Home > Challies Christian Reading Challenge, Christian Authors, hermeneutics, Old Testament > “Rediscovering the Holy Spirit,” and Holy Spirit Indwelling

“Rediscovering the Holy Spirit,” and Holy Spirit Indwelling

January 14, 2019

Going through a stack of unread paperback books I’ve received over the last year or so, recently I’ve  been reading Michael Horton’s Rediscovering the Holy Spirit: God’s Perfecting Presence in Creation, Redemption, and Everyday Life.  With a style that is somewhat scholarly — more difficult than average layperson books (though not as difficult as some scholarly theological books) – Horton’s book is interesting in several aspects, with plenty of footnotes and references to other theologians, a serious look at the oft-neglected and often misunderstood role of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity.

Though expressed in more technical language, this book references the “seminal headship” error commonly associated with Anabaptists (referenced in this previous blog post):

The God-world antithesis was so marked that many Anabaptists held a form of Docetism, with the Son believed to have assumed “heavenly flesh” rather than a true humanity from the virgin Mary in the power of the Spirit.  … Menno Simons argued that “there is no letter to be found in all the Scriptures that the Word assumed our flesh.”… The Polish Reformed theologian John a Lasco took the lead in challenging this view as taught by Menno Simons, and Calvin criticized it in the Institutes…

The above and other parts are interesting, yet I find one area where I disagree with this book.  For some (bizarre, to me) reason, Horton – who is covenantal, affirming the covenant of works and the covenant of grace – states that Old Testament believers, prior to Pentecost, were not indwelled by the Holy Spirit.  This view is most commonly associated with classic dispensationalism, a relatively recent view introduced in the 19th century.  I previously blogged about this question in this post a few years ago (with links to a series from David Murray’s Headhearthand Blog), and still find the posts in that series helpful, regarding the historical Reformed view (with many quotes from the centuries past), and to understand the current-day flawed reasoning—and to respond to it. It is also interesting to note that even “leaky dispensationalist” John MacArthur (as pointed out in quotes at Murray’s blog) has affirmed that Old Testament saints had the Holy Spirit.  Yet Horton introduces an idea in conflict with the historic Reformed view, of a qualitative rather than quantitative difference in the Holy Spirit’s role with believers in the pre-Pentecost era.  According to this view, Old Testament saints were justified and regenerated, and saved and kept in the faith; but the Holy Spirit only “came upon” and was “with” them (with them in the corporate sense of the theocracy of OT Israel); further, that the Spirit being “with” them precludes the possibility of the Spirit also being “in” them.

Mention of this idea comes before chapter 6, “The Age of the Spirit,” but is treated in greater detail in this chapter.  On another topic, one statement takes the classic amillennial covenantal assumption that “the land” was included in the list of things belonging only to the Mosaic covenant:  “The writer to the Hebrews labors the point that the law of Moses—and everything pertaining to it (the land, the temple, the sacrifices, and the commands governing individual and social life in the theocracy)—was a typological shadow.” It’s just a passing statement without further elaboration – but let’s remember that the land promise actually first shows up in the early chapters of Genesis with Abraham, long before the Mosaic economy.

But just a few pages later comes the idea of OT saints regenerated yet not Holy Spirit-indwelled:

Looking to Christ from afar, the old-covenant saints believed in realities that they themselves had not experienced… Justified through faith, they were preserved and kept by the Spirit.  At this level, the difference seems more quantitative than qualitative.  …

The sheer repetition in the prophets of God’s promises to “pour out” his Spirit in the last days indicates a qualitatively new manifestation of the Spirit in the future.  …

the apostles interpret Pentecost as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and not simply as a continuation—even a heightening—of the Spirit’s work in previous days.   (emphasis added)

I understand from the above, that Horton is addressing the corporate nature of Israel, their worship, and God dwelling with them in the Tabernacle and then the Temple.  Yet it also seems to me, from reading the full chapter, that Horton is referencing the Holy Spirit in the Mosaic economy as only having a corporate nature and thus the Holy Spirit not having any purpose regarding individual believers within corporate Israel – taking an either/or approach rather than the broader both/and understanding.  Further, the idea of Pentecost as the fulfillment of an OT prophecy does not necessitate that the actual fulfillment itself is of something substantively different and previously unknown.

