The Power of the Highest
Shall Overshadow Thee

And the angel answered, and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. – Luke 1:35

Donald Holliday

In these words of the angel Gabriel there came to the simple maid of Nazareth a wondrous realization.

The eternal realm of Heaven had dipped into the circuit of her little everyday world. A wondrous Divine purpose now embraced her life. A power of indefinable magnitude was at work, and she was chosen as a vehicle for the most glorious manifestation of unspeakable love.

  The Brooding of the Spirit.

  There is a majestic grandeur in the opening words of Scripture that compress the ages of eternity past, the calling forth one after another of the vast systems of the heavens, and then speed through incalculable epochs of time towards the eventual forming of this planet earth. “And the Spirit of God brooded[1] upon the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). Everywhere the thick darkness of impenetrable mists shrouded this planet swirling over the face of its waters. And the Spirit of God breathed upon all, fluttering over the scene of lifeless empty waste, brooding with intent upon its wise and wonderful purpose. The choice of words that introduce to us the Spirit of God convey the sense of the patient, unhurried yet purposeful influence of a power completely in charge. How many ages passed we cannot tell ¾ how many spells of calm dark silence ¾ how many storms that caused the waves to rise in relentless searching for a non-existent shore. But we know that whatever activity, whatever age-to-age progression and gradual surfacing of earth and upheaval of mountains, and the eventual robing of all with countless forms of life, it was the work of the Spirit of God brooding over all. Nor did its work cease when that same Spirit was breathed into the nostrils of Adam, and he opened his eyes in Paradise. The great ultimate purpose of the Lord was not yet achieved. Even at this present hour it has yet to reach its goal, and a thousand years more will still doubtless reveal a fresh opening vista of its tireless working to the eyes of perfect man in a New Earth under New Heavens. 

The Spirit of God is relentless in purpose, persistent in intent, unmoveable and consistent in its progress, and nothing can defeat the outcome of its operation. Countless exhibitions of unfathomable wisdom and skill in every form of this material universe testify together with a great voice that the Source of this mighty force cannot be mere blind chance devoid of intelligence.

  So what is it, this Spirit of our great Creator? Who will solve for us its mysteries, and enable us to comprehend something of its nature and the complexity of its working? The Book of the Lord is full of allusions to this mighty mysterious force, though written in a language that only that same Spirit can clearly interpret to our mind.[2] The word “Spirit” is in itself not difficult to understand[3] with its simple meaning of ‘breath’ or ‘wind’. It is an interesting example of elements within human experience being used to assist the human mind to comprehend those things belonging to the Divine realm. There are many examples of ‘anthropomorphism’ in Scripture where our Divine Creator is described as if having various human forms, parts and emotions. For example; to Him are attributed hands, arms, feet, eyes, ears, nostrils, etc, and He is described as if capable of changing His mind, and needing human persuasion to alter a determined course. Scripture contains many examples of such figurative language and each of these needs to be correctly understood in context. However, it was forbidden to construct any image in the likeness of God. (Isaiah 40:18). “To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?” Nor was man to consider the Lord to share the obnoxious features of human frailty (Psalm 50:21). "Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such a one as thyself.” Nevertheless, the use of figurative language enabled some degree of limited communication between the heavenly and earthly realms. Perhaps there may be some comparison made with the kind of “baby talk” used by parents when addressing infant minds incapable of adult thought. So the word meaning ‘breath’ or ‘wind’ is used in Scripture to identify the power emanating from the Creator to accomplish the Divine purpose. It is a force which is invisible, gentle as the evening breeze when God communed with Adam, yet mighty as the solar wind, nevertheless closely linked with the Being from Whom it originates in the sense of His breath. It is thus used in Psalm 139:7; where the couplet links ‘spirit’ with the ‘presence’ (lit. ‘face’ ) or closeness of the Lord. “Whither shall I go from thy spirit (breath)? or whither shall I flee from thy presence ?”  It is generally conceded that this was the simple concept of the Spirit of God held by Israel throughout the centuries leading to the first advent, and that none of the writers of the New Testament expressed the matter differently. Yet, together with other truths, this perception was to be buried under the rubble of natural human thinking from the early centuries of the church’s history.

