Joy that seeks us through our Pain

by Mark Johnston

The French Jesuit priest and philosopher, Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) said, ‘Joy is not the absence of pain’. Others have made the same observation repeatedly, either quoting de Chardin, or else expressing the same thought from their own perspective. It is a vital aspect of the joy we discover in the Bible and something we very much need to grasp if we are to experience this joy ourselves.

It is hardly surprising that people are shocked by this definition of joy. It jars with the prevailing notion that joy is found only in the good things of life. But, no matter how much we may try to fill our life with good things, we cannot exclude the bad and ultimately we cannot escape the dark shadow of death that casts its pall over life itself.

The Scottish minister, George Matheson, captured the richness of this distinctively biblical understanding of joy in the hymn, ‘O love that wilt not let me go’. At first sight it may seem to focus on the theme of love; but, as the verses unfold, it homes in on the joy bound up with the love of God.

Matheson goes on to speak about a ‘richer, fuller’ life and a ‘flickering torch’ whose ‘borrowed ray’ is ultimately restored. But then comes what is arguably the most arresting verse of the entire hymn:

O joy that seekest me through pain,

I cannot close my heart to thee;

I trace the rainbow through the rain,

and feel the promise is not vain

that morn shall tearless be.

The author gives the context for the hymn in his own words, explaining that it was “written in the Manse of my former parish (Innellan, Argyleshire) one summer evening in 1882. It was composed with extreme rapidity; it seemed to me that its construction occupied only a few minutes, and I felt myself rather in the position of one who was being dictated to than of an original artist I was suffering from extreme mental distress, and the hymn was the fruit of pain.”

As with all good hymns, this one was born, not out of a moment of inspired emotion, but out of rich and deep truths of Scripture. As we have noted in the previous articles on joy, the Bible presents us with a joy that is not found naturally in this world. A joy that is richer and deeper than the superficial alternatives people cling to, only to be left feeling let down and empty.

We find many striking examples of this joy throughout the Bible. In Psalm 31 David cries out to God in the midst of deep distress; but declares, ‘I will be glad and rejoice in your love’. At the end of his prophecy, at a time when Israel was facing major catastrophe, Habakkuk declares, ‘Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Saviour’ (Ha 3.17-18).

The most striking expression of this kind of joy is found in Romans, where Paul shows how the experience of deep joy is bound up with the great truths of the gospel. Having just explained how justification through faith, by grace is the basis of our new standing before God, he says, ‘And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God’ (Ro 5.2); but he goes on to say, ‘Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings…’ (5.3). The unusual juxtaposition of these two dimensions of joy actually takes us to the very heart of the joy of our salvation. That is, the joy of being restored to God in Christ. This joy – bound up with the ‘Love that wilt not let me go’ – follows us to the darkest of places in our earthly experience.

The final stanza of Matheson’s hymn enables us to grasp this more fully when it takes us to the darkest place of all: the cross of Christ. With poetic irony, in the midst of the kind of mental torment that caused the hymn writer to look inward and downward, the dark sufferings of Christ lifts his head to look, not merely at the anguish of his Saviour, but to what those sufferings have secured for all who believe: ‘life that shall endless be’.

Christian joy is more than just a perspective on life; it is the experience of that new life which is found only in Christ. The life that flows from being united with him, that is the key to our being reunited with God and knowing that we can never again be separated from him.

So it is not without significance that Teilhard de Chardin’s definition of joy was not just that it is ‘not the absence of pain’; but is also ‘…the presence of God.’

The ‘joy that seeks us through our pain’ is neither faceless, nor heartless; it is the joy of knowing the Saviour God, whom to know is life eternal.

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Being a Pentecost Christian: Sanctification

by John Hartley

The third person of the Holy Trinity is no less zealous in applying redemption to us than was the second person in accomplishing it for us.

Like our Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit is perfectly ambitious toward the children of God.

Once the Spirit applies the redemption of Christ – effectually calling us, regenerating us, giving new hearts to us – he then zealously continues to sanctify us in true and personal holiness. He will always be more ambitious in this gracious work than we. He will always be more effective as well.

The Lord says through his prophet: “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:27).

In those few words three brilliant truths burst forth concerning the Spirit’s ambitious work of sanctification in the redeemed.

First, without the Spirit man is incapable of walking in personal holiness. God must give us what we once did not have – his own Spirit. New life in holiness only begins by the gift of the Spirit.

Second, God gives his Spirit to dwell within his children. The Spirit is not just nearby, available to us if and when we are so inclined to reach for him. No. The Spirit is within us. He rules those inclinations of ours (Gal 5:17). The heart, mind and will are all made new. The dominion of sin in the whole man is destroyed. Remnants of corruption abide, but the graces of a new divine rule increase more and more, from the inside out, over the whole man.

Third, the Spirit of holiness creates agreement within us toward his own holy interests. It is not perfect, but it is new and increasing. The Spirit causes you to walk according to God’s standards. He presses you along and up a narrow path you have not designed, straightening and strengthening your gait more and more until the end of the age.

These truths of Ezekiel 36 are beautifully echoed in the New Testament: “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).

