God’s indwelling presence: a review

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If you have followed this blog for any time, you may well be familiar with some of my musings on the indwelling of the Spirit and how this fits with the reformed schema. You can read some of those thoughts here, here and here. I finally got round to getting hold of James M Hamilton’s God’s Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments in which he tackles some of these same questions. It was certainly an interesting read and there is much to chew over. It would be well worth picking up if you have any interest in the work of the Spirit and how it applies across the Old and New Testaments.

Hamilton was clear, going into his research, that he wanted to argue the Spirit indwelt both Old and New Covenant believers. He ended up concluding that the Biblical data simply would not allow that assertion. However, like me, he wanted to uphold reformed doctrine whilst, at the same time, being faithful to the expressed words of scripture. It was heartening, on a personal level, to read a book that lent credence to much of what I had drawn from my own reading of scripture.

Hamilton offered a helpful survey of various views put forward on the question of indwelling in Old Covenant believers. I have reproduced his summary table below. The position Discontinuity is included because Hamilton notes that many convenant theologians presume this is a view held by many dispensationalists. However, Hamilton said he could find no actual proponent of the total discontinuity view.

Position: Continuity More Continuity than Discontinuity Some Continuity; Some Discontinuity
Definition: Regenerated & Indwelt Differences acknowledged but not seen as fundamental Regenerated, but not Indwelt
Proponents: Early Church:

N/A

Reformation:

John Owen; Thomas Goodwin

Modern:

S. Ferguson; G. Fredricks; D.P. Fuller; W.C Kaiser; J.A. Motyer; J.B. Payne; B.B. Warfield; L. Wood

Early Church:

Augustine

Reformation:

J. Calvin

Modern:

D.I. Block; G.W. Grogan; W. Grudem; G.E. Ladd

Early Church:

N/A

Reformation:

N/A

Modern:

M. Erickson; G.F. Oehler; J.I. Packer; L.D. Pettegrew; J. Rea; P. Toon; W.A. VanGemeren; B.A. Ware

Position: More Discontinuity than Continuity Discontinuity Vague Discontinuity
Definition: Operated upon by God but not Indwelt The Spirit totally uninvolved in Old Covenant faithfulness Indwelling denied, but question of regeneration not raised
Proponents: Early Church:

Novatian

Reformation:

M. Luther

Modern:

L.S. Chafer; Blaising & Bock; D.A. Carson; M. Green

No actual proponents Early Church:

Origen; Irenaeus; Tertullian; John Chrysostom

Reformation:

N/A

Modern:

C.K. Barrett; R.E. Brown; G.M. Burge; C.C. Ryrie; J.F. Walvoord

It is also worth noting that things do not readily delineate down Calvinistic and non-Calvinistic soteriological lines. As Hamilton notes:

Block and Wood affirm continuity but are not covenant theologians. Novatian and Luther affirmed discontinuity but were not dispensationalists. Nor does it necessarily follow that affirmations of discontinuity go hand in hand with a low view of sin or a high view of human ability (i.e. libertarian freedom)… not all who aver that Old Covenant believers were not indwelt are un-Calvinistic in their understanding of soteriology (e.g. Carson, Ware).

Hamilton helpfully elucidated that many seem to amalgamate regeneration and indwelling, viewing them as effectively the same thing. Hamilton makes the, in my view correct, case that regeneration and indwelling are two separate occurrences.

What is perhaps more interesting is his argument that the indwelling took place after Jesus’ glorification on the cross in John 20:22, not at Pentecost as is commonly assumed. Hamilton goes on to delineate baptism of the Holy Spirit, being filled with the Spirit and the indwelling of the Spirit as three independent things. He states:

When Luke describes the Spirit-baptism that took place fifty days later in Acts 2 [following Jesus giving the Spirit in John 20:22], he states that the disciples were “filled”… The disciples were “baptised” in the Spirit on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 1:5), but all “fillings” are not “baptisms”. Baptisms in the Spirit happen only in Acts 2, 8, 10, and 19. There is no indication the other “fillings” in Acts… were also regarded as “baptisms” [cf. Acts 4:31 which is a fresh filling, not a fresh baptism]

