Edward Heppenstall
Former professor at Andrews University

We begin our sermon series in Elder's Digest as a tribute to a well-known teacher of hundreds of pastors. Below is a sermon given sometime around 1970 by Seventh-day Adventist theologian Dr. Edward Heppenstall.

In this sermon, notice how Dr. Heppenstall uses the Scriptures to teach us the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and then tells how the Spirit works in the life of the Christian. We call this expository preaching, and many lament that we do not hear more of it in our churches today. In this doctrinal sermon you will note there are no anecdotes or short story illustrations. We have provided an illustration that could be used with this sermon.

Scripture: John 16:13-15

Who is the Holy Spirit? Ask any number of religious leaders what they understand is meant by the Holy Spirit and they will give you a variety of answers. Many will tell you the "Holy Spirit" is an impersonal influence, a force, energy, and atmosphere emanating in some mysterious way from God. Others use the word "Him" when talking about the third person of the Godhead. Actually no agreement has ever been reached concerning the Holy Spirit in the different Christian communions. Many feel that the New Testament use of the term leaves us considerably in the dark as to how we should conceive of the Holy Spirit, or Holy Ghost.

Furthermore, much of the Christian church has in the past either neglected or misunderstood the nature and work of the Holy Spirit. In spite of the clear teaching of the New Testament on this doctrine, the neglect of the Holy Spirit has often been motivated by the ever-lurking fear that some unsavory and sensational manifestation might occur that would prove embarrassing and undesirable. Thus we blindly ignore the Holy Spirit as something that does not belong in a scientific age. The word "spirit" makes us think of the spirit world─a mysterious beyond about which we can prove little or nothing.

This negative mentality toward the third person of the Godhead has resulted in far less study and printed material on the topic than on almost any other doctrinal truth. Adventist theologians have written extensively about every other biblical doctrine. This neglect has brought serious loss to the church and to the Christian. The major defect is human blindness to the church's desperate need of the Holy Spirit in face of human sin and depravity.

Jesus Spoke Extensively of the Holy Spirit

Jesus Christ's specific reference to and designation of the Holy Spirit seem to be quite conclusive. We find His teaching concerning the person of the Holy Spirit in John's Gospel, chapters 13 to 16. We are going to refer to those chapters frequently, so please turn to John 13 and 14. Christ leaves no doubt about the personality of the Holy Spirit. Our Lord alone remains the infallible Teacher concerning the third person of the Godhead.

While discussing His possible departure from this world, Christ spoke of One who was to take His own place on the earth, once He had returned to heaven. John 16:7-11 says: "Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is for your good that I am leaving you. If I do not go, your Advocate will not come, whereas if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will confute the world, and show where wrong and right and judgement lie. He will convict them of wrong, by their refusal to believe in me; he will convince them that right is on my side, by showing that I go to the Father when I pass from your sight; and he will convince them of divine judgement, by showing that the Prince of this world stands condemned."*

Jesus makes constant use of the personal pronoun when referring to the Holy Spirit. He also declares that the Holy Spirit will be sent by the Father from heaven. Continuing in John 14: "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things" (verse 26, KJV). Our Lord seeks to show the essential unity that exists between the three persons of the Godhead: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Christ, the second person, came to bear witness to the Father. The Holy Spirit, the third person, was to come to bear witness to the Son.

The Holy Spirit Glorifies Christ

John 16:13-15: "However, when he comes who is the Spirit of truth, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his authority, but will tell only what he hears; and he will make known to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me, for everything that he makes known to you he will draw from what is mine."

Christ said that He would not leave His disciples orphans (John 14:18). He promised to come to them in the divine person of the Holy Spirit. And Christ does not send them an influence or a force as a substitute for Himself. The substitute is another person, like Himself, in perfect unity with both the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit is no less a person than Jesus Christ was a person. No vague spirit or influence could ever be a substitute for Jesus. Christ promised the church He would send a continuation of Himself.

The Godhead: Three Distinct Persons

Just as Christ and the Father are one in essence, so the Holy Spirit and Christ are one in essence. While there is an essential unity with the Godhead among the three persons, the Father clearly recognizes a distinction of persons among them. Christ always speaks of the Holy Spirit as a personality distinct from Himself. Christ did not say when He left that He would leave behind simply His influence in the world, or His gracious and loving spirit. John 15:26: "But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me" (KJV).

The union within the Godhead represents a unity of purpose and function, but not a unity of persons. They remain three distinct persons. Jesus Christ is the one member of the Godhead that became incarnate in human flesh. The Holy Spirit is not incarnate. He does not appear in personal, human form as Christ did. That would only confuse us as to the possibility of two Christs who were to come to the earth. The Bible never promised that. The Holy Spirit does not represent another Christ but the One who was here, died, was resurrected, and returned to heaven. His purpose is to testify to Jesus Christ─to glorify Him.