A time of blessed enlightenment now marks the opening of a new age. Through the mists of misunderstanding that have so long enveloped this subject, the heavenly influence of light breaks forth once more.[4] No longer need confusing concepts of a three-person God baffle the mind of the earnest truth seeker. The days of conflict between dogma and reason once demanded that it was God Himself that died upon a cross. It necessitated that it was to Himself that Jesus prayed with strong crying and tears. It claimed that the Son of God at Jordan, as God Himself, sent forth the Spirit which He there received as God the Son, -- the Holy Spirit which He already was! None of these conceptions had entered the minds either of the prophets of old, nor the writers of the New Testament. To the Jewish mind there was one God, and the Angel of His presence. Paul knew “one God, and one Lord.” He knew nothing of any other divine person that since the third century has become an integral part of the concept of a trinity of gods. The last writer John contrasted “the spirit of truth,” (the description used by Jesus,) with “the spirit of error,” with no suggestion that either was a living being. Why, then, has the idea of a personal Spirit of God persisted so long?

Numerous forms of figurative language are used concerning the spirit in Scripture. These may be listed under the following headings.

  Inanimate forms. Here we include the anointing of the Spirit as with a fluid or holy oil; (Acts 10:38; 2 Corinthians 1:21 and 22; 1 John 2:27), its use as a seal as if with melted wax (Ephesians 1:13), and as a baptism (dipping) as in water (Matthew 3:11; Acts 1:5). To be filled with the Spirit is contrasted with being filled with wine. We are all made to “drink” from the same spirit, as from a well or fountain (1 Corinthians 12:13, Cp. 10:4). Indeed we are to be filled with it (Acts 2:4; Ephesians 5:18). It is written on our hearts like ink (2 Cor. 3:3). It is “poured out” on us (Acts 10:45; Rom. 5:5). It is “measured” as if it had volume (2 Kings 2:9; John 3:34). . Yet the Spirit is not oil, nor ink, nor drink. Each such use is easily recognisable as figurative language illustrating a concept of the Spirit and its working or result.

  Then there are the Animate forms. The figurative nature of these also needs to be recognised. Failure to do this has led to the concept of the Spirit as a mysterious being co-equalling with God Himself.[5] The arguments for and against the idea of a personal Holy Spirit have long raged. Each side emphasizes either the animate or the inanimate figures used in its description. 

  The Argument for a Personal Holy Spirit.

 

The Spirit is described as hearing, speaking, leading and guiding, comforting and counselling. It is named in close relationship with God and the Lord Jesus in relation to baptism. John 16:13 records the description by Jesus of something closely resembling a person. “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.” It is not sufficient to say that the word “himself” may often be translated “itself” for here the Spirit is attributed with the ability to hear and speak, and furthermore, is only able to speak what it hears. It seems further implied that the Spirit has a will capable of directing his activities 1 Corinthians 12:11 “But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.” The Holy Spirit is thus described as if having intelligence, and intelligence is characteristic of a living personal being. Is this an unanswerable proof that the Holy Spirit is a person?[6]

