* Lacuna: noun – “an unfilled space or interval; a gap.”
H. Wheeler Robinson (1872 – 1945) was one of the foremost English Baptist theologians and Old Testament scholars of his day. From 1920 to 1942 he was principal of Regent’s Park College. It was largely through his efforts that this college was transferred from London to Oxford where it now continues to operate as one of the 44 Colleges and Halls of the University of Oxford. One of his 18 books was on the Christian Experience of the Holy Spirit (1928). What prompted him to write this important book was a deeply personal and painful experience.
In 1913, in the course of a serious illness, he was led to ask himself why the truths of his own “evangelical” Christianity which he had so often preached to others had failed to bring him personal strength in his hour of need. The content of his faith remained true enough to him, but the content of his faith seemed to lack any real vitality. It seemed to demand an active effort of faith, for which the physical energy was lacking. The figure that presented itself at the time was that of a great balloon, with ample lifting power, – if only one had the strength to grasp the rope that trailed down from it. This experience led him to seek the “lacuna” in his own conception of evangelical truth. And he found it in his relative neglect of those conceptions of the Holy Spirit in which the New Testament is so rich. …The Bible is the Book of the Spirit. (4-5)
In Christian College I was warned that this was one of the potential blind spots for us Campbellites. So put off by the emotional excesses and Biblical inattentiveness of so much of the revivalism of the Second Great Awakening that he saw on the American frontier, Alexander Campbell consciously tapped the brakes on what he called “experimental” religion, and this caution was misconstrued by some to mean that he had no room for the person or work of the Holy Spirit in his theological “system.”
In James DeForest Murch’s history of the Restoration Movement – Christians Only (Standard – 1962), there is a fascinating discussion of the reticence of some of Barton Warren Stone’s “Christians” to merge with the Campbell’s “Disciples” because of their suspicion that Alexander Campbell and his followers promoted a “Spiritless” form of Christianity.
Campbell’s views were branded as those of a “Bible worshipper.” Badger’s “Christian Palladium” asserted that the sage of Bethany denied all activity if the Spirit since the time of the apostles except through the written Word. Said the editor, “If God communicated to Christians only by the Bible, all spiritual experience would cease and Christianity would become a “spiritless system.” And some of Campbell’s followers undoubtedly held such views, saying that the Bible was the only Holy Spirit they knew about. The fact is, that at this time Campbell was concerned with the popular doctrine of regeneration without the Word, and experiential salvation which considered “impressions” and “operations” as superior to the clear instruction of the Scriptures. Probably the clearest proof of Campbell’s belief in the operation of the Spirit of God in conversion is to be found in a letter he wrote to Mr. Meredith, the editor of the “Baptist Interpreter” –
The human heart must be changed and renovated by some cause… The question is: “How is this moral change to be effected?” By the Spirit alone? By the Gospel facts alone? By the Word alone? I do not affirm any one of these propositions. I never did affirm any one of them. How the Spirit operates in the Word, through the Word, by the Word or with the Word, I do not affirm.
In other words, Alexander Campbell confessed that he didn’t really know how all of this worked. The operations of the Holy Spirit were a “mystery” to him. But the operation of the Holy Spirit itself was not in doubt. Of this much he was absolutely clear –
I only oppose the idea that anyone is changed in heart or renewed in the spirit of his mind by the Spirit without the Word. (117)
In this insistence on the tethering of the Holy Spirit’s actions to the Word, in a backhanded sort of way, Alexander Campbell was affirming something truly important and absolutely essential about the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. Christianity simply doesn’t work without the Holy Spirit.
Over the past few weeks I have been writing about how the light gets in. After more than 40 years of vocational ministry in local churches, working with people and their spiritual lives “up close and personal,” I have become increasingly interested in the question of why some people “get” it while others do not. It’s the question Jesus addressed in His Parable of the Soils (Matthew 13:1-9). The good seed of the Gospel falls on different kinds of soils. Some hearts are receptive. Others are not. Why?
