Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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April 2009 • Volume XII, Issue 12


Grieving the Holy Spirit (1)

In Ephesians 4:30, we are commanded, "And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption."

This exhortation well accords with the Spirit’s being a person, even the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, for a stone or a blind, impersonal force cannot be grieved. Only a person, one possessed of reason and will, one who can think and choose as a moral agent, can be grieved.

This grieving of the Spirit must also be understood in the light of His Deity. Someone is grieved if they suffer sorrow or pain. Man grieves at the loss of a loved one. Believers grieve over their sins. We experience mental pain and sadness. But this does not apply to the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, who is possessed of an infinite and unchangeable blessedness that admits of no diminution. In understanding the grieving of the Holy Spirit, we must not ascribe any imperfection to His glorious majesty.

So what then is it to grieve the Holy Spirit? First, we grieve the Holy Spirit when we do things that He hates. Here it is helpful to think of one human being grieving another: a child irritating his parents, a neighbour doing something you cannot stand, a foolish man speaking in a way his wife detests. And what is the one thing we do that grieves the Spirit? Sin and only sin. The Spirit loathes, detests and abhors the evil that we think and do. He hates our iniquities because they are contrary to His character as the spotlessly pure One, the One who is the personal consecration of the Father to the Son and the Son to the Father. The Spirit abhors our transgressions because they oppose His work in us. His purpose with us and activity in us is to sanctify and cleanse us. So He cannot but loathe our filthiness, our perversity in jumping back into the mire of iniquity. He is the One who leads us according to the Word in paths of righteousness, crying, "This is the way; walk ye in it." So He detests our unfaithfulness if we (for a time) leave the way of obedience and walk in sin.

Second, we grieve the Holy Spirit when, because of our iniquities, He withdraws the sense of His gracious presence from us, until we are brought to repentance. We can understand this too from the realm of human relationships. You have an acquaintance who uses foul language; you admonish him; he fails to repent; you separate from him. Or you have a son still living in your home who walks openly and impenitently in gross sin, bringing great misery and distress upon your family. After your repeated and earnest rebukes fall upon deaf ears, you tell him that he must leave your home and get a house of his own.

The Holy Spirit is God’s love and covenant friendship in us personally. What does He do, when He sees us walking impenitently in sin? He hates it and withdraws from us His sweet presence, for the Spirit only fellowships with us as we walk in the light. He cannot continue to grant us comfort and peace while we live in sin, as if God approved of our wickedness and was not terribly offended, as if the Holy One of Israel has communion with unrighteousness!

You see this don’t you? You understand the seriousness of disobedience? You do not want to grieve the Spirit or see your children do so. How awful it is to grieve the Spirit: for Him to hate the way we live and to withdraw His comforting presence from us!

We read of God grieving in the days before the flood. Sin developed, especially through mixed marriages between the sons of the church and the daughters of the world (Gen. 6:2), and so God was "grieved" in His "heart" (6). He hated their wickedness (5) and sent the flood.

The other period particularly known for God’s being grieved is that of Israel’s wilderness wandering. "How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert!" (Ps. 78:40). "Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways: unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest" (95:10-11). Isaiah 63 speaks of the same period and specifically states that the Holy Spirit was grieved: "But they rebelled, and vexed [i.e., grieved] his holy Spirit" (10).

But what about those things which are said to grieve the Holy Spirit in the immediate context of Ephesians 4:30? Notice that the text begins with "And," linking it to the preceding verse: "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers" (29). Foul speech, obscene language and malicious words are "corrupt," that is, putrid and rotten. Such talk grieves the Holy Spirit because He is the Spirit of life and purity. He cannot dwell at peace with one who speaks this way; He hates corrupt conversation and withdraws.

Some point out that the word "corrupt" in Ephesians 4:29 also carries the idea of "worthless." Why use worthless, corrupt and rotten talk, when you could be "edifying [others by your speech], that it may minister grace unto the hearers" (29)? Rev. Stewart

Christ’s Breathing Forth the Spirit

John 20:22-23 says, "And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained." A reader asks, "How does John 20:22-23 apply to the church at this present time?"