Furthermore, the Holy Spirit does not become the spirit of the believer. He is literally a distinct person and never impersonal. He is never a mere force, or power, or energy. His personality is not to be confused with that of the believer. He remains forever personally distinct from ourselves, even while dwelling with us and in us. Reading in Romans 8:16: "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God" (KJV). There can be no amalgamation of the Holy Spirit with the spirit of the Christian. What is of the Godhead remains so. What is human remains so, although transformed by the control of the Holy Spirit.

Christ said He would come to dwell in us. So does the Holy Spirit (John 14:18-20). Christ intercedes for us before the Father (Heb. 7:25). The Spirit intercedes with us in the depths of our hearts (Rom. 8:26, 27).

Nowhere in the Bible is there even a suggestion that the personality and the personal nature of the Spirit's action are less than that of the Father or the Son. To the Holy Spirit are attributed all the personal qualities and characteristics that belong equally to the other members of the Godhead.

To be baptized "in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19) is to say that coexistent, equal terms are used for each member of the Godhead. Consequently, in the New Testament, particularly in the book of Acts, the question is never "Who is the Holy Spirit?" but "Did you receive the Holy Spirit?"

Why Do Christians Need the Holy Spirit?

 "On the last and greatest day of the festival Jesus stood and cried aloud, 'If anyone is thirsty let him come to me.' ... As Scripture says, 'Streams of living water shall flow out from within him.' He was speaking of the Spirit which believers in him would receive later; for the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet been glorified" (John 7:37-39).

These words of Jesus describe a certain type of Christian experience. When Christ went back to heaven He sent the Holy Spirit, and Pentecost was the result. Thousands of Christians are living on this side of Pentecost as if that great event had never occurred. Yet we are living in the age of the Holy Spirit, the supreme gift of God to the church from that day forward. What folly it would be for us to say that we are not going to avail ourselves of the use of electric energy when it is necessary for the most tremendous accomplishments in the history of the world. Such is the Christian who is content to live his or her life without the Holy Spirit.

Often people think of experiencing the Holy Spirit as a spasmodic thing that comes as a result of long fasts and prayers, or as some profound emotional experience that carries one beyond the normal existence of everyday life. But the apostle Paul spoke of the "life-giving law of the Spirit" that "has set you free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2). The Scripture does not have in mind working oneself up to a high pitch of excitement. The law of the Holy Spirit is for all believers, a permanent divine gift directing and inspiring the whole of one's existence.

What the Bible does claim is that there is still in the world today the third member of the Godhead, as real and dynamic as when Jesus was on earth; that the Holy Spirit dispenses freely a flood of spiritual vitality and dynamic reality that is the inspiring power behind all Christian living.

Christianity of the first century becomes personal when the Christ of 2,000 years ago becomes the living Christ for the Christian here and now through the presence of the Holy Spirit. That is what makes a vibrant religion possible.

Christ promised His followers that, through the Holy Spirit, He would put power and spiritual reality into the gospel. Christ did not give us a set of doctrines per se. The Holy Spirit came to fill the form and structure of the Christian faith with life and purpose. Like a photograph coming up clear in a bath of acid, a picture comes through clearly as we read the account of the witness of the apostles in the book of Acts. In these humble, ignorant, weak persons the Holy Spirit accomplished the unbelievable. He made them powerful witnesses to the living Christ. There is only one way to account for the complete change in Peter. Peter went from denial and cowardice to a life of genuine courageous witness. Why? Because the Holy Spirit came into his life. A true Christian is one with the divine credentials of the presence of God in his or her life.

In the Holy Spirit we are not dealing simply with a person who has been, but a person who is and continues to be. Christians must come to terms not merely with something that God requires of us but with Someone who comes to meet us. Someone who continues the search that Christ started when He came to this world.

The Christian faith comes down through history to us as an inheritance from the early church. What we know initially about God comes to us through Jesus Christ, who lived 2,000 years ago. People today need to be revitalized by a God who lives now. That is what Christ promised when He returned to heaven.

By the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the living Christ becomes a reality. Without Him we have only a conventional religion. Neither church nor religious tradition nor biblical theology can create this divine presence. Neither clever argument nor final authority can produce the inner spiritual dynamic humans need. No matter how unanimous people are in their agreement on biblical truth, no spiritual reality resides in the letter of religion. We realize the living God only as we open our lives to the Holy Spirit.

Christians Must Witness to the Spirit

The Christian, born of the Spirit and filled with Spirit, has a witness to bear. That witness is twofold: first is the testimony that we are sons and daughters of God, an inward assurance that we belong to God. "For all who are moved by the Spirit of God are sons of God" (Rom. 8:14).

