Chapter OneA CESSATIONIST VIEW
Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.
SOME PRELIMINARY REMARKS
1. The designation of the view I have been asked to represent
in this symposium suggests only that I am against something.
So, before anything else, let me try to be clear about what
I am for in the ongoing debate about the work of the Holy Spirit
in the church today. As much as anything, I am for the truth
expressed in John 3:8, the truth that in his activity the Spirit is
like the blowing wind, sovereign and ultimately incalculable.
Any sound theology of the Holy Spirit, I take it, will be left with
a certain remainder, a surplus unaccounted for, an area of mystery.
The cessationist view I hold is least of all driven by a rationalistic
desire to have everything about the work of the Spirit
tied up in a tidy, comfortable little package.
At the same time, we ought not to embrace a kind of
"whimsy of the Spirit." The Spirit-wind of John 3:8 does not
move in a vacuum. Scripture as a whole teaches that in his own
sovereignty the Spirit has seen fit to circumscribe his activity and
to structure it according to the patterns revealed there. Those patterns,
not what the Spirit may choose to do beyond them, ought
to be the focus and shape the expectations of the church today.
Typically, the cessationist view is reproached with something
like trying to "put the Spirit in a box." But according to
Scripture, as I will try to show below, the Spirit has sovereignly
chosen to "box" himself in; the ardor of the Spirit, we may say, is
an "ordered ardor" (cf. 1 Cor. 14:33, 40).
2. The context of John 3:8-Jesus' interchange with Nicodemus
about the new birth-prompts another observation. At
issue in this symposium is not whether the Spirit of God is at
work today in a powerful, dynamic, supernatural, and direct
way. No work of the Spirit, I hold, is more radical, more impressive,
more miraculous, and more thoroughly supernatural than
what he does-now, today-with people who are nothing less
than "dead in . transgressions and sins" (Eph. 2:1, 5). Beyond
any human capacity-rational-reflective, intuitive-mystical, or
otherwise-the Spirit makes them "alive to God in Christ Jesus"
This activity, as Jesus later in John's Gospel (e.g., John 5:24-25;
11:25-26) and Paul (e.g., Eph. 2:5-6; Col. 2:12-13) make plain,
is nothing less than a work of resurrection-no less real, no less
miraculous, no less eschatological than the future, bodily resurrection
of the believer at Christ's return. The cessationist view I
and many others hold will yield to no one in stressing that the
present activity of the Holy Spirit in believers is of "incomparably
great power . like [on the order of] the working of [God's]
mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him
from the dead and seated him at his right hand" (Eph. 1:19-20).
To put it mildly, then, one ought not simply suggest that all
cessationist positions result from captivity to "common sense"
realism, or are "an intellectualized quasi-deism" (with the hardly
subtle suggestion that it falls under the annihilating indictments
of Jesus in Matt. 22:29 and Paul in 2 Tim. 3:5), or betray an "anti-supernatural
hermeneutic" in interpreting Acts, or are so bound
up with an unbiblical, outdated Enlightenment worldview that,
though "incensed at Bultmann's 'rationalism,'" they have
nonetheless "adopted their own brand of rationalism."
In what follows I will do what I can to allay such misconceptions.
But we must be clear here. Western philosophy since
the Enlightenment has by and large denied the power of the resurrection
confessed above. Along with other cessationists, of
course, I am well aware that in our attitudes and lifestyles, we
often compromise that power and grieve the Holy Spirit (see
Eph. 4:30); we need to be warned about that and to remain open
to such admonition. But to write our position off as quasi-deism
closed off from the supernatural or as part of the debris left by
the Enlightenment's commitment to the autonomy of human
reason will not help us.