This passage is about sanctification. It is a call to respond to the ambitions of the Spirit as he graciously works holiness into our lives. The Spirit gives and then summons the believer to sow what he has given. The Spirit is this ambitious about our personal holiness.

The more we understand the Spirit’s gracious ambitions the less likely we are to suffer from two dulling mindsets about holiness.

The first is that of frustrated paralysis.

In this mindset the believer is so frustrated by what they perceive as the crushing weight of obligation toward personal holiness that the task is largely neglected. Holiness looks too big. It looks too long. It looks too hard. But none of these limitations are true of the Holy Spirit.

If you are a believer in the grace and glory of Christ’s death and resurrection, then the Spirit is already at work within you. He has lifted you from death into life. He is even now pressing you out of sin-laden paralysis. He is pressing you into prayer. He is pressing you to hear preaching. He is pressing you to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. He is pressing you to believe in Christ’s deep and abiding love. The Spirit is pressing with a careful and unrelenting ambition to bring to you the very things by which He straightens and strengthens you.

The second dulling mindset the ambitious Spirit overcomes is that of managerial conceit.

In this mindset the believer comes to think he can manage personal holiness as he sees fit. Sanctification is regarded as all his own work. Holiness will happen on his schedule: “I’ll put away that pet sin later.” “I’ll get serious about the charity I now neglect later, after I complete one more selfish pursuit.”

The holy ambitions of the Spirit challenge the whole calculus of managerial conceit. The Spirit is on the move, so should we be. “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). The Spirit knows we are frail children of dust. He will not break us by some inhumane pace. But neither will he let us break him, like some domesticated pet. He is the Lord after all.

John Hartley has been pastor of Apple Valley Presbyterian Church since 2010, having previously been a pastor for 10 years in Vermont. He is a Wisconsin native and a graduate of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as well as Dallas Theological Seminary. John lives with his wife Jen and their five children.




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John Newton as Father – Through Joys and Pains

by Simonetta Carr

The first part of John Newton’s life is well known. Born in 1725 in Wapping, London, he lived a turbulent youth, dominated, from age 17, by compelling feelings of love for Mary Catlett, known as Polly. The impulsiveness of these feelings conflicted with his father’s plans to set him up for a profitable career.

            Press-ganged by the Royal Navy into military service in the eve of France’s declaration of war against England, Newton embarked in a series of misadventures (mostly caused by his misbehavior), which brought him floggings, starvation, exposure to the elements, and ridicule. At one point, he felt like jumping into the ocean. “The secret hand of God restrained me,”[1] he wrote.

            Some respite came when a slave trader employed him first as assistant and then business partner. John loved this new, comfortable life, and had no qualms about the nature of his work. The only way a friend of his father, who had come to rescue him, could persuade him to leave was by lying about a huge inheritance waiting for him at home – the equivalent of two million dollars.

            Newton’s carefree and disrespectful attitude continued on the way home, until the ship, the Greyhound, was caught in a terrible storm. For the first time in many years, he instinctively prayed for God’s mercy. Eventually, after almost a month of battling the waters and fighting for survival, the crew sighted land. On April 8, 1748, Newton stepped on firm land a changed man.


Slow Progress

            Some accounts of Newton’s life stop at this point, or when he married the girl of his dreams. After this, these reports say, he became a pastor, understood the evils of slavery, and wrote many hymns – a short appendix, focused on his transformation. In reality, this second and longest part of his life is somewhat more exciting and relatable than the first. The truth is, while we love hearing of dramatic conversions, we usually progress at an annoyingly sluggish pace.

            Newton spoke often about this frustratingly slow progress in his Christian life. Even after his awakening on the Greyhound, it took him years of study and many conversations with other Christians to come to a clear understanding of God’s grace.

            As 21st-century readers, we find his seemingly unperturbed continuation in the slave trade particularly puzzling. And yet, this trade was so widely accepted in his day that Wilberforce’s first motion to end it was crushed in Parliament by 163 votes to 88.

            At the same time, it was partially this slow and gradual progress that taught Newton how to act with patience in the toughest circumstances and the most discouraging cases. He showed, for example, enduring patience to his friend William Cowper, even when the poet’s state of mind gave no indication to improve, and patiently encouraged the recipients of his many letters. He also expressed great patience in his care for his adopted daughters.


Papa Newton

            Newton’s experience as a father is one of the lesser-known aspects of his life. It all began in 1774, when he and Polly took in a daughter of Polly’s brother, five-year old Elizabeth Catlett, known as Betsy, who had lost both of her parents. The Newtons loved her as their own. John measured her growth by marks on the wall, by the fireplace, and Polly baked her favorite cakes. Betsy called Newton Papa and Polly Mamma.        

            As Betsy grew, Newton sent her to a boarding school, where girls her age could receive the best education, but kept in close contact with frequent visits and letters.

            These letters express typical parental apprehensions, especially when she didn’t reply, didn’t return home for a scheduled visit, or didn’t seem to speak freely from her heart. He was troubled by this lack of communication, which deprived him of the opportunity “of attempting to relieve, encourage, or direct”[2] the young girl. To facilitate free expression, he asked Betsy’s governess to bend the school’s rules and refrain from reading her letters before she mailed them.

