“Light and heat” in Puritan Reformed Conference on Holy Spirit

It’s no secret that the topic of the Holy Spirit sometimes gets short shrift in Reformed circles, but an August conference hosted by Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (PRTS) focused on “The Beauty and Glory of the Holy Spirit.”

The conference was held from August 25-27, 2011, at the Prince Conference Center in Grand Rapids, MI. According to conference manager Mr. Chris Hanna, Director of Development and Marketing at PRTS, between 450 and 500 people attended the conference.

“Leading up to this year’s conference, I was a little concerned about the final tally of attendees, but when I was told we had over 60 walk-ins on the first night, I knew that this was going to be a packed conference,” says Mr. Hanna. “The people came from all over the US and Canada. Approximately one-third of those in attendance were new to the Puritan Reformed Conference; something that is very exciting to us.”

Mr. Hanna explains that the PRTS faculty began hosting an annual conference in 2009 with the “simple mission” of promoting the “biblical, historic, and experiential Reformed faith.” Since the 2010 conference was on ”The Beauty and Glory of Jesus Christ,” it made sense to continue the theme while focusing on the Holy Spirit this year. Next year’s theme will focus on “The Beauty and Glory of the Father.”

The conference opened on Thursday evening with Dr. David Murray (PRTS Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology) speaking on “The Spirit and Revival.” He defined revival as a “sovereign, powerful, concentrated and rare work of the Holy Spirit that renews and multiplies God’s people,” noting that it occurs regularly in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament.

Dr. Murray delineated several common features of revivals and summarized its effects as increased spiritual knowledge, deepened spiritual feeling and wider spiritual obedience—all caused by the Holy Spirit. He then examined what has been called the greatest Old Testament revival, the revival under King Solomon when the temple was dedicated.

“And the main point I want to emphasize as we look at this passage is: Spiritual revival is rooted in united prayer,” he said, pointing out that was true in the New Testament Pentecost as well as in parallel accounts of the “Old Testament Pentecost” under King Solomon.

Illustrating the Spirit’s work in every part of the revival, Dr. Murray described Solomon’s prayer as “corporate, comprehensive, contrite, cosmic, and Christ-centered.” He reminded listeners that revival is possible today, even though finite minds cannot understand the mystery of the infinite Holy Spirit. When humility is present as a necessary prerequisite, we can have confident hope.

“Let us read these revival accounts to kindle hope in the rebuilding of the church and the future glory of the Davidic King,” he concluded. “And above all, let’s kindle hope that if such things can happen in Old Testament times when the Holy Spirit’s work was not yet at its fullest, what more might we expect in our days when the Spirit has been promised in even greater measure.”  

Also on Thursday evening, Dr. Geoffrey Thomas (pastor of Alfred Place Baptist Church in Aberystwyth, Wales) spoke on “The Father’s Gift of the Holy Spirit” by looking at the familiar passage of Luke 11, which commands believers to ask, seek, and knock.

“Geoff Thomas challenged us as believers to precisely that, in every occasion and in every need and in all circumstances,” said Mr. Randall Kirkland, who is filling the pulpit in the Christ Fellowship Bible Church plant in St. Louis. “He summoned me to return to the only real resource that matters—God’s sufficiency in my every need. The Spirit does indeed sustain and nurture God’s children. We can and must ask and seek and knock.”

On Friday morning, Dr. Gerald Bilkes (PRTS Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology) described “Precursors to Pentecost.”                                                                                        

“Dr. Bilkes provided a grand sweep of biblical theology starting with the Spirit of God brooding over creation and bringing order out of chaos,” said Mr. Kirkland, “and moving through God’s Word to many other works of God’s Spirit anticipating Acts 2. He summoned us to plead for God’s Spirit to once again work gloriously in our midst.”

Conference speakers, L-R: Malcolm Watts, William VanDoodewaard, Joel Beeke, Michael Barrett, Geoff Thomas, John Thackway, and Jerry Bilkes (absent is David Murray)

Also on Friday, Rev. John Thackway (pastor of Holywell Evangelical Church in North Wales) addressed “The Supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” from Phil. 1:19.

According to Greg and Katherine Gurunlian, who attended from Pineville, LA, and have recently affiliated with the Heritage Reformed Congregations, Rev. Thackway first demonstrated the Spirit’s supply to Christ through His prophecy, incarnation, baptism, equipping, crucifixion, resurrection, and exaltation. He then described the supply of the Spirit in our personal experience, which is furnished in measure according to our need in God’s providence. We are to pray for the Spirit’s supply “by His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

Dr. Herman Selderhuis, general secretary of the International Calvin Congress, reported on the work of Ref500. From 2010 until the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, Ref500 is focusing on renewal, change, and relevance through nine themes: Education and Learning, Confession and Conflict, Money and Power, Doctrine and Church, Living and Dying, Art and Culture, Freedom and Preaching, Renewal and Piety, and Bible and Language.

Malcolm Watts (minister of Emmanuel Church, Salisbury) lectured on “The Ordinary and Extraordinary Witness of the Spirit” from Romans 8:16. The ordinary witness is the growing assurance in believers’ hearts. The extraordinary witness is the immediate or sudden work of the Spirit, which always accompanies the Word.

Mr. Kirkland was particularly struck by Dr. Joel Beeke’s treatment of “Richard Sibbes on Entertaining the Holy Spirit.” Dr. Beeke is president and professor of systematic theology and homiletics at PRTS.

“He carefully developed for us what is meant by the phrase Sibbes used often,” said Mr. Kirkland. “Indeed, we must prepare our lives for the Spirit’s use as we would afford a much-loved and eagerly anticipated honored guest. We walk by the Spirit, living lives of consecration…not by some self-reliant means, but in utter and complete dependence on His enabling grace.”

During Saturday’s sessions, Dr. Michael Barrett (president of Geneva Reformed Seminary and an associate minister of Faith Free Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC) expounded on “The Outpouring of the Spirit: Anticipated, Fulfilled, Available” using texts from Joel and Acts. He related that the Spirit works in believers’ hearts by regenerating, indwelling, empowering, and influencing.  

“Geoffrey Thomas displayed his gift of preaching on the theme of ‘The Love of the Spirit’ in a fresh and penetrating way,” say the Gurunlians, “as James appealed boldly to cease friendship with the world and all its adulterous trappings which are at enmity with God. The remedy supplied is the knowledge and application of the divine love of the indwelling Holy Spirit.”

Breakout Sessions during the conference included Dr. Barrett on “KJV Text, Translation, and Tradition;” Rev. Thackway on “How the Holy Spirit is ‘another Comforter’” from John 14:18; Rev. William VanDoodewaard (PRTS Associate Professor of Church History) on “The Holy Spirit in the Early Church;” and Rev. Watts on “The Ministry of the Spirit in Glorifying Christ” based on John 16:14-15.

“The most tangible expression of my appreciation for this conference, is that I made my reservations at the Prince Conference Center for next year as I was leaving,” said Mr. Kirkland. “The best way I could summarize the preaching is ‘light and heat,’ which accords well with a conference sponsored by a seminary focused on the treasures of Puritan theology.”

Panel Discussion, L-R: Geoff Thomas, Michael Barrett, John Thackway, Malcolm Watts, and David Murray

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 6, 7 & 9 of the October 5, 2011, issue of Christian Renewal. Conference photos by Lydia Beeke.

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