In fact, there is good reason to ask whether the tables do not
need to be turned here, at least for some who speak from a
charismatic perspective. In a recent Festschrift for J. Rodman
Williams, for instance, Henry Lederle is encouraged that charismatic
spirituality, as he understands it, involves a worldview
that has affinities with postmodernism, insofar as this philosophical
movement seeks to recover "a sense of the whole and
the interrelatedness of knowledge and experience." In other
words, he believes, what has been suppressed so long in much
of modern Western rationalistic philosophy since the Enlightenment-the
nonrational and intuitive aspect of human spirituality-is
now being taken into account more adequately in
But is this postmodern emphasis really an advancement? Is
not Lederle's a spirituality that has become rather comfortable
with the spirit of the times? Have we really gained anything for
the gospel by rejecting one form of philosophy, only to identify
with a different form that, though it seeks to limit, still affirms
rational autonomy? Such an approach hardly does justice, for
instance, to Paul's unsparing opposition of his Spirit-taught wisdom
to the wisdom of the world (1 Cor. 1:18-3:23), or his
endeavor to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets
itself up against the knowledge of God" and to "take captive
every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Cor. 10:4-5).
What is called for is confrontation, not limitation or containment
Postmodern philosophers have rightly rejected the emphasis,
especially since Descartes, on human reason being neutral
and unbiased. But so far as I can see, they are still committed-in
some instances, even more resolutely than the Enlightenment-to
human autonomy. Any assertion of autonomy, rational
or otherwise, whether it be from the seventeenth century or
the late twentieth century, effaces the creature-Creator distinction.
And human wholeness cannot be recaptured unless every
vestige of autonomy is abandoned in submission to the Triune
God of the Bible. Pentecostal power and postmodern pretensions
have nothing to do with each other.
3. The cessationist position is most often associated with the
name of B. B. Warfield, both because of his commanding stature
as a theologian and because of his book, Counterfeit Miracles.
Understandably, then, opponents have concentrated on this
book and suppose that by refuting it, they have refuted the cessationist
position as a whole. In other words, they think that the
cessationist position for the most part stands or falls with
Warfield's argument for it.
The case that I will be making stands squarely in the tradition
of Warfield; at the heart of his position, I believe, is a fundamentally
sound insight into Scripture. Still, a couple of initial
observations, frequently overlooked on both sides of the debate,
need to be made.
(a) Warfield did not intend to make an exegetical case;Counterfeit Miracles is primarily a study in church history and
historical theology, as even a perusal of his table of contents
shows. To be sure, he does give brief indications of how he
would argue exegetically, but he does not develop that argument,
nor, as far as I know, does he elaborate on this issue anywhere
else in his writings. It is wrong to suppose, therefore, that
it is impossible to make a more extensive and cohesive exegetical
defense of the cessationist position.
(b) Warfield not only did not argue exegetically but also, in
my judgment, probably could not have made the best exegetical
case for his position. That is primarily because he did not
have an adequate conception of the eschatological nature of the
work of the Holy Spirit. (By eschatological I mean "characteristic
of the 'age to come'"; see Matt. 12:32; Eph. 1:21; Heb. 6:5.) Briefly,
one of the most important developments in biblical studies in
this century has been the rediscovery of the already/not yet
structure of New Testament eschatology. This broadened understanding
of eschatology, which has now virtually reached the
status of consensus, has brought a growing recognition that for
the New Testament writers (most clearly Paul), the present work
of the Spirit in the church and within believers is inherently
eschatological. The Holy Spirit and eschatology, rarely related
together in traditional Christian doctrine and piety, are now seen
The eschatological reality of the Spirit's activity today is
usually seen by noncessationists to be decisive for their view.
But as I will try to show below, this perception has to be challenged;
in fact, that reality is fully compatible with, perhaps even
essential, to the cessationist view. At any rate, to ask what constitutes
the eschatological essence of the Spirit's present work in
the church serves to focus a pivotal difference between cessationists
A. SECOND EXPERIENCES?
Virtually everything the New Testament teaches about the
work of the Holy Spirit either looks forward or traces back to
Pentecost. In other words, what really happened on that day is
the all-important question. For instance, do the remarkable
events of Pentecost provide a model challenging each New Testament
believer, regardless of time and place, to seek to receive
the Spirit in power as a distinct experience accompanied by
speaking in tongues, either at the same time as or subsequent to
conversion? Pentecostal denominations and those in the charismatic
movement answer this question affirmatively. Many Pentecostals
encourage Christians, who have already been born
again, to be "baptized in the Holy Spirit," and they claim support
from events in Acts 2 (Pentecost), 8 (Samaria), 10 (Caesarea),
and 19 (Ephesus). Just as Jesus' disciples were first born again
and then later baptized in the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (so their
argument goes), we also should seek a Pentecostal "second experience"
in our lives today.