            He tried not to sound overbearing in his concern for her soul. “I would not overdo you upon this subject,” he once wrote, “though the truth is, this is my chief desire for you, that you may know the Lord and love him. … I know that I cannot make you truly pious, nor can you make yourself so. It is the Lord’s work, and I am daily praying him to bless you indeed.”[3]


Stormy Seas

            As every parent, he feared Betsy’s unknown future. Given his sailing background, he compared it to a stormy sea. “You are now, as it were, in a safe harbor; but by and by you must launch out into the world, which may well be compared to a tempestuous sea. I could even now almost weep at the resemblance. But I take courage, as my hopes are greater than my fears. I know there is an infallible Pilot, who has the winds and the waves at his command. There is hardly a day passes, in which I do not entreat him to take charge of you. Under his care I know you will be safe.”[4]

            In 1783, the Newtons took in another orphaned niece, 12-year old Elizabeth Cunningham, known as Eliza, daughter of Polly’s sister. Eliza’s father, brother, and sister had all died of tuberculosis, and both Eliza and her mother had contracted the disease. The Newtons invited both to their house, but only Eliza survived long enough to move in.

            In spite of Newton’s diligent care, which included frequent trips to the coast, Eliza’s condition worsened until she died at age 14. Newton, who had spent much time preparing her for this moment through prayer and Bible reading, was greatly comforted by her eagerness to meet her Savior. The text she chose for her funeral was Revelation 14:13, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.”

            Eventually, Betsy finished school and became a great source of support for Newton, especially after Polly died of cancer in 1790. Ten years later, however, the stormy waters he had dreaded became a reality. A long illness affected her mind so much that she began to have uncontrollable fears. “She is always under the immediate apprehension of death,” Newton wrote, “which is very terrible in her state of despondency. I seldom leave her but she says I shall find her a corpse on my return.”[5]

            Betsy’s thoughts were so irrational and uncontainable that Newton took her to a doctor who was also his friend. “I am willing to use the means,”[6] he said. Eventually, she was admitted to Bethlehem Hospital, where she was not allowed visitors, but Newton walked to the building at a certain time every morning and waved in the direction of her window. Since by that time his eyesight was very poor, he would ask a friend or servant to tell him if Betsy waved back. “Do you see a white handkerchief being waved to and fro?” he would say. If his friend said yes, he would go home happy.

            Betsy’s illness caused Newton so much pain that his friend William Bull wrote, “He is almost overwhelmed with this most awful affliction. I never saw a man so cut up. He is almost broken-hearted.”[7] After all, he had just walked through the dark valley of mental illness with his friend Cowper and couldn’t imagine a similar path for Betsy.

            He was honest about his contrasting feelings. “I feel too often the workings of unbelief and self-will,” he said. What gave him strength was the memory of who God was and what he had done both in history and in his own life. “I believe only the help of him who made heaven and earth, and who raises the dead, can effectually relieve us,” he said. “I aim to commit her into his faithful hands, and I trust he will help me to abide by the surrender I have made, of myself and my all, to him.”[8]


A Peaceful End

            Thankfully, Betsy recovered. In 1805, she married an optician named Joseph Smith, and the couple remained with Newton, who by that time needed much assistance.

            Newton died peacefully on 21 December 1807. He lived long enough to hear that Wilberforce’s bill to abolish the slave trade had finally passed, with the overwhelming majority of 283 votes to 16, an amazing turn of events in a short period of time. It might not have surprised Newton, however, who knew fully well how quickly and forcibly God can turn hearts with the same grace he liked to call “invincible.”[9]


[1] The Works of Rev. John Newton, Vol. 1, p. 12

[2] John Newton, Works, Vol. 4, Nathan Whiting, New Haven, 1824, p. 397.

[3] Ibid, p. 390.

[4] Ibid, p. 397.

[5] John Newton, Letters, ed. Josiah Bull, Letter to Mr. and Mrs. Coffin, The Religious Tract Society, London, p. 396

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, p. 398

[8] Ibid, p. 396

[9] Ibid, p. 264


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Place for Truth is a voice of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Place for Truth and the mission of the Alliance.

Being a Pentecost Christian: The Gifts and the Gift

by Steven McCarthy

People love lists, from the Billboard Top 20, to 9-things-you-should-know-about-this, to 16-reasons-you-should-never-do-that. Perhaps this is why churches sometimes seem to obsess over lists of “spiritual gifts” (abilities the Spirit works in people),[1] even to the apparent neglect at the Giver, the Spirit, who is himself the Gift above all gifts, and the fruits of the Spirit – “love, joy, peace,” etc. (Gal 5:16-26) – which his “spiritual gifts” are meant to promote. Yet there are such lists to be found in the New Testament, in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4. And, as with all the Spirit teaches in the Bible, they are for our benefit (2Ti 3:16), if properly employed. Without repeating what others will write about who the Spirit is and what he does, I will seek to treat “spiritual gifts” in the context of the gift of the Spirit and the Spirit’s fruits.

