From basic dispensational teaching I heard that — per John 7:39 and later references to Christ sending the Holy Spirit (Pentecost) – Old Testament saints were regenerated but did not have the permanent indwelling Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit only came upon them from time to time, for special empowerment, whereas we now have the permanent indwelling. Yet I wondered about it, as something that didn’t make sense: how could people be regenerated and yet NOT have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? In daily Bible reading of the Old Testament, we come across so many descriptions of believers who have “a different spirit” and a relationship to God in so many ways like ours. John 3 tells us that OT believers were regenerated, as this was something that Nicodemus was expected to already know as a present reality, and Luke 1 and 2 (the birth narrative) include many references to godly people and the Holy Spirit present in their lives, before Christ’s birth.
As I’ve recently learned, the Protestant/Reformed understanding is that OT saints had the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the same salvific relationship to God (their understanding on the hope of what God would accomplish; and Christ’s work on the cross is applied to those who lived before Calvary).
The following posts from David Murray’s blog address this very question, of the difference between the Old and New Testament indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
- Did the Holy Spirit Indwell OT Believers?
- 10 ways that believers experienced the Holy Spirit in the OT
- A Sponge, A Dropper, and a Pressure Washer
- Two Mistakes in Bible Interpretation
Regarding the original idea above (OT believers regenerated but didn’t have the indwelling Holy Spirit) I especially appreciate his point in the first post, that if Old Testament ‘believers’ believed by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit but kept believing without the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit, then Old Testament believers were not as depraved as we are, as they did not need the ongoing indwelling work of the Holy Spirit. (And in some ways, this debate really is a debate about the nature of human depravity in the Old Testament. Could anything less or other than the indwelling of the Holy Spirit keep a believer believing, repenting, hoping, obeying, etc?)
I also find helpful the analogy of the sponge with a water dropper, versus a sponge with a pressure washer. The difference in the Holy Spirit experience of OT and NT believers is one of degree and extent, not of quality or type. The OT believers had a small amount to sustain them in their personal lives, but after Pentecost the Holy Spirit flows out in excess, giving believers greater joy that overflowed and led to great missionary zeal and desire to share the gospel with unbelievers – and the amazing (humanly speaking) spread of the gospel during the 1st century and beyond. As shown in the many quotes in the last post linked above, many commentators throughout history, as far back as Augustine and including also the Reformers as well as 19th century preachers including J.C. Ryle, have affirmed this as well, that OT believers did have the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the difference between then and our age post-Pentecost is one of degree and extent.
As a side note here, I find it interesting that this same difference of degree between the OT and NT — of the great spread of the gospel in the NT – is said by amillennialists to be the result of a supposed “binding of Satan” allowing the gospel to spread unhindered. Yet as premillennialists have pointed out, what really hinders or allows the spread of the gospel is the Holy Spirit – as evidenced in the book of Acts, where the Holy Spirit did not allow Paul to travel east to Asia or Bithynia (Acts 16:6-7). Understanding the difference between the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Old and New Testament times (the water dropper versus the pressure washer) fits the biblical data much better, both in relating to the OT saints continually sustained by God and His presence, as well as the results of the great spread of the gospel that began at Pentecost.
Occasionally I listen to church history series (see this previous post), and lately I have appreciated some more in-depth church history messages focused on a particular time period: the beginnings of the Baptists in England, early 17th century. One such series is available on Sermon Audio, four parts on the “17th century Baptists”.
Among the highlights, some history that was new to me:
The “General Baptists” (Arminian) and “Particular Baptists” (Calvinists, with “particular redemption”) began at about the same time (the General Baptists a generation earlier), but arose from different groups and continued in separate paths through this time period. The General Baptists apparently never crossed paths with, or “converted to” the next generation’s “particular baptists.”
The Church of England’s 39 Articles (1563) were Calvinistic, expressing the Sovereignty of God; it was this Anglican history that J.C. Ryle later appealed to, the 39 Articles, in referring to his church (Anglican) as Reformed. William Laud (appointed Archbishop by Charles I in 1633) put forth his “aggressive Arminianism,” telling English preachers that they could not preach anything of Calvinism – that which the country’s own articles clearly affirmed.
