Chapter 19: The Holy Ghost

Our Faith
by Emil Brunner

Chapter 19: The Holy Ghost

Many a person has opened the Bible at some time or other, turned over a few pages, read this and that, and laid it aside again, saying, "Nothing there for me." Perhaps a few years later, after something has happened to him, he has read the same passages again. But now every word is like a hammer blow of God upon his heart. Why this difference? One can express it in two ways, from the human side and from the divine side. One can say that the Lord opened the heart as was said of that seller of purple (Acts 16) ; or one can say that God's spirit spoke directly through the Bible.

Without the work of God's spirit in opening our hearts, we cannot really understand the Bible. The book may appear interesting, or instructive, or touchingly beautiful to us; but to move the heart so that we know that God is now speaking to us, Himself to myself, this the Bible can do only when the Holy Spirit is added. So too is it with the message of the preacher on Sunday: we can hear a fine sermon without the Holy Spirit, but we then do not hear the Word of God in the sermon. Even a simple man on the street or at home can speak the Word of God to us -- through the Holy Spirit.

God has not spoken only in past times by the Prophets and Apostles. He speaks today. But not everything that pretends to be the Word of the Holy Spirit is what it claims to be. We need a measure by which to know what is of the Spirit of God and what is not. This measure is the Bible, the document, the original word of the Holy Spirit, the normal meter upon which all that claims to be God's Word must be gauged. What- ever fails to agree with it, cannot be God's Word.

The Holy Spirit does not only speak. When God really speaks there occurs not empty words but action. God's Word is ever the Word of the Creator. The Holy Spirit is creative power, wonder -- might. When God's Spirit enters a life, something miraculous always takes place. All becomes different than before. The letters of the Apostle are full of the miraculous workings of the Spirit of God. The first and perhaps most important is the fact that the human heart formerly disquieted, divided, rebellious, and at the same time despairing, becomes peaceful. "Peace with God," "reconciled" is the apostolic description. We are by nature at war with God and consequently at war, too, with man. We are not in a position to bring peace out of this conflict. The most wonderful thing that can happen to a man in this earthly life is to become right with God. The immediate result is joy. Many men claim they believe in God, but they go through life with as little peace as those who believe nothing. So to live is to manifest a misunderstanding of what belief means. A man who has really found God, so that God Himself has spoken to him and said, "You are my child," cannot be disquieted any more; a great never-ceasing joy has been kindled in him. This joy can almost be smothered by life's ashes, but it cannot be quenched. It continues to break forth again and again in spite of the ashes, and that is the work of the Holy Spirit.

The greatest fruit and the most glorious miracle is love. Love is an inward openness to the needs of others. As long as we do not love, the "other" remains on the outside. He is locked out, a stranger. We are for our- selves, and the "other's" existence has significance only as it pertains to ourselves. Love is a miracle that makes of the "other" no stranger; we are created for him, here for him, ready for him, eyes and ears for him; our whole being speaks to him -- come in, you are welcome here! An open door for my neighbor is love, the greatest miracle of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit of God renews men. We say of ourselves, I am as I am; as we say of another, he is as he is. We mean that each man receives this or that nature from his parents, and lives his life true to his received endowment. We say that as surely as an apple cannot be changed to a pear, so surely is a person's nature unalterable. But He who made the apples and pears, the Creator, can alter anything and He does it, too. The Bible is full of the message of transformation. "If any man is in Christ he is a new creature; old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new." That is the miracle of the Holy Spirit.

In the New Testament the Holy Spirit is In an especial manner the Spirit of the "community" of Jesus, the "Church." For the Holy Spirit is a spirit of fellowship, bringing individuals out of their isolation) making "one body" of them. To be sure there is for the most part little evidence of this in our churches, a sign of how little the Holy Spirit is alive within them. As the fire is to be known by its brightness and warmth, so the Spirit of God is to be known by the fellowship it produces. And as fire kindles fire (what looks like fire but does not spread is probably only pyrotechnical display), so life kindled by the Holy Spirit must spread and ignite all with its burning. It was in this way that the Church of Jesus Christ spread, it was in this way that the Reformation set all Europe on fire within a few years. It is the Spirit's way of working. The Holy Spirit is God at work now, redeeming, coming to us in the word concerning His Son, the "triune" God.