At this point I find David Murray’s observations helpful, regarding two mistakes in Bible interpretation:

I’m afraid that some who have argued against the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of Old Testament believers may have inadvertently erred in these two areas.

Just because the Old Testament did not clearly unfold the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of Old Testament believers, does not mean that such an indwelling did not exist.

And to start with “hard” texts like John 7:37-39, or at least to let such difficult texts be determining texts, is very likely to mislead us.

Horton often references the “harder” text, John 7:37-39, putting great emphasis on it (over other texts).  The reasoning here is also using the argument from silence, or confusing “the unfolding of truth with the existence of truth.”  Throughout this section, the “pouring out” of the Spirit is equated with actual indwelling, and silence in the Old Testament means the truth did not exist then. As described on page 151:

The Spirit had not been given, even during Jesus’ ministry, in the way that he would be “poured out” at Pentecost.  Since Moses’s hope for the Spirit’s being poured out on all the people is repeated as late as the Minor Prophets (e.g., Joel 2) without any appeal to a previous era of analogous outpouring and indwelling of the Spirit, we have no reason to believe that God answered Moses’s request until Pentecost.  God went beyond the request, putting his Spirit in, not just on, all of his people.  (emphasis in original)

Reading this book has been an interesting experience, helpful for reading this view I disagree with and for “iron sharpening iron” analysis, to help in strengthening my own understanding of the issue.  I was surprised to see this view (OT saints not indwelled by the Holy Spirit) taught in a book written by a Covenantal theologian, and it goes to show (as I’ve observed with other doctrines) the great variety of differing views even within the umbrella of Covenant Theology.

  1. January 15, 2019 at 7:36 am

    clear, articulate, informative, and engaging post.

    • January 15, 2019 at 8:28 am

      Thanks Robert.

  2. Neil Schoch
    January 15, 2019 at 6:01 pm

    Greetings Lynda!
    In the many years that I have been studying and teaching the Word of God, especially in relation to Israel, I have never been able to find any solid evidence of the Holy Spirit indwelling all OT saints. It is a big topic and it is not my intention of entering any debate on it. There are a couple of references that infer that the Holy Spirit was “in” some OT saints but never all believing OT saints. I wonder what bracket that puts me in?
    Thanks for bringing the matter to our attention. It is always good to challenge your own understanding of God’s Word and be willing to change if need be.
    God bless,

    • January 15, 2019 at 6:38 pm

      Hi Neil, Good to hear from you again and hope you’re doing well. Yes, as I recall we discussed this topic in the blog post on this topic a few years ago. It’s always an interesting issue for discussion, finding out the different views. Regards, Lynda

  3. Gerry
    January 16, 2019 at 7:55 am

    Hi Lynda:

    Thank you for another thoughtful and informative post.

    The subject of the Holy Spirit has been especially interesting to me since my true conversion out of Arminian Dispensationalism some 30 years ago.

    My conversion had some of the marks of the supernatural manifestations Bunyan describes in Pilgrims Progress and I have been drawn ever since to the Puritan and Reformed teachings, rather than modern Reformed works, on this subject.

    Not that I did not explore them at first.

    I distinctly remember wading through about half of Sproul’s “The Mystery of The Spirit”,
    at which point I thought to myself, “no wonder he titled it The Mystery of the Spirit, he doesn’t know very much about the Spirit”.

    I also read some of Piper and was left disappointed.

    Edwards, Owen, Goodwin, Payson,
    Watson, and Dodridge, and of course Bunyan, among others, seemed to me to find a reality and balance, based on personal experience filtered through a deep knowledge of the Word, that these modern Reformed men, however admired, seemed to lack.

    As to Michael Hortons work specifically, I have not read it and likely will not, because while he is extremely insightful and helpful in his take on Finney’s errors being manifest in today’s moral government approach to Christianity, he misses, or at least overlooks, a hugely important lesson in his relation of Finny’s supposed “conversion experience”, which was the beginning of those errors.

    In that account, related correctly, but only partially by Horton, Finney had a genuine powerful supernatural experience, some of which would lead one without discernment to conclude that it was genuine.

    Prominent in it was Finny’s sudden realization and conviction as to his pride.

