A Theological Pilgrimage: Chapter 6
By Dr. J. Rodman Williams
The 700 Club
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15 | 16 | Conclusion
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THE MISSING DIMENSION
In 1964 Professor Hendrikus Berkhof delivered the Warfield Lectures
at Princeton Theological Seminary on "The Doctrine of the Holy
Spirit," which were published thereafter under the same title.1
In these lectures Berkhof, after discussing justification and sanctification,
spoke of the Revivalist and Pentecostal movements who "experienced
still another blessing...now widely known as the 'filling by the Holy
Spirit' or 'the baptism by the Holy Spirit.'"2
This working of the Holy Spirit, Berkhof added, has scarcely been heeded
by "official theology." These pertinent sentences follow:
Small wonder, because there is a watertight partition-wall
between these groups and theology in seminaries and universities. I
believe that this partition is to the detriment of both parties, and
I will make an attempt to break through the wall. I do so although I
am aware that I set foot on an unexplored field and that my thoughts
here...must be considered as preliminary and needing correction by others.3
In Berkhof's attempt to "break through the wall" he concluded
that "the work of the Spirit is not exhausted in justification
and sanctification; an additional working is promised and must therefore
be sought....The Pentecostals are basically right when they speak of
a working of the Holy Spirit beyond that which is acknowledged in the
My own reflection and experience has confirmed for me, likewise, that
there is a basic dimension of the Holy Spirit's work largely overlooked
by theology and church, and that "official theology" hitherto
has given little consideration to this working of the Spirit. We may
be grateful, however, that the two major Presbyterian bodies in America
within recent years have adopted related statements on the work of the
Holy Spirit.5 I would
call particular attention to the report of the Presbyterian Church,
U.S., because of its focus on the special work of the Holy Spirit. With
caution, but nonetheless clearly, the Presbyterian Church, U.S., report
It is clear that there is Biblical and Reformed witness concerning baptism
of the Holy Spirit and special endowments of the Holy Spirit in the
believing community....where such an experience gives evidence of an
empowering and renewing work of Christ in the life of the individual
and the church, it may be acknowledged with gratitude. This means above
all that Christ should be glorified, His own Spirit made manifest in
human lives, and the church edified. For such evidences of the presence
of the Holy Spirit the church may rejoice.
Now I should like to elaborate some of my thinking in this area. If
it helps further to break open the "watertight partition-wall,"
I shall be grateful. For it seem to me that we still have such to do
to get this dimension of the Spirit's work clearly before us.
My concern is with that aspect of the work of the Spirit that has
to do with the energizing of the community of faith. Presupposing
the creation of such community by the Word and Spirit, this activity
of the Spirit has to do with the empowering of the community for witness
and mission. The Holy Spirit, while active in the origination of such
community, now invests the community with fresh resources of praise,
proclamation, and service. Going beyond "salvation history"
this belongs to the life of the community both in its upbuilding and
Here a brief biblical and theological review may be in order. The
work of the Holy Spirit stretches from creation to consummation. The
Spirit of God is active in creation as the power by which all things
are brought into being and infused with life (the Holy Spirit as "Lord
and Giver of life"). He is likewise the power of God that sustains
the universe; for without His Spirit all things would return to chaos
and emptiness. The Spirit of God is at work in the world to further
all that is good, to restrain evil; and He is to be recognized as the
source of truth, purity, and holiness. The Spirit is present everywhere
among people- -for "whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither
shall I flee from thy presence?" (Psalm 139:7). The Holy Spirit
is active in the Incarnation, for it is by His overshadowing power that
the Son of God is born of a woman, and it is with His anointing that
Jesus enters upon and executes His ministry. The Spirit of God likewise
brings about conviction of sin, and by Him the "new birth"
takes place. The Spirit unites to Christ by faith, and through His indwelling
presence the believer is more and more transformed into the likeness
of Christ. The Holy Spirit is present in the Word and sacraments exhibiting
and confirming grace, and in all Christian living provides strength
and direction. At the end, the Holy Spirit will be the power of God
that brings resurrection life- -for "he who raised Christ Jesus
from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit
which dwells in you" (Romans 8:11). Thus from creation to consummation
the Spirit of God is at work.
In the above summary there is nothing that has not been said many
times, and theological reflection has done much by way of clarification.
