I am reading lots of Puritans these days.
As in so many things, I believed what I had been told about the Puritans before I actually started reading the Puritans. I had dismissed them as grim, sterile, legalistic, brittle, small-minded Christians based on the things that I had been told about them, things like H.L. Mencken’s classic definition of a Puritan as somebody living with “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” But like all stereotypes born of ignorance and prejudice, this works only so long as you don’t actually get acquainted with any of them. Reduce them to cartoons, and then criticize the caricature that you have created of them. It’s easy to do. But I can’t do it anymore because I have actually gotten to know some Puritans, and in doing so I have learned that the stereotype, just like all stereotypes, is flat wrong. In fact, it’s even more serious than that – it’s a matter of bearing false witness, and that’s a sin, a breach of one of the big ten (Exodus 20:16)!
C. Leonard Allen and Richard Hughes, two historians of the Stone/Campbell Movement, were the first teachers in my life to send me to the Puritans. In their book Discovering Our Roots: The Ancestry of Churches of Christ, they made the case that the spiritual heritage of the churches of the Stone/Campbell Movement goes back through the Puritans to the Reformed branch of Ulrich Zwingl’s and John Calvin’s Protestantism. Their chapters on the Puritans alerted me to my need as a Disciple to get better acquainted with them. Then, while reading Alister McGrath’s biography of J.I Packer, a theologian from whom I have learned so much and admire so greatly, I discovered that he thinks of himself as a Puritan! In turn, that led me to pick up J.I. Packer’s book A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Crossway 1990). This was my first introduction to Puritan theology and spirituality, and as I read I found it deeply satisfying to both my head and heart, but especially to my heart. This is what the Puritans were experts at – understanding the workings of grace in the human heart. And then, for my birthday in 2012 Mary Lynn got me Joel R. Beeke’s and Mark Jones’ magisterial A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (I am loved!). At 60 chapters and 1054 pages, this volume has been a mountain that I have been climbing ever since, and over Christmas I got to chapter 36 – “Richard Sibbes on Entertaining the Holy Spirit” – and it’s been rattling about inside me ever since.
Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) was ordained to the ministry of the Church of England in 1609, and he lectured in theology and preached at the churches in and around Cambridge from 1609 until his death 26 years later. He was known as “the heavenly Doctor” because of the godliness of his life as well as the content of his teaching and preaching. “Heaven was in him,” it was said of Richard Sibbes, “before he was in heaven.” The intention of his preaching and teaching was always to “woo,” to draw people into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. And his writings continue to have that effect. In fact, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the preacher at the Westminster Chapel in London from 1939 to 1968, said that it was reading the writings of Richard Sibbes, especially The Bruised Reed and The Soul’s Conflict, that got him through a time of particularly painful spiritual testing when he was feeling completely overwhelmed. “His books quietened, soothed, comforted, encouraged and healed me,” Martyn Lloyd-Jones reported. And based on what I have read from the pen of Richard Sibbes, I completely understand what Martyn Lloyd-Jones meant.
It was what Richard Sibbes wrote about “entertaining the Holy Spirit” that has captured my attention in recent weeks. The Puritans had a highly developed theology of the Holy Spirit and how He works in our hearts and our churches. Because this is not an area that we have been particularly strong in as Disciples, I find myself particularly drawn to and especially interested in what the Puritan’s have to say in this area.
Richard Sibbes believed that the Holy Spirit must be “an integral part of our lives, our churches, and our world,” and that the way that this happened was through what he called “entertaining” the Holy Spirit in every facet of our life and experience. For Richard Sibbes, “entertaining the Holy Spirit meant to welcome with hospitality and then to nurture our friendship with the indwelling Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is the agent of conversion. It is the basic work of the Holy Spirit to take the objective work of the salvation that God in Jesus Christ has accomplished in history on the cross and out of the empty tomb, and to subjectively apply it individually to our hearts and corporately to the church. The Spirit convicts us of sin and then draws us to believe, and when we do, the Holy Spirit then takes up residence in our hearts to assure us that we are the children of God and to direct the process of sanctification by which we are increasingly conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. It is this “indwelling Spirit” who must be “entertained” by us, that is, the presence of the Holy Spirit in us is something that we must consciously welcome and then consistently acknowledge. Just like a “bad marriage” in which one partner can take advantage of the other partner’s contributions while failing to appreciate him or her, it is possible for us as Christians to “grieve the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30) and to “quench the Holy Spirit” (I Thessalonians 5:19) by presuming on the Spirit’s presence and power in our lives without being aware of them or appreciative for them. And so Richard Sibbes urged Christians to “make a daily effort to appreciate the Holy Spirit.”
This connected with me so deeply because 42 years ago, after an experience of renewal in the Spirit, Dennis and Rita Bennett’s book The Holy Spirit and You (Logos – 1971) helped me to make sense of what had happened in me. I don’t know that the Bennett’s even knew who Richard Sibbes was, or had ever read anything that Richard Sibbes had written, and yet, what they wrote about “receiving the Holy Spirit,” and what Richard Sibbes wrote about “entertaining the Holy Spirit” had been cut from the very same bolt of theological cloth.
