Chapter 1 – Like a Dove

The first emblem under which we see the Holy Spirit in the New Testament is the dove descending upon the head of Jesus at His baptism on the banks of the Jordan.

The first emblem under which the Holy Spirit is presented in the Old Testament is also a dove. In the story of creation, in the first chapter of Genesis, second verse, we read: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness brooded over the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God brooded upon the face of the waters.” This is the figure of the mother dove brooding over her nest and cherishing her young. What a strange background for such a picture: chaos, desolation, the seething waters, the hissing flames, the wild abyss, the starless night, the reign of ruin, death, and desolation! This was the scene where the mother dove of eternal love and peace began to build her nest, and she rested not until out of that scene of wreck she had evolved a bright and happy world, and a smiling paradise, with its human family and its pure and heavenly happiness and hope.

We pass over seven chapters, and we come to another scene of desolation and wreck. The waters of the deluge are sweeping around the world. The work of twenty centuries is submerged beneath that awful flood, and the world’s countless millions are lying in death beneath those waves. One solitary ship is riding above the storm with eight human beings within its walls, the sole survivors of all earth’s population.

Once again we behold the figure of the dove. We read in Genesis 8: 6-12: “And it came to pass, at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made; and he sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth. Also, he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground; but the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him into the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth; then he put forth his hand, and took her, and pulled her in unto him into the ark. And he stayed yet another seven days, and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark; and the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf, pluckt off; so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth. “And he stayed yet another seven days, and sent forth the dove, which returned not again unto him any more.”

Back of this dove there is another figure, the black-winged raven, the emblem of Satan, as the other is of the Holy Ghost.

And now we see three very remarkable stages in the sending forth of this dove, and they seem to speak of three dispensations of the Holy Spirit. First, we have the dove going forth from the ark, and finding no rest upon the wild and drifting waste of sin and judgment. This represents the Old Testament period, perhaps, when the Holy Ghost visited this sinful world, but could find no resting-place, and ever went back to the bosom of God. Next, we have the dove going forth and returning with the olive leaf in her mouth, a symbol and a pledge of peace and reconciliation, a sign that judgment had passed and peace was returning. Surely this may beautifully represent the next stage of the Holy Spirit’s manifestation, the going forth in the ministry and resurrection of Jesus Christ, to proclaim reconciliation to a sinful world. But, as yet, He is not at liberty to reside in this sin-cursed earth. There is, therefore, a third stage, when, at, length, the dove goes forth from the ark and returns no more, but makes the world its home, and builds its nest amid the habitations of men. This is the third and present stage of the Holy Spirit’s blessed work.

Thus He has now come forth, not to visit this sinful world, returning again to heaven, but to make it His abiding home. During the ministry of Christ on earth the Spirit dwelt in Him, and not in men. Jesus said He was with the disciples, but He adds, “He shall be in you.” Like Noah’s dove, still lingering in the ark, and going forth only to visit the earth, so the Holy Ghost dwelt in Jesus, and touched the hearts of men from time to time.

But now Jesus has sent Him forth, and His residence is no longer in heaven, but in the heart of the believer, and in the bosom of the Church. This earth is now His home; and here among sinful, suffering men, the same dove is building her nest and rearing her brood for the celestial realms, where they shall one day soar and sing in the light of God. Such is the symbolical unfolding of the Holy Spirit in these two first pictures of the Old Testament. Let its now gather out of the figure itself, some of its most pointed lessons and suggestions.

The first thought is motherhood. It is the figure of the mother dove. In one of the recent and most brilliant works of Mr. Drummond, he develops with great fullness the idea that the goal of nature is always motherhood. In the vegetable creation everything moves toward seed and fruit. The flower is but the cradle and the swaddling bands of the living germ. The plant lives simply to develop the life of another plant, to reproduce itself. Thus, in the natural world, the first appearance of love is not in the sexual, but in the maternal relations; and in like manner, the great thought in the heart of God is motherhood, and God Himself possesses in Himself that true nature which has been manifested in the creation.

There is in the divine Trinity a personality corresponding to human relationships. Human fatherhood expresses a need which is met in God the Father. Human motherhood has its origin in the Holy Ghost. Human brotherhood, and the higher, closer fellowship of the husband and the bridegroom, are met in Christ, the Son of God, our Brother and our Bridegroom. We cannot reason out the divine Trinity, but God can make it real to our spiritual instincts.

There are times when we need a father’s strength and love, and our pressed spirits cry out, “Oh, if my father were only here, how quickly he would help me!” And God our Father answers that cry.

There are times when the orphaned spirit feels the need of a mother’s more delicate and tender touch, and we think how mother once used to comfort and help us as no other friend could do. Then we need the mother heart of God. I envy not the man who has outgrown the weakness of needing a mother’s love, and whose heart finds no response to such words as these:

Who fed me from her gentle breast?
Who taught me in her arms to rest?
And on my lips sweet kisses pressed?
My mother.

Who ran to help me when I fell,
And would some pretty story tell,
Or kiss the place to make it well?
My mother.

The Holy Ghost, the author of the mother’s heart and the child’s dependent love, is able to meet in us the deep need which has outgrown our infant years, and still looks up to God with its orphaned cry for love and sympathy.

Also there is in every human heart the memory of some brave, true brother, and a longing for a divine arm that can uphold us with a love “that sticketh closer than a brother.” Yes, there is a deeper longing for a friendship more intimate and a fellowship more dear, which Jesus meets as the divine Husband, the Ishi of our heart.

All the representations which the Scriptures give us of the Holy Ghost are in harmony with this thought of divine motherhood. The regeneration of the soul is described as a new birth, and the Holy Ghost is the mother that gives us this birth. The guidance and nurture of the Spirit after our conversion are described in language borrowed from the nursery and the home. In the deeper needs of the soul, the comfort of the Holy Ghost is described to us under the very image of a mother’s caresses and a mother’s love. “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you, and ye shall be comforted, saith the Lord.”

