The Abiding Presence of the Holy Spirit


The Abiding Presence of the Holy Spirit

May 16th, 1965 @ 8:15 AM

John 14:16

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

John 14:16

5-16-65    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 morning message.  It is entitled The Abiding Presence of the Holy Spirit.

In The Reminder, our church weekly paper, I wrote saying that today was an epochal day in my ministry and in my life.  For months, many, many months, I have been preparing, studying, learning, reading, asking of God for wisdom and for help in delivering the announced and projected series of sermons on the Holy Spirit.  I am not prepared yet; but I never would be prepared.  So about two months ago, I announced that today I would begin that series of sermons on the Holy Spirit.

Somebody asked me some time ago, “Pastor, when you preach that series of sermons will we be any different?  Will it change us?”  And I replied, “I do not know.  That lies in the sovereign and elective purpose and will of God.”  But I do know this, that we shall understand far more than we understand now.  God will do that for us.  We shall understand.  All of us who listen, all who attend these services or who share in these meetings, we shall understand far more, and I could pray, during these days there shall be a heavenly visitation that shall change us, and bless us immeasurably.

Now the first two sermons; the sermon today and the sermon next Sunday are historical sermons.  We have two thousand years of experience with the abiding presence of the Spirit of God.  And no man could understand the present or have any idea really of the future who does not study the past.

And there is so much in the background of this study, and we ought to know it.  It is before us.  It is written on the pages of history.  There are literally libraries concerning it.  And if we have any persuasion that what we say now, or what we could pray for in the future, would reflect the wisdom of God, then we must know what God has done in the two thousand years since Pentecost [Acts 2:1-47].

As a background passage––not as a text to exegete or expound, but as a background passage––I read from the fourteenth and the fifteenth chapters of the Gospel of John.  “I will pray the Father,” said our Lord, “and He shall give you another paraklete,” translated here, “Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever” [John 14:16].    So He is here now.  He was here yesterday.  He will be with His people unto the consummation, “that He may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye shall know Him” [John 14:16-17].  And we are opening our hearts and our minds to learn of Him.  “But ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you” [John 14:17], the Holy Spirit of God with us this morning, and in our souls.  Now again, the twenty-sixth verse, “But that paraklēte, Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things” [John 14:26].

I turn the page.  In the next chapter, chapter 15, next to the last verse, “But when the paraklēte is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceeeth from the Father, He shall testify of Me” [John 15:26].  So the Spirit of God is here.  He is present in this assembly [1 Corinthians 3:16].  He is in our hearts [1 Corinthians 6:19].  He abides with us for ever [John 14:16].  And He has been here since the day of Pentecost [Acts 2:1-4, 16-18].

Therefore this first message will be a brief summary of the history of the Holy Spirit, from Pentecost until 1453 AD.  Then next Sunday morning we shall begin at 1453 AD and follow the story to the present time.  Then after these two messages on the history of the Holy Spirit since Pentecost, we shall begin our study of His presence, and His message, and His meaning, and His gifts, and His power from the Holy Scriptures; pertinent to us, and to our church, and to our lives today.

Now to begin; there never was a time when the early Christian disciples did not believe in the deity and the personality of the three Persons of the Godhead.  In their doxologies, in their baptismal formula, all the way and without exception, the early disciples of our Lord and the apostolic fathers who followed them looked upon the three Persons of the Trinity, each One deity, each One separate, each One a personality.  In the baptismal formula: “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” [Matthew 28:19], the Three in One, “in the name of,” singular, “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”; co-equal, co-substantial, deity, the Three in One.  Now their doxologies reflected that theological persuasion.

The second Corinthian letter, the last verse: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.   Amen” [2 Corinthians 13:14].  I turn once again to the doxology in the first chapter of the Revelation, “John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace,” one, “from Him which is, and which was, and which is to come” [Revelation 1:4], God Almighty.  Second, “and from the seven Spirits which are before His throne [Revelation 1:4],” the word “seven” in Revelation means plenitude, fullness, “and from the fullness of the Holy Spirit”; third, “And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth” [Revelation 1:5].  In the days of the apostles, the disciples of our Lord, the deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were unvaryingly presented and praised.

