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The Work of the Holy Spirit (1)


Covenant Reformed News

July 2015 • Volume XV, Issue 15

The Work of the Holy Spirit (1)
Prof.Herman Hanko (emeritus, PRC Seminary)

In 2008, the British Reformed Fellowship (BRF) held its tenth biennial conference at the Share Centre on the shores of Lough Erne, Co. Fermanagh, N. Ireland. The subject was, “The Work of the Holy Spirit.” Some time after the conference, the speeches and sermons delivered by Lough Erne were published in book form. Many of the readers of the News have read that book. One reader recently came with a series of questions about the contents of the speeches and sermons delivered at that conference, and asked to have the answers included in the News. I propose to do this in the next few issues.

We will take these questions one by one as they appear in the letter sent to me. Question 1: “First, can you expand upon the idea that the Spirit was poured out on the church in heaven and what that accomplished?”

The reader refers to a statement I made in one of my speeches in which I mentioned the fact that on Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out on the whole church, that is, the church already in heaven as well as the church here on earth. Apparently, the idea is new to him.

It is true that there is no direct proof in Scripture that Christ gave His Holy Spirit to the saints already in heaven, as well as to the church as it existed in Jerusalem on Pentecost. The church there at that time consisted of one hundred and twenty followers of Jesus, including the eleven apostles and Matthias. But the proof that the Spirit was given to all the saints is firmly established by the meaning of the outpouring of the Spirit. The most wonderful part of the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost is, in my opinion, not so much that the Spirit was poured out on the church in heaven, which we would expect, but that Christ also gave His Spirit to the church on earth.

Consider the fact that not all of God’s people were present in Jerusalem on Pentecost. There were proselytes throughout the Mediterranean basin who, while people of God, had not, prior to Pentecost, received the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit is given to all God’s people, everywhere in the world. And Christ continues to give His Holy Spirit to the church throughout the new dispensation, who, possessing the Holy Spirit when they go to heaven, would certainly not meet people there in heaven who did not possess the Spirit of Pentecost merely because they died in Old Testament days.

The Spirit whom Christ gave to His church is the One through whom Christ unites believers to Himself. As our Heidelberg Catechism so beautifully puts it, in insisting that, spiritually, we do eat the body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper and drink His blood: “What is it then to eat the crucified body and drink the shed blood of Christ? It is not only to embrace with a believing heart all the sufferings and death of Christ, and thereby to obtain the pardon of sin and life eternal; but also, besides that, to become more and more united to His sacred body by the Holy Ghost, who dwells both in Christ and in us; so that we, though Christ is in heaven and we on earth, are notwithstanding flesh of His flesh, and bone of His bone; and that we live and are governed forever by one Spirit, as members of the same body are by one soul” (Q. & A. 76).

We are united to Christ by the bond of faith. This is true of all the saints. All, therefore, receive all the blessings of salvation from Christ to whom they are united. This is true of the saints in heaven as well as the saints upon earth.

According to Revelation 22:17, “the Spirit and the bride say, Come.” Not only does the church on earth pray for Christ’s coming at the end of this age but this is also the prayer of the saints in heaven. That the saints in heaven also pray for Christ’s coming is evident in Revelation 6:9-10: “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” If the Holy Spirit works this prayer in the hearts of the saints on earth (as He does), He works it in the hearts of the saints in heaven as well.

The Holy Spirit works in such a way that we receive all that Christ earned for us from the Holy Spirit. We are not Arminians who proudly think they can do good works of one kind or another by their ability and, therefore, they do not need the Holy Spirit for everything. With a strange insistence on their arrogant assertion that they do something to save themselves, they claim that the Holy Spirit comes to them only when they pray for Him. But we know that even our prayers are the Spirit’s work and not ours. All, and I mean ALL, our blessings, even the blessing of the privilege of prayer, come to us by the work of the Holy Spirit. Even the desire to do good works—and the spiritual ability to perform them—comes from Christ who works in us by His Holy Spirit. God works in us “both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). He works in us both to will and to do good works because it is, as this Scripture says, His good pleasure for us and in us.

Finally, John writes of the church in heaven, at the time of the ascension of Christ, proclaiming, “Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night” (Rev. 12:10). They were, of course, saved before this but, with Christ’s ascension, He who earned salvation for them came to them and by His Spirit unites even the saints in heaven to Himself.

And this answers the second part of the question above: What did the outpouring of the Holy Spirit accomplish with regards to the saints in heaven?

But that question involves the question of what the Holy Spirit, given on Pentecost, gave the church that it did not have before? Or, more particularly, what did the saints in heaven receive from the Spirit that they did not have before Christ’s ascension?

We will answer that question in a later News, Lord willing.

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 15
  • Issue: 15
Hanko, Herman

Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)

Ordained: October 1955

Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965

Emeritus: 2001


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