But is Pentecost intended to be a model for us to use in this
way? In attempting to answer that question here, I will broaden
the discussion somewhat by also keeping in view the question
to what extent, if at all, Pentecost is about power experiences in
the church today, postconversion second blessing or otherwise.
1. Why Pentecost is unique. D. A. Carson has observed,
"The essentially salvation-historical structure of the Book of Acts
is too often overlooked." This is particularly true of those who
find in chapter 2 (and elsewhere in Acts) enduring paradigms
for Christian experience. The problem with second blessing and
other empowerment theologies is not that they appeal to the narrative
material in Acts to make a doctrinal point (as some cessationists
have argued); Luke-Acts is equally as theological as, say,
Paul's letters. The problem, rather, is that such theologies misunderstand
What, then, is the significance of Pentecost within the
redemptive-historical framework set out by Luke? In order to
answer that question, we must remember the basic distinction
between the history of salvation (historia salutis) and the order
of salvation (ordo salutis). In theological terms, the phrase "history
of salvation" refers to events that are part of Christ's once-for-all
accomplishment of his work of earning our salvation. The
events in the history of salvation (such as Christ's death and resurrection)
are finished, nonrepeatable events that have importance
for all of God's people for all time. But the phrase "order of
salvation" refers to events in the continuing application of
Christ's work to individual lives throughout history, events such
as saving faith, justification, and sanctification. When individual
believers appropriate Christ's work in their own lives, those
experiences are part of the "order of salvation," not (to use theological
terms) part of the "history of salvation." (Another term
for "history of salvation" is "redemptive history.")
Now in terms of that distinction, Pentecost belongs to the
history of salvation, not to the order of salvation. That can be
substantiated from a couple of angles. Jesus' words in Acts 1:5
("For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be
baptized with the Holy Spirit") link John's ministry/baptism
(Luke 3) and Pentecost (Acts 2) as sign to reality, prophecy to fulfillment.
"I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than
I will come He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with
fire" (Luke 3:16). It is not difficult to see from the immediate context
that the promised baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire
highlights not just one aspect, however important, but the Messiah's
impending activity in its entirety. John's prophecy is his
response to the basic messianic question in the crowd's mind as
to whether he is the Christ (v. 15). His reply meets that question
on the level on which it was asked and so surely intends to
provide an equally basic perspective: Spirit and fire baptism is
to be nothing less than the culmination of the Messiah's ministry;
it will serve to stamp that ministry as a whole, just as, in
comparison, water baptism was an index for John's entire ministry
(Luke 20:4; Acts 10:37).
From this prophetic vantage point, Luke suggests, Pentecost
is at the heart of Christ's finished work, at the core of the
salvation brought by the coming of the kingdom of God (cf.
Luke 7:18-28); in other words, it is an eschatological event. All
that Christ came to suffer and die for, short of his return, reaches
its climax in his baptizing with the Holy Spirit and fire. Without
that baptism Christ's once-for-all work of salvation is unfinished.
Looking in the other direction from Acts 1:5, Peter's Christ-centered
sermon on the day of Pentecost confirms what we find
in John's prophecy. In 2:32-33, following out of his focus on the
earthly activity, death, and especially the resurrection of Jesus
(vv. 22-31), Peter closely conjoins, in sequence: resurrection
ascension-reception of the Spirit-outpouring of the Spirit. The
last element, Pentecost, is climactic and final. It is not some
addendum; there is nothing "second" about it. Resurrection-ascension-Pentecost,
though distinct in time, constitute a unified
complex of events, a once-for-all, salvation-historical unity;
they are inseparable.