Comparing lists, 1 Corinthians 12 presents markedly miraculous powers. These range from speaking abilities, such as prophecy (most likely in the sense of uttering direct, often predictive communications from God) and a supernaturally acquired capacity to speak other languages (“tongues”), to action-abilities, such as “faith” to work miracles or to convey healing to others beyond doctors or medicine. Many have held that these so-called “sign-gifts” faded with the close of the church’s foundational era.[2] The apostle Paul confronts the divisive abuse of these gifts and of other current practices in the church at Corinth, and stresses that even such powerful abilities, which he calls “manifestations of the Spirit”, were Divinely intended “for the common good” (1Cor 12:7).[3]

Ephesians 4 actually describes official positions, roles, or functions in the church community, rather than various abilities. Many have held that some of these are unique to the foundational era of the church (e.g., apostles), while others are generally recognized as continuing (e.g., pastor-teachers). Certain abilities would of course be necessary for these various roles.

Romans 12, in contrast to 1 Corinthians, can be seen as detailing abilities of a less pronouncedly supernatural character. However, these too are attributed personally to the Spirit of God as “the Lord and Giver of Life,” and not merely to natural causes. After all, the Spirit of God is even responsible for animal and vegetable life (Psalm 104:29-30). The gifts again range from action-abilities, such as serving, to speaking-abilities, such as teaching, but this time of a kind that is generally recognized as remaining in the church (though there are debates about the precise nature of such items as “prophecy”).

By all means, examine these lists, particularly that in Romans 12 which is generally acknowledged as being in active, global currency, and consider what abilities the Spirit may have proportioned to you (1Cor 12:11). But do so with the following firmly in mind.

First, God the Spirit himself is the indescribable Gift from God the Father and God the Son (John 14:16). The Spirit’s chief work is to illumine our minds so that we understand the truth about Jesus Christ that he also first inspired to be proclaimed (John 14:26; 16:13), to renew our hearts so that we embrace this saving truth (John 3:5; Matt 3:11), and to powerfully join us to Christ and each other as we partake of him together as Savior and Lord (1Cor 6:9-11; 12:3,13).

Second, the gifts of the Spirit are for the edifying of the body of the church, which the surrounding contexts of the three lists emphasize. In 1 Corinthians, for example, a discussion of “spiritual gifts” (12:1) gives way to the emphatic urging of “faith, hope, and love” (13:13) as “the still more excellent way” (12:31) the Spirit works. “The greatest of these is love,” which Paul says, “never ends,” though prophecies, knowledge, and tongues “pass away.” (13:8,13) This is because the gifts – both those of a more decidedly extraordinary character, and those of a seemingly more mundane nature – were all given to promote the Spirit’s overarching project of producing faith in our Savior, Jesus Christ, hope for the future completion of his work in us, and love for him, the Father, and, indeed, the Holy Spirit.

Steven McCarthy is pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Walton, NY, a graduate of the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Pittsburgh, PA, and a Th.M. student in Reformation and Post-Reformation Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, MI. He lives with his wife and three children in the Catskill Mountains of Upstate New York.

[1] Perhaps “spiritual” should have a capital “S”.

[2] E.g., Michael Horton, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit: God’s Perfecting Presence in Creation, Redemption, and Everyday Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 235-243.

[3] Scripture quotations from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016).


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.

Place for Truth is a voice of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Place for Truth and the mission of the Alliance.

Being a Pentecost Christian: Revival!

Generally speaking, to revive something is to bring it back to health or strength. Something is in some weak state and when it is revived it regains new health and vibrancy. Typically, when we hear the word “revival” in a Christian setting we think of a series of meeting that involve the preaching of the gospel in the hope and expectation that God will bring renewed spiritual health in individuals as well as the conversion of unbelievers.

Since the Holy Spirit is the person of the Trinity whom God sends to bring life to those dead in sins, the Holy Spirit is the only one who can bring revival. Moving from death to life in the “new birth” or being “born again” is a work of the Holy Spirit. He must impart life to that which is in spiritual deadness.

John 3:7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’

John 3:8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

The Spirit of God comes like a wind, according to his will, and imparts life. Without the work of the Spirit imparting new life, we cannot understand the gospel:

1Cor. 2:12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.

1Cor. 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

A common understand of a “revival” is that it centers around a special event. Typically, what happens in a revival style meeting is a preacher or evangelist is brought in for the week to preach a series of salvation messages. In past generations, revivals were often called “tent meetings” because congregants would pitch large tents and preach outdoor to large crowds.

There are good historical roots to revivals. During the First Great Awakening in America, men like George Whitefield, John Wesley, and even Jonathan Edwards experienced numerous conversions as sinners were moved by the power and might of God to repent, confess sins, and turn to Christ. Sometimes these revivals caused people to stir with great displays emotion. While some rejected such displays outright and others automatically assumed this must be what the Spirit’s work looks like, Jonathan Edwards was careful to say that if it is indeed the Holy Spirit he will also cultivate lasting fruit and permanent changes in people’s life.

There are also some bad roots to the modern conception of revival. The Second Great Awakening, in Charles Finney and a few others, we have the use of methods to work up fervor so they would respond to the message. Finney actually argued if the minister applied the music and emotions, working the person up into an excited state, they were more likely to respond. Music, the altar call, and the “anxious bench” became the methods of manipulation. But the reality is no amount of human means can revive those dead in sins. Sadly, the idea persists today that if we can just work the person into a more heightened state of emotions, then they will be able to experience the work of God.

