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volume 12, number 23, June 6, 2013

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen, Hebrews 11:1.


Charles Spurgeon, the mighty gospel preacher of nineteenth century London, reportedly, upon mounting the steps of the pulpit to preach at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, would say, “I believe in the Holy Ghost, I believe in the Holy Ghost, I believe in the Holy Ghost.” If any branch of the Christian church in America ought to believe in the Holy Ghost, it is those of the Reformed persuasion. After all, a cursory look at the Institutes of the Christian Religion by sixteenth century Reformer John Calvin is filled with references to the Holy Spirit’s person and work. And John Owen, the marvelous seventeenth century Puritan preacher and theologian, wrote an entire volume on the ministry of the Spirit.1 To go further, the eighteenth century Great Awakening in America, England, Scotland, and Wales, led by such men as George Whitefield, William and Gilbert Tennent, Howell Harris, and Daniel Rowland were all Calvinistic preachers who believed in, depended upon, and experienced the immediacy of the Spirit in their preaching ministries. The mighty Reformed and Calvinistic preachers of the nineteenth century—men like Asahel Nettleton, James Brainerd Taylor, Daniel Baker, John Girardeau, and James Henley Thornwell all witnessed the outpouring of the Spirit upon their ministries. They knew the revivals they were experiencing were directly the work of the Holy Spirit coming down with convicting, and converting power. And finally, the powerful twentieth century preacher, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, repeatedly emphasized the necessity of the outpouring of the Spirit if we are to see revival and the affecting work of the Spirit.

Why, then, do we see so little practical emphasis on the Spirit in the Reformed community today? Of course we believe in the Holy Spirit. After all, we are Trinitarian. We know the Spirit regenerates, seals, and sanctifies believers. But here’s my question—do we really believe in the Holy Spirit? Preacher—when you stand in the pulpit on Sundays to preach, do you expect people to be saved? Do you expect the convicting and sanctifying work of the Spirit to affect change that very moment? Do you expect the Holy Spirit to transact business with those in your congregation? And Ruling Elder—those tough counseling or discipline cases that so zap you of your strength, do you expect change to happen from your counsel and discipline? When a member of the congregation is sick, even chronically so, and calls for the elders to anoint with oil, do you do so with expectancy, praying in faith and seeing the person healed? And church member—if you are dissatisfied with your pastor’s preaching or the leadership and vision of your Elders, do you pray expectantly for them, trusting God to come down mightily and powerfully upon their leadership? And certainly we ought to have confidence in the ordinary means of grace (the preaching of God’s word and the sacraments), but is this enough? Let’s face it, when comparing our ministries with many in our towns that are broadly evangelical or charismatic, do we not pale in comparison with the manifestation of power present in them? Business as usual is not working. Do we not need a fresh, powerful visitation of the Spirit? If our theology is correct (and certainly I believe it is), then why are our churches generally smaller, seeing few conversions, than so many others in our communities? At this point some may be tempted to say, “Well, these other churches are shallow and we are more concerned about correct theology?” Okay, but is this always the right answer? Why is it that many Reformed churches are uncomfortable with long seasons of fasting and prayer and the viability of immediate conversions? I know of a church where the first twenty-one days of each year are given to prayer and fasting. Thousands of people in this broadly Evangelical church fast the entire time and meet each morning at 6 a.m. before work for an hour of prayer.

So, why do we see so little happen? May I suggest two reasons for our malaise. First, we are so affected by modernity (by planning, hard work, and experience we think we can “fix” anything) we sometimes fail to seek God earnestly for the solution to the issues before us. Isn’t this generally how it “comes down” in our Elder meetings—we give five to ten minutes at the beginning of our meeting for a brief reading of Scripture and opening prayer. Then we get down to business. What if we spent an hour in confession of sin and contrition, asking God to search our hearts, to show us if any hurtful way be in us? What if we earnestly sought the Spirit’s presence and power?

And second, the Neo-Pentecostal movement which began in the early 1960’s with an emphasis on speaking in tongues, visions, and extra-Biblical revelation made most Evangelicals and Reformed Christians exceedingly nervous. One of the common characteristics of Historical Theology is “pendulum swinging”. The mainline Protestant churches in the 1950’s and 1960’s were spiritually bankrupt with liberalism and many in these denominations experienced the fresh wind of the Holy Spirit that breathed new life into many. Most of us in the Reformed and Evangelical world were pretty concerned about all this, and it seems to me that we reacted negatively at the excesses of the movement, and threw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. I remember reading in 1974 John Stott’s book, The Baptism and Fullness of the Holy Spirit, in which he argued that at regeneration we have all the Spirit we are going to receive. Lloyd-Jones stood against this,2 and while most of us would disagree with his understanding of Spirit baptism he nonetheless emphasized the vital necessity of what John Frame calls the immediacy of the Holy Spirit in our ministries.

My brethren, we are in desperate straits in the Evangelical and Reformed world. The church is generally impotent, tame, and woefully lacking in effecting the culture in which we live. I urge you to read the Scriptures afresh and anew, looking at, believing in the ministry of the Sprit. See how many times in the Book of Acts the Spirit is mentioned. I urge you to read Calvin’s Institutes, John Owen’s work on the Holy Spirit, Revival by Lloyd-Jones, and Scotland Saw His Glory by Richard Owen Roberts as a cursory study of the issue. And then let us pray, seeking God until we find Him. It grieves me to say that in some parts of the world where I have been, the Presbyterians are woefully weak in worship, preaching, and evangelistic fruitfulness. I am grieved because this reminds me of a parent who sees in his children his own sins. He knows that his children learned them from him. The Presbyterian churches in some third world nations are decidedly and regretfully “just like us.” They are anemic, and we are to blame. We exported our anemia to them. May God have mercy upon us. May we seek the Lord while He may be found. May we call upon Him while He is near.

Are we given to unbelief? Do we doubt the power, efficacy, and immediacy of the Spirit? If so, may we repent and believe.


1The Works of John Owen, The Holy Spirit,”volume 3.

2 For a fascinating and enlightening look at the issue, see Iain Murray’s D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith, 1939-1981, pages 476-487.

Reverend Allen M. Baker Reverend Allen M. Baker

Al Baker is ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America and has been in the gospel ministry for over thirty-five years. A 1974 graduate of the University of...

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