In turn, as we are filled with the Holy Ghost, we ourselves have the mother-heart for others, and are able to reflect the blessing and dispense the comfort which we have received. Our prayers for others become maternal longings, travails, and soul-births, and we learn to say with the apostle, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again, until Christ be formed in you,” and to understand such language as this, “As soon as Zion travailed she brought forth.”

The Holy Ghost in the consecrated heart often gives a yearning for others, and a prayer for the lost and the tempted, as intensely real as the pangs of maternal anguish and love; and people are born of us as truly as the children of our households, and are linked to us by bonds as real as our natural kindred.

The figure of the dove is suggestive of peace. The dove from the ark was the messenger of peace, and brought back an olive branch as the symbol of reconciliation. Thus is the Holy Spirit the messenger of peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. He leads the soul to understand and accept the message of mercy and to find the peace of God. He then brings the deeper “peace of God, which keeps the heart and mind through Christ Jesus.” Wherever the Holy Spirit reigns there is peace.

Back of the picture of the dove is the raven, restlessly passing to and fro, to and fro, to and fro, a type of the troubled spirit of evil, that finds no rest even in the pleasures of sin, but is driven from excitement to excitement in the vain pursuit of rest, until at last it is thrown upon the wild billows of a lost eternity, the victim of everlasting disquietude and unrest.

But the spirit in which the Holy Ghost rules is at rest. It has a peace that nothing can offend, “the peace of God that passeth all understanding.”


“Harmless as a dove,” is Christ’s interpretation of the beautiful emblem. The Spirit of God which is purity itself, cannot dwell in an unclean heart. He cannot abide in the natural mind. It was said of the anointing of old, “On man’s flesh it shall not be poured.” The purity which the Holy Spirit brings is like a white and spotless little plant which grows up out of a heap of manure, or out of black soil, without one grain of impurity adhering to its crystalline surface, spotless as an angel’s wing. So the Holy Spirit gives a purity of heart which brings its own protection, for it is essentially unlike the evil things which grow around it. It may be surrounded on every side with evil, but it is uncontaminated and pure because its very nature is essentially holy and divine. It cannot be soiled, because like the plumage of the dove, which, protected by its oily covering, comes forth from the miry pool unstained and unsullied by the dark waters, it sheds off every defilement and is proof against the touch of every stain.


The Comforter is gentle, tender, and full of patience and love. How gentle are God’s dealings even with sinners! How patient His forbearance! How tender His discipline with His own erring children! How He led Jacob, Joseph, Israel, David, Elijah, and all His ancient servants, until they could truly say, “Thy gentleness hath made me great”! The heart in which the Holy Spirit dwells will al-ways be characterized by gentleness, lowliness, quietness, meekness, and forbearance. The rude, sarcastic spirit, the brusque manner, the sharp retort, the unkind cut — all these belong to the flesh. They have nothing in common with the gentle teaching of the Comforter. The Holy Dove shrinks from the noisy, tumultuous, excited, and vindictive spirit, and finds His home in the lowly breast of the peaceful soul. “The fruit of the Spirit is gentleness, meekness.”


The dove is the special emblem of affection. The special object of the divine Comforter is to “shed abroad the love of God in our hearts,” and to show that “the fruit of the Spirit is love.” Wherever He dwells there is to be found a disposition of unselfishness, consideration for others, loving helpfulness, and kindness; and He wants love from us. He asks not so much our service as our communion. He has plenty to serve Him; but He wants us to love Him and to receive His tender love for us. He is longing for our affection and is disappointed when we give Him anything else.

A very sweet thought connected with the symbol of the dove, and true also of the Holy Spirit, is that we find in the Scriptures many allusions to the mourning of the dove. It is a bird of sorrow, and its plaintive notes have more of sadness in them than the voice of any other bird. Any one who has heard the cooing of the turtle dove will never forget the plaintive sadness of its tone.
How can this be true of the Holy Spirit? Simply because love is always sensitive to suffering. The more we love, the more we sorrow, especially when the loved one disappoints our expectations, or our affection. The lone dove coos for its lost mate, and mourns for its scattered brood. And so the Holy Spirit is represented as loving us even unto the extreme of sorrow. We do not read of the anger of the Holy Ghost, but of the grief of the Spirit. “They rebelled and vexed His Holy Spirit,” and we are warned, “Grieve not the Holy Spirit whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.”

There is a beautiful passage in James which has been unhappily translated in our Revised Version: “The Spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy.” It ought to be, “The Spirit that dwelleth in us loveth us to jealousy.” It is the figure of a love that suffers because of its intense regard for the loved object. The Holy Ghost is so anxious to accomplish in us and for us the highest will of God, and to receive from us the truest love for Christ, our divine Husband, that He becomes jealous when in any way we disappoint Him, or divide His love with others. Therefore, it is said in the preceding passage, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?”

Oh, shall we grieve so kind a Friend? Shall we disappoint so loving a Husband? Shall we provoke so tender and unselfish a jealousy? Shall we not meet the blessed Holy Spirit with the love He brings us, and give in return our undivided and unbounded affection? Strange, indeed, that God should have to plead with us for our love. Strange that He whom all Heaven adores should have a rival in the hearts of the children whom He has created, and the beings who owe everything they have to His infinite mercy! Strange that so gentle a Friend should have to plead so long and so tenderly for our affections! Let us turn to Him with penitential love, and cry:

“Come Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove,
With all Thy quickening powers;
Kindle a flame of sacred love
In these cold hearts of ours.”