What’s all the Commotion About?

an essay by Pamela Eason

Abraham Kuyper was a nineteenth-century Dutch Reformed pastor, writer, and politician. He wrote in the Dutch language, but thanks to translators, many of his works are available to English-speaking peoples. You can find one of my favorites, The Work of the Holy Spirit, translated by Henri De Vries.

In The Work of the Holy Spirit, Kuyper’s writings, though not difficult to read, inspire hard thinking. His simple word pictures and everyday analogies challenge the way we often think about the Spirit. For example, Kuyper claims:

… the approach of Divine Majesty causes commotion …. –Abraham Kuyper

Kuyper draws this conclusion from his consideration of the signs of Pentecost.

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Acts 2:1-4

The first point Kuyper makes about this passage is that the signs of Pentecost, the “noise like a violent rushing wind” and the tongues of fire that preceded “they were all filled with Holy Spirit” and the speaking in other languages that followed are not symbols at all.

The second point, Kuyper makes, the one considered here, is that the noise and fire were not a means God used to startle and terrify in order to create a desired state that makes a person “susceptible to the inflowing of the Holy Spirit.” Rather, the sound and light “belonged inseparably” to this great outpouring of the Holy Spirit; they “were caused by it.” “The outpouring of the Spirit,” Kuyper thinks, “could not take place without creating these signs.”

Kuyper’s Analogies

Kuyper clarifies:

When a ship enters the harbor we see the foaming spray underneath the bow and hear the waters dashing against the sides. When a horse runs through the street we hear the noise of his hoofs against the pavement and see the clouds of dust.

The sight of sea spray and dust clouds, and the sound of dashing waters and hoofs against pavement, “necessarily belong” and are caused by the actions of ships sailing and horses running. In this same way, Kuyper says, the sound of rushing wind and tongues of fire belong to the outpouring action of the Spirit.

This last summary analogy, I think, is most beautiful.

When the mountain-stream dashes down the steep sides of the rocks we must hear the sound of rushing waters, we must see the flying spray; so when the Holy Spirit flows down from the mountains of God’s holiness, the sound of a rushing, mighty wind must be heard, and glorious brightness must be seen, and a speaking with foreign tongues must follow.

Kuyper further observes,

Supernatural manifestations are always attended by light and brightness, especially when the Lord Jehovah or His angel appears.  

Biblical Examples

He points to God’s covenant making with Abraham (Genesis 11:17) and Moses (Exodus 19:16); the call of Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:2) and Paul on the Damascus Road (Acts 22:6-11); and to John’s vision at Patmos (Revelation 1:14-16).

Kuyper provides biblical examples of the auditory signs that accompany the Spirit – the sound of the gentle breeze Elijah experienced at Horeb (1 Kings 19:12-14); the thundering on Sinai at the giving of the covenant (Exodus 19:9,16, 19); and the shaking of the temple doorposts at Isaiah’s call (Isaiah 6:4).

He concludes,

The approach of divine majesty causes a commotion in the elements perceptible to the auditory nerve.

This phenomenon is not unknown to us, Kuyper says. Our own spirits

act upon the body every moment, and by that action are able to produce sounds. Speaking, crying, singing are nothing but our spirit acting upon the currents of air. And if our spirit is capable of such action, why not the Spirit of the Lord?

What difference does this make?

I think the way we think about what happened at Pentecost makes a difference in the way we think about worship and in the way we minister through the arts – musical, visual, and performing.

Kuyper notes that the Methodist in his day would shoot a pistol in order to dazzle and startle people “hoping that the report and flash would create the desired state of mind” and usher in revival. He noted that the Salvation Army also used similar strategies. Both thought that the congregation had to be aroused in order to make them ready for an inflowing of the Holy Spirit.

That idea, that a pistol shot is a prerequisite for the work of the Spirit, seems ludicrous and probably illegal to our ears, but don’t we employ similar thinking?

