The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. —JOHN 3:8, ESV
When the church is revived, so is the devil. —JONATHAN EDWARDS (1703–1758)
THE HOLY SPIRIT DOES NOT BELONG TO YOU. ARE YOU CHARISMATIC? He is bigger than your signs and wonders events. Are you Reformed? He will not be limited by your theology. The Lord Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, “He blows where he will.” C. S. Lewis (1898–1963) described the lion Aslan, his central character in the Chronicles of Narnia, with the following words: “He isn’t safe, but he is good.”1 Since Aslan represents Jesus in the story, it is commonly assumed that this description refers to Jesus. I personally think these words apply to all members of the Trinity, and especially to the Holy Spirit. He isn’t safe, but you can trust Him because He is good.
My position is clear. I describe myself as a Reformed theologian—not only in belief but also in practice. I have to say that for some reason I have often felt last in line as far as signs and wonders are concerned. While others have been slain in the Spirit all around me, my body has remained resolutely upright—like the Statue of Liberty. While members of my family have seen physical healing personally, I have not. It is true that I have spoken in tongues, but you would not find an occasion of that in public. In short: if I am charismatic, I am the least of the brethren.
But there is more than this. In my half century of ministry I have seen the worst excesses of the charismatic movement—spurious prophecies, fake healings, fleshly speaking in tongues. I should tell you that I am “reformed” with a small r. I don’t dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s as some might, although I believe in the sovereignty of God as much as anybody I know. I also think it is possible for some of us Reformed people to take ourselves a little bit too seriously—even becoming the new Sanhedrin, fancying that we alone speak for the Most Holy God. And I am also charismatic, but perhaps with a small c. I can’t always take the party line, and yet I believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit as much as anybody I know. I believe theologically that the Holy Spirit is as active today as He ever was because I have seen remarkable evidences of the power of His work in this world today. But above all I believe in the infallible inspiration of Holy Scripture, and try as I might, I cannot for the life of me twist the text to prove that the power of God in the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit was limited to the times of the early church. However, it is not just for me a matter of exegesis, but of personal experience as I will show later in this book. And here for a Reformed theologian it might get a little embarrassing.
I was brought up in the hills of Kentucky, approximately one hundred miles from Bourbon County, the seat of the Cane Ridge Revival that began in 1801. America’s church historians call it America’s Second Great Awakening (the first being the Great Awakening that largely featured the ministry of Jonathan Edwards from around 1735–1750). My own church in Ashland was born in the tail end of the momentum that came from the Cane Ridge Revival. I saw all kinds of things in my old church—the good, the bad, and the ugly. I also saw both kinds of fire—the holy fire that comes from above and the strange fire that comes from below. Call it strange fire, wild, or uncontrolled fire. I used to hear the expression, “Wild fire is better than no fire at all.” In other words, if God does not send the genuine fire of the Holy Spirit, it is better to have some wild fire—with something happening—than dead orthodoxy or formalism. Wrong. Having no fire is better than having wild fire. Having no fire is better than having strange fire. I also used to hear people say, “People will come out to see a fire,” as if crowds prove something. Crowds prove nothing.
Holy fire is what is needed. Holy fire is not the main thing; it is the only thing that matters. My heroes are John Calvin (1509–1564), Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758), and the late Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. And if you were to say to me that the historic Pentecostal movement or the more recent charismatic movement has been bedeviled with strange fire, I know exactly what you mean. After all, as Jonathan Edwards used to say, “When the church is revived, revived, so is the devil.” Satan raises up the counterfeit to intimidate sincere seekers of God—to put them off so they will run in the opposite direction. Strange fire almost always shows up in any true revival or movement raised up by God. And yet I also know too much to allow the historic Pentecostal movement and the charismatic movement to be painted with one big brush—implying they are mostly characterized by strange fire—so that they can be so easily dismissed.
If you have a heart after God, Satan is unhappy with you. He will work overtime to quell that hunger. It is important to know something of his ways. Paul said of Satan, “We are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Cor. 2:11, ESV). But more important than discerning the counterfeit is to be able to recognize the genuine presence of the Holy Spirit. It is far better to be able to discern the real than the counterfeit. And yet to the degree you are able to recognize and embrace what is real and true, to that degree will you be able to detect and reject what is spurious and false.
I am not sure anyone is qualified to talk about what is false unless they are well acquainted with what is real. If you are hungry for the Holy Spirit, this book is for you. If you are hungry for more of the Holy Spirit, this book is for you. And if the idea of being hungry for the Holy Spirit is not something that has particularly gripped you up to now, it is my prayer that as you read on, such a burning heart will emerge. Jesus said that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled (Matt. 5:6). Walk with me now on a journey that is designed to satisfy your appetite for sound teaching and a greater measure of the Holy Spirit. We will taste both the milk of the Word and solid food—a diet that will enable us to “distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 5:14, ESV).