Breakfast and Bible Study this morning centered around the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The basis for the lesson was the second of two papers that I have to write as I work toward my Masters of Divinity at The North American Reformed Seminary.
What is the work or “ministry” of the Holy Spirit? It is an important question to ask. There is so much more to it that most of us consider. As you read, I encourage you to listen to the audio of the lesson from our study.
The Ministry of the Holy Spirit – Audio
Yet He is Actually Not Far From Each One of Us
Considering the Holy Spirit and His work, if I began with a photograph before my study of this subject, Arthur Pink took my standard photo and gave me a giant, panoramic print, but Abraham Kuyper has taken me to the I-Max Theater of the Holy Spirit where I am surrounded by His presence. On a more celestial plane, if that picture was related to the universe, Pink took me to the observatory and gave me a great telescope to bring His beauty nearer to me, but Kuyper has launched me into space itself, where His presence is observed in every square millimeter that I come into contact with. Parts of Kuyper’s work resonate with my own experience and my understanding of what Scripture teaches about God’s eternal, sovereign power and providence. He has brought it more clearly into view, dividing the work among the members of the Godhead., carefully leaning on the Scriptures and their historic interpretation. Kuyper speaks of our experience as useful in this and I see it as such too. He informs us at the beginning of his work, “Spiritual experience can furnish no basis for instruction; for such experience rests on that which took place in our own soul. Certainly this has value, influence, voice in the matter. But what guarantees correctness and fidelity in interpreting such experience?” (Vol 1, Ch 1, Article I) As valuable as our experience may be, we need to look outside ourselves to understand what has happened within us. Though we feel some certainty in our experience and find value in it, we cannot rely upon it as the source of our understanding. Of course, Kuyper directs us to the Word of God, saying, “Altho there is no subject in whose treatment the soul inclines more to draw upon its own experience, there is none that demands more that our sole source of knowledge be the Word given us by the Holy Spirit.” (Vol 1, Ch 1, Article I)
Considering, as much as I did last time, the Spirit’s work in the application of redemption, I see that understanding Him only by this task would leave Him largely “unemployed” apart from the Fall and the reconciliation that is thus required. It becomes evident that even in the preceding work of creation and that of providence, He is preparing the elect for their rendezvous with eternal destiny. He is leading, guiding and preparing all things and bringing them to their appointed end, and He has been from eternity past. As he hovered over the watery mass and brought the seed of creation to its fruitful harvest, so, He was also there, giving me being and sustaining life in me until He brought me to faith in Christ by regenerating me at the appointed time.
What an amazing thought, to consider afresh and with greater emphasis, God’s eternal love and the work that He has taken upon Himself, to reconcile the alienated orphan who was in abject poverty to the Royal, Paternal care of His household; to consider that it was more than just the work of Redemption that occurred in history some two thousand years ago (as amazingly wonderful as that truly is!), and the application of it to me at a point in time (equally amazing!), but an eternal unfolding of the fabric of the beautiful and baffling love of an offended Creator to a destitute and undeserving rebel. The thought of the former was enough to send the Apostle Paul into one of the most beautiful doxologies in all of the Scriptures, as he wrote to the Ephesians, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith–that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:14-19) As humbling and awe inspiring as it is to consider God’s work in all the aspects that relate directly to saving sinners, it seems exponentially greater to consider that that was just the visible tip of the proverbial iceberg and that underneath is the hidden providence of history, from time eternal to its consummation, all of which has been and continues to be governed by the Spirit that He sent into the world to animate and propagate His elect.
