus today, come and stand by me [Romans 10:9-10]. A family you to put your life into the fellowship of the church, a couple coming by letter, a youth on confession of faith, however God shall say the word and lead in the way, make it now. Make it now. On the first note of the first stanza: “Pastor, today, today, I decide for Christ. In repentance and faith I’m coming to Him [Acts 20:21]. I give you my hand. I’ve given my soul to Jesus.” As the Spirit of God shall lead in the way, make it now; make it this morning, while we stand and while we sing.