That spirit of adoration of God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, was carried through without exception in the days of the apostolic fathers, those men of God who followed the apostles.  For example, in the letter of the church of Smyrna, written about 155 AD, describing the martyrdom of their pastor Polycarp, the beautiful and marvelous letter closes with these words of adoration, spoken by their pastor when he was martyred.  I quote, “For this and for all things I praise Thee, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, with the eternal and heavenly Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, with whom, to Thee, and to the Holy Ghost be glory, both now and through all ages to come.”   Isn’t that a glorious and beautiful thing, the last words in that letter, quoting the last words of Polycarp, when he laid down his life for Jesus?

Now I have chosen one other.  In about 160 AD, Julius Africanus, who was one of the most learned ecclesiastics of all time, he wrote the five books of the chronography, the story of the Christian faith up to his day.  In the fifth and the last book of his Chronicon, his chronography, Julius Africanus closes with this marvelous doxology: “We render thanks to Him who gave our Lord Jesus Christ to be a Savior, to whom, with the Holy Ghost, be glory and majesty forever, amen.”  In the life of the apostles, and in the glorious tributes of the apostolic fathers, there is no exception to that praise and adoration of the Trinity; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The early church had no occasion to define, or to defend the deity or the person of the Holy Spirit.  It was never questioned.  It was received in the baptismal formula: “Baptizing in the name of the Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit” [Matthew 28:19].  It was received as elementary and primary.  You find that especially in the early fathers in their attitude toward the Holy Scriptures.  Without exception, the early fathers, the apostolic fathers, the men who lived just beyond the apostles, they looked upon the Holy Spirit as being the author of the Scriptures, Old Testament and New Testament [2 Peter 1:21].

For example, Justin Martyr, in speaking of the sacred writers as a stringed instrument, Justin Martyr, oh, he lived say, 140, 150 AD, Justin Martyr wrote, listen to him.  “Their task was but,” the authors of the Scriptures, “Their task was but to surrender themselves wholly to the working of the Spirit of God, that the divine plectrum descending from heaven might make use of holy men as of a harp, or a lyre, in order to reveal to us the knowledge of divine and heavenly things.”

I quote from Irenaeus, who lived just a little later.  He says of the Scriptures, “They are spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit; while we, in the degree in which we live are inferior, and stand at the greatest distance from the Word of God and His Spirit, are in need of the knowledge of His mysteries.”  And again he says, “The logos has given us a fourfold gospel,” Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, “The logos has given us a fourfold gospel, which is held together by one Spirit.”  Four men wrote them, but actually they are the writings of one Holy Spirit of God [2 Peter 1:20-21].

One of the strange peculiarities of the Greek fathers, the Eastern church, as distinct from the Latin church, the Western church, one of the peculiarities of the Greek fathers, the apostolic fathers who wrote in the Greek church, one of their peculiarities was this, that they left off the name of the actual writer of the Scripture, and used “the Holy Spirit” as the author.  I’ve chosen one.

Origen, for example, says, “We can by no means say of the writings of the Holy Ghost that there is anything superfluous or idle in them, although many a thing may appear dark to many.”  And they will say, in quoting the Scriptures, not, “Isaiah said,” or, not “Paul said,” or not “John said,” but the Greek fathers will write it like this, “The Holy Spirit said, the Holy Ghost said”; one of the peculiarities of those men of God.

Now I have finished discussing the first point; namely, that the early Christian disciples, the apostles, and the apostolic fathers without exception all accepted the deity and the personality of the Trinity: co-substantial, co-equal, of the same substance, Deity of deity, God of gods, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Now as the days passed and beginning just about 200 AD, there came fierce and polemical and violent attacks against the doctrine of the Trinity, and against the deity of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  You will find that in the development of the creeds of the church.  That’s where the creeds came from.  You would never have had them had the people who name the name of the Lord accepted the Bible just as it is.

But as the days passed and the years multiplied, there developed in Christendom vicious and biting and terrible attack, just as we have it today, just as we’ve had it ever since.  And that’s where the creeds came from.  The creed that was spelled out, written out, was an attempt to say in concise language what it is that the Bible teaches and that the Holy Spirit has revealed.  Now we’re going to start with the first creed, and then what happened that made the second one, and then what happened that made the third one.  That’s all the time we have to follow it in this brief moment.