As I relate this to my own conversion I can look back and trace the Hand of Providence in my life. This is really where I begin to see the work of the Holy Spirit in my own life all the more clearly. Having been converted at the age of 27, I find Kuyper’s articles on “Preparatory Grace” (Vol 2, CH 3) to be like my own story written a hundred years before I was born. He writes, “It can not be denied that a man, converted at twenty-five, was during his godless life the subject of the divine labor, care, and protection; that in his conception and before his birth God’s hand held him and broughthim forth; yea, that even in the divine counsel the work must be traced which God has wrought for him long before his conversion:” (Vol 2, Ch 3 Article XVII) This is certainly written about me! It was apparent in my life at so many points, though with the exception of someone else pointing it out to me here and there, it went virtually unnoticed by me until after my conversion. I am not sure at what age, but I was still fairly young when I was told that I was supposed to be stillborn. Eight months into her pregnancy, my mother was told that there was no heartbeat and that I had died in her womb. The doctor scheduled her to have her labor induced and so she went through with the procedure, only to find that I was eight-and-a-half pounds of healthy baby boy. However, within three weeks I was down to five-and-a-half pounds. Due to the early birth my stomach muscles had not all completely formed and my food would not move out of my stomach and into my small intestine. I was literally starving to death. After a surgery I eventually regained my weight and I was okay.
Life having started a bit precariously, things seemed to go pretty well until the winter of my twelfth year. I had gotten a new ten-speed bicycle for Christmas and was riding it to friend’s house just down the road. As I peddled quickly, looking backward to escape the neighbor’s dog, I hit a car head-on as it was going fifty-five miles an hour. Amazingly, I emerged virtually unharmed. Bernice, the lady whose family owned the junkyard that it happened in front of, told me explicitly that the Lord was watching out for me that day. As I stood and looked at my relatively new bike that was now only about three feet long, I readily agreed.
There was much more than just saving me from peril that comprised the Holy Spirit’s providential leading and guiding of my life before I came to faith. The summer before the accident, my brothers and I were on a float that was in a parade in our small, rural home town which was about twenty-five miles north of Detroit. (I came from a very UN-churched home with very low moral standards.) Once we dressed up in our costumes for the float, we mounted it at the parade site and the float began to move down the route in front of the hundreds of people who had come out to join in the festivities. During that time, a photographer from the county newspaper snapped a photo of us that ended up on the front page. Twenty miles south of us in a Metropolitan Detroit suburb, a Christian housewife and her friend saw the picture and noticed that one of the kids in the photograph (my then ten-year-old brother) was actually giving the finger to the photographer when he snapped the picture. They were appalled that such a young boy would even think to do such a thing. At my house, it was a great joke and everyone had a good laugh, but in hers, we became the subject of unceasing prayer. Our names were listed at the bottom of the photo, so she and a friend began to pray earnestly for us by name.
Fast forward fifteen years; Then at age 26, I had become a part-owner in a screen printing company in Metropolitan Detroit. Having a need for some help, we hired a pretty young woman for part-time work in our storefront. She and I began to date and we became involved in a serious relationship. She became pregnant. We went to her parents to tell them what had happened. Time passed as I got to know her family. Then one day her mom looked at me and said something like, “I know who you are!” I was not sure what she was taking about. She began to tell me about the newspaper article and that she recognized my name from the picture. She had been praying for me enough to recognize my name from something that happened fifteen years before! Within a few of months all of this transpiring, the Holy Spirit prevailed upon me through the witness of a customer at my shop and also of an elderly widow who was friends with my new fiance’s family. That winter we were married and a few months later my wife was also converted.
Having undergone such things as those brushes with death and amazing “coincidences” like the picture in the paper, I have often contemplated Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill as he told the Greek Philosophers, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,” (Acts 17:26-27) Here it seems that Paul is contradicting the fatalism and chance of the Greek philosophers and directly crediting Jehovah with the disposal of men and of nations. John Calvin remarks on this passage in his commentary, “For when he saith that the times were ordained before by Him, he doth testify that He had determined, before men were created, what their condition and estate should be. ” (Calvin’s Commentaries) Once I had been converted, It certainly seemed that the Lord had orchestrated my steps and brought me to the place where I saw my need and His gracious solution. I could go on with the details of how the responsibility for my son became the impetus for my conviction and the tool the Spirit used to make me see myself in truth as I related my former life to His holy standard. I was alarmed to think of my son living as I had up to that point. Even the illegitimate conception of a child was not outside His providence. However, we will consider this in a little more detail further on in the paper.
