Special treatises on the Person of the Holy Spirit are comparatively few, and systematic treatment of His Work is still more uncommon. In dogmatics, it is true, this subject is introduced, developed, and explained, but special treatment is exceptional.
As much as there is written on Christ, so little is there written on the Holy Spirit. The work of John Owen on this subject is most widely known and still unsurpassed. In fact, John Owen wrote three works on the Holy Spirit; published in 1674, 1682, and 1693. He was naturally a prolific writer and theologian. Born in 1616, he died at the good old age of seventy-five years, in 1691. From 1642, when he published his first book, he continued writing books until his death.
In 1826 Richard Baynes reissued the works of John Owen, D.D., edited by Thomas Russell, A.M., with memoirs of his life and writings (twenty-one volumes). This edition is still in the market, and offers a treasury of sound and thorough theology.
Besides Owen’s works I mention the following:
David Rungius, “Proof of the Eternity and Eternal Godhead of the Holy Spirit,” Wittenberg, 1599.
Seb. Nieman, “On the Holy Spirit,” Jena, 1655.
Joannes Ernest Gerhard, “On the Person of the Holy Spirit,” Jena, 1660.
Theod. Hackspann, “Dissertation on the Holy Spirit,” Jena, 1655.
J. G. Dorsche, “On the Person of the Holy Spirit,” Köningsberg, 1690.
Fr. Deutsch, “On the Personality of the Holy Spirit,” Leipsic, 1711.
Gottfr. Olearius (John F. Burgius), “On the Adoration and Worship of the Holy Spirit,” Jena, 1727.
J. F. Buddeuss, “On the Godhead of the Holy Spirit,” Jena, 1727.
J. C. Pfeiffer, “On the Godhead of the Holy Spirit,” Jena, 1740.
G. F. Gude, “On the Martyrs as Witnesses for the Godhead or the Holy Spirit,” Leipsic, 1741.
J. C. Danhauer, “On the Procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son,” Strasburg, 1663. J. Senstius, Rostock, 1718, and J. A. Butstett, Wolfenbüttel, 1749. John Schmid, John Meisner, P. Havercorn, G. Wegner, and C. M. Pfaff.
The Work of the Holy Spirit has been discussed separately by the following: Anton, “The Holy Spirit Indispensable.” Carsov, “On the Holy Spirit in Conviction.” Wensdorf, “On the Holy Spirit as a Teacher.” Boerner, “The Anointing of the Holy Spirit.” Neuman, “The Anointing which Teaches All Things.” Fries, “The Office of the Holy Spirit in General.” Weiss, “The Holy Spirit Bringing into Remembrance.” Foertsch, “On the Holy Spirit’s Leading of the Children of God.” Hoepfner, “On the Intercession of the Holy Spirit.” Beltheim, Arnold, Gunther, Wendler, and Dummerick, “On the Groaning of the Holy Spirit.” Meen, “On the Adoration of the Holy Spirit.” Henning and Crusius, “On the Earnest of the Holy Spirit.”
The following Dutch theologians have written on the same subject: Gysbrecht Voetius in his “Select-Disput,” I, p. 466. Sam, Maresius, “Theological Treatise on the Personality and Godhead of the Holy Spirit,” in his “Sylloge-Disput,” I, p. 364. Jac. Fruytier, “The Ancient Doctrine Concerning God the Holy Spirit, True, Proven, and Divine”; exposition of
Works on the same subject during the present century can scarcely be compared with the studies of John Owen. We notice the following: Herder, “Vom Paraclet.” Kachel, “Von der Lästerung wider den Heiligen Geist,” Nürnberg, 1875. E. Guers, “Le Saint-Esprit, Étude doctrinale et pratique sur Sa Personne et Son Œuvre,” Toulouse, 1865. A. J. Gordon, “Dispensation of the Spirit.”
This meager bibliography shows what scant systematic treatment is accorded to the Person of the Holy Spirit. Studies of the Work of the Holy Spirit are still more scanty. It is true there are several dissertations on separate parts of this Work, but it has never been treated in its organic unity. Not even by Guers, who acknowledges that his little book is not entitled to a place among dogmatics.
In fact, Owen is still unsurpassed and is therefore much sought after by good theologians, both lay and clerical. And yet Owen’s masterpiece does not seem to make a closer study of this subject superfluous. Although invincible as a champion against the Arminians and Semi-Arminians of the latter part of the seventeenth century, his armor is too light to meet the doctrinal errors of the present time. For this reason the author has undertaken to offer the thinking Christian public an exposition of the second part of this great subject, in a form adapted to the claims of the age and the errors of the day. He has not treated the first part, the Person of the Holy Spirit. This is not a subject for controversy. The Godhead of the Holy Spirit is indeed being confessed or denied, but the principles of which confession or denial is the necessary result are so divergent that a discussion between confessor and denier is impossible. If they ever enter the arena, they should cross lances on the point of first principles and discuss the Source of Truth. And when this is settled, they might come to discuss a special subject like that of the Holy Spirit. But until then such a discussion with them that deny the Revelation would almost be sacrilegious.