First of all the Apostles’ Creed: there are some scholars who say that they can trace the Apostles’ Creed clear back to 100 AD, to the time of the apostle John.  Whether that’s true or not, others scholars deny.  But in any event, the Apostles’ Creed goes back, and back, and back in antiquity, almost to the days of the apostles themselves.  Who wrote it?  No one knows.  But it was a pattern for all of the creeds of the church that have followed after.  Now, in the Apostles’ Creed, you will notice just one reference to the Holy Spirit.  I read it all:

I believe in God the Father Almighty; and in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord: who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, and buried, the third day He rose from the dead, He ascended into heaven, sitteth at the right hand of the Father, thence He shall come to judge living and dead; and in the Holy Ghost, the holy church, the remission of sins, the resurrection of the flesh.

That is the earliest form of the Apostolic Creed.

Now beginning in 200 AD, there were these violent attacks upon the doctrine of that creed, “I believe in God the Father, and in God the Son, and in God the Holy Spirit.”  There came a man by the name of Sabellius, and his heresy is called “Sabellianism.”  He was the first Unitarian.  He gave birth to the doctrine of modalism.

And the doctrine of modalism, the doctrine of Sabellianism is this: that there are no three personalities in the Godhead, but there are merely three energies of the same God.  He will work as a creator, then he will work as a redeemer, then he will work as a life-giving influence.  That is Sabellianism.  There is a uni-personal God, according to Sabellius, and the Holy Spirit is nothing other but some kind of an undefined influence.

It was against Sabellianism that the two words began to be used that we use so much today.  One, the Trinity; Tertullian used that first, the great lawyer of Africa, who was a mighty Christian, Tertullian.  He used the word “Trinity,” first time it was ever used.  You’ll not find the word in the Bible.

Second: it was against Sabellianism that the word “person” came to be applied to the Three of the Godhead.  Until that time the word “person” had never been used.  You won’t find it in the Bible.  But in trying to spell out God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, in those terrible days when they were trying to refute Sabellianism, Unitarianism, they invented the word “Trinity,” and they began to use the word “person” to refer to the Three in the Godhead.

Now in about 300 AD, there arose the greatest, and the ablest, and the most famous heretic of all time: Arius.  And the attack of Arius was against the deity of the Trinity.  According to Arian theology––and he swept the entire civilized world before him––according to Arius, there is one God, God; and that God created the Son, Jesus; and Jesus created the Holy Spirit.  So according to Arius, the Holy Spirit is a creature, created by a creature, created by God.

Now in the violent and terrible struggle in those days, there was called a council of all of the leaders of the church.  In an Asia Minor town named Nicaea, and in 325 AD, they wrote out the Nicene Creed.  Now most of that attack with Arius was against the deity of Jesus, that He was a creature—just like all of these modernists say today, “He was just another good man, a marvelous man, a super-Socrates, a super-Confucius, but still He was just a man.  He was not deity.  He was not co-substantial with the Father.  He was not co-equal.  He was not of the same substance, but He was a lower creature from God.”

Now the Nicene Creed, because most of the attack had been directed against the deity of Jesus, the Nicene Creed took the Apostles’ Creed, and spelled out the deity of the Son of God.  Now I read the Nicene Creed of 325 AD: “We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.”  Now they’re going to spell out the deity of the Son of God:

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, only begotten, that is, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made, both those in heaven and those on earth; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down, and was made flesh, and lived as man among men, suffered, and rose the third day, ascended into heaven, is coming to judge the quick and the dead; and in the Holy Ghost.

You see again just mentioning, “And in the Holy Ghost,” because the attack was so viciously and violently aimed against the Son of God, this Jesus.  So the Nicene Creed spelled out especially the deity of the Lord Jesus.

Now after 325 AD, and the Nicene Creed, there was still great turmoil among the churches and the disciples of our Lord Jesus.  And there was a tremendous leader who agitated especially against the Holy Spirit of God; and so violent was this agitation, that in 381 AD there was called a Council of Constantinople.  And this one took the Nicene Creed, and as the Nicene Creed spelled out the deity of Jesus, so the Council of Constantinople spelled out the deity of the Holy Spirit.

