The Third Person of the Triune God has been given a variety of titles in the sacred Scriptures. He is called the Holy Spirit, Spirit, Spirit of God, Spirit of Christ, Helper, Spirit of grace, Spirit of glory, and many more names, descriptive of his multifaceted ministries.
One name the Lord Jesus used in reference to the Spirit was the “Spirit of truth.” Three times during his Farewell Discourse (John 14 -17), Jesus calls the Holy Spirit by this name. In preparing his disciples for his imminent departure and the promised descent of the Spirit, Jesus announced,
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, . . .” (14:16-17).1
“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me” (15:26).
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (16:13-14).
We live in an age that is either hostile and indifferent toward truth, or uninformed and careless toward the same, as it is found in Jesus and biblical revelation (the Word of God). We should expect such an attitude from the world. But the Church is also being conspicuously affected and infected by Satan’s lies.
The message of this essay is that objective, revealed truth matters, and the Holy Spirit himself is the preserver of such truth, who points all humankind to the Christ who said, “I am . . . the truth” (John 14:6).
Well what are ages and the lapse of time
Match’d against truths, as lasting as sublime?
Can length of years on God himself exact?
Or make that fiction, which was once a fact?
No marble and recording brass decay,
And, like the graver’s memory, pass away;
The works of man inherit, as is just,
Their author’s frailty, and return to dust;
But Truth divine forever stands secure,
Its head is guarded as its base is sure;
Fix’d in the rolling flood of endless years,
The pillar of the eternal plan appears,
The raving storm and dashing wave defies,
Built by that Architect who built the skies.
(From “Conversation” by William Cowper)
Dr. Daniel Steel (1824-1914) served his Lord and the Methodist Church as a pastor, evangelist, college president (two colleges), professor (including Boston University), and as a writer to the Church at large. He was the founding president of Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York.2
Steele served on the committee assigned to create a charter for Syracuse, which was designed to be a Methodist-affiliated school. Upon reading the charter’s first draft, he remarked later, it “would have suited a Muslim or Buddhist institution, for there was no reference to Christ.”
One of Steele’s recommended corrections to the first draft was that the adjective “Christian” should be inserted at one point before the word “learning.” Furthermore, a Methodist judge serving on the committee was asked by a colleague “whether an evangelical interpretation to ‘Christian’ could not be incorporated into this charter of the university, so that it could be forever held for orthodoxy as found in the Methodist standards.”
Daniel Steele said he never forgot the judge’s response: “There is no safeguard possible. Harvard went over to Unitarianism because the church itself apostatized from the faith. You cannot by legal documents prevent a denomination from drifting away from its creed. If Methodism backslides from orthodoxy, she will take her schools with her.”
Steele later, in writing about this insightful remark, commented:
“The lawyer taught the preacher an important lesson, which he has sought to teach others ever since: Orthodoxy can be conserved only by the Holy Spirit abiding in the consciousness of the individual members of the Church. Then, and then only, are we safe.”3
From the beginning of the creation account when the “Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2), until the final chapter of Revelation when “the Spirit and the Bride say come” (Rev. 21:17), God’s Word records the activities and ministries of the Third Person of the Triune God.
The Holy Spirit has often been referred to as the “shy member of the Trinity.” While the noticeable presence of the Spirit was more or less veiled during the era under the Old Covenant, nonetheless he was active. For wherever God the Father is present, there you will find the Spirit present as well.
With the coming of the Word made flesh, we see in and through him a fuller revelation of the Spirit’s activity. In speaking of the coming Messiah, the prophet Isaiah penned a remarkable prophecy regarding the future seven-fold ministry of the Spirit: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD” (Isa. 11:1-2). Later in the same book, Isaiah records what the promised Messiah one day would himself announce:
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me . . .” (Isa. 61:1f).
Some six hundred years later when the Son of God stood to his feet in Nazareth’s synagogue, he opened the scroll of Isaiah to the above passage and read it to the amazement of his hometown congregation. He concluded by saying,
“Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:18f).