Let’s make some applications:

  1. Revivals are only the product of the work of God by the Holy Spirit. We should be utterly dependent upon the Holy Spirit to do his work. No amount of effort on our part can cause a revival. I cannot work on the hearts of individuals, only God can. Therefore, we should pray regularly and consistently for the Holy Spirit to bring conversion.
  1. Revivals can be “big” and “small.” Sometimes we think and look for revivals as big extraordinary events. Sometimes they are this. Most times, God is at work reviving sinners in slow incremental processes of conversion and growth. The point is that while God at times may pour out the Spirit in abundance to overwhelm and convert a large number of people, this is no greater a miracle than the conversion of a single sinner. In large or small numbers, whenever sinners are moved from death to life the Holy Spirit is bringing revival. Therefore, we should ask the Holy Spirit to bring the lasting fruit that comes from conversion, rather than measuring revival by human standards of size and success.
  1. Revivals can happen to Christians. Consider in the book of Revelation, when John writes to the Seven Churches, several of them need revival. They need renewed strength, repentance, and a returning to their “first love.” There are times that the Christian needs to Holy Spirit to return them to a renewed fervor for the Lord. Therefore, we should pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to work in us and draw us closer into communion with God.

Tim Bertolet is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College and Westminster Theological Seminary.  He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pretoria, South Africa. He is an ordained pastor in the Bible Fellowship Church, currently serving as pastor of Faith Bible Fellowship Church in York, Pa. He is a husband and father of four daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @tim_bertolet.

Being a Pentecost Christian: The Spirit & Inspiration

What do we mean when we say that the Bible is the Word of God? We mean that while it was written by men, it was not the product of their independent and fallible thoughts. It was inspired by God Himself, and specifically one Person of the Godhead: the Holy Spirit. In this book, the eternal God of the universe has spoken authoritatively, thoroughly, and finally.

Many religious texts have been written throughout human history, all claiming to be inspired by a deity or spiritual force. What separates the Bible from these other books? Namely, that its inspiration is of a different character. The legitimacy of the Bible is underscored by the fact that it was revealed not to one individual at a single point in history, but to multiple individuals over the course of thousands of years. It reveals a God who does not merely show up once or twice and then disappear from the scene, but is an active force in history.

The inspiration of scripture has been one of the most important tasks of the Holy Spirit in redemptive history. However, it is not a task He undertakes without regard to the rest of the Trinity. We confess the classic formula that the Father is unbegotten, the Son is eternally begotten, and the Spirit proceeds. The Son is eternally the Word through which all things came into being (John 1:1-3), but what then is the Spirit? He is the very breath of God sent out into the world. The Hebrew and Greek words for spirit (ruach and pneuma) both carry a connotation of wind or breath. Even as the Word creates, so the breath of God gives life, seen symbolically in the creation of Adam (Genesis 2:7) and Job’s words, “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” (Job 33:4)

The Spirit has worked throughout history to take the Word of God and breathe it into the lives of the saints. He has accomplished this in several ways, the first being the revelation of scripture and prophecies. This is vividly portrayed in the Old Testament, where we see the Spirit entering people and allowing them to prophesy. The prophetic calls of Jeremiah and Ezekiel depict the Lord placing His words in their mouths. (Jeremiah 1:9-10; Ezekiel 2:1-2, 9-10) The New Testament confirms that these prophecies were indeed the very Word of God. As the Apostle Paul said, “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers…” (Acts 28:25b)

Then we have the two great New Testament texts about the inspiration of scripture. The first tells us, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) The Greek word translated as “inspired” actually means “breathed out” and refers to the essential role of the Spirit in the creation of scripture. Second, the Apostle Peter confirmed that prophecy came directly from the Spirit. “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:16-21) Therefore, the Bible does not simply claim that it contains musings about God, but that it actually is the Word of God, and every bit of it is therefore authoritative.

While the inspiration of scripture occurred at particular points in history, we must also understand the ongoing nature of the Spirit’s work. The Apostle Paul spoke of scripture having a will of its own. (Galatians 3:8, 22) By this, he did not mean the physical pages, but the Spirit who inspired them. The Spirit continues to work in the hearts of believers to illuminate the scriptures. “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

It is the Spirit who allows individuals to comprehend the truths of God’s Word and confess them. “Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus is accursed’; and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3) It is the very Spirit who inspired the scriptures who continues to work through them, not only preserving them but also bringing promises to fruition. “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 13:4)

We must acknowledge the Spirit’s special role in the inspiration of scripture while also acknowledging that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son to reveal the Word of God. As Jesus said, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me…” (John 15:26) This is a precious truth for us to remember: that the Bible we cherish is not a mere book, but a living and active Word that reveals to us the triune God.

Amy Mantravadi holds a B.A. in Biblical Literature from Taylor University. She is an active member of Patterson Park Church in Beavercreek, Ohio. You can read her blog at or follow her on Twitter @AmyMantravadi.

