2010 Greenville PCRT - Joel Beeke on "The Age of the Spirit"
How many confusing ideas surround the theme of the age of the Spirit. Even among the best theologians there is a sort of vague understanding of the age of the Spirit. How did the Spirit work in the Old Testament era? When does the age of the Spirit actually begin? How do we define revival? How do we understand Pentecost? Should we expect it to happen again? What are the marks of revival, of the age of the Spirit?Â These are some of the common questions that theologians wrestle with. Acts 2 lends a helpful hand to understanding the age of the Spirit.
The Spirit's Work in Prior Ages
The Person and the work of the Spirit is introduced to us in the very first verses of the Bible. Gen. 1:2 says that the He hovered over the waters. In His capacity as Lord and giver of life, the Spirit was present working out the commands and fiats of God. Psalm 104 says that God sends out His Spirit to create and renew the face of the earth. When Moses tells us that God "breathed into the nostrils of man the breath of life" there is a reference to the life giving work of the Spirit. If God withholds His gracious work we die. But when God send forth His quickening Spirit, there is life. Wherever there is life--physical or spiritual--there is the Spirit. He is more than power He is a Person. He is at work in the minds and hearts of human beings everywhere. All the insights into the mechanics of things are given to men by Him. In fact, the Old Testament speaks of the Spirit distributing gifts and craftsmanship to the Israelites for the establishment of that nation.
The absence of the Spirit did not go well for men before the flood: "My Spirit," said the Lord, "will not always strive with men." But, for most generations, the Spirit was there saving sinners. He was there working life in each and every believer. He uses the word of God as His chosen instrument. Wherever there were believers in the Old Testament, the fruit of the Spirit was there. David said that the Holy spirit was the treasure of his life. After he sinned he prayed, "Take not Your Holy Spirit from me." The Spirit was working in every possible way in the Old Testament era.
Someone might ask, "If the Spirit was at work there in the Old Testament, what is different about His work in the New Testament era?" In one sense, you can say that nothing was different. The saints were regenerated, justified, sanctified, etc. by the Spirit. But viewed in another sense, the Spirit played a unique role in the Messianic ministry and age. The Spirit was with Christ at His baptism, in His temptation, at Calvary and in His resurrection. But when Christ ascended and poured out His Spirit on men, the ground shook. The eschatological realities burst through into this present evil age. That which is new in the New Covenant ministry of the Spirit is inextricably related to the realities of this Pentecost event. What was once a promise is now fulfilled. It is a new reality for us to enter into and take hold of by faith.
What was once only offered to Israel is now proclaimed and offered to everyone on the face of the earth. Everything He did in the Old Covenant age He now does on a much, much larger scale. Jesus said, "It is more beneficial to you for Me to go away." He sent the Spirit throughout the world after His resurrection and ascension.
The Spirit's work in the Present Age
The most significant work of the Spirit in this present age is to prepare theÂ hearts of men throughout the world to receive the Gospel of Christ. He crushes the opposition to the Gospel. Now the Spirit is everywhere, multi-tasking, doing a great work in the world. We should be overwhelmed with the greatness of the work of the Spirit in our lives. The Spirit is like a father in that He is always instructing us and teaching us and guiding us. Calvin once said, "There are really two ministers preaching every sermon--the outward and the inward minister." The Spirit shoots the arrows of God's word into our souls. He is longing to minister to us and to get to Christ in the sermon. He delights to take the things of Christ and minister them to us. A Christless sermon is no sermon at all. A Christless Christianity is no Christianity at all. It is not of this Spirit, if it is not of Christ. In this NT age, this Spirit distributes all the gifts of Christ among His body--the church. He ministers to a needy, broken world in the name of Christ. He loves to bless. He loves to bring the truths of Jesus. He loves to unleash the power and gifts and love of Jesus Christ. This is the age of the Spirit, the age of Christ.
The Spirit's work in Revival
The Spirit is at work, and will be at work, in continual revival. He is not just at work in periodic revival. He is always at work in the ordinary church work and the work of the revival of the people of God. But there is a secondary work of revival--a work of God's SpiritÂ upon the hearts of a large group of individuals at one time. There are several attempts to explain the grounds of the later kind of revival. Some see it as completely dependents on our repentance, faith and holiness. Other see it as dependent completely on God. Acts 2:42 is as much of a miracle as Acts 2:4. The latter view is sometimes called the Old School view of revival as taught by Owen and Edwards. Peter's Christ-centered sermon was the basis of the revival we see in Acts 2.The people were called to repent and believe so that times of refreshing would come, but it was the preaching that God used to bring revival. It is His word and His work.
Five or six marks of authentic revival:
1) Everything is determined by God. It occurs at a time of God's choosing. "The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." Authentic revival can never be manufactured by man. Revival is not the automatic fruit of human zeal or endeavor. Revival is a sovereign gift of God.
2) Revival is usually fueled by a fusion of prayer. Some revivals have come about through children praying for revival. God uses the spirit of prayer to teach us to depend on Him. The 1857 revival in New York all came about through the prayers of a small group of men that grew and spread.What a mandate for us to pray, and to pray corporately. One old Puritan said, "God loves to answer prayers that have multiple signatures.
3) In authentic revival spiritual growth is joined to the word of God. There is a rediscovery of truth by the minsitry of the word. As it was in Peter's sermon at Pentecost, the Spirit always bears witness by the word. J.C. Ryle once said, "The whole Bible brought home to the whole heart and whole mind makes a whole Christian."
4) Revival is always connected to the two major facets of salvation--faith and repentance. When Peter preaches he expressely pressed the charge of the sin of crucifying Jesus so that they would repent and believe the Gospel. A good preacher rips up the consciences of men.
The great question we must ask is "Are you an asset or a hinderance to true revival?