The Work of the Holy Spirit (2)
In 2008, the British Reformed Fellowship (BRF) held its tenth biennial conference at the Share Centre on the shores of Lough Erne in County Fermanagh, N. Ireland. The subject was “The Work of the Holy Spirit.” Later, the speeches and sermons were published in book form. One reader recently asked me a series of questions about the contents of the book, wanting to have the answers included in the News.
His second question reads,“What is the difference between the Spirit now as the Spirit of the risen Christ rather than just the Spirit of Christ? You mention that the Spirit could not work the reality of salvation because all he had to use was a picture book [The Work of the Holy Spirit, p. 34]. Could you expand on that? I think the footnote on page 35 goes a long way to answering that—the anointing teaches you all things (I John 2:27). The Spirit of truth ... and more truth than before! On the next page you say it was difficult for Old Testament saints to pray and impossible for them to call God ‘Father.’ But nevertheless many examples can be found and there are instances where Israel calls God ‘Father.’”
These are good questions: apparently my presentation at the conference was not as clear as one could wish. I appreciate the opportunity to expand on these things further.
I must, however, make one correction. I did not distinguish between the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of the risen Christ. Rather, I distinguished between the work of the Spirit in the church of the old dispensation and the work of the Spirit that was given to Christ at the time of His exaltation (Acts 2:33).
It is true, though, that there was a certain manifestation of the Spirit of Christ in the old dispensation but then the same is true of Christ Himself, who appeared in the old dispensation as the Angel of Jehovah. So also the Old Testament prophets could not have spoken in such an (almost) New Testament way (e.g., Isa. 53) without speaking in the church of the knowledge given to them by the Spirit, who revealed to them the things of Christ.
However that may be, and without going into the question in detail, there are especially two ways in which the work of the Spirit in the old dispensation differed from the work of the Spirit in the new dispensation. The first is that the Holy Spirit always does His work in the hearts of the people of God through the Word! It is never any different. He binds Himself in an unbreakable bond to the objective Word of God and always works through it. But in the old dispensation, the Word of God came to the church through types and shadows. Christ had not yet come. All the church had were pictures of Chist and His wonderful works.
As everyone knows, as nice and as accurate as a picture may be, it is not the reality. I cherish a picture of my wife, but I would far and away rather have her with me. So it was with the Old Testament church. The Word that came through pictures, which the Holy Spirit used, was subject to the same limitations as a picture always is.
In the new dispensation, with the work of Christ and the reality embodied in the New Testament Scriptures, the Spirit gives us a much clearer understanding of the great mystery of godliness, God become flesh (I Tim. 3:16). We see the reality, not a picture.
The second difference between the work of the Spirit in the old dispensation and the new was that God’s people did not hold the office of believers. I do not say that they were not believers, for they were. Read Hebrews 11. But they did not hold the office of believers.
That office of believers had three aspects to it: the offices of prophet, priest and king. No believer held these offices in the old dispensation. The result was that these offices were held by individuals who were chosen by God, anointed with oil and given their assigned work by Him.
If an Israelite wanted to know the will of God, he had to go to a prophet. If the nation wanted to worship God, they had to go to a priest who would make the necessary sacrifices. And when there was no king in Israel, every man did that which was right in his own eyes (Judg. 21:25).
Each saint in the new dispensation, through the work of the Spirit of Christ, is, in his own right, a prophet (I John 2:27), a priest who can worship God anywhere and at any time (I Pet. 2:5), and a king who rules his own life under Christ, as one who knows and does God’s will (Rev. 1:6).
These are fundamental differences. And we ought to be thankful for the work of the Holy Spirit, who brings us the reality of Christ and all He did through the infallible Scriptures.Prof. Hanko
Westminster Confession VII: “5. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore-signifying Christ to come, which were for that time sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament. 6. Under the gospel, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity and less outward glory, yet in them it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.”