Based on a thorough survey of how the Holy Spirit works throughout Scripture, I suggested last week that although he certainly sometimes works in extraordinary ways, these occur in Scripture at transitional stages in the outworking of God’s plan. Therefore, our expectation for how the Holy Spirit works should not be that he will do something extraordinary.
Rather, the ordinary work of the Holy Spirit throughout Scripture is better characterized, not as extraordinary experience but rather as an ordering of the plan and people of God. Ferguson notes that the very first action of the Holy Spirit in Scripture is “that of extending God’s presence into creation in such a way as to order and complete what has been planned in the mind of God.” Jonathan Edwards developed this theme in his discussion of the Holy Spirit’s work in creation:
It was more especially the Holy Spirit’s work to bring the world to its beauty and perfection out of the chaos, for the beauty of the world is a communication of God’s beauty. The Holy Spirit is the harmony and excellency and beauty of the Deity . . . therefore it was his work to communicate beauty and harmony to the world, and so we read that it was he that moved upon the face of the waters.
“This,” Ferguson continues, “is exactly the role the Spirit characteristically fulfills elsewhere in Scripture.” Indeed, this overarching characteristic of ordering describes much, if not all, of what the Holy Spirit does throughout Scripture, including giving revelation, creating life (both physical and spiritual), and sanctifying individual believers: “the Spirit orders (or re-orders) and ultimately beautifies God’s creation.”
Purpose of Revelation
Spirit-given revelation also had the ultimate purpose of bringing order to God’s plan in the world. The Holy Spirit gives special revelation to disclose the nature and character of God, explain God’s requirements, correct sin, and give hope for the future. Likewise, he guides the apostles into the truth (John 16:13) necessary to establish Christian doctrine and set the church in order (1 Tim 3:15). Ultimately, he inspires a “prophetic word more fully confirmed” (2 Peter 1:19–21), the canonical Scriptures, given to believers “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16–17). The nature of such inspiration is important as well: the Holy Spirit did not inspire the Scriptures by bringing authors into a sort of mystical trance as they were “carried along” (2 Peter 1:21); rather, as helpfully defined by John Frame, inspiration is “a divine act that creates an identity between a divine word and a human word”—each author conscientiously penned the Scriptures (Acts 1:16, 4:25, Heb 3:7, 1 Cor 2:12–13) using craftsmanship (e.g. the Psalms), research (e.g. Luke 1:1–4), and available cultural forms and idioms. Spirit-inspired revelation is both for the purpose of order and produced in an orderly fashion.
Purpose of Empowering
Likewise, the empowering of individual leaders for special service was for the ultimate purpose of bringing to order God’s redemptive plan in both Israel and the church. This is true of Moses and the elders of Israel. As Ferguson notes, “Just as the Spirit produced order and purpose out of the formless and empty primeval created ‘stuff’ (Gen 1:2), so, when the nation was newborn but remained in danger of social chaos, the Spirit of God worked creatively to produce right government, order, and direction among the refugees from Egypt.” Likewise, the Spirit gifted Bezalel and Oholiab with skills necessary for building the tabernacle. Ferguson observes, “The beauty and symmetry of the work accomplished by these men in the construction of the tabernacle not only gave aesthetic pleasure, but a physical pattern in the heart of the camp which served to re-establish concrete expressions of the order and glory of the Creator and his intentions for his creation.” Indeed, in his fascinating book, Spirit and Beauty, Patrick Sherry demonstrates that “a long list of Christian theologians, from Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria in the early Church to more recent writers like Edwards and Evdokimov, have associated the Holy Spirit with beauty.” The Holy Spirit’s work of beautifying could be considered a subset of the broader category of ordering. This is true as well for his empowering of apostles in the early church, gifting them with the necessary abilities to both quickly spread the gospel message beyond Jerusalem “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8) and firmly establish the doctrine and practice of the early church (2 Cor 12:12, Heb 2:4).
In other words, while it is accurate to say that the Holy Spirit has worked in extraordinary ways, these were rare, and their function was to bring God’s purposes into order.