Hamilton argues that whilst all believers are indwelt at conversion, not all conversions are accompanied by ‘powerful, dramatic, visible, audible manifestations of the Spirit that Luke depicts in these “baptisms” in the Spirit. Each time a baptism in the Spirit occurs, it marks divine approval of a significant movement in the church’s advance’. He goes on to say these instances of Spirit baptism are not recorded to document what happens at conversion nor are they necessary for indwelling to take place. This is similarly delineated from Spirit-filling, which Hamilton argues is distinct in that Luke uses ‘fill’ to describe occasions of Spirit empowerment for particular tasks. Thus ‘fillings’ may be repeated multiple times and do not describe an ongoing state. Hamilton’s argument certainly does much to resolve any tension between the receipt of the Spirit in John 20:22 and the supposed receipt of the Spirit in Acts 2. If we understand these as two separate events, the first the indwelling of the Spirit and the second the baptism of the Spirit, any tension is removed.

On most of the thesis, I am entirely with Hamilton. He argues Old Covenant believers were not indwelt. Specifically, he suggests only national leaders, prophets and certain significant individuals had extroadinary personal experiences of the Spirit. He argues the Spirit is described as on, rather than in, such individuals and ‘came on such people to differentiate them from the rest of the nation and empower them for their task’. Instead, the Old Testament speaks of God dwelling with, or among, his people in the temple.

One point, however, that might require further thought is the question of how Old Covenant believers remained faithful. Hamilton offers a helpful, and reasonably compelling, case for the temple – as the dwelling place of God amongst his people – having a sanctifying effect on the regenerate. Thus believers were made regenerate by the Spirit working upon them (Hamilton see regeneration and ‘circumcision of the heart’ as synonymous) but individuals remained faithful through God’s dwelling in the temple. God dwelt among his people in the temple, whilst not indwelling them as individuals, and this had a sanctifying effect on the regenerate. When Christ came as the true temple, he had a sanctifying effect on those who believed on him and with whom he dwelt. Following his glorification, according to John this is associated with the cross, the physical temple became redundant and Christ gave his Spirit to those who would then become his temple. There is much to commend the view.

However, I see one flaw in the argument that does not sit well. If Old Covenant believers were kept faithful through their proximity to the temple, and the temple itself had a sanctifying effect on them, how do we account for the likes of Daniel, his faithful friends and other the faithful remnants in the exilic community? Likewise, what of those prior to Moses who had neither a tabernacle nor temple? If there is no temple, because it either doesn’t exist yet or has been destroyed, or there is no proximity to the temple, because the people predate the land of Israel or dwell in a foreign land, how do we account for the faithfulness of believers if they were neither indwelt nor within sanctifying proximity of the temple? It is not a question that Hamilton attempts to answer directly in the book, which is shame because his answer is quite compelling otherwise (to my mind at least).

Given the strength of both his exegetical and theological arguments, the answer surely does not lie in insisting Old Covenant believers were indwelt individually. The argument pertaining to the temple has a lot of merit but there must be some explanation for those who were not indwelt, nor in proximity to the temple, yet remaining faithful. It is a circle squared happily by those who insist Old Covenant believers were indwelt, by citing the indwelling, and the square is circled by the dispensationalists who simply appeal to the implementation of another schema. In each case, the problem is the exegetical and theological implications of the position they espouse ends up causing far greater issues than this particular problem they seek to resolve.

I found Hamilton’s thesis interesting and largely compelling but not without its flaws. Further explanation of the sanctification of those who were not able to access the temple would go a long way to offering a fulsome and highly credible explanation of indwelling. I share Hamilton’s view regarding the difference between indwelling and regeneration, maintaining that Old Covenant believers were regenerate through the operation of the Spirit without being indwelt. I find much to commends his differentiation between indwelling, Spirit-baptism and Spirit-fillings. I am almost certain he is correct in his view of the indwelling in John 20:22 and differentiating this from the Spirit-baptism and subsequent fillings from Acts 2 onwards. I find his explanation of the temple having a sanctifying effect appealing, and potentially part of an answer, but the significant problem of faithful exiles and non-Israelite believers who did not dwell in the land (e.g. Naaman) at the very least present a problem for the view and represent the main reasons we cannot quite say the view is utterly compelling.

As far as I can see, the task is for Hamilton (or someone else) to find a fulsome and more helpful resolution to the issue of faithful believers apart from the temple or for another to overcome the clear exegetical and theological problems associated with a blanket claim to the indwelling of Old Covenant believers.

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