  Personification is used frequently in Scripture.[7] Wisdom (Proverbs 8, & 9.) is often cited as example, and the same may be said of Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13. James likewise speaks of the Spirit of God as “the wisdom from above” (James 3:17). In these examples the behaviour described is the evidence of possession, that is of the agape love, or of the wisdom, in the person manifesting it; e.g., love “seeketh not her own”, wisdom is “easy to be entreated”, etc. Some resemblance might be detected here to Our Master’s description of the Spirit of truth which “speaks not of itself, but what it hears it speaks.” This is certainly true of one who has the Spirit of truth and who leans not to his own understanding. However this language may equally be showing that the Spirit of truth is not an entity in itself apart from its Source. In other words, as the breath is nothing without the one breathing it, and as the spirit of man is non-existent apart from the man, so with the breath or spirit of God, the holy power and influence that is directed by Him to achieve His purpose. Wonderful that enlightenment would be when the Spirit came at Pentecost, and the disciples enthused about the truths more clearly seen. But the message was not to be different from the words spoken by the Master throughout their days of fellowship. “He will take of mine and show it unto you.” Jesus had used many parables and figures of speech, sayings that He knew would stay in the mind. Now these would come to life with fullness of meaning only faintly grasped before. And yet it was the Father’s good pleasure that they should receive something more than information alone. He was about to share with them that very Spirit that motivates His own great heart of love. The dwelling of this Spirit in their hearts would be as the inner dwelling of the Father and of Christ, and thereby would they begin to know the Father, and to share the mind of Christ. (John 14:23.) [8]

  The Lord’s people today have a most blessed concept of this wonderful power, a power that has been working from remotest time and is working mightily today. It is indeed the Spirit of a Person, -- the most glorious Person, -- the Spirit that motivates the very mind and heart of Almighty God. Without measure was that Spirit of the Father to be given to thus become the Spirit of His Beloved Son. And what of His other beloved children? Is there such an abundant outpouring too for them? The heavenly message that came to the maid of Nazareth and filled her heart with such mingled awe and holy joy was again to bring its untold delight to the souls of the humble. Hers was the blessed privilege of bringing forth in perfect flesh the promised seed. Ours is the unspeakable joy of realisation that the same Holy Spirit has come upon each called one of this age with wondrous mission bent. The Spirit continues to brood over the mighty works of Divine Creation, - this, the most wonderful creation of all. “The Power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called a son of God.” 1 John 3:1,2. [9]


[1] Deut 32:11, beautifully illustrates the sense of this word. “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: So (did) the Lord..”

[2] 1Cor 2:14-15 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.

[3] In most books of the Bible we find the expression Spirit, or Spirit of God, or Holy Spirit, which in the Old Testament translates the Hebrew word ruach meaning "breath," "wind" or "breeze." The verb form of the word is ruach, or riach used only in the Hiphil and meaning "to breathe," "to blow." The word always used in the New Testament for the Spirit is the Greek neuter noun pneuma, with or without the article, and for Holy Spirit, pneuma hagion, or to pneuma or to hagion. In the New Testament we find also the expressions, "the Spirit of God," "the Spirit of the Lord," "the Spirit of the Father," "the Spirit of Jesus," "of Christ." The word for Spirit in the Greek is from the verb pneo, "to breathe," "to blow." (International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia) There is in this word “no sense of a personal holy spirit.” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Kittel. abridged edition.)

[4] See the excellent treatise in Study VIII, of Studies in the Scriptures, Volume 5. ‘The Channel of the Atonement.’

[5] Ignorance of Figures of speech has led to the grossest errors, which have been caused either from taking literally what is figurative, or from taking figuratively what is literal. Bullinger. “Figures of Speech used in the Bible.”

[6] The Spirit has its “desires” (though the “flesh” does also, without the “flesh” necessarily being a personal force: Gal 5:16-17); and in Ephesians may be “grieved” (4:30). None of these remarks are intended by Paul as comment directly on the personhood of the Spirit, but are incidental to Paul’s main point, which is usually more pragmatic than speculative. Some scholars think these remarks no more point to personhood than do remarks which seem to personalize the power of sin or of the flesh. Certainly Paul does not work with definitions of divine “persons” such as arose in later Christian theology. Dictionary of Paul and his Letters.

[7] Bullinger cites over 70 examples of personification.

[8] 1 Cor 2:11. The spirit of man, which is certainly not another person, is here compared with the spirit of God.

[9] Col 1:29, “..His working which worketh in me mightily..”