Sexual Harassment

     In 2017-8, the long-simmering, long-suppressed scandal of sexual harassment of women in the workplace broke containment. It began when a handful of strong, brave entertainers credibly accused entertainment’s worst offenders of sexual harassment. Men had objectified, harassed, demeaned, and groped them. Bosses had pressed for sexual favors, even forced them, and threatened reprisals if a woman refused to comply or spoke up after the fact. They decided they weren’t going to take it anymore. Once a few stood up, dozens, then hundreds of others came forward. The tide began with entertainers, but women with standing in business and the media soon followed. Next came women with less power, such as hotel workers. The charges were sober and credible and many embraced the cause of reform. Titans of entertainment, media, business, and politics resigned in disgrace or were fired.

     Will that change the life of women? Reform won’t be easy. Humans persist in familiar sins. Further, false accusations will inevitably generate a backlash and give miscreants a quantum of credibility when they deny accusations. Change may be especially difficult in cinema for economic reasons – Sex sells.

     The question is whether American society is willing to see a connection between the way our fictional worlds sexualize and objectify women and the way the real world does.

     The case of Harvey Weinstein, former head of Miramax and The Weinstein Company studios, is familiar. Although he produced an array of superb films, Weinstein was banned from the film industry for pressing actresses to undress and perform sexual acts in private. Ironically, a number of his best films required actresses to undress and perform sexual acts for public consumption.

     In fact, the film industry attracts viewers and makes money by entertaining the world with sexuality, nudity, violence, and depraved acts. The industry showered Weinstein with awards for his skills as a producer. While Weinstein produced an array of character-driven dramas (The King’s Speech, Chocolat, Master and Commander), his films often feature strong violence or sexuality (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, There Will be Blood, Shakespeare in Love, Sin City). Remembering that a number of men have confessed to offenses (Louis C. K.) or pled guilty to crimes (Roman Polanski), should we not ask if certain men are drawn to the depiction of such acts because they are drawn to the acts themselves?

     Weinstein seemed to find it difficult to separate what his actresses did professionally from what he wanted them to do privately. Indeed, Salma Hayek, who co-wrote, co-produced, and starred in Frida for Miramax, alleged that Weinstein constantly asked for “more skin… more sex.” Weinstein, who (Hayek reports) also threatened to kill her at one point, finally demanded that Hayek do a gratuitous nude scene “or he would never let me finish this movie.” He would have “his fantasy one way or another.” Hayak’s op-ed piece in the New York Times describes the effects of his demand in heart-rending detail.[1]

     The case of Kevin Spacey, an award-winning actor, has parallels. Numerous people also accused him of sexual harassment and assault. Netflix swiftly fired him as the lead in the acclaimed dramatic series, House of Cards. Ironically (again), he lost the role for doing, in real life, approximately what his character did in his dramatic life. Both involved the abuse of power and sexual exploitation.

     Is reform of cinema possible? Maybe not. Sex and violence sell, perhaps because they offer potent vicarious thrills. But as philosopher Charles Taylor says, every culture has “cross-pressures” that question and resist its dominant values. In this case, the cross-pressure battling sexualized entertainment is the passion for justice and women’s rights. But are people willing to see the connection between the sexualization and objectification of women in the fantasy world of movies and real world of business. If men constantly see attractive women sexualized on the screen, should we be surprised if men treat attractive businesswomen similarly? And while we are considering possible connections, could objectification, even dehumanization be a thread linking prostitutes, women in porn, models, and actresses in highly sexualized films? Let’s at least call it a thesis that deserves debate.

     How might reform begin? In the home, parents will teach sons and daughters what they need to know about sexuality and respect. In economics, consumers will purchase modest clothing, creating demand for more. In entertainment, disciples should stop watching sexually immoral programs. Business leaders will establish zero tolerance for sexual harassment at work and model respect for women, yes, for legal reasons, but even more because it is right. The church must learn how to speak and act, in the public sphere, as a moral leader. That includes forgiveness of offenders through the gospel of grace, sensitive counsel for the victims of sexual mistreatment, the promotion of healthy marriages and sexuality, and the wise critique of the culture.

     This sounds like a moral program, and it is, but real reform always begins with the gospel. Without Christ, men will bounce from the sin of lasciviousness to the sin of self-righteousness, which, from an eternal perspective, is no improvement. It is better to confess that each of us – male and female – wants to get what we wish and sinfully misuses whatever power we have to get it. Everyone is a potential manipulator. It’s what sinners do and we would be wise to find and confess our own sin before we accuse others. Then we can turn to the Lord both for forgiveness and for the strength to live with a holiness and faithfulness that begins to resemble his own

Dan Doriani teaches Theology and Ethics at Covenant Seminary. He earned his M.Div. from Westminster and talked everyone into a joint Yale/Westminster Ph.D. He also pastored a very small church for five years and a very large one for eleven. He plays tennis, hikes mountains, wrangles grandchildren, speaks at conferences, and writes books, including The New Man.

[1] Salma Hayek, “Harvey Weinstein is My Monster too” New York Times, Dec 12 , 2017

Being a Pentecost Christian Podcast

Today, Pastor Danny Hyde gives us an early glimpse of his messages at the upcoming Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology in April. The conference is on the Holy Spirit and Danny’s knowledge on the subject is primarily Scriptural but also very personal.

