Prescriptions for Pentecost

Pentecost Sunday points us toward the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples of Jesus, fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection. Acts 2 tells the story. The disciples were together in Jerusalem and “suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:2-4).

The Holy Spirit was given to the disciples—who became the church. Now, disciples are those who believe in Jesus Christ who was crucified; but that “God raised him up, having freed him from death” (Acts 2:23, 24). Now these believers are united to God in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. In short, from now on: “The Spirit is the mark of those who belong to Christ.”[1]

We celebrate Pentecost in gratitude for God’s Holy Spirit. The Spirit is with the church and with all Christian believers. The Spirit instills faith in Jesus Christ, leading and guiding us in our Christian lives as we serve God in the world by serving others. For the apostle Paul, “the Christian was ‘in Christ.’”[2] Now “we are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11). Now “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). To be “in Christ” is our primary identity. Faith in the crucified and risen Christ makes us a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). Now, it is “Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). We confess Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3). God has “sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts” (Gal. 4:6; cf. Rom. 8:15-16).

So we celebrate Pentecost. Now we live “in the Spirit,” in union with Jesus Christ by faith. The Spirit is the “agent of sanctification” (2 Thess. 2:13; Rom. 15:16). That is, “God’s Spirit dwells” (1 Cor. 3:16) in us, as the church, and as believers. Sanctification means our growth in faith as Christian believers, God’s continuing work in our lives, leading us and guiding us in the ways God wants us to live. Pentecost points us to the Spirit’s work among us and within us.

How then do we live? On Pentecost and in all our days, what does the Spirit do among us and within us? What are some “Prescriptions for Pentecost” as we live in faith by “the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13)?


The pastor and theologian Richard Greenham (c. 1542-1594) gives us good guidance. Greenham emphasized Christian beliefs should be expressed in Christian living. He emphasized “practical divinity”—the ways Christian faith can be experienced and provide directions for the lives of everyday people. Greenham was influential among his contemporaries and was well-regarded by a number of leaders associated with English Puritanism.[3]

Greenham wrote some “Short Rules sent by Maister Richard Greenham to a Gentlewoman” (1612; broadsheet) found in a larger piece on “Directions for a Christian life.” Greenham’s fourth rule is: “Buy and redeeme the time past with repentance; looke to the time present with diligence, and to the time to come with providence” (No. 4).[4] These three directions can serve today as our “Prescriptions for Pentecost.”

Past: Repentance. “Buy and redeeme the time past with repentance.” A biblical command is to: “Redeem the time for the days are evil” (Eph. 5:16). Greenham says we can “redeeme” or make friends with time past, so to speak, by repentance. To repent means to turn around and walk in a new direction. Repentance is used in the Scriptures to indicate expressing contrition and penitence for our sins; and for establishing a change of mind and life direction. 

In his “A Short Forme of Catechising,” Greenham asked, “What is Repentance?” He answered: “Repentance is a turning of ourselves to God, whereby we crucify and kill the corruption of our nature, and reform ourselves in the inward man, according to God’s will.”[5] It is the Gospel—which is “the free promises of God made unto us in Jesus Christ without any respect of our deservings”—that works in us: “a true and lively faith in Jesus Christ, whereby we lay hold of the free remission of our sins in him, and the true repentance of them.”[6] To repent—or turn our lives in new directions of obedience and love of God instead of our sinful ways of living only for ourselves with no concerns for God or others—comes to us by the work of God’s Holy Spirit when we have faith in Jesus Christ. We receive forgiveness of our sins in him and repent by turning to God and crucifying and killing our sinful desires and actions so we can live for God in Christ according to God’s will. Repentance is our response to the “free promises of God” for forgiveness and new life given to us in Jesus Christ. Put more briefly, the beginning of repentance is “to conceive a sorrow for our sins, and so bee wounded with a feeling of our evils.”[7] We have sorrow. The force of Greenham’s language of “crucifying and killing our sinful desires” points to the seriousness and the radical nature of repentance. It is only when this deep-seated and far-reaching sorrow for sin and evilness emerge in us in repentance that “good works doe proceede.”[8] 

We “redeeme the time past with repentance.”

Present: Diligence. In our present lives, the Holy Spirit works to lead us into diligence. We don’t think of this word, “diligence,” much; but it is important. How should we be living; what should we be doing carefully and persistently in our daily, Christian lives? To what is the Holy Spirit calling us?

Greenham spoke of looking to the present time with diligence and he indicates three things of importance for us; what we can call “Prescriptions for Pentecost,” in this time of the Holy Spirit.

1) Reading Scripture. Greenham said that “if diligence be necessarie in reading profane authors, then much more in reading the Scriptures.”[9] We must continually be hearing and understanding God’s Word in Scripture—made known to us also in Scripture study and also through preaching in the church. For “the reading of the Scriptures publicly in the Church of God, and privately by our selves, is a special and ordinary means, if not to beget, yet to increase faith in us.”[10] Are we immersing ourselves in reading Scripture, hearing God’s Word in preaching? 

2) Prayer. In his “Exposition on the 119th Psalm,” Greenham noted in verses 147 and 148 where the Psalmist wrote: “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I put my hope in your words. My eyes are awake before each watch of the night, that I may meditate on your promise” that “we may note his great diligence in resorting often to prayer, and his sundry times frequenting of it.” Diligence in prayer is what the Spirit calls us toward this Pentecost Sunday and for our lives every day. Greenham notes that in prayer, the Psalmist is “often asking,” is using “the wisdom of the spirit” in often asking, and expresses cheerfulness in asking.[11] 

The Spirit moves us to pray. We respond in praise and petition to God. If we prayed more often; sought the wisdom of God’s Spirit for our prayers; and expressed cheerfulness when praying—can you imagine how much deeper and richer our prayer lives would be! 