Jesus, the Son of God and the holy Anointed One, is truth—the very essence of truth. Whatever he said about his Father was truth; whatever he said about man was truth; whatever he said about coming events was truth; whatever he did was truth in action. He said “I am the . . . truth” (John 14:6), and whatever he said and did was truth (as opposed to falsehood), and real (as opposed to counterfeit). All he was and represented and communicated was the very antithesis of what are a lie and error and heresy and counterfeit.
Satan, his activities, and those influenced by him, are polar opposites of truth because they are opposed to the one and only true God and Jesus Christ whom he sent into the world. In disputing with some antagonists one day, Jesus said that Satan
“. . . has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:14).
There is an age-old battle that is intensifying today and will become increasingly fierce the closer we come to the Parousia, the second coming of the Lord Jesus. The battle that is being fought in the Heavenlies as well as here on earth is the battle between truth and lies. It began in the Heavenlies when Lucifer was cast down to earth; it was fought in Eden when Adam and Eve fell for the Lie; it raged as never before when the Son of Man was assaulted by Satan for forty days in the wilderness.
But the Lie was defeated—definitively and decisively—at the Cross and the Resurrection of the Son of God more than two thousand years ago. But the war between the Truth and the Lie will continue until the Lie (Satan) is cast down into the “lake of fire” (Rev. 20:10). In the meantime, this planet is the battlefield between the Truth and the Lie. And every person is on the field of battle, whether they are conscious of it or not.
A war is raging. But it is not a war in the ultimate sense between people, between flesh and blood. It is a spiritual war. It is a war being fought between kingdoms—the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. It is a war between princes—the prince of the power of the air and the Prince of Peace. It is a spiritual conflict engaging the saints
“. . . against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12).
Because it was necessary for the Son of Man to leave this world and return to his Father, he promised his disciples that he would not leave them alone, that he would not leave them in this world as orphans. Therefore, in the closing days of his earthly ministry, Jesus announced to his followers that after his departure he would send to them another Paraclete, a Helper, whom he called the Spirit of truth.
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).
“But when the Paraclete comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me” (John 15:26).
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:12-14).
On three occasions in his farewell discourse, Jesus calls the Paraclete the Spirit of Truth. He said the Spirit of truth . . .
. . . would be like Christ himself, for he refers to him as “another Paraclete”;
. . . would forever abide with the disciples;
. . . could not be received by world (those who had not accepted Christ as Lord and Savior);
. . . would indwell the disciples;
. . . proceeded from the Father;
. . . would bear witness to and glorify Christ;
. . . would not communicate anything to the disciples on his own initiative or by his own authority;
. . . would only communicate to the disciples what he “hears”;
. . . would declare future events;
. . . would take the truth Jesus had spoken and share it with Christ’s followers.
It is clear from these words of the Lord Jesus, that he was concerned after his departure that the truth which he had spoken while ministering on earth would be preserved in the Church. Also, he made provision that all future truth communicated to his apostles by the Spirit would be preserved as well.
For those of us who identify with the historic, orthodox Christian faith, we believe this inspired, infallible, objective, authoritative truth has been sovereignly preserved for us in what is called the Bible, the sixty-six canonical books of Holy Scripture. We believe what the prophets wrote to be truth. We believe this because we have accepted him who said he was the truth, and we believe what he said was truth. The apostles believed the same and that is why truth was so important to them.
The apostle Paul said of those who reject the truth, “there will be wrath and fury” (Rom. 2:8). On the other hand, he said to the Ephesians who were receptive to his preaching:
“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit . . . (Eph. 1:13).
Truth matters—to God and to serious Christians. What is true as opposed to what is false; what is real as opposed to what is counterfeit—these are issues of primary concern to the inquiring and maturing disciple of the Lord Jesus and have eternal implications. They have eternal implications and consequences because the Lord Jesus said the Lie has no place in our eternal home.
“But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:27).
“Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Rev. 22:15).
