Did the Spirit indwell Old Testament believers?

Probably the most common view today – boosted by James M. Hamilton’s 2006 book God’s Indwelling Presence – is no.

John de Hogg (lecturer in OT and Hebrew at RTC Australia) sums it up:

‘Michael Green in his book I Believe in the Holy Spirit presents a rather common view. “On the whole you had to be someone rather special in Old Testament days to have the Spirit of God. A prophet, a national leader, a king, perhaps some specially wise man (Prov 1:23) or artistic person (Exod 31:3) – in which case you would be beautifying the Lord’s Tent of Meeting or enunciating the Lord’s wisdom. But the Spirit of God was not for every Tom, Dick and Harry… The gift of God’s Spirit was on the whole to special people for special tasks. It was not generally available, nor was it necessarily permanent.” This common view says that OT believers were not indwelt by the Holy Spirit and that OT believers did not experience the active, internal, personal ministry of the Holy Spirit. These blessings came as a result of Pentecost.’ – Vox Reformata, 2012

However, de Hogg then goes on to refute that position. While his article is fairly helpful (and interacts specifically with Hamilton), there’s an absolutely storming one by Walter Kaiser, also taking a contrary view:

“…How could all of these old covenant persons have believed and been enabled to live sanctified lives if the Spirit of God did not dwell in them? Must we say that an Old Testament believer was able to please God spiritually and to be sanctified in the presence of God without the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit? Did not Enoch please God (Heb 11:5)? Was not Noah one who walked with God and who was righteous and blameless (Gen 6:9)? Did not Joseph resist temptation (Gen 39:9)? Was not Job one who turned away from evil, one who feared God and was blameless and upright ( Job 1:1)? Did not David pray, do not ‘take your Holy Spirit from me?’ (Ps 51:11). Did not the prophet Isaiah teach that the people ‘rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit’ (Isa 63:10), the same Lord who had ‘set his Holy Spirit among them?’”(Isa 63:11). – Evangelical Quarterly 82.4 (2010)

Both articles deal with verses in John which would seem to be the strongest arguments against such a position.

Kaiser also deals very helpfully with the broader question of ‘What is new in the New Covenant?’, and specifically, what is new at Pentecost (including a very helpful quote from Thomas Goodwin, also cited in Smeaton’s classic work).

This 1976 letter by John Piper is also pretty helpful.

Reformed Preaching (book review)

Reformed Preaching: Proclaiming God’s Word from the Heart of the Preacher to the Heart of His People
Joel R. Beeke
Crossway, 2018

reformed preaching

Joel Beeke has called this the most important book he’s ever written. It’s also not quite the book you might expect – in terms of page count it’s more church history / historical theology (254 pages) than homiletical instruction (165 pages). As a lover of historical theology I enjoy that aspect of it, but others might not. While the majority of the historical content deals with how those of the past (Reformers, Puritans, Dutch Reformed and a few more recent) preached and wrote about preaching, some of it leaves you scratching your head as to its relevance to the book’s topic – eg much of the chapter on Calvin, or the section where he summarises Richard Rogers’s book on the Christian life and private means of grace. This is perhaps due to the fact that various sections of the book have previously appeared in other books and articles – it’s not all written from scratch with an emphasis on preaching.

Beeke says that he would have preferred to call the book Reformed ‘Experiential’ Preaching. And though the word experiential was dropped for the sake of simplicity, he does spend a fair amount of time defending not just the concepts behind ‘experiential’ and ‘experimental’, but the words themselves. In a similar vein, while unsurprising, it’s a pity to see a modern book from the publishers of the ESV using the archaic KJV. Some parts of the book also seem overly prescriptive. For example ‘The Christian life…continues and deepens with…reading published sermons’. At times you wonder if the emphasis on piety drifts into pietism. (In fact, Beeke speaks positively of ‘pietistic and mystical tendencies’, even though one of the endorsements says the book tries to separate experiential preaching from pietism and mysticism).

Overall though, this is a great resource. At the risk of being simplistic, American Reformed Christianity particularly needs reminded that ‘too often preaching aims at educating big brains while neglecting withered hearts’ while British Reformed Christianity particularly needs reminded that our forefathers ‘had a profound sense that God builds his church primarily by the instrument of preaching’.

Thanks to Crossway for a complimentary copy of this book through their Beyond the Page review programme.

The Spirit of the Age (book review)

The Spirit of the Age: the nineteenth-century debate over the Holy Spirit and the Westminster Confession
J. V. Fesko
Reformation Heritage, 2017

While there are some who will immediately be enthused by the subtitle, others will wonder why they would want to read a book about a nineteenth century debate over Confessional revision…

(To read the rest, see the January 2019 Banner of Truth magazine, pp 30-31)

J. G. Vos on The Observance of Days

Below is an extract from an article by J. G. Vos (RPCNA) in 1947, which was republished on Gentle Reformation a few years ago, but the link no longer works:

“Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain.” — Galatians 4:10, 11.

“…As men lose their faith in the truth of God’s Word, and in Christ as truly God, they seem to try to make up for their spiritual loss by putting on a great deal of religious ritual and pageantry. This tendency can be observed in churches large and small across our coun­

“Doran’s Minister’s Manual” enumer­ates over 30 special or holy days that are regularly observed by Catholics, Episcopal­ians and some Lutherans. In addition to listing these the book provides materials for sermons or addresses for twenty special days, which are the following: New Year’s Day, Lincoln’s Birthday, Every Member Canvass Day, Washington’s Birthday, Palm Sunday, Easter, Memorial Day, Ascension Day, Children’s Day, Whitsunday, School Commencement, Missionary Day, Independ­ence Day, Labor Day, Reformation Sunday, International Temperance Sunday, Thanks­ giving Day, Christmas, Old Year’s Day, Armistice Day.

To these we might add others that are coming to be commonly observed, such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Red Cross Day, Go-to-Church Day, etc. One organization after another comes forward calling for a special day or week to be devoted to its in­ terests. When we once begin to add other special days to God’s Holy Sabbath day, we start on a long, long trail, and no one can tell -where the end will be.

Of course there is no objection to ob­serving a day like Thanksgiving Day, to which we are duly called by the civil auth­orities, nor to observing such days as the preparatory days before the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, these being appointed for a special purpose by the officers of the church. That is quite different from the tendency to set apart certain days as special or holy in themselves, thereby adding ele­ments not appointed in Scripture to the worship of God.”

You can read the full thing here.

No carol service – are we missing a trick?

Not according to Phillip Jensen (in ‘Why People are Not Converted at Christmas’):

“Each year thousands of people come to carols services in church buildings, parks, schools and even pubs – but how often do you ever hear of somebody being converted? Instead of it being one of the high points of Christian Christianity it is the high point of Cultural Christianity. But Cultural Christianity seems inured to Christian Christianity.”

Here’s Carl Laferton in a similar vein:

“Put on a good carol service (especially if you have a picturesque church building), and they will come. Put on a Christingle or a nativity service (particularly in the late-afternoon Christmas Eve slot, when every parent in the land needs a break), and they will come. Invite your neighbours and friends to such events, and they may well come—and they will certainly not think it weird to be asked.
And so, lo! The churches of the United Kingdom (especially those with previously mentioned picturesque buildings) did discover that a great multitude didst come and hear the gospel in December, and they felt good, and rested upon their laurels/door wreaths.

And then in January, everything went back to normal. And the ‘long term trends’ of decline in church attendance (which you will find mentioned in the seventh paragraph of the Church of England’s article which headlined with the Christmas attendance figures) continued.”