Diligence in prayer is a “Prescription for Pentecost” for us.

3) Good Works. The Spirit stirs us to Scripture reading, prayer, and also to be diligent in good works. Greenham said that “they that be ingrafted into Christ, must need bring forth good works.”[12] Good works are an expression of our salvation, of our justification, and the new life of God’s Spirit within us. For “we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (Eph. 2:10). Greenham makes it clear that good works are not the means by which we are saved. But, he maintains, “although good works do not work our salvation in any part, yet because they that are justified are also sanctified; they that do no good works, declare that they neither are justified nor sanctified, and therefore cannot be saved.”[13] 

The Holy Spirit leads us to a diligence for good works since those that are “borne again, and carry in them the Image of God, have repentance wrought in them,” are those “from whence good works do proceed.”[14] 

So in our lives today, God’s Holy Spirit is stirring us to a Diligence in Scripture study and hearing preaching; Prayer; and Good Works.

Future: Providence. Greenham’s “Prescriptions for Pentecost” also include that “in the time to come,” we should live “with providence.” We entrust our futures to God’s providential guidance and care. 

In the Apostles’ Creed we confess we believe in “God the Father Almighty.” God is “almighty,” said Greenham because God does “preserve and guide” all thing by God’s “almighty power, wisdom, justice, and mercies.”[15] This guidance is God’s providence. Even Satan’s power can do “no more unto us then the Lord doth direct for our good.”[16]  God is active to work for good in all aspects of our lives (see Rom. 8:28). 

When instructing persons who were being married, Greenham urged the couple to express “faith in God’s providence. And mark that well I shall say unto you: for it is a special thing, and I know it shall doe you good, if God blesse it unto you: for if you be assured in your hearts that it was the Lord who in his gracious providence brought you thus together, you shall be comforted against all troubles and hinderances that shall by any means be raised up against you.”[17] Greenham speaks of God’s “fatherly providence,”[18] God’s “gracious providence”[19] which moves us “always to the best.”[20] We must “lean to his providence.”[21] The Psalmist leaned this way. The Psalmist said, “my faith in thy providence did assure me, that thou didst watch over me, and would not finally forsake me.”[22] 

We trust God’s providence in all things, in all life. Our future is held secure in God’s gracious, loving providence. This is our source of trust and the security of our lives now and forevermore. As our futures stretch before us, we have no help except God alone. For “our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth” (Ps. 124:8). Our help is in the God who loves us and is involved in our lives, providentially, with every breath we take. God works in and through all the circumstances of our lives to carry out God’s will and purposes. This is the help we can trust, in all things and through all our days!

This Pentecost, let us live in all the dimensions of our lives. Let us live as God desires, as Richard Greenham urges: “Buy and redeeme the time past with repentance; looke to the time present with diligence, and to the time to come with providence” Then we will experience, as did those early Christians, that “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4). 

A Prayer for Pentecost from Richard Greenham

O Lord God dear father, for thy well-beloved son our Savior’s sake, make us thankful for this thy gracious providence towards us. Oh Lord forgive us all our sins, and keep us pure both in soul and body: for thine own name’s sake write these instructions in our hearts, and give us grace to make practice of them in the whole course of our lives: guide us in all things dear father by the grace of thy good spirit, and let the merciful eye of thy fatherly providence watch over us continually, that we may be comforted in thy ways; and quickened always to give thee immortal praise, and that through thy dear son Jesus Christ, our Lord and only Savior, Amen.[23]

Dr. Donald K. McKim is an Honorably Retired minister of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and lives with his wife, LindaJo, in Germantown, Tennessee.  Some of his publications include: (with Jim West), Heinrich Bullinger: An Introduction to His Life and Theology (Wipf & Stock, 2022); Everyday Prayer with the Puritans (P&R, 2021); Everyday Prayer with the Reformers (P&R, 2020); Everyday Prayer with John Calvin (P&R, 2019).  Several of his other articles can also be found at The Presbyterian Outlook


[1]  D.E.H. Whiteley, The Theology of St. Paul (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 126.

[2] Whiteley, 124.

[3] On Greenham, see Kenneth L. Parker and Eric J. Carlson, ‘Practical Divinity’: The Works and Life of Revd Richard Greenham, St. Andrews Studies in Reformation History (Aldershot, Hants, England: Brookfield, VT, 1998). See also The Workes of Reverend and Faithfull Servant of Jesus Christ, M. Richard Greenham, Minister and Preacher of the Word of God, Collected into One Volume, Revised, Corrected…By H.H. (London, 1612). Short Title Catalogue 12318; Reel 1174. Spellings in some quotations have been adjusted.

[4] See Greenham, Short rules, sent by maister Richard Greenham to a gentlewoman troubled in minde, with directs for a Christian life (1612). Broadsheet

[5] Workes, 87; Practical Divinity, 290-291.

[6] Workes, 72; Practical Divinity, 267.

[7] Workes, 282.

[8] Workes, 87. Practical Divinity, 290.

[9] Workes, 174. Practical Divinity, 340.

[10] Workes, 173. Practical Divinity, 339.

[11] Workes, 562.

[12] Workes 87. Practical Divinity, 290.

[13] Workes 87. Practical Divinity, 290.

[14] Workes 87. Practical Divinity, 290.

[15] Workes, 282. Practical Divinity, 282.

[16] Workes, 90. Practical Divinity, 295.

[17] Workes, 124. Practical Divinity, 331.

[18] Workes, 46. cf. Practical Divinity, 338.

[19] Workes, 128. Practical Divinity, 337.

[20] Workes, 116.

[21] Workes, 492.

[22] Workes, 494.

[23] Workes, 128. Practical Divinity, 337-338.

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