Milton on the Holy Spirit
Responses to Arguments That the Holy Spirit Is God
[Editor’s note: The following is the continuation of the summary of John Milton’s view of the Holy Spirit, as presented in Milton on the Son of God and the Holy Spirit from His Treatise on Christian Doctrine (London, England: British & Foreign Unitarian Association, 1908). Page numbers enclosed in parentheses are to this book. Biblical quotations are Milton’s translations. My comments are enclosed in brackets.]
Next, Milton discusses arguments put forth proclaiming the deity of the Holy Spirit. First, the divinity of the Holy Spirit is defended “on the ground, that the name of God seems to be attributed to the Spirit” (p. 123). Acts 5:3, 4 states, “'why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost? . . . thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.” Milton comments that this verse appears “too weak for the support of so great a doctrinal mystery” of the Trinity Doctrine. He adds, “For since the Spirit is expressly said to be sent by the Father, and in the name of the Son, he who lies to the Spirit must lie to God, in the same sense as he who receives an apostle, receives God who sent him” (p. 123). According to Paul, God has given men his Holy Spirit: “he therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his Holy Spirit” – 1 Thessalonians 4:8. Moreover, the Holy Spirit in Acts 5:3, 4 may “signify God the Father; for Peter afterwards says, Acts v. 9, ‘how is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord’” (p. 123). Further, Acts 5:32 states, “whom God hath given to them that obey him” (p. 124).
Then, Milton discusses Acts 28:25 (“well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet”). He notes “that the names Lord and Jehovah are throughout the Old Testament attributed to whatever angel God may entrust with the execution of his commands” (p. 124). He concludes, “It cannot therefore be inferred from this passage, any more than from the preceding [Acts 5: 3,4], that the Holy Ghost is God” (p. 124).
Next Milton discusses 1 Corinthians 3:16 (“the temple of God . . . the temple of the Holy Ghost”). However, this verse does not say or even imply “that the Holy Spirit is God; for it is not because the Spirit alone, but because the Father also and the Son ‘make their abode with us,’ that we are called ‘the temple of God’” (pp. 124-125). Continuing, he states, “Therefore in I Cor. vi. 19, where we are called ‘the temple of the Holy Ghost,’ St. Paul has added, ‘which ye have of God,’ as if with the purpose of guarding against any error which might arise respecting the Holy Spirit in consequence of his expression” (p. 125). In Ephesians 2:22, Paul explains in “what sense we are called ‘the temple of the Holy Ghost’” (p. 125): “in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.”
For proof of the Holy Spirit’s omniscience, Trinitarians present 1 Corinthians 2:10, 11: “the Spirit searcheth all things, yea the deep things of God: for what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.” First, Milton remarks that verse 10 does not refer to “divine omniscience, but only respecting those deep things ‘which God hath revealed unto us by his Spirit’ — the words immediately preceding” (p. 125). He adds, “Besides, the phrase ‘all things’ must be restricted to mean whatever it is expedient for us to know: not to mention that it would be absurd to speak of God searching God, with whom he was one is essence” (pp. 125-126). In verse 11, “the essence of the Spirit is not the subject in question; for the consequences would be full of absurdity, if it were to be understood that the Spirit of God was with regard to God, as the spirit of a man is with regard to man. Allusion therefore is made only to the intimate relationship and communion of the Spirit with God, from whom he originally proceeded” (p. 126). To support his conclusion, he cites 1 Corinthians 2:14 (“we have received . . . the Spirit which is of God”). “That which is of God, cannot be actually God, who is unity” (p. 126). In Matthew 11:27 (“No man knoweth the Son, but the Father, neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him”), the Son proves that the Holy Spirit is not omniscient. The Son declares that the Holy Spirit does not know the Father or the Son unless the Son gives him such knowledge. Likewise, Mark 13:32 provides an additional argument against the omniscience of the Holy Spirit (p. 126).
Trinitarians claim that the Holy Spirit is omnipresent because “the Spirit of God dwelleth in us.” Milton replies, “But even if it filled with its presence the whole circle of the earth, with all the heavens, that is, the entire fabric of this world, it would not follow that the Spirit is omnipresent” (p. 127). [Most Trinitarians seem to underestimate the quality of omnipresence and have little or no comprehension of omnipresence. To be omnipresent requires much more than dwelling in man, even in every human who exists, who has ever existed, who will ever exist. Omnipresence requires being everywhere simultaneously. It requires filling every void, particle, and spirit in the universe and beyond. Moreover, it requires filling hell completely and every being in it including Satan.]
On the divine works of the Holy Spirit, Trinitarians cite Acts 2:34, 13:2, and 20:28, and 2 Peter 1:20. In response, Milton remarks that all that is needed to refute this assertion is Christ’s comment “respecting the Holy Spirit, the Comforter; namely, that he was sent by the Son from the Father, that he spake not of himself, nor in his own name, and consequently that he did not act in his own name; therefore that he did not even move others to speak of his own power, but that what he gave he had himself received” (p. 127).