The interesting history and development of the “JLJ” church, a London congregation founded and first led by pastor Henry Jacob, in the early 17th century during the reign of King James I, and continuing through the 1640s with two subsequent pastors, John Lathrop, and Henry Jessey. The church began as an “illegal” church, not officially registered with the King James’ Anglican church, yet for custom and citizenship sake the church members would take their infants to Anglican churches for the “proper” English baptism. Under the persecution of Charles I and archbishop Laud in the 1630s, the congregation considered the question: was it acceptable to have your child baptized in the Anglican church? A first group split-off from the JLJ church in 1633, determining that they could not do so. Another group split-off in 1638, with church member John Spilsbury, this time over the question of whether infants should be baptized at all, determining that baptism was instead for adult believers. It is important to note as well that the church “splits” during this time were not ugly events such as are familiar in our day, but were done harmoniously with agreement and appreciation of conscience, that some members believed differently about an issue, and so the group would split off with the goodwill and blessing of the main church.
Up to this point, apparently believers baptism was done by sprinkling or pouring. Indeed, Christians in England had never seen baptism by immersion. In the late 1630s to 1640, the men at the JLJ church had regular weekly meetings to consider the mode of baptism, and even sent one member to Holland to observe the practice of baptism by immersion being done there by the Mennonites. Then, the JLJ church held the first English baptismal by immersion service, in January 1642: 53 members were baptized in the Thames river, at a time of year that was quite cold and with little sunlight.
The first London confession followed in 1644, and by 1649 the Particular Baptist churches in England were sending forth church plants to Wales. The years 1649 to 1660 were peaceful, the interregnum and Cromwell’s rule, followed by great persecution resuming under Charles II beginning in 1660. It was during this later time that many preachers, not “state licensed”, were imprisoned for years (including John Bunyan’s imprisonment for 12 years) and some died in prison.
The “17th century baptists” audio series includes this overall history, as well as biographical sketches of several key Baptists (including John Spilsbury and William Kiffin) and details about some of the early baptist churches. . This series plus articles, such as listed below, tell of many interesting events from English and American baptist history.
Additional resources for 17th century Baptist history:
- English Particular Baptists of the 17th Century
- Baptist Beginnings
- English Dissenters: Jacobites
- English Dissenters: Baptists
In my recent studies — different aspects of covenant theology, NCT, the law and types of antinomianism — I have noted one interesting aspect of hermeneutics and continuity/discontinuity between the Old and New Testament, a common element in two unrelated teachings that challenge the clarity and sufficiency of the Old Testament for OT saints: 1) full “replacement theology” and amillennialism with the NT revelation changing the meaning of the Old Testament land and literal kingdom promises; and 2) “doctrinal antinomianism” that teaches that Christ gave new law in the Sermon on the Mount, law that was unknown to Old Testament saints and that “expanded” the original meaning beyond a supposed “legalistic and ceremonial-only understanding”.
Premillennialists have rightly pointed out this hermeneutical problem with the spiritualized re-interpretation of what the Old Testament described regarding a future literal kingdom of God upon the earth, in which Israel as a nation would play a role (along with a few other nations specifically mentioned, ref. Isaiah 19:23-25), and a literal future restoration of the people of Israel to the land promised to Abraham in Genesis. As Paul Henebury has observed, “this maxim would mean that Christians without the NT – and there were many of them in the First Century – could not comprehend the scripture they had – the OT.”
Interestingly enough, a similar issue comes up in articles discussing antinomianism as contrasted with the Reformed/covenantal view of the moral law (that Christ came to fulfill the law, and that meant restoring it to its original high level, from the lower level that the Pharisees had reduced it to). Note that here I am specifically addressing the “full” teaching of “New Covenant Theology” in its extreme view that places a sharp division between the Old and New Testaments, rejecting any understanding of true moral law pre-Christ, such that very few people pre-Christ were saved (the prophets and the few godly kings), and whose adherents even declare (as seen recently in an online discussion group for NCT) how unimportant the Old Testament is and that for evangelism they are now only using the New Testament. (Really?! But how did the apostles evangelize, per the book of Acts? They used the only Bible they had, the Old Testament. They proclaimed Christ from the Old Testament scriptures, proving that the promised Messiah was Jesus of Nazareth.)