The believer also has a mission to the world. That mission is to give a public, personal witness, confessing Christ in word and life, testifying to the saving power of the gospel. We read in Acts 1:8: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will bear witness for me in Jerusalem, and all over Judaea and Samaria, and away to the ends of the earth." To witness to the Spirit is not to express some emotional excitation. Witnessing is the total response of mind, body, and spirit because the Christian "knows" the things that are freely given to us of God (1 Cor. 2:12, KJV). "You are on the spiritual level, if only God's Spirit dwells within you; and if a man does not possess the Spirit of Christ, he is no Christian" (Rom. 8:9).

Thus the Holy Spirit creates and develops in the believer the spirit of genuine sonship to God and loving fellowship with people. This is not some legalistic approach to religion.

In Galatians 3:2-5, Paul put the question to the Galatians this way: "Answer me one question: did you receive the Spirit by keeping the law or by believing the gospel message? ... I ask you then: when God gives you the Spirit. . . why is this? Is it because you keep the law, or is it because you have faith in the gospel message?"

The challenge to true Christianity through the centuries has often come through a formal legalistic approach to faith, referred to by Paul as "letter" versus the "spirit." A legalistic religion aims at securing a favorable standing with God by means of obedience to the law. Many professed Adventists are distracted by the law's requirements. They set law over against the Spirit. They fail to see the need for a spiritual dynamic. The witness of the Holy Spirit in the life is the one dynamic factor that makes obedience to the law possible.

Romans 8:3, 4: "What the law could never do, because our lower nature robbed it of all potency, God has done: ... so that the commandment of the law may find fulfilment in us, whose conduct, no longer under the control of our lower nature, is directed by the Spirit."

The testimony of the Holy Spirit is a change from sin to righteousness, from disobedience to obedience. The Holy Spirit does what the law could not do. The believer is led into truth (John 16:13). This experience is no mere emotionalism. The divine/human relationship actually exists.

The Holy Spirit opposes any type of legalistic religion. Yet the Holy Spirit is never against the law or against obedience to the will of God. Under the Spirit, the law becomes spiritual in the believer's fulfillment of it. We find nothing careless about the work of the Holy Spirit in obeying the law of God. Only those who walk after the Spirit do justice to the law of God. The spiritual dynamic for obedience is the Holy Spirit, exerting moral and spiritual power that makes obedience to the will of God loving and free. The Christian becomes uncompromisingly faithful to all of God's will. He or she serves "in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter" (Rom. 7:6, KJV). Our Lord speaks of the Christian who abides in Him through the Holy Spirit: "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you; continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love" (John 15:8-10, KJV).

Man's great need, then, is an adequate trust in the Holy Spirit, who took Christ's place on earth. Through the Spirit Christ still towers above our world and dwells in it. To live the Christian faith, we do not need a mechanical impersonal force to be moved and manipulated as people see fit but the living God. Christ's supreme legacy to His church on earth is the gift of Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit. There is no such thing as religion by proxy. We can never have assurance until we have fully committed ourselves. Only then will we find the saving and transforming power of God.


A man who drank heavily became converted to Christ. He lived victoriously for several weeks until one day he passed the open door of a tavern. The odor aroused his old desire for alcohol. Just then he saw a sign in the window of a nearby cafe: "All the lemonade you can drink─50 cents!" Dashing inside, he ordered one glass, then another, and still another. After finishing the third, he walked past the tavern, no longer tempted. He was so full of lemonade, he had no room for that which would be injurious to him. The lesson is clear: to be victorious over evil desires, we must leave no room for them to repossess us. We must be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Dwight L. Moody once demonstrated the principle like this: "Tell me," he said to his audience, "how can I get the air out of the glass I have in my hand?" One man said, "Pump it out." But the evangelist replied, "That would create a vacuum and shatter the glass." Finally, after many suggestions, Moody picked up a pitcher and filled the glass with water. "There," he said, "all the air is now removed." He explained that victory for the child of God does not come by working hard to eliminate sinful habits, but rather by allowing the Holy Spirit to take full possession.

Used by permission. Bible Illustrator, Parsons Technology, Software Collection, P.O. Box 100, Hiawatha, IA 52233.

* Unless otherwise noted, Bible texts in this sermon are from The New English Bible, © The Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1961,1970. Reprinted by permission.


Dr. Edward Heppenstall taught for many years at Andrews University Theological Seminary and its predecessor in Washington, D.C. Dr. Heppenstall, now retired for several years, resides in Redlands, California, with his wife, Margit. He no longer gives sermons, saying, "Antiquity has caught up with me." He is 90 years old.