So the Council of Constantinople, in 381 AD, took the Nicene Creed and made this addition; whereas the Nicene Creed had just said, “We believe in the Holy Ghost,” they made this addition to the words: “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 worshipped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.”  So in 381 AD, the Council of Constantinople had finished the spelling out of the deity of the three persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

And that has been the orthodox doctrine of the churches of Christ through all of the centuries and centuries since.  If there is an orthodox church anywhere in the earth, be it Catholic, Protestant, or any other kind, it believes in the doctrine of those creeds; the deity of God the Father, the Person and deity of God the Son, and the Person and deity of God the Holy Spirit.  There is no exception to that anywhere in the earth in an orthodox church, a church that believes in the Word of God.

All right, we’re going to turn now to another thing.  In 150 AD, now remember, in 150 AD some of the disciples of John were still alive.  Polycarp, for example, was pastor at Smyrna.  He was a disciple, a convert of John the apostle.  Papias in 150 AD was pastor at Hierapolis, the city just across the Lycus River from Laodicea, both of the men pastors in Asia.  Papias was a convert and a disciple of John the beloved disciple.

Now in 150 AD, when the disciples of John were still alive, there appeared a man by the name of Montanus.  When the apostles died, the miraculous works of which they were capable died with them.  Now you put this down because this is one of the tremendous things that we’re coming back to again, and again, and again in our study of the Holy Spirit.  When the apostles died, the miraculous gifts of which they were endowed and capable died with them.  Those miraculous gifts died immediately.  They passed away immediately.  They were no more.  They ceased to be [1 Corinthians 13:8-10].  When the apostles died, those marvelous things they were able to do died with them: raising the dead, and all the other glorious things that we read of the apostles in the New Testament.

It was natural, therefore—now listen to this—it was natural, therefore, that there should appear a man of aesthetic piety, of rigorous devotion and zeal, who gave himself and announced himself as a man in whom those apostolic miracles, and gifts, and revelations should be renewed and revived.  It was just as natural as the day follows the night.  When those apostolic gifts, those supernatural gifts, passed away with the apostles, I am saying that it was just natural that there should appear at least a man who purported to have in him, renewed and revived, those marvelous gifts of the Holy Spirit, possessed by the apostles.

So in about 150 AD, there appeared in a Phrygian village, a self-styled prophet by the name of Montanus.  And he had with him two prophetesses, Maximilla and Priscilla.  And he held forth that he was the continuation and that he possessed those same endowments of the apostles.  And he came with ecstasies and with trances.  And he said that he gave the new and further revelation from God, and that what he spake superseded the words of the apostles, for he had and he possessed a later revelation.

And so powerful was the montanistic movement, Montanism, that it swept Tertullian himself away; and Tertullian became a Montanist.  One of the most amazing things that I could read in the life of that tremendous lawyer was this, that and I’m quoting Tertullian, “As the writings of Paul superseded the writings of Moses, so we may expect the writings of a later man as Montanus, to supersede the writings of the apostle Paul.”  That is Montanism.  Montanus said that as he sat in trances and in ecstasies, that there came revelations to him by the Holy Spirit; and these were the latest pronouncements of the Lord for His churches.

Of course that created a violent reaction among the churches of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And two things came out of the vigorous repudiation of Montanism.  One: the churches forever and forever declared that the canon was sealed; that it was forever concluded and finished.  And in placing the Book of the Revelation at the last, and in quoting from the last words of the Revelation, they applied those words to all that had been written heretofore:

For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of this prophecy…If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him plagues that are written in this book:

And if any man shall take away from the words of the book. . .God shall take away his part out of the Book of Life, and out of the holy city, and from the things that are written in the book.

[Revelation 22:18-19]

The churches of the Lord way back yonder in 150 AD and the years following; are there any more visions from heaven?  Are there any more Scriptures?  Are there any more revelations from God?  And the churches answered Montanus, “No!  No!  There are no other revelations from God.  The canon is closed!”