However, there is another line much less pursued, and one that is directly
relevant to our present concern. It has to do with the Holy Spirit as
a mysterious divine energy that comes variously upon the people
of God. In the Old Testament this divine energy now and again comes
upon people and enables them to fulfill certain tasks: for example,
an artisan for the building of the tabernacle (Ex. 31:3), a judge or
a king for the ruling of Israel (e.g., Judg. 3:10; 1 Sam. 16:13), a
prophet for the speaking of God's word (e.g., Mic. 3:8). At times this
energy comes with such force as to represent a kind of divine seizure
(e.g., Judg. 6:34), "taking possession" of a man for the performing
of prodigious feats (e.g., Judg. 14:6), sometimes "coming mightily"
upon one so that he prophesies day and night (1 Sam. 19:24), sometimes
even carrying a person bodily from one place to another (1 Kings 18:12).
Nowhere in the Old Testament is the Spirit said to be given to the people
as a whole; however, the hope is held out that this will someday occur.
Moses expresses a deep yearning that all God's people might be prophets
("Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord
would put His Spirit upon them!" Num. 11:29), and Joel prophesies
that the time will come when God will pour out His Spirit on all flesh
In the New Testament there is a kind of step-by-step unfolding of
fulfillment. First, certain persons, prior to Jesus' ministry, continue
the Old Testament line of individuals occasionally anointed by the Holy
Spirit (Luke 1:41-42, 67-68; 2:25-32); upon them the divine energy comes
for prophetic utterance. Second, John the Baptist is said to "be
filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb" (Luke
1:15)- -hence a precursor of the permanent anointing to come- -for the
lifelong purpose of preparing the way for Christ. John goes "in
the spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17), and the divine energy
is such as to set fires of repentance burning in the hearts and lives
of those who hear him. Third, Jesus upon His baptism at Jordan receives
the anointing of God's Spirit (Luke 3:22, 4:1), and the Spirit who so
comes is said to "descend and remain" (John 1:33), thus a
continuing endowment. According to one account, just following Jesus'
baptism, the Holy Spirit "immediately drove him out into the wilderness"
(Mark 1:12)- -thus the picture of a divine energy that mightily propels
and directs. Thereafter He begins His prophetic ministry with the words,
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me
to preach good news" (Luke 4:18). Fourth, at Pentecost the Holy
Spirit comes in plenitude upon all the disciples who are assembled together-
-thus the initial fulfillment of Joel's prophecy- -and with such extraordinary
force that they begin "to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit
gave them utterance" (Acts 2:4-13) and to proclaim powerfully the
good news about Jesus (Acts 4:14-36). Fifth, in ensuing years recurrences
of the descent of the Spirit happen in varying situations (e. g., Samaria,
Caesarea, and Ephesus), and with similar powerful results. Both Caesareans
and Ephesians speak in tongues- -the former are observed to be "speaking
in tongues and extolling God" (10:46), the latter "spoke with
tongues and prophesied" (19:6). The mysterious divine energy, from
Pentecost onward, clearly propels the community of faith into depths
of utterance hitherto unexperienced, and into a powerful witness to
the good news in Jesus Christ.
It is important to note that the line we have been pursuing represents
enabling power bestowed upon the community of faith. Before Pentecost
it is apparent that the divine energy comes upon those who are the people
of God, thereby enabling them to fulfill certain divine tasks. The same
thing is portrayed in Acts, the thematic text being chapter 1:8, "You
shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you
shall be my witnesses." The donation of the Spirit for witness
is promised to the apostolic community of believers; and after the reception
of this gift the promise is renewed: "The promise is to you and
to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord
our God calls to him" (2:39). Thereafter the record in Acts portrays
many who are called- -new communities of faith- -who are invested with
power for the mission of the Gospel. The Samaritans receive this enabling
power several days after they hear the word, believe, and are baptized;
the Caesareans at the moment of their hearing and believing the Gospel
are invested with power ("While Peter was still saying this, the
Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word" [10:44]); the Ephesians,
after their coming to faith and baptism, have hands laid upon them to
receive this spiritual endowment (19:4-6).
It is to be observed, therefore, that this enablement of the Holy
Spirit presupposes faith, calling, community. Whether it is an
Old Testament judge, prophet, or king; or in the New Testament, John
the Baptist, Jesus Himself, or the early disciples, the Holy Spirit
activates those who are God's people. Hence, this action of the Holy
Spirit is not for the creation of faith and community, but for
the enablement of those who believe to fulfill God's purposes. As the
New Testament unfolds, the situation is made more complex by the fact
that the community of faith is no longer simply a continuation of Israel,
but is that brought into being by a fresh generation of God's Spirit.
Hence, it is to those born of the Spirit that the Spirit is given! Jesus
Himself, in unique fashion, is an exemplar of this, for He is shown
to be "conceived by the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 1:20-25; Luke
1:31-35), and later the Spirit comes upon Him in anointing power. These
operations of the Holy Spirit are clearly not the same, and uniquely
foreshadow what is intended for those who turn to Christ: both a conception
by the Spirit (a new birth) wherein Christian life and community comes
to be, and the bestowal of the Spirit in anointing power for the mission
of the Gospel.