He gives us a little bit of his background, including his conversion to Christ, his experience with Pentecostalism, and what led him to the Reformed Faith.

You might have heard some say that Reformed Christians suppress the Spirit. Is this true? What do we believe about the third person of the Trinity and how do we relate to Him? Listen to what Pastor Danny, and John Owen, have to say!

Rev. Daniel Hyde is the pastor of Oceanside United Reformed Church in Southern CA. Pastor Danny, as he’s known, is a seminary professor, chief editor of the Alliance’s Meet the Puritans, as well as the author and editor of a number of books and articles including Welcome to a Reformed Church: A Guide for Pilgrims. He will be speaking at the upcoming Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology in Philadelphia, PA, April 27-28 on the topic The Spirit of the Age: Age of the Spirit.

We’re also giving away free audio messages from the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology 2002  The Promised Holy Spirit to everyone. Just use the coupon code HS312. And sign up today!

Winners of The Attributes of God by A. W. Pink

We have some winners of the episode The Tools You Need, from ABC to PhD  who entered for a chance to win The Attributes Of God. If you didn’t win a copy, you can visit our Reformed Resources to purchase one!

Joshua L.   – from Chesapeake, MD

Scott H.      – from Harrisonburg, VA

Michael M. – from Casa Grande, AZ

Coming Up!

Do you have questions about the work of the Spirit? Of being a Pentecost Christian or a Pentecost church? Daniel Hyde is our guest to help us with these answers. He’s also one of the speakers of the upcoming Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology. Stick around to hear about his conversion to Christ, his past, and his real and present experience with the Spirit!

Social Posts

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  • Does Reformed theology have a more robust doctrine of the Spirit? asks James…

  • Are we really doing the doctrine of the Holy Spirit if it’s stripped of Christology? – James

  • It’s a wonderful thing to think about the Spirit, but we cannot do that apart from Christ. – Danny Hyde

  • Owen focuses on the Spirit but he does it through the ministry of Christ. – Danny Hyde

  • What does it mean to live as a Pentecost Christian? – Jonathan

  • Want to experience the Spirit? Word and Sacrament! – Danny Hyde


Braving Hard Passages: The Analogy of Scripture

by Jeffrey Stivason

I recently read of one man’s experience as a student in the classroom of a famous professor. One student asked the professor, “What one trait separates the great scholar from all the rest?” The students sat in anticipation.  Would it be pedigree, proclivity for languages, resilience, intelligence, work ethic or a host of other good choices?  What would the good doctor laud as the distinguishing characteristic of a stand out scholar?

Creativity. The one trait that makes a man stand out from an already extraordinary crowd is creativity, said the professor.  Now, that was the end of the article. But it’s that sort of ending that allows the reader to argue a bit with the claim in the story. Yes, creativity can be a help. It can make a scholar stand out. But creativity is not always the best virtue to rely upon when it comes to interpreting a hard passage.

Let me give you an example. Find your Bible and read Matthew 6:19-24.  Now, focus on verse 22-23, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” The eye in this passage has been interpreted in a plethora of ways. But what may appear hard is actually not all that difficult if we apply a simple interpretive rule called the analogy of Scripture, which simply states that Scripture is Scripture’s best interpreter.

So, let’s look at some Scripture that might help us. Let’s first notice Deuteronomy 15.  Moses is giving laws concerning indebtedness and generosity toward the poor.  He says in v. 9, “Beware lest there be a wicked thought in your heart, saying, ‘The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand,’ and your eye be evil against your poor brother and you give him nothing, and he cry out to the Lord against you, and it become sin among you.”  In other words, the wicked and ungenerous man is described as having an evil eye.

Now look at Proverbs 28:22, which is similar, “A man with an evil eye hastens after riches…”  Again the evil eye is associated with greed.  Or look at Proverbs 23:6, which says, “Do not eat the bread of a selfish man…”  Now, rendered literally, we are not to eat the bread of an “evil eyed man.”  Again, the greedy person or the man lacking in generosity is the man with an evil eye. 

Let me give you one more text.  Look at Matthew 20.  It is the familiar story of laborers in the vineyard.  A landowner went to the market place in the morning and hired laborers to work his vineyard for a denarius.  About the third hour or 9 AM he hired more for the same amount.  He also went at the noon hour and even as late as three O’clock in the afternoon.  But he wasn’t finished even then.  He went at the 5 O’clock hour and hired more laborers! 

At the end of the day all the laborers came for their pay.  And it was then that those who had worked all day discovered that they were getting paid the very same amount as those who had started working at the end of the day.  Complaining erupted.  But the landowner responded saying (v. 15), “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own?  Or is your eye envious (evil) because I am generous (literally “good”)?”    

Having this understanding under our belt let’s apply what we have learned to our text.  Jesus says, “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is healthy (the word can be translated generous) your body will be full of light.”  Jesus goes on, “But if your eye is bad (evil) your whole body will be full of darkness.”  Now, do you see what Jesus is saying?  If your eye is good, in other words, if you have been generous you are full of light.  You have been storing up treasure in heaven (v.20-21).  But if you eye is evil, if you lack generosity, then you may have earthly treasure but you are spiritually poor (v. 19). 

