Pillar Journal

The Spirit’s Work in Prior Ages

Where there is faith, the Spirit is at work in the hearts of men, fulfilling both individually and corporately a variety of goals in redemptive history that will lead to His fuller ministry in the Lord Jesus Christ and the present New Testament age.

A superficial reading of the New Testament might lead some to conclude that the presence of the Spirit in the church and in the world was something new. The same mistake is often made regarding what Christ calls “the new covenant in my blood.” It is easy to separate the New Testament from the Old and conclude that a great gulf exists between the two. Some Christians speak of Pentecost as “the birthday of the church,” as if there were no visible church in the world prior to that time. Worse yet, some speak of the Jewish church of the Old Testament as something radically different from the Christian church of the New, as though each had nothing to do with the other.

That is simply not so, for the person and work of the Spirit are introduced to us already at the dawn of time. The earth was shrouded in darkness and a flood of great waters, but Moses tells us, in Genesis 1:2, “The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” The verb “moved upon” can be translated as “hovering” in the sense of shaking or fluttering, like a bird hovering over its nest. In fact, Deuteronomy 32:10–11 uses the same verb when it speaks of an eagle hovering over its young, tending to their every need. In His capacity as “Lord and Giver of Life,” the Spirit was fully present and active at the beginning to enact the astonishing results demanded by the various creative “fiats” of God. Psalm 104:30 says, “Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth.” In particular, the Spirit filled the earth, the seas, and the dry land with all kinds of living things. We may thus speak of the biosphere, or realm of life and living things that cover the earth, as the great creation of God the Holy Spirit (cf. Job 26:13).

In our creation, the Spirit was also present as the “Breath of Life,” or the breath of God that proceeded from the Father and the Son. When breathed into the nostrils of the divinely-sculpted but lifeless form of man, the Spirit transformed a creature of dust and earth into a living being (Gen. 2:7). Job 33:4 says, “The spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life.” Thus we owe our life and the life of every other living thing as much to the power and creativity of the Holy Spirit as we do to the hand of our Maker and Father in heaven.

Man is a created being and therefore has no life in himself. He cannot beget himself, nor can he generate or sustain his development to maturity. He cannot keep himself alive or deliver himself from the power of death. For all this we must depend on the grace of God and, in particular, on the work of the Holy Spirit. When God withholds His grace, we decline and die; when He sends forth His life-giving Spirit, we and all living things are quickened again and flourish by the same power that gave us life at the beginning (Ps. 104:30).

So wherever there is life, the Holy Spirit is at work. David lived in a world pervaded by the omnipotent presence of the Holy Spirit, for he says in Psalm 139:7, “Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?” But the Spirit is more than power. As a person, He possesses the intelligence and the wisdom of God. As the source of “all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works,” He is at work in the minds and hearts of human beings everywhere. All valid insights into the nature of things, philosophical or scientific; all skills, whether manual, mechanical, or creative; all discoveries, inventions, or works of art; and everything that blesses the life of mankind reveal the presence and work of the Holy Spirit throughout history. The Spirit distributes gifts of statesmanship and craftsmanship that extend beyond man’s natural capacity. Consider the remarkable leadership skills He imparted to Joseph, which Pharaoh recognized (Gen. 41:38), and to Daniel, which the kings of Babylon acknowledged (Dan. 4:8–9, 5:11–14). Exodus 31:3–5 tells us that the Holy Spirit filled Bezaleel with knowledge and wisdom to do “all manner of workmanship” for constructing and furnishing the tabernacle. The Holy Spirit also provided some of the early kings of Israel with special capabilities (1 Sam. 16:13), spoke directly to prophets (Ezek. 2:2), and inspired the Old Testament Scriptures through a divine out-breathing and Spirit-bearing influence (2 Tim. 3:16–17; 2 Peter 1:21). All these things are gifts of God, which are distributed among us by the work of the Holy Spirit. Without His light, human beings would produce anarchy and self-destruct and be condemned to utter darkness.

As the Spirit of holiness, the Spirit also labors in the world as the moral agent of God, “striving with man” to sustain whatever remains of the light of conscience, to restrain the destructive excesses of human depravity, and to mitigate the effects of the evil that people commit against one another. When we are overwhelmed by reports of the terrible things that humans do, we should consider how much worse it would be without the gracious work of the Spirit. His absence did not bode well for the people who lived in the world before the flood, whom God warned, “My spirit shall not always strive with man” (Gen. 6:3). Withdrawing His Spirit from a man, a church, a nation, or the world is a sure sign of God’s hot displeasure.