To illustrate, I googled “exciting worship” and found pages of church advertisements like the ones below:

  • Exciting worship experiences
  • A livelier and more exciting worship experience
  • Exciting worship opportunity
  • Looking for exciting worship, music …
  • Exciting worship arts ministry
  • Exciting worship in the air-conditioned activity center

I even saw an exciting worship job opportunity.

Try it yourself. Google “exciting worship music” and you will find an author who writes that Christian music should “excite” and “stimulate” and a Christian group who advertises their music as “loud.” Google “worship lighting” and you will find ads for “dynamic worship by design: audio, lighting, video,” a guide to creating “multi-sensory worship,” and more.

Isn’t all this, like the Methodists’ pistol shot, shock and awe thinking? Create a sensational visual and auditory experience and people will be made ready for the Spirit’s coming?

Just wondering?

How would our ministry through the arts be different if we didn’t think of it as an undertaking – a job we do – to create optimal heart conditions for the Spirit’s work? How would our art and our worship be different if we see both as a genuine response to the God who comes with his own expressions of sight and sound – to the God who makes his own commotion?

Doesn’t this second kind of response glorify God? Isn’t it to God’s glory that he creates the right heart conditions for experiencing him and has no need for our multi-sensory stimulation? Isn’t it to his glory when we respond appropriately to him who comes with commotion rather than thinking that, before we can respond to him, we have to simulate his Pentecostal signs with our own commotion?


Kuyper, Abraham, “The Work of the Holy Spirit,” De Vries, H., ed., (New York & London: Funk & Wagnalls Co., 1900), pp. 128-132 available from Internet Archive @ https://archive.org/stream/workofholyspirit00kuypuoft#page/n3/mode/2up

Other Questions:
I know that this little essay raises at least three other questions:

  1. Does Kuyper believe there is more than one outpouring of the Holy Spirit?
  2. Does Kuyper believe the Holy Spirit still comes with light and sound?
  3. Does Kuyper believe the Holy Spirit continues to manifest his indwelling with foreign tongues?

Answers for these questions can be found in “The Work of the Holy Spirit,”  pp. 117-127 

More About Point 1 of Kuyper’s argument:
Kuyper points out that when the unbelieving Jewish onlookers asked the Apostle Peter for an explanation, he did not answer with symbolic meaning, but rather simply stated that they were seeing what the prophet Joel had spoken of.

‘ And it shall be in the last days,’ God says,
‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
And your young men shall see visions,
And your old men shall dream dreams;
Even on My bondslaves, both men and women,
I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit
And they shall prophesy.
‘And I will grant wonders in the sky above
And signs on the earth below,
Blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke.
‘The sun will be turned into darkness
And the moon into blood,
Before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come.
‘And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ (Acts 2:17-21, NASB)

Kuyper notes that Peter was not saying the entire Joel prophecy was fulfilled at Pentecost. He notes that it couldn’t have been fully and finally fulfilled since the sun kept shinning and the moon did not turn into blood. Nor was anything said about dreams or visions or prophecy in the futuristic sense; the people who were speaking in different languages were speaking prophetically in the sense that they were “speaking of the mighty deeds of God,” (Acts 2:11, NASB). Peter went on to proclaim Jesus as LORD (Acts 2:22-36) and call for repentance and baptism and receiving of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Kuyper further argues this point with the same reasoning that he uses to counter the idea that the sound and light were means God used specifically to arouse the soul. That is, he says that, like the signs associated with Pentecost that were actually real components of coming of the Spirit phenomenon, those in Joel’s prophecy are “constituent elements” of the last part of the world’s history.

Significance verse Symbol:  That the Pentecostal signs “had significance for the multitude” like horses hoofs indicate to someone on the road that a horse is coming is not denied by Kuyper. But, he says, just as a horse’s hoofs vibrate even if no one hears, so “the Holy Spirit could not come down at Pentecost without that sound and that brightness, even tho not a single Jew were to be found in all Jerusalem?