The churches would say to Joseph Smith and his Book of Mormon, “No!  There are no other revelations from God.  The canon is complete!  The Bible is finished.”  They would say to Mary Baker Glover Patterson Eddy, “No!”  They would say to any other man who comes with a vision and a revelation from God, “No!”  The Bible is complete, and the revelations from heaven inspired by the Holy Spirit have ceased; for the whole message of redemption is complete!  And there are no more Bible texts to be written, there are no more Bible books to be added to the canon, for the revelation is complete and forever.  That was the first thing that happened in Montanism.

All right, the second thing that happened as they waged this fierce warfare against Montanism, second: the churches of Jesus Christ in that long ago said that there is no promise in the Word of God that the supernatural powers of the apostles would be continued—that the supernatural miracles would be continued in His churches after the days of the apostles.  There is no power given, and there is no power promised continuing in the churches of Christ, that we shall raise the dead, that we can speak and these who are turning to corruption shall live again; and the other marvelous and supernatural powers of the apostles.

The early churches and I’m just historicalizing now.   Whether it’s true or not, we shall try to find out: are we to have power to raise the dead today, to go to the tomb, and these who are turning to corruption, to speak words and they shall rise from their graves?  Do we have that power today?  The churches who battle against Montanus said, “No!  No!”  And they looked upon the Holy Spirit now as being the instrument of illumination; teaching us the meaning of the Word of God [John 16:6-15], and no longer the power of revelation; it is sealed.

And those early churches, in their battle against Montanus, they said concerning the holy, and divine, and supernatural miracles of those first apostles, that they were attestations of the truth of the message that they delivered, and they were not promised to be continued in the life of the churches beyond.  This arose immediately after the death of the apostles.

We have the same thing today, exactly today.  People with visions and revelations; I’ve had them come to my house and say to me, “Yes, I know the Bible says so and so, but I have just had a message from Jesus.  And Jesus says now thus and so,” contradicting the Word of God.  I have had people come to my house in my study, and tell me those things.

And of course, the vain hope and the vain grasping of the people of God, some of them, for those supernatural, miraculous powers possessed by the early apostles leads to nothing but frustration, and defeat, and vanity, and spiritual pride.  What we must do is to learn what it is God purposes in the revelation of His word, and in the preaching of His gospel, and in His elective program and commission for us who live in this age and these who follow us if the Lord tarries, unto the end of the work of God and the purposes of God in His churches in the earth.

Well, I am two-thirds through.  And I thought I would finish this morning.  We’ll take it up from there next Sunday.  And the Lord give us understanding as we open our hearts to the heavenly truth of what God would have us do, and would have us to expect from His Holy Spirit in our day and in our life.

Now on the first note of the first stanza, as we sing our hymn of appeal, somebody you give himself to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13].  Somebody today to make a confession of his faith in the Lord [Ephesians 2:8]; somebody to put his life in the fellowship of this dear church [Hebrews 10:24-25]; a couple you, a family, or one somebody you, on the first note of the first stanza, while we sing this hymn, you come and stand by me.  Immediately, as you stand up, decide for our Lord, and come, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.


Dr. W.
A. Criswell

John 14:16


I.          Introduction

A.  Two thousand years
of history since Pentecost

1.  Two
thousand years of experience in the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit of God (John 14:16-17, 26, 15:26, 16:7)

B.  Study
of Holy Spirit touches every point of theology, doctrine

II.         The apostles and the apostolic fathers

A.  Never
a time when they did not confess the deity of Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20, Revelation 1:4-5)

B.  Early
fathers had no occasion to defend or define the deity of Holy Spirit

C.  Early
fathers looked upon Holy Spirit as author of all the Scriptures

III.        The creeds

A.  Attacks
against the Trinity tore churches apart

People of God gathered together to spell out what the Bible teaches

B.  First
and oldest is the Apostles’ Creed

C.  Against
heresy of Sabellius, Tertullian coined the word “Trinity”

D.  Arian
controversy brought about writing of Nicean Creed

Heresy of Macedonius brought about addition to Nicean Creed

IV.       Montanism

A.  When apostles died,
supernatural works died with them

      1.  Montanus
appears claiming latest revelations from heaven

B.  Two things came out
of dispute over Montanism

      1.  Finality of
the Scriptures (Revelation 22:18-19)

      2.  Cessation of extraordinary,
miraculous gifts