If the “law of Moses” was really a more primitive type, strictly legalistic, ceremonial and civil, with no true moral intent — and Christ actually gave “new law” that was not known in the OT — then how does one explain the true faith and spirituality of OT saints, such as the psalmists, including their descriptions of delighting in God’s law and desiring to do His law (Psalm 119 and elsewhere)? Further, to suggest that people before Christ did not have the full revelation of God’s law, also contradicts the many Old Testament passages that make it clear that all along, even then, God delighted more in their obedience and their heart attitude, than in sacrifices; sometimes even God declared that He hated their ceremonial feasts and sacrifices, because they were not done from a sincere heart motivation. Reference Hosea 6:6, “For I desire steadfast love (mercy) and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings,” also Samuel’s words to Saul in 1 Samuel 15:22, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” But if Christ somehow added to the law, that which was not known before He came, that also means that the Old Testament believers had a different method of salvation and did not have the same basic belief in the same God as we New Testament believers. Also according to this idea, the Old Testament saints were inferior in quality; and we could call them hypocrites for their appearance of showing great love for God and His law and their great devotion to God: since the OT law did not really require that of them and it had not even yet been revealed to them.
Some closing words from J.C. Ryle regarding the Old Testament and its importance (from his commentary on Matthew 5):
Jesus came to fulfill the predictions of the prophets, who had long foretold that a Savior would one day appear. He came to fulfill the ceremonial law, by becoming the great sacrifice for sin, to which all the Old Testament offerings had ever pointed. He came to fulfill the moral law, by yielding to it a perfect obedience, which we could never have yielded – and by paying the penalty for our breaking of it with His atoning blood, which we could never have paid.
Do not despise the Old Testament under any pretense whatsoever. Let us never listen to those who bid us throw it aside as an obsolete, antiquated, useless book. The religion of the Old Testament is the embryo of Christianity. The Old Testament is the gospel in the bud. The New Testament is the gospel in full flower. The saints in the Old Testament saw many things through a glass darkly. But they all looked by faith to the same Savior and were led by the same Spirit as ourselves.
Also, beware of despising the law of the Ten Commandments. Let us not suppose for a moment that it is set aside by the gospel or that Christians have nothing to do with it. The coming of Christ did not alter the position of the Ten Commandments in the least. If anything, it exalted and raised their authority (Romans 3:31). The law of the Ten Commandments is God’s eternal measure of right and wrong. By it, is the knowledge of sin. By it, the Spirit shows men their need of Christ and drives them to Him. To it, Christ refers His people as their rule and guide for holy living. In its right place it is just as important as “the glorious gospel.” It cannot save us. We cannot be justified by it. But never, never let us despise it. It is a symptom of an ignorant and unhealthy state of religion when the law is lightly esteemed. The true Christian “delights in God’s law” (Romans 7:16-20).
Among some Christian circles today, especially Calvinists and dispensationalists, a more superficial understanding of theology persists, and the tendency to think that:
- anyone who is not “dispensational” adheres to covenant theology
- anyone who holds to amillennialism believes Covenant theology, and vice versa, AND
- covenant theology equals “church replacement theology” (amillennial/preterist ideas)
Accordingly, some will use the terms “Calvinist” and “Reformed” interchangeably, though in discussion it becomes clear that what is actually meant is Calvinist soteriology aka the “doctrines of grace.” Yet as I’ve recently come to understand more clearly, 5-point baptistic Calvinism, as popularly seen in the “Sovereign Grace” movement characterized by smaller, non-denominational churches with informal affiliation — and often associated with amillennial or postmillennial eschatology — is but one component of what is included within overall “Reformed/Covenant Theology.” Covenant Theology aka Reformed Theology includes not only Calvinist soteriology, but also understanding and adherence to the 16th and 17th century Reformed confessions. The confessions include the teaching of the theological covenants (covenant of works, covenant of grace, and covenant of redemption), and understanding of the Old Testament law as having three parts (moral, civil, ceremonial) and a “third use” of the law (the moral law, the ten commandments), as a guide in sanctification (not salvation) for the believer.
