The Ministry of the Holy Spirit in Reformed Churches
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with whom you were sealed until the day of redemption. [Ephesians 4:30]
1735 was a most remarkable year in the expansion of Christ’s kingdom. In order to appreciate what God did that year, we need to go back to 1662 when King Charles II, in an effort to rid England, Scotland, and Wales of Protestantism, required all ministers to submit to Anglicanism, meaning among other things the necessity of affirming the King of England as the head of the church. Charles’ desire was to move England to Roman Catholicism. When the Puritan ministers – Anglican, Congregational, and Presbyterian alike, refused, then 2000 were expelled from their pulpits, many of them living in poverty, some dying in prison. Very quickly the Puritan revolution was over and England, Scotland, Wales, and America fervently embraced Deism, a denial of the supernatural and imminent work of God in the lives of people. All manner of debauchery ruled the day in the early 18th century, the time which gave us the Scottish and French Enlightenment championed by such skeptics as David Hume, Voltaire, and Rousseau. But people were praying for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, like what had happened in the mid-1600’s in Scotland and New England. The Scottish Covenanters, who were suffering severe persecution and death in the 1680’s, led the way in prayer.
Nothing seemed to be happening for over fifty years until 1735. In Northampton, MA young Jonathan Edwards had followed his grandfather Solomon Stoddard as the pastor of the Congregational Church there, and he began to see a remarkable interest in the gospel, resulting in hundreds of people being converted in the first six months of 1735. In January of that year, Sarah, Edwards’ wife, who had been a Christian since childhood, experienced a fresh moving of the Spirit in her life, enabling her to overcome a spiritual depression which had plagued her for years. Meanwhile in Wales twenty-one year old Howell Harris came under conviction of his sin, and was converted a few weeks after Easter. In June he experienced an outpouring of the Spirit in his life which gave him the boldness, zeal, and efficacy to become a marvellous evangelistic preacher. At the same time, Daniel Rowland, an Anglican minister in Wales, came under conviction of his sin through the preaching of a Welsh evangelist. His conversion led him to continue his pastoral ministry for another forty years but with a new, evangelistic zeal. And around Easter of 1735 young George Whitefield, a member of the Holy Club at Oxford with John and Charles Wesley, all of whom were serious and zealous in their religion, came to see that his zeal was without life. After some serious soul searching, he too came to peace with God through Jesus Christ. He soon became the greatest itinerant evangelist since the Apostle Paul, preaching throughout England, Scotland, and Wales, up and down the Atlantic seaboard in Colonial America, to as many as 50,000 people at one time in the open air, without the aid of voice amplification. God brought the Great Awakening, which many have said saved Great Britain and America from the ravages of the French Revolution, through Whitefield, Harris, Edwards, and Rowland.
We in the Reformed movement have a great heritage, yet it is one, I fear, we have forsaken. The great Puritan John Owen, in volume 3 of his sixteen volumes on theology,1 wrote nearly 800 pages on the Holy Spirit. Our Reformed church history is replete with evidence of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, resulting in great joy, power, holiness, transformation of cultures, and building up of the body of Christ. We tend to live like de-facto Deists, believing in God, but denying his day-to-day activity in our lives. My brethren, these things ought not to be. Paul is commanding us to not grieve, to not send away, to not bring sorrow, to the Holy Spirit. This anthropopathism (there are others, see Exodus 34:6, James 4:5) tells us that we can lose the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The same idea is intimated in Song of Songs 5:1ff where the groom (a picture of Christ) covers himself with myrrh (a sweet fragrance), eats honey (the sweetness of the word), and drinks wine (the joy of Christ) and comes to his bride (the church). She is waiting for him but when he comes she says, ‘I am already in bed, and my feet are washed. I cannot come to the door.’ When she calls out for him he is gone. When she searches for him she cannot find him. We can lose the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
How does this happen? Four things come immediately to mind. One, when we do anything unholy, anything contrary to the clear commands of God, then he may choose to leave us (see Isaiah 59:1, 2). Two, when we forget his presence, when we live as though he does not see what we do, then he may leave us (see Psalm 51:10-12). Three, when we ignore his promptings, when he prompts us to pray, to call someone, to witness the gospel to someone, and we do not do it, then he may leave us (see 1 Thessalonians 5:19). And four, the Holy Spirit may leave us when we fail to live with our final redemption in view. The Preacher in Ecclesiastes vividly describes the vanity of those who live ‘under the sun’, failing to acknowledge that our great God will bring a final restoration of all things on that great day.
What results from grieving, bringing sorrow to the Holy Spirit? First, you will not lose your salvation. You will not lose the indwelling Holy Spirit, and you will not be abandoned by God. However you will lose the sense of his presence. It will feel as though God has deserted you. You will lose a deep, abiding sense of his love for you. And when this happens you will forfeit joy, peace, power, and assurance of God’s blessing and direction in your life. Furthermore, you will open yourself up to the machinations of the world, flesh, and devil. Your weaknesses will be exposed to these great enemies of your soul, and they will exploit them, not unlike what the Nazis did in December, 1944 at the Battle of the Bulge where they attacked a weak spot in the Allied line in Belgium. What then are you to do? Two things. First, you must believe in the Holy Spirit. I know you say you believe in him but I fear most of us pay him lip service only. He is the third person of the God-head and you can grieve, quench, or resist him. He alone is the one who creates (Genesis 1), re-creates (Titus 3:5), comforts (John 14:26), exalts Christ (John 16:24), sanctifies (Galatians 5:22ff), and empowers (Ephesians 5:18ff). Second, you must repent daily, many times per day. You ought to repent even when you cannot think of specific sins you have committed. The Spirit is rich in mercy and will come to you quickly when you humble yourself before him.
The Works of John Owen
Volume 3: The Holy Spirit
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with whom you were sealed until the day of redemption. [Ephesians 4:30] 1735 was a most remarkable year in the expansion of Christ’s kingdom. In order to appreciate what God did that year, we need to go back to 1662 when King Charles II, in an effort […]
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
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