But what does all of this talk of providence prove with regard to the agency of the Holy Spirit? Certainly it was God’s doing, but could it not be left at that? Should we take the time to look into the secret workings of God and see how He relates within the Godhead as he superintends the creation? Kuyper gives us the historic take on this subject as he teaches us,
“In 1 Cor. viii. 6, St. Paul teaches that: “There is but one God the Father, of whom are all things, and one Lord Jesus Christ by whom are all things.” Here we have two prepositions: of whom, and by whom. But in Rom. xi. 36 he adds another: “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things.”
The operation here spoken of is threefold: first, that by which all things are originated (of Him); second, that by which all things consist (through Him); third, that by which all things attain their final destiny (to Him). In connection with this clear, apostolic distinction the great teachers of the Church, after the fifth century, used to distinguish the operations of the Persons of the Trinity by saying that the operation whereby all things originated proceeds from the Father; that whereby they received consistency from the Son; and that whereby they were led to their destiny from the Holy Spirit” (Vol 1, Ch 1 Article IV)
Taking the time to look into the works done by each of the Members of the Godhead has value for us because it is our duty and it should be our delight, to know God as He is; to be clear in our minds about the care and cooperation of the Godhead in our own estate. It is also very important to realize that each Member of the Trinity has an eternal work and purpose and is not merely a Means for a segment of the eternal plan and purpose of creation or redemption. Taking that kind of view tends to minimize our understanding of the individual Members of the Godhead and even to cause us to exalt One above Another based upon their perceived value to ourselves. Another paper could be written on our deficient views of the members of the Godhead; some regarding the Spirit more than the Father and Son because of the gifting that He gives, some regarding the Son without acknowledging the the eternal plan of the Father or the agency of the Spirit who applied to them the Son’s redemption through His work of regeneration and illumination. If we bring the unity and harmony of their purpose and works into focus, it allows us to see and to worship them more in line with their actual Being. To gain greater insight into the labor they have endured on our behalf should increase our worship for each Member of the Godhead, individually and in cooperation with One Another.
From this basic idea, Kuyper leads us from Creation to Christ and then into the Church which He purchased with His blood. This comprises the first volume of his work. In every area He shows us the special work of the Spirit. As he expounds Job 33:4 which says, “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” he tells us , “Hence the principal thought remains intact: When God comes into direct contact with thecreature it is the work of the Holy Spirit to effect such contact. In the visible world this action consists in the kindling and fanning of the spark of life; hence it is quite natural and in full harmony with the general tenor of the teaching of Scripture that the Spirit of God moves upon the face of the waters, that He brings forth the host of heaven and earth, ordered, animated, and resplendent. Besides this visible creation there is also an invisible, which, so far as our world is concerned, concentrates itself in the heart of man; hence, in the second place, we must see how far the work of the Holy Spirit may be traced in man’s creation.” (Vol 1, Ch 2 Article VII)
We see here that He has given us being and He has given us life, and yet He continues to give to us as we live.
“… man was not created empty, afterward to be endowed with higher spiritual faculties and powers, but that the very act of creation made him after God’s image, without any subsequent addition to his being. For we read: “Let Us create man in Our image and after Our likeness.” This assures us that by immediate creation man received the impress of the divine image; that in the creation the divine Persons each performed a distinct work; and, lastly, that man’s creation with reference to his higher destiny was effected by a going forth of the breath of God.