Trinitarians point to the miraculous conception (Matthew 1:18, 20 and Luke 1:35) as proof of the divine works of the Holy Spirit. Milton replies that “it is not to be understood with reference to his own person alone. For it is certain that, in the Old Testament, under the name of the Spirit of God, or of the Holy Spirit, either God the Father himself, or his divine power was signified” (p. 128). Commenting on Luke 1:35, Milton states that the Holy Spirit refers to God the Father, “unless we suppose that there are two Fathers — one Father of the Son of God, another Father of the Son of man” (pp. 128-129).
To support that the Holy Spirit has divine honors, Trinitarians cite Matthew 28:19. Milton responds that although this verse mentions three persons, “there is not a word that determines the divinity, or unity, or equality of these three” (p. 129). Then, he cites passages that show that there were baptisms unto Moses (1 Corinthians 10:2), unto the baptism of John (Acts 19:3), in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38), into Jesus Christ and into his death (Romans 6:3), and into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13). Thus, Milton notes:
To be baptized therefore in their name, is to be admitted to those benefits and gifts which we have received through the Son and the Holy Spirit. . . . when we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, this is not done to impress upon our minds the inherent or relative natures of these three persons, but the benefits conferred by them in baptism on those who believe — namely, that our eternal salvation is owing to the Father, our redemption to the Son, and our sanctification to the Spirit (pp. 129-130).Continuing, Milton adds, “The power of the Father is inherent in himself, that of the Son and the Spirit is received from the Father” (p. 130). The Spirit does “everything in the name of the Father and the Son” (p. 130). To support his conclusion, Milton cites Matthew 28:18, 19, and 1 Corinthians 6:11 (“but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God”). Commenting on 1 Corinthians 6:11, Milton notes that “the same three are mentioned as in baptism, ‘the Son,’ ‘the Spirit,’ and ‘our God’; it follows therefore that the Father alone is our God, of whom are both the Son and the Spirit” (p. 130).
Trinitarians claim that the Holy Spirit’s deity is proven by the invocation being made to him as in 2 Corinthians 13:14 (“the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all”). Milton replies, “This, however, is not so much an invocation as a benediction, in which the Spirit is not addressed as a person but sought as a gift, from him who alone is there called God, namely, the Father, from whom Christ himself directs us to seek the communication of the Spirit. . . . He who is sought from the Father, and given by him, not by himself, can neither be God, nor an object of invocation” (pp. 130-131). Continuing, he adds that “it is by the Son that we come to the Father, from whom finally the Holy Spirit is sent” (p. 131).
Next he comments on 1 Corinthians 12: 4-6, where the Spirit, Lord, and God are mentioned. He states that “it is one God which worketh all in all, even in the Son and the Spirit, as we are taught throughout the whole of Scripture” (p. 132).
Then, Milton comments on Matthew 12: 31, 32 (the unforgivable sin). First, “no reference to the personality of the Holy Spirit” (p. 132) is made. Second, “if to sin against the Holy Spirit were worse than to sin against the Father and Son, and if that alone were an unpardonable sin, the Spirit truly would be greater than the Father and the Son” (p. 132). He understands that the “words must therefore apply to that illumination which, as it is highest in degree, so it is last in order of time, whereby the Father enlightens us through the Spirit, and which if any one resist, no method of salvation remains open to him” (p. 132). Nevertheless, Milton believes “that it is the Father himself who is here called the Holy Spirit. . . . [The] dreaded sin against the Holy Spirit will be in reality a sin against the Father, who is the Spirit of holiness” (pp. 132-133).
Another argument for the deity of the Holy Spirit is that he “bestows grace and blessing upon the churches in conjunction with the Father and the Son: Rev. i. 4, 5, ‘grace be unto you and peace from him which is . . . and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ’” (p. 133). Milton replies, “[Clearly,] the Holy Spirit is not here meant to be implied; the number of the spirits is inconsistent with such a supposition, as well as the place which they are said to occupy, standing like angels before the throne” (p. 133). Milton concludes “that in this kind of threefold enumerations the sacred writers have no view whatever to the doctrine of three divine persons, or to the equality or order of those persons” (pp.133-134).
Commenting on 1 John 5:7 [which is spurious, but was once a major proof text of the Trinitarians], Milton states that nothing in this verse “implies either divinity or unity of essence” (p. 134). He identifies additional problems with using this verse to support the Trinity Doctrine (pp. 133-135).
Turning to 1 Timothy 5:21 (“I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels”), Milton remarks that one would have expected the Holy Spirit to have been named in third place, “if such ternary forms of expression really contained the meaning which is commonly ascribed to them” (p. 134) [and if the Trinity Doctrine is correct].
Finally, Milton gives his description of the Holy Spirit: “[T]he Holy Spirit, inasmuch as he is a minister of God, and therefore a creature, was created or produced of the substance of God, not by a natural necessity, but by the free will of the agent, probably before the foundations of the world were laid, but later than the Son, and far inferior to him (p. 136). [Milton’s doctrine of the Holy Spirit is similar to that of pre-Nicaean orthodoxy.]
Copyright © 2018 by Thomas Coley Allen.
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