The event in John 20 took place at the appearance of the Lord to His disciples on resurrection day. Thus it was an appearance forty days before His ascension and fifty days before Pentecost. Of the eleven, only Thomas was not present.

The first question that needs answering is: Why did Jesus breathe on His disciples? The answer is that both the Hebrew and the Greek words for Spirit mean "breath." By breathing on the disciples, He showed in this action that what He said to them was true: "Receive ye the Holy Ghost." Furthermore, and this is the most important point, by breathing on them Jesus made clear that the Holy Spirit they would receive on Pentecost came from Him.

The significance of this for us today is that the presence of the Holy Spirit in the church is to be explained by the fact that the ascended Christ gives His church the blessings He merited for us through the Holy Spirit. Indeed, He Himself is present with us by the Spirit (John 14:16-18).

The second question is: Why did the Lord give to the apostles the Holy Spirit at this time? The answer to this question is found in John 20:23. Very much the same truth is found in Matthew 16:19 and 18:18. The apostles were entrusted with the Holy Spirit that they might exercise the keys of the kingdom of heaven. By the keys of the kingdom of heaven, Scripture refers to preaching (Matt. 16:19) and the exercise of church discipline (Matt. 18:17-18).

To speak only of the second of the two keys, the importance for the church today is that the keys of the kingdom are still given to the elders of the church. When they rightly excommunicate an unrepentant member, they close the gates of the kingdom of heaven to that sinner. Christ connects this calling to exercise the keys of the kingdom with the Holy Spirit’s presence in the church so that all may know that the excommunication is done by Christ Himself: "Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 16:19). Hence, because the church is doing what it is her calling to do by means of the Spirit, the church is truly doing the work of Christ. Of this the church must be assured.

The exercise of the keys of the kingdom is almost completely neglected by many churches in our day. By this neglect these churches show that they are no longer churches of Christ, for Christian discipline is a mark of the true church.

The third question is: Did not the gift of the Holy Spirit on the occasion of Christ’s first appearance to His disciples negate the need for Pentecost? If Christ gave the Spirit on this occasion, why once again on Pentecost (Acts 2)?

R. C. H. Lenski comments, "This is still a preliminary stage, not yet the final one of Pentecost, the climax of all the stages that preceded. Not yet could the disciples receive power in the sense of Acts 1:8. That would come at Pentecost and after." Lenski then lists some differences between John 20 and Acts 2.

Calvin’s view is similar: "But if Christ, at that time, bestowed the Spirit on the Apostles by breathing, it may be thought that it was superfluous to send the Holy Spirit afterwards. I reply, the Spirit was given to the Apostles on this occasion in such a manner, that they were only sprinkled by his grace, but were not filled with full power; for, when the Spirit appeared on them in tongues of fire (Acts 2:3), they were entirely renewed. And, indeed, he did not appoint them to be heralds of his Gospel, so as to send them forth immediately to the work, but ordered them to take repose ... And if we take all things properly into consideration, we shall conclude, not that he furnishes them with necessary gifts for present use, but that he appoints them to be the organs of his Spirit for the future; and, therefore, this breathing ought to be understood as referring chiefly to that magnificent act of sending the Spirit which he had so often promised."

With these interpretations I agree. It could be added that on this evening of the first Easter, only the disciples, later to become apostles, received the Holy Spirit, and that particularly to give them the authority to exercise the keys of the kingdom. On Pentecost, the entire church received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit of the ascended Lord does not rest only upon office bearers in the church, but dwells in the hearts of all the saints (Acts 2:17-18). By the work of the Spirit all the blessings of salvation, earned by the ascended Lord, are given to the church. And with these blessings, the Spirit makes all God’s people prophets, priests and kings (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 32).

Even the disciples did not receive the fullness of the out-poured Spirit on the evening of Easter. This is clear from Acts 1:6. The disciples still did not understand the death and resurrection of Christ, and were still thinking of Christ’s work in terms of an earthly kingdom. They asked, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?"

But what a difference the presence of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost made! Suddenly they understood it all! Peter could preach his marvellous sermon in which he correctly explained the work of Christ, and how it was the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. And all the 120 could speak of "the wonderful works of God" (Acts 2:11). Prof. Hanko

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