The Holy Spirit | Contours of Christian Theology | Sinclair Ferguson


In “The Holy Spirit”, Sinclair B. Ferguson argues that many in the church have a faulty misunderstanding of the Holy Spirit, who has become like the “black sheep” of the trinity (15). The tendency in the church as been to see Him as a distant, impersonal energy rather than the third person of the Godhead (15-17). The purpose of Ferguson’s book is to help clarify a proper biblical understanding of who the Holy Spirit is and what He does. Ferguson attempts to “trace the revelation of the Spirit’s identity and work in a biblio-theological and redemptive-historical manner” (12).


Chapter 1: The Holy Spirit & His Story

In Chapter 1, Ferguson shows some misconceptions about the Spirit. He shows that the Spirit is not an impersonal energy, but that he is the very power of God extending himself to his creation in a personal and immanent way (18). He is a Creator Spirit (18-21) who has “been engaged in all of his works from the beginning” (18). Although the Spirit is working in and through the Old Testament, he isn’t fully realized until the coming of Christ in New Testament (28-32, 72). He is God’s governing presence among God’s people (21-22) which helps them to fulfill different functions and goals through gifts (21). He is also a Recreator Spirit (23-26) who produce moral order and fruit within the people of God (24, 25). And he is also directly responsible for producing, recording, and interpreting God’s word for God’s people (27).


Chapter 2: The Spirit of Christ

Chapter 2 describes the Spirit in the life of Jesus (36-56) in three stages. Jesus’ whole life (38-44) and ministry stood on the work of the Spirit. In his conception, birth and growth (38-45), his baptism, temptations and ministry (45-52), and his death, resurrection, and ascension (53-56), he was dependent on and empowered by the Holy Spirit who is Paraclete (36-37).


Chapter 3: The Gift of the Spirit

Chapter 3 and 4 show, through the Lukean (58-64) and the Johannine testimony (64-79), that the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost reveals the “transition from the old to the new covenant” (57). Although these two testimonies have been seen as contradictory by some, Ferguson argues that they are rather complimentary to one another (65). The coming of the Spirit meant that he would bring conviction and conversion to the unbeliever (69), inspiration to the apostles (70), communion with Christ (71), and further revelation into the Godhead (72-78).


Chapter 4: Pentecost Today?

Pentecost is therefore to be “seen as a Christological” (79), a one-time event as promised in the Old Testament as the beginning of the new covenant. Although many say that there are small “Pentecosts” that happen today, Ferguson argues, “It is a redemptive-historical event” (82). In Acts, the Spirit comes in “pentecostal way” four different times, but they must be interpreted within their literary structure which shows that “the events at Samaria and Caesarea mark the second and third stages of the three decisive points of advance in the spread of the kingdom of Christ” (89). These events show the gospel coming to three specific groups of people: the Jews, Gentiles, and the Samaritans (83). Since Pentecost is a historical event and is not reoccurring, we have no grounds to assume that we will experience a “personal pentecost” (87) today. This is what he calls the first dimension to Pentecost. It is unrepeatable and only occurs once. A second dimension to Pentecost, which he calls the “personal-existential” dimension, is related to “aspects of the ongoing ministry of the Spirit” (91). All who believe in Christ receive the gift of the Spirit (87-88) without exception, though one might receive distinct power at different times from the Spirit for the service of the kingdom (89). The ongoing work of the Spirit “restores glory to a fallen creation” (91), which for man is into the image of God (92).


Chapter 5: The Spirit of Order

Chapters 5-6 show the the work of the Spirit in redemption. In Chapter 5, in regard to the “order of salvation”, Ferguson shows that the Spirit’s central role is to bring union with Christ (100), and that order of salvation should not been seen as a chain of events but as one big step which can be summarized as being brought into union with Christ (103-113).


Chapter 6: Spiritus Recreator

As we are united with Christ, the Spirit then is the Recreator (chapter 6). The Spirit begins his work of regeneration (116-118) which includes: new life (118); bringing out salvation/monergism (119) where, by his sovereignty, the “unwilling become willing” (124); faith is given by the Spirit as a gift (126-128) all the while working hand in hand with the free actions of man; and the Spirit convicts and brings repentance (133). The goal of all of this is holiness (139).


Chapter 7: The Spirit of Holiness

Chapter 7 describes the work of the Spirit in sanctification. Through the Sprit the unbeliever is saved, and through the Spirit the believer is transformed back into the image of God and into Christlikeness (140-173).


Chapter 8: The Communion of the Spirit

In Chapter 8, the “communion with the Spirit means: [he brings] blessings that provide grace for those in need” (189, brackets mine). The Spirit is the downpayment and promise of salvation to the believer (177-178). He is the foretaste of the final salvation that is to come (180), He is the seal, security, and assurance for the believer (180-182). He is the Spirit of Sonship which testifies and bears witness that believers are children of God (182-185); He is the teacher (187) and intercessor (188).


Chapter 9: The Spirit & the Body

Chapter 9 shows that It is through the Holy Spirit that all believers are brought forgiveness and salvation (197) and therefore baptized into the body of Christ (194), unifying us with him (195-207), and making known to his disciples what is Christ’s (204).


Chapter 10: Gifts for Ministry

Chapter 10 says that the gifts of the Spirit “serve as the external manifestation of the triumph and enthronement of Christ” (207). These gifts are to serve the revelation of God’s word (208). Ferguson states that the gift of tongues was only for the apostolic age, and they were to show that those outside of the Jewish people would be saved. The fact that they were preaching the gospel in other languages was an event to show that the gospel was not for the Jews only, but the Gentiles also (212-213). He spends time critiquing Wayne Grudem’s view on different levels of prophesy (215-220) and the continuation view (221-222), followed by Ferguson’s case for cessationism (223-235).


Chapter 11: The Cosmic Spirit

In the final section, Chapter 11, Ferguson focus on the cosmic Spirit who “upholds all things as the immanent executive of the being of God”, who is “active in and through all, and the one who brings all into communion with God” (245). In the end the Spirit of God will bring all of his work to completion in its totality and he will be experienced in full (255).