This is how the Bennett’s described it (19-20) –
Some are puzzled by the term “receiving the Holy Spirit.” A Christian may ask the question: “How can I receive the Holy Spirit when I already have Him living in me?” (The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit – the “gift of the Holy Spirit” – is “part of the package” of conversion – Acts 2:37-38; Romans 8:9; I Corinthians 12:3; Galatians 3:1-5).
We all know what it means to “receive” a person. Let us imagine the Brown household. It is 5:40 p.m., and Mr. Brown has just come home from work, and is taking a shower before supper. Mrs. Brown is putting the finishing touches on an especially nice meal, for the Browns have invited the Joneses over to eat. Their guests are scheduled to arrive at 6:00 p.m., but alas, at 5:45 comes a ring ar the doorbell. Mrs. Brown flutters a little – she isn’t through with the gravy; she has flour on the end of her nose; and her hair is a mess!
“Susie?” she calls to her daughter, “for goodness’ sake will you go and let the Joneses on; give them the evening paper, or visit with them – I’m not ready for them yet!”
Just then the phone rings in the kitchen, and Mrs. Brown answers.
“Hello! Marie?” says the voice on the line. “This is Helen. Do you have the Joneses over there?”
“Yes,” replies Mrs. Brown, “we do.”
“Well, how are they?” says the voice of the caller.
“I really don’t know,” says Mrs. Brown, patiently. “I haven’t received them yet. I’m still out here working in the kitchen.”
“You’d better hurry and receive them,” says Helen. “I happen to know that they have some wonderful news, and that they have brought you some beautiful gifts!”
So, Mrs. Brown hangs up the phone, quickly finishes her cooking, straightens her hair and powders her face, and then, together with her husband, receives her friends, hears the news they have, and accepts the gifts they’ve brought. The Person of the Holy Spirit has been living in your “house” ever since your new birth, but now you fully acknowledge His presence and receive His gifts.
…The first experience of the Christian Life, salvation, is the incoming of the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ, to give us new life, God’s life, eternal life. The second experience, is the receiving, or making welcome of the Holy Spirit, so that Jesus Christ can cause Him to pour out this new life from our spirits, to baptize our souls and bodies, and then the world around, with His refreshing and renewing power.
My conversion happened in 1965. I then “received” or “made welcome” the Holy Spirit six years later when I was a freshman in Christian College. For six long years the Holy Spirit was living in the house of my life, but I wasn’t aware of His presence or plugged into His power. I wish somebody had told me sooner about “receiving” the Holy Spirit – about consciously and consistently “entertaining” Him. The normal Christian life consists of both of these experiences – of being “born again” and of being “Spirit-filled.” Jesus Christ as the Savior came to do both. He is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), and He is the “One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33). But my spiritual life was artificially truncated for six frustrating years because nobody told me this. As the disciples of John the Baptist told Paul outside of Ephesus in Acts 19:2 – I hadn’t even been told “that there was a Holy Spirit!” And then, everything changed for me at a prayer meeting in a college dormitory room when I was encouraged to “receive,” to “make welcome,” to “entertain” the Holy Spirit. I did, and I have never looked back. It has made all the difference, and I can’t say it clearly, loudly or often enough. Being filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-21) is part of the Gospel, and, in fact, it is what makes what is true, real for us, and in us. It is the experiential part of Christianity for which we who are looking for more than just theories about God but an actual relationship of intimacy and affection with God are so hungry and thirsty for.
Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680), another one of those Puritans that I am reading, put it like this –
A man and his little child [are] walking down the road and they are walking hand in hand, and the child knows that he is the child of his father, and he knows that his father loves him, and he rejoices in that, and he is happy in it. There is no uncertainty about it all, but suddenly the father, moved by some impulse, takes hold of the child and picks him up, fondles him in his arms, kisses him, embraces him, showers his love upon him, and then he puts him down again and they go on walking together. That is it! The child knew before that his father loved him, and he knew that he was his child. But oh! the loving embrace, this extra outpouring of love, this unusual manifestation of it—that is the kind of thing. The Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.
This has been my very own experience in “receiving,” “making welcome,” or “entertaining” the Holy Spirit, and if it sounds like something that you want and need, I would counsel you to take a look at A.W. Tozer’s message on “How to be Filled with the Holy Spirit” (http://www.sermonindex.net/modules/newbb/viewtopic.php?topic_id=22632&forum=34) or to get a copy of and then read John Stott’s little booklet “The Baptism and Fullness of the Holy Spirit” (IVP 1964). And then, when you are ready, simply ask on the basis of Luke 11:9-13. I have found simplicity and directness to be the very best approach in this. In your own words and from the depths of your own heart just tell God – “If you have something more for me — I’ll take it.” This is where and this is how our “entertainment of the Holy Spirit” begins. DBS+