It follows, then, that the Spirit so values the world that He does much more than create political entities and provide Israel with a theocracy. The Spirit also works progressively and cumulatively through historical redemptive revelation, both corporately and individually. Sinclair Ferguson writes, “Isaiah 63:7–14 clarifies this with its reflections on the Exodus, the great paradigmatic redemptive act of the Old Testament. (1) The Spirit is associated with the activity of Moses in working miracles (see Ex. 8:19)…. He is the divine witness-bearer to the redemptive activity of God (Isa. 63:11–12). (2) The Spirit leads and guides the people into the benediction of covenant fulfillment (Isa. 63:14)…. (3) The Spirit is the executive of the Exodus-redemption wrought by God the Saviour (Isa. 63:8).”2

The Spirit has an essential role in the redemptive life of each individual believer. Knowing that true faith is worked in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who uses the Word of God as His chosen instrument, we can say that wherever prophecy and revelation exist and wherever the Word of God is received by faith, the Holy Spirit is at work. The fruit of the Spirit delineated in Galatians 5:22–23 was already manifest in Old Testament believers. Whether it be Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, the heroes of faith, the martyrs of God, His servants, the prophets, or the believing remnant of the house of Israel, the work of the Holy Spirit was evident in what they believed and how they lived. David said the Holy Spirit was the treasure of his life. Fearing that he might lose this treasure, he earnestly prayed, “Take not thy holy spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11).

Where there is life, the Spirit is at work. Where there is light, the Spirit is at work. Wherever the might of human sin and evil is limited by divine providence, the Spirit strives with men. Where there is faith, the Spirit is at work in the hearts of men, fulfilling both individually and corporately a variety of goals in redemptive history that will lead to His fuller ministry in the Lord Jesus Christ and the present New Testament age.

Excerpt from
Puritan Reformed Theology: Historical, Experiential, and Practical Studies for the Whole of Life
By Joel R. Beeke

Puritan Reformed Theology: Historical, Experiential, and Practical Studies for the Whole of Life (Beeke) (1951 in Stock)

MSRP: $45.00 $33.75


Puritan Reformed Theology is a title with a subtle double entendre. It certainly delivers what it promises—theology in the Reformed tradition mediated especially through the life and writings of the Puritans. But it also celebrates the quarter centenary of the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, by presenting in one volume the wonderful series of essays its founding president, Dr. Joel R. Beeke, has contributed to the seminary journal.  

In these pages Professor Beeke handles a wide variety of subjects and turns them, one by one, into theological and pastoral gold. The range is extraordinary and yet focused on the main things. The ease of readability pleases the ordinary reader and yet there are footnotes in scholar-satisfying abundance. The sheer size of the book may seem intimidating, yet like a great cathedral it can be appreciated one stone at a time. Here then is a thesaurus of theological and spiritual riches, a veritable Aladdin’s cave of intellectual and spiritual pleasures. I feel sure that readers will find themselves frequently returning to Puritan Reformed Theology to find in it both theological treasure and spiritual pleasure.” — Sinclair B. Ferguson, chancellor’s professor of systematic theology, Reformed Theological Seminary; teaching fellow, Ligonier Ministries

Puritan Reformed Theology is a treasure trove of articles and sermons that reflect godly piety and biblical orthodoxy. Dr. Beeke has once again served us with a valuable work which I gladly recommend.” — John MacArthur, senior pastor-teacher, Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, California

Read Sample Pages


Table of Contents:


1. The Age of the Spirit and Revival

2. Trust in the Incarnate Word

3. Our Glorious Adoption: Trinitarian-Based and Transformed Relationships

4. Paul and James: Are We Justified by Faith or by Faith and Works?

5. Gethsemane’s King-Lamb: A Sermon on John 18:7–8, 12–13a

6. The Man of Sin: 2 Thessalonians 2:1–12

7. Delighting in God: A Guide to Sabbath-Keeping


8. God-Centered Theology in the Ministry of the Word

9. Calvin on Sovereignty, Providence, and Predestination

10. Reading the Puritans

11. Godefridus Udemans: Life, Influence, and Writings

12. John Bunyan on Justification

13. Reformed Orthodoxy in North America

14. The Perspicuity of Scripture

15. Laurence Chaderton: His Life and Ecclesiology

16. Natural Theology: Some Historical Perspective


17. Calvin as an Experiential Preacher

18. The Puritans on Conscience and Casuistry

19. Assurance of Salvation: The Insights of Anthony Burgess

20. Wilhelmus à Brakel’s Biblical Ethics of Spirituality

21. Images of Union and Communion with Christ


22. Puritans on the Family: Recent Publications

23. Consider Christ in Affliction: An Open Letter to True Believers

24. Learning from the Puritans on Being Salt and Light

25. Puritans on Marital Love


26. God-Centered Adult Education

27. Plain Preaching Demonstrating the Spirit and His Power

28. How to Evaluate Your Sermons

29. Practical Application in Preaching

30. Authentic Ministry: Servanthood, Tears, and Temptations

31. Children in the Church

32. The Minister’s Helpmeet

33. Unprofessional Puritans and Professional Pastors: What the Puritans Would Say to Modern Pastors

34. Catechism Preaching

35. A Life in the Word

36. Why You and Your Family Should Go to Church: Biblical Answers to “Churchless Christianity”


37. Interview with Joel Beeke about Reformed Churches and Seminaries

38. Handling Error in the Church: Martin Downes Interviewing Joel R. Beeke

39. Practical Lessons for Today from the Life of Idelette Calvin

40. Rediscovering the Laity: The Reformation in the Pew and in the Classroom

41. In Commemoration of the Heidelberg Catechism’s 450th Anniversary: The Catechism as a Confession of Faith

42. How to Battle Hostility and Secularism

43. Busy but Fruitful: How to Manage Time

44. Nurturing Intimate Communication with Your Spouse



Joel R. Beeke is president and professor of systematic theology and homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He also serves as a pastor of the Heritage Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, and as editorial director of Reformation Heritage Books.



“First, congratulations to Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary on the happy occasion of your twenty-fifth anniversary, and to Dr. Joel Beeke on his completion of a quarter century of teaching there. The Lord is good, and He has shown His goodness in raising up and sustaining a school that is faithful to the Scriptures and Reformed theology. I’m grateful to God for you. Second, thank you to Dr. Beeke for this book, Puritan Reformed Theology: Historical, Experiential, and Practical Studies for the Whole of Life. Here is material for those in ministry or preparing for it (especially pastors, professors, missionaries, seminarians, and elders), as we aspire to better serve our flocks. And here is material for all Christians to feed and reflect on as we seek to grow in knowledge, grace, and wisdom. There is plenty here to engage the mind and warm the heart. It’s classic Joel: truth for devotion. Enjoy, learn, and grow.” — Ligon Duncan, chancellor and CEO, Reformed Theological Seminary

“Dr. Beeke is one of the world’s foremost scholars on Puritanism, and in this volume we have a marvelous collection of chapters covering historical, theological, and practical subjects of substance. I can think of no one I would rather learn from about these matters than Dr. Beeke. This collection contains the highest level of pastoral wisdom and doctrinal reflection through the lens of one of the best theologians and pastors I have ever known.” — Derek W. H. Thomas, senior minister, First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina; chancellor’s professor, Reformed Theological Seminary; teaching fellow, Ligonier Ministries

“As I look at the title and author of this book, Puritan Reformed Theology by Joel Beeke, each of these words—Puritan, Reformed, Theology, and Joel Beeke—fit together perfectly. Like links forged together on a chain, none can be separated from the others. So it is that Joel Beeke has become virtually synonymous with puritan reformed theology. This collection of articles written by Dr. Beeke and compiled into this one volume, is certain to be a storehouse of theological wealth for all who read it.” — Steven J. Lawson, President, OnePassion Ministries, Dallas, Texas

“It is all here: Puritan, and therefore magnificently Christ-centered. Reformed, and therefore established on the foundations of the Reformation. Theological, and therefore unashamedly confessional. Historical, therefore rehearsing relevantly timeless truths and freshly exposing old errors. Experiential, therefore conveying pathos, warmth, and conviction. Practical, therefore applicatory on almost every page. And finally, massively comprehensive, and therefore suitable for relaxing reading and mind-stretching awe.” — Geoffrey Thomas, emeritus pastor, Alfred Place Baptist Church, Aberystwyth, Wales

“Joel Beeke’s commitment to the principle that doctrine is for life makes this collection of articles, along with its variety, a most profitable and joyous read. I cannot commend too highly this treasure trove of biblical, historical, systematic, and experiential theology. No doubt it is a volume to which the heart yearning for communion with God will return time and again.” — David B. McWilliams, senior minister, Covenant Presbyterian Church, Lakeland, Florida

“What a joy it is to congratulate Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and President Beeke on the achievement of twenty-five years of fruitful ministry. It is certainly the Lord who birthed this seminary, caused her to mature, and has now taken her into full adulthood. This collection of Dr. Beeke’s Puritan Reformed Journal articles is a fitting memorial for this celebration, and the sweep of his topics will provide engaging reading for anyone.” — Richard Gamble, professor of systematic theology, Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Pittsburgh

“When meditating on the beauty and wonder of Christ, the psalmist confessed that his tongue was ‘the pen of a ready writer’ (Ps. 45:1). It was his sight and love for Christ that gave energy to his stylus. The same can be said of Joel Beeke. This volume commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of PRTS covers a wide range of years and topics and testifies to his passion for Christ and truth that affects all of life. The Lord has given him the ‘gift of the pen’—or keyboard—to share that passion with the church and academy.” — Michael Barrett, vice president of academic affairs and professor of Old Testament, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan

“It is a pleasure to commend this wide-ranging compilation of essays explicating the heart of biblical, Reformed Christianity. The range of material is especially impressive, culminating in a section titled ‘Contemporary and Cultural Issues.’ As with all of Dr. Beeke’s writings, a twin pulse beats and predominates throughout: Christ-centeredness and affectional heart religion. Read and be richly nourished in your faith.” — Ian Hamilton, minister, Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales

Puritan Reformed Theology by Dr. Joel Beeke offers a precious treasure of truth to readers who are hungry for God’s Word. These are edifying articles that open up and apply central biblical doctrines, often as expounded by the great Puritan writers of the past. I recommend this fine new book to all readers who love God’s Word, especially to men who have an eye to the ministry. Give this volume to a hungry soul, and you will train up a dwarf to become a giant.” — Maurice Roberts, emeritus minister, Free Church of Scotland (Continuing)

“Dr. Beeke and the Reformed theology of the Puritans are increasingly viewed as nearly synonymous. No other Reformed scholar has been so passionately committed to promoting and publishing the rich heritage of the Puritans as Dr. Beeke. This book affirms his thorough and comprehensive grasp of their Christ-saturated theology. Throughout the history of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Dr. Beeke’s students, including myself, have been the grateful recipients of his able transmission of the rich texture of Puritan Reformed theology articulated in this book.” — Bartel Elshout, pastor, Heritage Reformed Congregation, Hull, Iowa

“When the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (PRTS) was founded in 1995, there were great joy and thankfulness to God for answering prayer. What Dr. Beeke and his fellow prayer warriors in the Heritage Reformed Congregations had in mind was to establish a theological seminary that combined the best elements of the English Puritan and Dutch Reformed traditions. Beeke’s burden was to offer students a curriculum which would emphasize sound biblical and Reformed preaching that was also experiential and practical in its application. In chapter 27 of this commemorative book, titled ‘Practical Application in Preaching,’ Beeke, looking to Puritans like William Gouge as his model, writes, ‘Puritan preachers stressed the need to inform the mind, to prick the conscience, then to bend the will, believing that a sermon must connect with the people, and by the Spirit’s grace transform them and their wills. That is the heart of applicatory preaching.’ This book’s forty-two chapters cover a wide variety of theological, historical, and ethical subjects, thereby offering a good insight into the superb quality of the education provided at PRTS. May God bless this school of the prophets and prepare many more students from around the world there for gospel ministry at a time when worldwide apostasy is growing even as fields are ripening for a worldwide harvest.” — Cornelis (Neil) Pronk, emeritus pastor, Free Reformed Churches of North America

“Although Joel Beeke’s father often told him that ‘believers sometimes go to the grave with more questions than answers,’ if he could have read all the chapters of this magnificent book of his son, he would have said, ‘My son, you have supplied many answers to those questions!’ Puritan Reformed Theology contains much insightful teaching on numerous topics, especially about the great subject of a believer’s life: how to serve God ‘acceptably with reverence and godly fear.’ Having read through this book, I was not only amazed about the knowledge of the author, whom I regard as my brother, but my soul was also repeatedly urged to seek the Lord, to trust Him, and to serve Him; it drove me more than once to the throne of grace. Dr. Beeke informs our mind and convicts our conscience as he seeks to build up God’s church by directing us to the biblical doctrine and life of the Puritans.” — Wouter Pieters, pastor, Elspeet, the Netherlands

Puritan Reformed Theology is a resource teeming with exegetical, theological, and pastoral insights. Developed over decades of ministry, Joel Beeke’s collection of essays offers readers a resource to be regularly read and referenced for theological enrichment and edification in the service of Christ’s church.” — J. V. Fesko, professor of systematic and historical theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Mississippi

Puritan Reformed Theology contains a rich miscellany of informative, fascinating, and edifying articles on a whole range of important subjects, providing the reader with a veritable feast of scholarship and insight. Everything presented in these seven hundred pages of mind-informing, heart-stirring material is well worth reading and will richly repay careful consideration and further study, but I would like to make special mention of ‘The Age of the Spirit and Revival’; ‘Delighting in God: A Guide to Sabbath-Keeping’; ‘Calvin as an Experiential Preacher’; ‘Assurance of Salvation: The Insights of Anthony Burgess’; and ‘Lessons for Today from the Life of Idelette Calvin.’ We are again deeply indebted to Dr. Beeke and his prolific pen. May God bless this excellent material to the good of souls and to the strengthening of His church in this world!” — Malcolm H. Watts, minister, Emmanuel Church, Salisbury, Wiltshire, England