But with the Work of the Holy Spirit, it is different. For although professing Christians acknowledge this Work, and all that it includes, and all that flows from it, yet the various groups into which they divide represent it in very divergent ways. What differences on this point between Calvinists and Ethicals, Reformed, Kohlbruggians, and Perfectionists! The representations of the practical Supernaturalists, Mystics, and Antinomians can scarcely be recognized.
It seemed to me impracticable and confusing to attack these deviating opinions on subordinate points. These differences should never be discussed but systematically. He that has not first staked off the entire domain in which the Holy Spirit works can not successfully measure any part of it, to the winning of a brother or to the glory of God.
Hence leaving out polemics almost entirely, I have made an effort to represent the Work of the Holy Spirit in its organic relations, so that the reader may be enabled to survey the entire domain. And in surveying, who is not surprised at the ever-increasing dimensions of the Work of the Holy Spirit in all the things that pertain to God and man?
Even though we honor the Father and believe on the Son, how little do we live in the Holy Spirit! It even seems to us sometimes that
This is the reason why our thoughts are so little occupied with the Holy Spirit; why in the ministry of the Word He is so little honored; why the people of God, when bowed in supplication before the Throne of Grace, make Him so little the object of their adoration. You feel involuntarily that of our piety, which is already small enough, He receives a too scanty portion.
And since this is the result of an inexcusable lack of knowledge and appreciation of His glorious Work in the entire creation, holy enthusiasm constrained me, in the power of God, to offer my fellow champions for the faith once delivered by the fathers, some assistance in this respect.
May the Holy Spirit, whose divine Work I have uttered in human words and with stammering tongue, crown this labor with such blessing that you may feel His unseen Presence more closely, and that He may bring to your disquieted heart more abundant consolation.
--Amsterdam, April 10, 1888--
Postscript for American readers, I add one more observation.
This work contains occasional polemics against Methodism which to the many ministers and members of the churches called “Methodist” may appear unfair and uncalled for. Be it, therefore, clearly stated that my controversy with Methodism is never with these particular churches. The Methodism that I contend with prevailed until recently in nearly all the Protestant churches as an unhealthy fruit of the Reveil in the beginning of this century. Methodism as here intended is identical with what Mr. Heath, in The Contemporary Review (May, 1898), criticized as woefully inadequate to place Protestantism again at the head of the spiritual movement.
Methodism was born out of the spiritual decline of the Episcopal Church of England and Wales. It arose as the reaction of the individual and of the spiritual subjective against the destructive power of the objective in the community as manifested in the Church of England. As such the reaction was precious and undoubtedly a gift of God, and in its workings it would have continued just as salutary if it had retained its character of a predominant reaction.
It should have supposed the Church as a community as an objective power, and in this objective domain it should have vindicated the significance of the individual spiritual life and of the subjective confessing.
But it failed to do this. From vindicating the subjective rights of the individual it soon passed into antagonism against the objective rights of the community. This resulted dogmatically in the controversy about the objective work of God, viz., in His decree and His election, and ecclesiastically in antagonism against the objective work of the office through the confession. It gave supremacy to the subjective element in man’s free will and to the individual element in the deciding of unchurchly conflicts in the Church. And so it retained no other aim than the conversion of individual sinners; and for this work it abandoned the organic and retained only the mechanical method.
As such it celebrated in the so-called Reveil its most glorious triumph and penetrated nearly all the Protestant churches, and even the Episcopal Church, under the name of Evangelicalism or Low Churchism. As a second reaction against the second decline of the Protestant churches of that time, this triumph undoubtedly brought a great blessing.
But when the necessity arose to reduce this new spiritual life to a definite principle, and upon this to construct a Protestant-Christian life and world-view in opposition to the unchristian philosophies and to the essentially pantheistic life and world-view, and to give these position and to maintain it, then it pitiably failed. It lacked conscious, sharply defined principles; with its individualism and subjectivity, it could not reach the social questions, and by reason of its complete lack of organic unity, it could not formulate an independent life and world-view; yea, it stood everywhere as an obstacle to such formations.
For this reason it is absolutely necessary to teach the Protestant churches clearly to see this dark shadow of Methodism, while at the same time they should continue to study its precious significance as a spiritual reaction.
Hence my contending with Methodism and my persistent pointing to the imperative necessity of vindicating, over against and alongside of the purely mechanical subjectivity, the rights of the organic social in all human life, and of satisfying the need of the power of objectivity in presence of the extravagant statements of
The Work of the Holy Spirit may not be displaced by the activity of the human spirit.
Amsterdam, April 21, 1899.
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