Notice how this plays into a proper understanding of verse 24.  It says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth.”  The point?  You must decide between Jesus and your money.  In other words, who or what is your God?  Rather than build your heaven on earth, Jesus is calling you to be generous and so store up treasure in heaven.  Or to put it another way, have a good eye rather than an evil one.  So, the simple lesson is, the ability to apply the analogy of Scripture trumps creativity, though, or course, the two aren’t mutually exclusive.  

Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He also holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA.  Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and is the Executive Editor for Place for Truth.


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Braving Hard Passages and Godliness

To rightly read and understand Scripture takes a fair share of mental energy. One should not and can not check his mind at the door while engaging with God’s revealed word. And thankfully there has been a resurgence within evangelicalism for thinking deeply about God’s word. This is essential and is in a large part what Place For Truth seeks to develop. But it strikes me as significant that when the Apostle Peter discusses how to read and understand Scripture, especially those passages which are harder to understand, his emphasis falls more on the persons life and walk, rather than on his mental capacity.

At the end of Peter’s second epistle, he comments briefly on the apostle Paul’s letters, writing that “there are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16). Peter admits that there are hard passages within the canon of God’s word. But notice how he labels those who misread and misapply these hard passages. Peter calls them ignorant and unstable.

To be ignorant is to not know, to not understand. Not only do the ignorant not know what’s being said, more than likely they don’t know how to understand what’s being said. And so, in ignorance, they twist the hard passage, distorting its meaning into something else entirely.

The emphasis though is not so much that the passage is hard to understand. No, for Peter, it’s that in ungodliness some people ignorantly get the passage wrong. We know that all Scripture is understandable. Paul tells us that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent and equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16). And this has to include those hard to understand passages, for they too are God-breathed Scripture!

But notice even here, that Paul connects an ability to teach Scripture with godliness! Teaching implies understanding because it’s only those who understand that can teach. And yet Paul makes the point that Scripture’s usefulness is only useful to those who are godly. Inherent within this connection is the idea of submission to God’s word; that a right understanding of God’s word presupposes standing under God’s word. Conversely then, we can say that a failure to rightly understand God’s word often implies a man seeking to stand over God’s word. If we connect this with Peter’s earlier statement, ignorance is not so much an aspect of intelligence, but rather an aspect of the heart.

Is this not what we see when Satan blinded all of humanity to God’s word? His temptation to Adam and Eve was to have them stand over and against God’s word, tempting them to know good and evil according to their own judgments, rather than submitting to God’s word. And in that fateful posture, what was the result? Paul tells us clearly: “If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). Here our connection makes itself known again – a failure to understand God’s word is often due to our failure to stand under God’s word.

This seems to be what Solomon so rightly emphasized in his Proverbs, that true wisdom only really came from submitting to God’s words. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). Indeed, Solomon’s own wisdom came from asking the Lord to give him a listening heart (1 Kings 3:9)! Help me listen rightly to what you’ve revealed, Lord; give me an understanding mind. And in his godly submission, he found understanding, he found wisdom. Or as Augustine provocatively put it, “I believe in order to understand.”

And so we’re reminded that the act of reading and understanding God’s word is not some abstracted, neutral act. We don’t come to God’s words with just our minds, though certainly we can’t read without them. No, we come with hearts already submitting to what God has clearly commanded, and ready to submit to what God is saying in the hard passage before us. And it’s there, in that posture of submission, that by God’s grace we begin to understand.

This is exactly why Peter encourages his readers on either side of this passage to pursue godliness. In verse 14 he calls Christians to “be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish.” And then in verse 17 he repeats the same idea, to “take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.” It seems that for Peter godliness is a prerequisite for right understanding.

How seriously then ought we to consider the place of Christian obedience when it comes to understanding the Bible. In a fascinating display of mockery, the prophet Isaiah derided the nation of Israel for their idolatry, worshipping blind and deaf statues carved out of wood. But then he says that their very sin – the ungodliness of their idolatry – has actually made them blind and deaf as well! Their inability to understand God’s revelation was due to their ungodliness. Of course, God used this to further their judgment, giving them up to their own ungodly desires. But God was clear – He looks to the humble and contrite in spirit and to those who tremble at His word (Isaiah 66:2).

Paul, when writing to Timothy, warns him to watch out for false teachers, men who “have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions” (1 Timothy 1:6-7). And Paul is explicitly clear that their inability to understand stems from an impure heart and a seared conscience (1 Timothy 1:5; 4:1-3). Thus Paul actually warns Timothy to keep a good conscience himself, lest he cease to understand God’s word and make a shipwreck of his faith (1 Timothy 1:18-20). Paul understands that Timothy’s ability to read, understand, and teach God’s word is grounded in his holy obedience to God. “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).

O Christian, lets ground our ability to deal with hard passages first in our submission to God and in living lives that are pleasing to Him. God gives grace to the humble but opposes the proud.

Stephen Unthank (MDiv, Capital Bible Seminary) serves at Greenbelt Baptist Church in Greenbelt, MD, just outside of Washington, DC.  He lives in Maryland with his wife, Maricel and their two children, Ambrose and Lilou.