Now, I repeat, it is this second line- -the Spirit coming with anointing
power- -that has been much less considered in theology. Here it is not
the Holy Spirit as active in salvation, but in implementation; it is
the mighty coming of the Holy Spirit upon those who believe. This coming
is not for the origination of faith, but belongs to that action of God
wherein power is bestowed for witness, praise, and proclamation. Furthermore,
there is nothing automatic about this bestowal of the Spirit. It is
promised to all whom God calls to Himself, and accordingly is to be
received in faith. The result is access of divine energy- -with striking
manifestations frequently accompanying- -and entrance into fresh dimensions
of personal and communal life.
This then brings us to the crucial point, namely, that many people
today in the so-called "charismatic movement" are experiencing
a similar input of divine energy. Berkhof, as we noted, wrote in the
past tense, of those who "experienced still another blessing...the
'filling by the Holy Spirit' or 'the baptism by the Holy Spirit.'"
We may now shift into the present and say, "are experiencing."
It is happening across the world, and bids fair to be the greatest renewal
movement of our time.
What must be recognized- -if theology is adequately to come to terms
with all this- -is that we are talking about a vast infusion of spiritual
energy. The spiritual input of the Old Covenant leading up to Christ
is obviously not a small thing (attested by supernatural wisdom, prophetic
inspiration, driving force, and so on), but with the new creation made
possible by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ the potential
input is greatly increased, and the resulting effects are markedly more
profound and pervasive. Here there is a fullness of penetration that
the people of the Old Covenant could not know or experience. It is verily
the community of faith being immersed in the presence and power of Almighty
The phenomenon of tongues is peculiarly a New Testament sign of this
spiritual penetration. In previous prophetic utterance, whereby a person
boldly spoke forth a "thus says the Lord," there is obviously
a remarkable intensity of spiritual presence. For therein God directly
communicates His message through ordinary language. The New Testament
manifestation of tongues represents a further stepping up of spiritual
intensity. It is a sign of that profound penetration wherein the depths
of the human spirit are probed by the Holy Spirit, and the consequent
language moves past the mental and conceptual into spiritual utterance.
Here there is direct address of man to God in "other tongues,"
declaring His praise, attesting His greatness, extolling His Name, even
speaking His mysteries. Like prophecy this manifestation of the Spirit
is extraordinary utterance.
However, unlike prophecy it is not in the known language of the speaker,
and further it is not directed to people but to God. It is the speaking
forth from the depths of the human spirit, invaded by the divine Spirit,
of a transcendent utterance that ordinary language cannot express. This
is the ultimate in communication from earth to heaven, and represents
with peculiar vividness the penetration of the spirit made possible
with the dawn of the New Testament period.
But one needs to add quickly that such depth phenomena as prophecy
and tongues are only initiatory signs of the new spiritual era. A broad
range of other phenomena- -such as extraordinary healing powers, spiritual
discernment and exorcism of evil powers, and miracles of innumerable
kinds- -now become operative. All these manifestations- -and many others-
-signalize a tremendous release of spiritual force for the renewal and
upbuilding of persons and communities, and for the implementation of
Christian witness to the world.
Let us now return to the basic issue before us which is not the matter
of spiritual manifestations (as important as they are), but that of
the infusion of the Holy Spirit. People today are undoubtedly experiencing,
in a variety of ways, this "fullness" of the Spirit. It is
of such potency as to make the praise of God the focus of their existence,
a joyful sense of community across all denominational lines, and a fresh
witness to Jesus Christ apparent in their everyday lives. This spiritual
movement is also of such force as to begin to provoke the church at
large into asking the Pentecostal question, "What does this mean?"
(Acts 2:12), and into a growing realization that something is happening
here that could make for a radical renewal of the body of Christ throughout
Doctrine of the Holy Spirit. My address was given at the same seminary
ten years after Berkhof delivered the Warfield Lectures there.
87. For some of the quotations above, also see the previous chapter,
"The Upsurge of Pentecostalism."
Work of the Holy Spirit, official statement of the former United
Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., and The Person and Work of the
Holy Spirit, official statement of the former Presbyterian Church,
U.S. Both reports may be found in Presence, Power, Praise: Documents
of the Charismatic Renewal (Kilian McDonnell, ed., 1:221-82, 287-317).
Also see the earlier chapter entitled "The Person and Work of the
Holy Sprit with Special reference to 'the Baptism with the Holy Spirit'"
for sections quoted from the Presbyterian Church
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15 | 16 | Conclusion
Content Copyright 2003 by J. Rodman Williams,
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