Holy Spirit, breath of God (4): worshipping the Spirit
- The Holy Spirit is a person
- The Holy Spirit is a divine person
- The Holy Spirit is equal in power and glory to the Father and the Son
We saw in the last posting the declaration of the Nicene Creed (in its expanded form, 381) that the Spirit must be worshipped and glorified together with the Father and the Son: in the same way and with the same sense of love and wonder. This clearly follows from the fact of his deity, but what does it mean in practice?
First, that we must always speak of the Spirit in terms of the utmost reverence. This is the point which Jesus underlined with such solemnity when he spoke of blasphemy against the Spirit as the unforgiveable sin (Mk. 3:29). The warning may seem irrelevant to the modern Christian: after all, we are not likely to ascribe the miracles of Jesus to demonic agency. But danger still lurks. We are still liable to speak irresponsibly of things which may quite possibly be the work of the Holy Spirit. For example, those who disapprove strongly of tongue-speaking may describe it as demonic. Others may speak in similar terms of a powerful ministry or of a remarkable revival. Yet others may speak disparagingly of a dramatic change in the life of a notorious sinner. The mere fact that these may be manifestations of the Spirit should temper our speech. It would grieve the Spirit deeply to hear us ascribe to some other agency or influence a work which he knows to be entirely his.
Worship of the Spirit implies, secondly, that as we are to include him in our benedictions (2 Cor. 13:14) so we must also include him in the psalms, hymns and doxologies with which we respond to God’s grace. To praise the Divine Name is to praise the Spirit as essential to that Name. There can be no gradations in our worship, as if the whole truth were that we worship the Father, but do so through the Son and in the Spirit. We worship the Three-in-One, each equal in power and glory:
Glory be to God the Father,
Glory be to God the Son,
Glory be to God the Spirit,
Great Jehovah, Three in One!
Thirdly, we worship the Spirit by thanking him for all he has done and is doing in our lives. To him, indeed, we owe our spiritual lives; to him we owe the graces of faith, hope and love; and to him we owe the gifts that equip us for our role in the body of Christ, enabling us to make our own individual contribution to the common good (1 Cor. 12:7).
But our gratitude must extend even further. We tend to be conscious of the condescension of the Son in coming down to this world and dwelling among us, and such condescension certainly merits our wholehearted adoration. But there is condescension on the Spirit’s part, too, taking up residence in our mortal bodies and not abandoning us even when we grieve him.
Over and above this, however, we also owe the Spirit an immense debt of gratitude for his ministry in the life of our Saviour. The Spirit created his human nature, anointed him, upheld him and empowered him. We praise the Son for willingly putting himself in such a state of dependency; we must also praise the Spirit for his unfailing support.
Fourthly, worship means that we dedicate our lives to the Spirit. The very fact that we are baptised in his name means that we are his. We belong to him, and we are pledged to serve him. We follow him as our Leader, we covet the gifts he allocates among his people, and we long to enjoy his ministry in all its fullness. Above all, we share his passionate enthusiasm for the divine Son he loves so dearly, and whose kingdom he ever seeks to promote.
Praying to the Holy Spirit?
But should we pray to the Spirit? There is clear warrant for praying to the Father (Mt. 6:9) and equally clear warrant for praying to the Lord Jesus (2 Cor. 12:8). It is hard, however, to find any explicit warrant for praying to the Holy Spirit (though some have found one in Ezekiel’s prayer to the ruach (‘the breath,’ ESV) in the Valley of Dry Bones, Ezekiel 37:9). Yet prayer to the Spirit is a marked feature of Christian hymnody, as in, ‘Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire’, ‘Breathe on me, breath of God’ and Cowper’s anguished plea, ‘Return, O holy Dove! Return, sweet messenger of rest!’
The very fact that the Spirit is divine, and that he is totally committed to caring for us, fully justifies such prayers. There may, however, be a good reason for the relative silence of the New Testament with regard to praying to the Spirit: the fact that, rather than being the object of our prayers, the Holy Spirit is their source. Believers, according to Paul, pray in the Spirit (1 Cor. 14:15) and what the Apostle has in view is clearly not prayer to the Spirit, but prayer which is prompted and constrained by the Spirit, just as in Ephesians 5:19 the Spirit-filled person makes melody to the Lord, not to the Spirit. In Galatians 4:6, similarly, the effect of receiving the Spirit of adoption is not that we cry, ‘Holy Spirit!’ but that we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’
These precedents do not in any way detract from the Spirit’s divinity. He is the source and prompter of our prayers precisely because he knows the will of God in a way that is impossible for any creature (1 Cor. 2:11), just as our own spirits know our thoughts and intentions in a way that no outsider can. This is why we may even suggest that the Spirit’s intercession for us, and our own personal petitions, merge into each other; and, beyond that, that the prayers the Spirit prompts are part of the on-going conversation between the persons of the Trinity as they keep a watchful eye on the progress of ‘the children.’ At the deepest level, God intercedes with God.
The natural movement prompted by the Spirit, then, is to direct our prayers to the Father and to the Lord Jesus (and, following the example of Jesus in John 14:16, to ask the Father to send the Spirit). But this cannot mean that we are forbidden to address our prayers to the Spirit of adoption himself. We pray to the one Name, ‘the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit’ and, that being so, we cannot pray to the Father and the Son without being heard by the Spirit; nor can we evoke the compassion of the Two without evoking the compassion of the Three. When God is addressed, the Trinity is addressed. When the Trinity hears, the Three hear. And of the Three, the Spirit is the one who, biblically speaking, is closest to us: dwelling in us, walking about with us and always within earshot. Humanly speaking, then, he is the first to hear the speechless groans which circumstances draw out of us involuntarily. We cannot walk with him in silence; and when we grieve him, we owe him a personal apology.
Spirit divine, attend our prayers;
Make a lost world Thy home;
Descend with all thy gracious powers;
O come, great Spirit, come!
Andrew Reed, 1787-1862.