Here I observe that some churches that affirm the “Doctrines of Grace” aka Calvinism and reference the term “sovereign grace,” may also hold to covenant theology. But more often they actually hold to a “dispensational” understanding of the law, particularly with NCT, New Covenant Theology (which has developed within the last 30 years, about as old as progressive dispensationalism, both of which are more recent than classic or even revised dispensationalism). To add to the name confusion, some churches with “Reformed Baptist” in their name actually teach NCT instead of Reformed Baptist theology. The difference shows up while visiting church websites, that some reformed churches will specifically state their adherence to the 1689 London Baptist Confession (or another of the 17th century confessions, such as the 1644 Baptist one or, for paedo-baptists, the Westminster Confession); some of these will state qualified agreement “generally” or “in large part” while others state full agreement; whereas NCT “Sovereign Grace” churches usually will not explicitly mention their “NCT” belief (which is not one single, confessional belief and likely includes several variations). With specific churches (as true for all doctrinal views) one must look carefully at the stated versus actual beliefs; in recent church-site searching I came across a few church websites stating agreement with the 1689 London Baptist confession but with sermon content of traditional dispensationalism. Further: though NCT “Sovereign Grace” churches are also predominantly amillennial/ postmillennial, a few are historic premillennial (for instance Fred Zaspel and a few others), and a few that self-describe as “Sovereign Grace” are of the Calvinist-Dispensational variety.
Another important point regarding Covenant Theology and millennial views: though many who hold to “Covenant Theology” also are amillennial or postmillennial – with variations among themselves on the futurist-idealist-preterist line, CT itself does not at all require an anti-premillennial view, or even an anti-future Israel view. Though the true history has been largely forgotten by many of today’s CT advocates… ironically enough, as noted in Nathaniel West’s “History of the Premillennial Doctrine” and in my recent “Premillennialism in Church History” series, many if not most of the Westminster Divines were in fact premillennial: a truth that returned soon after the Reformation and held sway throughout the early Protestant years. Many great theologians of the CT tradition, down through the 18th and 19th centuries, were premillennial, and many of these also affirmed a literal future for regathered ethnic, national Israel.
Covenant theologians (such as Horatius Bonar, also J.C. Ryle and Charles Spurgeon) can well articulate BOTH the tenets of covenant theology and the reformed view of the law (see Horatius Bonar’s God’s Way of Holiness, especially chapter 6), AND affirm historic/classic premillennialism, including future restoration of ethnic, national Israel.
Here I note an example of modern-day CT writing which conflates teaching on the Reformed/Covenantal view of the Law, with eschatology and Israel, in this passing statement near the end of this otherwise helpful article about the third use of the law; but such is the author’s own confusion. The article’s statement – This is one eternally important reason why Israel received the Law in the Mosaic Covenant, with the associated typological promise of blessing and cursing. Christ, the antitype of Israel, takes the antitypical curse for the Covenant people and fulfills the righteous requirement of the Law to give them the antitypical (eternal) blessings by faith in Him. – actually has nothing to do with covenant theology itself, and only shows the author’s own confusion and mixing of unrelated issues with excessive spiritualizing. Perhaps, too, this statement could be taken as an illustration or analogy, yet the primary truth and primary meaning (of literal Israel still experiencing literal curses in this age, to be followed by literal blessings in the future) still remains.
To conclude, a selection from Covenant premillennialist Horatius Bonar:
It seems often taken for granted that those who assert the literal interpretation of the blessings promised to Israel, thereby exclude the spiritual. They do not. They assert the literal blessing, because they believe that God has promised it; but they maintain the superiority and necessity of the spiritual as firmly as do the others. They believe that Israel will be converted, and they rejoice in this as the glorious issue towards which the prophets point. But they believe more; they believe not only that they will be converted, but they will be restored to their own land. But does their literal restoration take from them one single spiritual blessing? Or does it prevent the Gentile nations from enjoying one of those innumerable blessings which are given to them for an inheritance?