Genuine disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ love the truth because they love the God of truth and his Son who is the way and the truth and the life. They love all that God and his Son loves. And because the written Word of God is the Book of Truth, they love the Word—not as some magical, mysterious talisman—but as it is indeed—the Word of truth, because it came from God through those who were inspired and indwelt and moved by the Spirit of truth to write words of truth.
When Christ’s followers receive the gift of the Spirit they receive the Holy Spirit of truth. Because they receive the Spirit of truth, each disciple will be led into all the truth necessary for his spiritual maturation (sanctification) and witness while here on earth. The means the Spirit uses to this end are varied. He primarily uses the written Word of God through reading and preaching and teaching; he uses the wise and full-of-the-Spirit counsel given by the leadership in local churches, who live under the authority of the Word; he uses the fellowship of maturing believers who wish to be guided by the Word; he uses the writings of both past and contemporary godly writers, who are men and women of the Word; he uses the hymns and songs written by Spirit-infused men and women who walk according to the Word. Whatever means God uses to aid his people in their walk with him, he uses the means that are always in harmony with his revealed written Word and never contrary to it.
Because this is so, everything that the Word of God affirms to be true in matters pertaining to doctrine and life, every regenerated believer will have an eager and earnest desire to pursue and obey—wherever that truth may lead. Conversely, every regenerated believer will avoid every lie, every falsehood, every teaching that does not harmonize with the plain teaching of God’s Word.
Writing a hundred years after Daniel Steele, Anglican pastor and well-respected evangelical scholar Dr. John Stott (1921-2011) wrote:
“the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, who cares about the truth, teaches the truth and bears witness to the truth. Consequently, truth and the Holy Spirit are entirely compatible, and it is perfectly possible to trust both simultaneously.”4
Authentic Christians care deeply about the truth, for it is the truth which has set them free—the truth that is in Jesus. Therefore, it grieves them deeply whenever the truth of God is spoken against, violated, compromised, adulterated, and diminished—especially by those who profess to be his followers.
Fifty years following the founding of Syracuse University as a Methodist educational institution, its charter was officially changed to make it a “nonsectarian.” university. Steele was right: “Orthodoxy can be conserved only by the Holy Spirit abiding in the consciousness of the individual members of the Church.”
When the Holy Spirit of truth is grieved and repentance is not sought, truth has been substituted for a lie. When that happens to a Christian university, the trustees decide to amend its charter, making it a secular institution; when it happens to a denomination, the hierarchy eventually votes to ordain a practicing homosexual; when it happens in a local church, their evangelical light becomes darkness, for the Lord of the lampstands has removed their light; when it happens to the individual,
“. . . because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thess. 2:11-12).
The Christian’s only safety—the only antidote to accepting a lie—is to be filled with the Spirit of truth; to walk in the truth; to be guided by the truth; to live in the truth; to keep his eyes on him who is the truth; to read, meditate, and obey the truth; to fellowship with people of the truth; to sit under the preaching and teaching of truth; to delight in the truth; to buy the truth and sell it not!
For this to occur, there must be a radical work of grace in depths of our being—a work of grace that takes us to the Cross and causes us to face and acknowledge our sin and sinfulness; a work of grace that points us to the truth himself, the Lord Jesus Christ; a work of grace that infuses new life—the very life of Christ into our hearts. This is conversion.
May the Father be able to say of us as the holy apostle said of some saints in his own day, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John. 1:4).
- Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
- In the records I have researched, there are discrepancies as to Steele’s official title at the school’s founding. Various accounts refer to him as the first president, the first chancellor, or, as first administrative leader.
- All quotations by Steele are taken from Ch. 36, Daniel Steele, The Gospel of the Comforter (Salem, IN: Schmul Publishing Co., 1960; reprinted from 1897 edition). I have edited and modernized the language for today’s reader.
- John Stott, Evangelical Truth (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), p. 115.
(This article was originally published as five parts
in Life in the Spirit Journal (2011-2012).
Ralph I. Tilley
copyright © 2017 Ralph I. Tilley
(May be copied for noncommercial purposes;
not to exceed 500 copies.)