HOLY SPIRIT: Beginning With Mary—Introduction by Tom Smail

The Holy Spirit in Person

Beginning With Mary by Tom Smail

From The Giving Gift

A Hymn for the Baptism of Jesus

Father, behold your Son made man
To baptism comes in Jordan’s stream,
And thus fulfills your ancient plan
All Adam’s children to redeem.
Your voice from Heaven your will attests,
“My Son, on whom my favor rests.”

Blest Spirit, who in Mary’s womb
The new humanity began,
Who soon from Joseph’s darkened tomb
Will bring to life the Son of Man,
The baptized Christ with gifts endow,
Anoint the new Messiah now.

Lord Jesus Christ, now Son proclaimed,
Baptized with Holy Spirit’s powers,
Unsullied Lamb of God now named,
The sins you bear, not yours but ours,
Go forth the Devil’s wrath to face
Live, die and rise to save our race.

O Triune God, your people claim,
The Father’s children by his grace,
Those who confess the Son’s great name,
The Holy Spirit’s dwelling place,
Your baptized church in faith will pray,
Your threefold glory now display!


I nearly called this book, “What the charismatic renewal did not say about the Holy Spirit.”  That at any rate would have had the merit of making it clear right from the start that it is not a book about the central charismatic concerns and not much will be found in it about baptism in the Spirit or spiritual gifts such as tongues, prophecy, and healing.  I have often had my say on such matters and have little more to add.  Such a title, however, would have failed to indicate that it is only because of the charismatic renewal that I am writing about the Holy Spirit at all.  I believe firmly that he has been at work in my life since my baptism as an infant right at its beginning, but I also know that I became aware of him in a new way in the renewal of my life and ministry that resulted from my contact with the early charismatic renewal in November 1965, and that my taking him seriously both in my thinking and living began at that point.

So, as a confessed and continuing debtor to the renewal movement, I want nevertheless to press on beyond it.  My attitude to it nowadays is very much like that of the writer to the Hebrews when he wrote, “Let us leave the elementary teachings and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instructions about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment,” (Hebrews 6:1-2).

To which it might justly have been retorted that there are many who lack just that foundation and cannot build anything until it has been securely laid.  In the same way contemporary charismatics might rightly argue that people cannot become mature in the Spirit until they have begun in the Spirit, and to lead them to such a beginning is a highly relevant and indeed urgently necessary ministry today.

My own questionings about the renewal movement do not concern its ability under God to rejuvenate churches and Christians but rather its ability to mature what it has rejuvenated.  However that may be, there is an abundance of literature about being renewed in the Spirit, but not so much about being matured in the Spirit, and because the latter is my own present need and concern, it is also the subject of this book.  If it is undoubtedly true that it was through “baptisms and the laying on of hands” that we were first touched by the Spirit, it is equally true that we must “go on to maturity” by becoming concerned not just with how and when we were touched but with the one who touched us, with the Holy Spirit himself, not just in the narrow perspective of charismatic gifts but in all dimensions of his activity in the life of God, of the church, and of the world.

What I am searching for in this book is some starting point for a mature understanding of the Holy Spirit that does justice not only to his more dramatic manifestations but to all the work he was sent to do.  To find that breadth of understanding we must look primarily to the witness of scripture and also to the evidence of two thousand years of Christian tradition and of the experience of countless believers.  At the same time we need to probe beyond his work to his person.  What Jesus did always raised the question as to who Jesus was.  In the same way to experience the work of the Spirit leads us to ask whose work it is; openness to and enjoyment of the gifts creates a concern with the giver of these gifts.  It is strange that among all the many books that have appeared in the last twenty years about the activity of the Spirit, hardly any so much as glance at the question of his person.  Even so theologically aware a writer as Dr. James Packer in Keep in Step With the Spirit has next to nothing to say about why we need to confess the Spirit as a third divine person along with the Father and the Son.  The fact that the subject is elusive and difficult does not mean that it is not very important and we propose to redress the balance by making the person of the Spirit our central theme.

In case anyone should think that all this is a merely academic or purely theoretical exercise, let it be said at once that our aim is pre-eminently practical.  The importance of a mature understanding of the Holy Spirit is that it will help to produce a more mature church.  The main reason for a concern with his person is that we should be more open to the whole range of his promises and how they relate to the gospel as a whole, and so more able to pray for his living presence to enable us to grow up into all the riches of Christ that he brings to us.

In recent years I have often found myself saying that the primary work of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament does not have to do with charismatic manifestations but with our initiation into the two central relationships that are summed up in the two confessions, “Abba, Father,” and, “Jesus is Kurios, Lord.”  Before the Spirit relates us to one another in love or to the world in missionary outreach, he relates us to God the Father and God the Son in worshipping acknowledgment of who they are for us.  Central to Paul’s teaching about the Spirit is the statement in 1 Corinthians 12:3 that “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit,” and the other statement in Galatians 4:6, “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father,’”  To bring us into relationship to the Jesus who is Kurios (Lord) and the God who is Abba (Father) is the primary charismatic work of the Spirit.  Without his gracious activity, such relationships and the confession of them would remain impossible to us.  It is to those who know and confess Kurios and Abba that the Spirit imparts his gifts and pours out his love.  A Christian becomes charismatic – that is, enters the dynamic field of the Spirit’s action – not when he speaks in tongues and prophesies but when he confesses Kurios and Abba.

That at once makes clear that the action of the Spirit extends to the whole God-man, Christ-Christian relationships and not just one part of them and it raises the question of what precisely the role of the Spirit is in creating and maintaining these relationships.  It suggests further that the Holy Spirit operates in a Trinitarian context: his work is to relate us to the Father and the Son, because the Spirit himself in his own being is intimately related to both the Father and the Son.  We must ask how, as the third Trinitarian person who relates us to the other two, he is himself related to the Father and the Son.  Questions like this lie before us, but we can see from the outset clear indications that the work and person of the Spirit can be explicated only in the context of a Trinitarian doctrine of God.  The texts we have just quoted and especially Galatians 4:6 (cf., 11 Corinthians 13:14) strongly suggest that it was in an implicitly Trinitarian context that the Holy Spirit was originally received, so that it will be only in the same context that all that he does and is can be rightly understood.

We shall therefore be asking how the distinctive work of the Spirit in salvation and creation is to be understood in its connection with and distinction from the work of the Father and the Son and how therefore the person of the Spirit is to be understood in its connection with and distinction from the persons of the Father and the Son.  Put more simply: How does what he does relate to what they do, and how does who he is relate to who they are?

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