The Christian Broadcasting Network

Dr. J. Rodman Williams
More from Dr. J. Rodman Williams on the Spiritual Life Channel

A Theological Pilgrimage: Chapter 6

By Dr. J. Rodman Williams
The 700 Club

Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | Conclusion
Preface | Abbreviations | Bibliography

Chapter Six


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 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 major denominations."4

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 concludes:

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 outreach.

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 (Joel 2:28).

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 God.
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 the world.


1The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit. My address was given at the same seminary ten years after Berkhof delivered the Warfield Lectures there.

2Ibid., 85.


4Ibid., 87. For some of the quotations above, also see the previous chapter, "The Upsurge of Pentecostalism."

5The 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

Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | Conclusion
Preface | Abbreviations | Bibliography

Content Copyright 2003 by J. Rodman Williams, Ph.D.

Dr.Williams Home Theology Q's & A's Publications Ten Teachings

  • Translate
  • Print Page

Are you seeking answers in life? Are you hurting?
Are you facing a difficult situation?

A caring friend will be there to pray with you in your time of need.

Do You Know Jesus
Grow In Your Faith

Need Prayer?

Call 1-800-700-7000
Email your prayer request

Email iconSign up for E-mail Updates Full List