    He was also suddenly and irreversibly dedicated by it to “the cause of Christ” and gave up his law practice to become a minister.

    However, examination of his life and doctrine and ministry, as we are told to do in 1John 4:1-6, in order to “test the spirits”, reveals quite plainly that his experience was of a Satanic counterfeit nature.

    This is important, I think, because unlike the Rerformers and Puritans, who dealt openly and honestly about Satan’s power versus Gods power, and their various manifestations, in time, and now, modern men seem to deny this or neglect or ignore it.

    Some of this is due to the amill teaching of Satan being bound of course (see Jay Adams denial of any encounters with satanic/demonic spirits while counseling on his blog! Amazing!) but I also think there is an uneasiness with any manifestation of Christ which is clearly taught and promised in John’s gospel in the section where Christ’s prays for his disciples and “all those who will believe in Me through their Word” (John 17:20).

    This is unfortunate because “the Joy of the Lord is our strength” and passage after passage in the New Testament makes clear that these manifestations of Gods Power are keys to strengthen all true believers in the fight.

    They seem to have missed that Satan knows this and has sought to discredit them with great success through the Charismatic Movement and its excesses and false doctrines.

    Did not God tell Jeremiah that his honor would to be “as Gods mouth if he took forth the precious (truth) from the vile (error)” that Satan had mixed with it?

    Is this lesson lost on modern reformed teachers?

    It would seem so when comparing their teaching on these matters with the best of the older authors, for instead of “taking it forth”, they seem to prefer leaving it mixed and discarding both when it comes to the legitimate manifestation of the Spirit in today’s church.

    Nor, I suppose should we who have studied and loved the covenental premill take on the age in which we find ourselves, be surprised at this state of affairs.


    • January 16, 2019 at 3:29 pm

      Hi Gerry,

      Thanks for your comment, lots of good points. I’ve been coming to the same conclusion regarding current day authors versus the Puritans (and Spurgeon and a few others from the 19th century), especially as I actually read the current-day books. It’s been nice to receive the free books, but the quality isn’t always there. I’m also reading an audio book from John Piper, the first one I’ve read from him (a past Christian Audio free book) – it’s okay, but I’m not that impressed.
      Good points about Charles Finney; several years ago I read Phil Johnson’s article about Finney, who has been promoted by some as an evangelical Christian, when he clearly was not. http://www.romans45.org/articles/finney.htm

      Also very sad but true, the modern-day extreme reaction against the charismatic/Pentecostal movement and its excesses. Actually, it’s a lot of extreme reaction against several false teachings that have become very influential in society since the 19th century – the continuationist/charismatic teaching, also classic dispensationalism. And yes, from a covenantal premillennial futurist perspective, it all makes sense in terms of how this age will end and what to expect.

      Plus, to some extent it seems that our modern-day age and technology has also influenced the way we think, including depth and attention level (and lack thereof), especially with the Internet and smart phones changing the brain to more of a surface/skim level. Before the great technological change, information was slow in coming, slow in communication, yet without the noisy distractions people had more attention span and more depth of thought. (Though certainly it is true that even in earlier centuries people could always find distractions, though maybe not as easily as today; the tendency to distraction and to NOT think deeply are embedded in fallen human nature.)


  4. January 23, 2019 at 3:10 pm


    Here’s a post by a dispensationalist on the indwelling debate that may interest you. (Hint: he’s one who says that the OT Saints were indwelt, and says DBTS has always taught this as far as he knows.) A lengthy journal article is also linked. http://www.dbts.edu/2019/01/21/synthesizing-indwelling-omnipresence-and-sanctification/#comment-26502

    Dr. Horton’s covenant theology owes a lot to that of Dr. Meredith Kline, which is to say that it is somewhat idiosyncratic. He also differs from the majority on seeing some covenants as unconditional. In my experience CT (or at least paedobaptist CT) tends to see all covenants as conditional.

    • January 23, 2019 at 7:12 pm

      Thanks, Chris — great article on this very issue. I’m not too impressed with Horton’s view here, and this article summarized the issue I noticed in this book — “that the Spirit was housed in the Temple under the old covenant and could only be accessed through regular pilgrimage” as though that was the only way the Spirit worked during the pre-Pentecost era, this “corporate” only idea.

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