In the last two weeks I have affirmed my belief in the ordinary means of grace as the standard delivery system of the good seed of the Gospel, and I have written about the “Providences” – all of the outward and inward crosses that we are called to bear – as the primary way that the fallow soil of our hearts gets prepared to receive the good seed that takes root and sprouts up to eternal life. This is the position of the Puritan preacher William Perkins (1558-1602). He believed that–
God gives man the outward means of salvation, especially the ministry of the Word, and with it he sends some outward or inward cross to break and subdue the stubbornness of our nature that it may be made pliable to the will of God…
And it has been my own experience as a human being and my observation as a pastor that this is right. It is the Providences of life that break up the fallow ground of the human heart where the good seed of the Word can then take hold and grow. The Providences of God expose our deep need for God’s grace so that the Word, the Sacraments and the Church can actually become the means of grace that God designed them to be for us. And I am absolutely convinced that the “agent” in all of this is the Holy Spirit who both “inspires” the Biblical text and “illumines” the human heart.
Years ago I was told what happens when these two functions of the Holy Spirit get separated –
When all you have is the Bible, you dry up.
And when all you have is the Spirit, you blow up.
But when you have both the Word and the Spirit, you grow up.
H. Wheeler Robinson dried up. He had the Bible, and he believed what was in it. But when Providence tore the roof off of his life and left him utterly exposed, he struggled to find the peace that his faith promised (Philippians 4:7). His lacuna – the gap in his spiritual experience – was that he had no expectation of the Holy Spirit’s ministry of assurance – the way that the Spirit of God bears witness with our spirits that we are in fact the children of God, and if one of His children, then heirs of all of His promises too (Romans 8:16). H. Wheeler Robinson needed his heart “strangely warmed” in his season of trial, and when he had recovered enough from the illness that laid him low, he set himself about the task of remedying this deficiency in his theology and his spirituality. How about you?
If you’re “stuck” spiritually – and more of us are than you might think – then I would send you to the means of grace – to the Ministry of the Word, to the Breaking of the Bread at the Lord’s Table each week and to the Fellowship of the Church where we become members of one another and get to bear one another in love. And I would urge you not to look for the escape hatch when the storms of life begin to beat against the bow of your vessel. The sea may be big, and your boat may be small, but it is this very vulnerability that cracks open our hearts. It is the Providence of God that creates the strategic openings in our lives through which the Holy Spirit rushes in as the comforter, taking the Bible’s objective truths and subjectively applying them to our individual circumstances and conditions, and when that happens, everything changes. The Christianity that has always been true becomes equally real. That’s what H. Wheeler Robinson ached for, and finally found when he came to terms with what the Bible says about the empowering presence of God in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who indwells us.
Paul asked John the Baptist’s disciples on the way into Ephesus whether they had received the Holy Spirit when they first believed, and they answered, “We didn’t even know thhere4 was a Holy Spirit!” (Acts 19:2). That was their lacuna, and Paul knew that it needed to be addressed if they were to possess a full Gospel. That was H. Wheeler Robinson’s lacuna, and he knew that it needed to be addressed if he was to know the power of a full Gospel in his times of need. And for many of us who are “stuck,” this is our lacuna, and it needs to be addressed if we are to have the experience of the full Gospel in our lives. DBS +
If after reading this blog, you find yourself asking: “So where do I turn to begin addressing this gap in my spiritual life?” I would tell you that few spiritual guides have proven more helpful in my own spiritual life when it comes to the Holy Spirit’s ministry of assurance in my heart than have A.W. Tozer (1897 – 1963) and F.B. Meyer (1847 – 1929), Start by accessing online A.W. Tozer’s classic essay – “How to be Filled with the Holy Spirit” @ http://www.sermonindex.net/modules/newbb/viewtopic.php?topic_id=22632&forum=34 – and then turn your attention to F.B. Meyer’s essay “The Blessed Life” @ http://www.gracegems.org/SERMONS/blessed_life.htm These two teachings are a great place to start addressing the lacuna in your spiritual expectation and experience that is keeping you from knowing the peace of Christ that has been promised, and for which you are so hungry and thirsty.