Treatment of the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit within Reformed Confessions: Poor or Pervasive?

By Dustin Bruce

The Puritans and broader Reformed orthodoxy have long been considered a movement intensely interested in the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. This concern for pneumatology, inherited from John Calvin, led Geoffrey Nuttall to declare, “the doctrine (of the Holy Spirit), with its manifold implications, received a more thorough and detailed consideration from the Puritans of seventeenth-century England than it has received at any other time in Christian history.”[1] Considering the significance placed on the person and work of the Spirit within Puritan and Reformed orthodox thought, it may surprise some that no chapter specifically on the Holy Spirit was included in major confessional statements, such as the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Yet, the lack of a chapter dedicated solely to the Holy Spirit does not reveal a lack of interest in the topic. Commenting specifically on the charge that the Westminster Confession of Faith lacked an emphasis on the Holy Spirit, B.B. Warfield stated, “The sole reason why it does not give a chapter to this subject, however, is because it prefers to give nine chapters to it…”[2] Though Warfield’s analysis rings true and much mention is made of the Holy Spirit and his work throughout Reformed orthodox confessions, the lack of a designated chapter does require greater analysis on the part of the reader if one wants to discover the full scope of a confession’s treatment of the doctrine.

The past year has witnessed the publication of two helpful guides on the doctrine of pneumatology within the Reformed confessions. First, a chapter entitled “The Holy Spirit in the Westminster Standards” by Joseph Morecraft III has been published within a helpful larger volume, The Beauty and Glory of the Holy Spirit, edited by Joel R. Beeke and Joseph Pipa Jr.[3] More substantially, Yuzo Adhinarta has published his fine doctoral dissertation, completed at Calvin Theological Seminary, as The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit in the Major Reformed Confessions and Catechisms of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. In his own words, Adhinarta’s work, “attempts to explore and provide a systematic account of the person and some aspects of the work of the Holy Spirit as presented in the major Reformed confessions and catechisms of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.”[4]

I encourage you to pick up both worthy volumes, but Adhinarta’s work is one that any scholar interested in Reformed orthodox pneumatology must consult.

[1] Geoffrey F. Nuttall, The Holy Spirit in Puritan Faith and Experience, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 1992), xxviii.

[2] Benjamin B. Warfield, “Introductory Note” in Abraham Kuyper, Concise Works of the Holy Spirit, 1900 ed., AMG Concise Series (Chattanooga: TN: AMG Publishers, 2009), xxvii.

[3] Joseph Morecraft III, “The Holy Spirit in the Westminster Standards,” in Joel R. Beeke and Joesph A. Pipa, Jr., eds., The Beauty and Glory of the Holy Spirit (Reformation Heritage Books, 2012).

[4] Yuzo Adhinarta, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit in the Major Reformed Confessions and Catechisms of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Carlisle, UK: Langham Partnership International, 2012), 2.


Dustin Bruce lives in Louisville, KY where he is pursuing a PhD in Biblical Spirituality at Southern Seminary. He is a graduate of Auburn University and Southwestern Seminary. Dustin and his wife, Whitney, originally hail from Alabama.