The Holy Spirit. By Sinclair B. Ferguson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1996.
This is one of those books that has been recommended to me often, one that I had on my list for quite a while, one that I looked forward to reading, and happily, one that I enjoyed! It did not disappoint in any way, which is what I have come to expect from the writing and preaching ministry of Sinclair Ferguson.
The Holy Spirit is a thorough, biblical examination of the Person, Nature and Ministry of the Holy Spirit along with sound answers for some of the questions that arise when discussing topics connected with the Spirit, such as gifts and tongues. A quick glance at the chapter headings demonstrates the extensiveness and breadth of this study.
1 The Holy Spirit & His Story
2 The Spirit of Christ
3 The Gift of the Spirit
4 Pentecost Today?
5 The Spirit of Order
6 Spiritus Recreator
7 The Spirit of Holiness
8 The Communion of the Spirit
9 The Spirit & the Body
10 Gifts for Ministry
11 The Cosmic Spirit
There is no doubt that Ferguson approaches this study on the Holy Spirit from a determined reformed, evangelical, conservative position. However, it is equally clear that Scripture guides his understanding and interpretation. By this I mean, he leans upon scriptural exegesis and sound hermeneutics to arrive at his conclusions, not upon dogmatic positions.
Among the many insights I gleaned while reading, I appreciated his thoughts on what the Scripture means by saying that “the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” because it is by the Spirit that “we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom 8:15-16) Ferguson reasons that the “cry” of a believer in desperation is an instinctive, natural cry to our Father for help. That in itself, that instinctive crying out to God, demonstrates that the Spirit has been at work in us. At the same time, it is also continuing confirmation that we have truly been adopted into God’s family. He explains, “The cry ‘Abba, Father’ is thus the most basic instinct of those who, by the Spirit, have been reborn into the family of God and have come to share in the divine nature.” (p.185)
My favorite quote comes in the context of when Ferguson is explaining how the Paraclete is “another, like Christ”. He writes, “...Jesus goes to the Father in order to prepare a dwelling-place (mone, Jn. 14:2) for the disciples, while the Paraclete comes from the Father in order to prepare a dwelling-place (mone, Jn. 14:23) for the Father and the Son.” (p.187) So while Jesus is preparing heaven for us, the Spirit is preparing us for the Father and the Son!
Broadly speaking, there are two observations that should be noted in this recommendation. First, in his thorough analysis of the various positions on issues such as tongues, gifts, prophecy, etc., Ferguson is a decided cessationist. He is fair in his explanation of the continuationist-restorationist position, however, there are sound textual and hermeneutical reasons for concluding that some of the emphases and excesses of the more “charismatic” theologies are misguided. For example, Ferguson reasons, “The continuationist-restorationist view does not take sufficient account of the fact that the New Testament itself divides the last days into apostolic and post-apostolic dimensions or periods.” (p.229) This gets to the heart of the differing interpretations by carefully examining what the NT writers presented as normative for the NT church and what activities surrounded the transition phase beginning with Jesus’ resurrection and coming to closure in the establishment of Jesus’ new visible presence on earth, the church, and the consolidation of the apostolic revelation, the New Testament.
To be sure, there are more than a few voices on these issues, and thus the confusion. That’s why it was a great time of enjoyment and learning to read Ferguson. He doesn’t address these issues from a dogmatic position that ignores the strengths of opposing positions. He doesn’t make rash or trite conclusions. He presents the various views, and then he carefully examines the Scripture. This is evident when he not only cautions the continuationist to more careful exegesis, but he also cautions cessationists to more open appreciation and application of the Spirit’s work in our post-apostolic days. For example, while he doesn’t see individuals as possessing the gift of healing in our day, he does see the prayer for healing and expectation for healing and faith seeking healing as normative for our day (James 5:14-15). In this and other examples, Ferguson is not only fair and biblical, but very balanced as well. (p.221ff)
Second, it should be noted that this is more of a theological, academic approach with the occasional Greek and Latin along the way. So it’s not for the beginning reader or the new believer. Thankfully, there are some good resources that do provide a sound introduction to the biblical teaching on the Spirit that are more accessible. However, for the serious, studied reader who wants to grow in his understanding of the Spirit or test his understanding of the Spirit, you can’t find a better resource!