This is the basis of our statement that the Spirit’s creative work was making all man’s powers and gifts instruments for His own use, connecting them vitally and immediately with the powers of God. This agrees with Biblical teachings regarding the Holy Spirit’s regenerating work, which also, tho differently, brings the power and holiness of God in immediate contact with human powers.” (Vol 1, Ch 2 Article VII)
So, not only being and life, but all of our power and gifts, and as Kuyper goes on to point out in the next chapter, even our talents are part of the Spirit’s creative work in us as human beings made in the image of God. “He has determined our pre-appointed times and boundaries of our dwellings,” but also, as Paul also informs the Greek Philosophers in the very next verse, In Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) All that we do and have is of Him. As the Holy Spirit is the life-giving force of God and active in giving, sustaining and empowering the lives of his creatures, He is, in a real sense, in all of the creatures who are made in His image. This differs from His indwelling of Believers, but is just as real. Again, “… the Spirit’s creative work was making all man’s powers and gifts instruments for His own use, connecting them vitally and immediately with the powers of God.” (Vol 1, Ch 3 Article X)
We can conclude that through the agency of the Holy Spirit, God touches man in his inmost parts, imparting life and personality, gifts and talents and then, through providence, brings His elect to their appointed ends. It is, as we have seen, the Spirit’s job to bring those thus created, to their appointed destiny. As the Father, in His eternal counsel, ordained the elect; as the Son came into the world that He had created, to purchase them from the power of sin and death; so then, the Spirit directs them and conducts them to the time of their regeneration and subsequent conversion and brings them through this life and into eternity. Before a man ever comes to the point of receiving Christ, his whole life has been in the care of God, through the work of His Holy Spirit. Thus, in this too we can say, “This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes!” (Psalm 118:23)
Taking a step back and expanding our gaze from the individual Believer, we see that Holy Spirit has played a part in all of History and all for the same ultimate purpose. We have seen His work in the formation of men. We have noticed in Acts 17 that this extends to nations. In order to accomplish the work of leading creation to its appointed end and thus, the individual members of creation, He has accomplished some very peculiar and important works as well.
He Inspired Old Testament the Scriptures: Kuyper tells us, “As to the divine revelation in its widest scope, it is evident from the Scripture that God spoke to men from Adam to the last of the apostles. From Paradise to Patmos revelation runs like a golden thread through every part of Sacred History..” (Vol 1, Ch 4 Article XV) The importance of this is unparallelled in all of God’s doings in, through and for sinful men. He has given us a clear and authoritative disclosure of His will. He did that through the agency of His Spirit as He worked in the hearts of those sinful men. 2 Peter 1:21 informs us “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” This is certainly a unique and invaluable work! We could also note that the Old Testament Scriptures played a significant part in the formation of the Nation of Israel, preparing the place for the Messiah to come into the world.
He was the Agent of the Incarnation of Christ: Again, an unprecedented work of indispensable value. It was He that overshadowed the virgin and implanted the seed of the Savior’s human nature into her womb. (Luke 1:35) Where would we be without this invaluable work? The Holy Spirit did not “sit the bench” after that however. His work continued as He labored to bring the creation and redemption to their consummation.
He empowered Jesus as He lived and grew and also as He ministered: Kuyper tells us, “THE work of the Holy Spirit in the Person of Christ is not exhausted in the Incarnation, but appears conspicuously in the work of the Mediator. We consider this work in the development of His human nature; in the consecration to His office; in His humiliation unto death; in His resurrection, exaltation, and return in glory.” (Vol 1, Ch 6, Article XX) We saw how the Spirit is at work in the physical lives of people and certainly it was so in the human nature of Christ. As we read of Jesus departing from the Jordan River following His baptism, we find, “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:1-2) After His success in overcoming that temptation we see again, the work of the Spirit, just a few verses farther on, “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.” (Luke 4:14-15) As Kuyper tells us, the Spirit was His source of power from His conception to His Resurrection and will be active in His return. Again, where would we be without this ministry of the Spirit?
He Gifts and Empowers the Church: Of this, we know a little bit. We have been taught of His outpouring at Pentecost and of the Gifts that He imparts to Believers for the edification of the Body of Christ. But do we remember His empowering of the Old Testament Saints? From the gifting of Bezalel as an artisan to build the Tabernacle, to the miracles of Elijah, or the prophesies of Isaiah, etc. , He is there.
Gifting and Empowering the Apostles: Yet again we see the Holy Spirit in a unique and indispensable work. The ministry of the Apostles is truly unique in all of the Church. From them we have the foundational doctrines of the Church which has been verified by the miraculous works of the Spirit. From them we have the first declaration of the Gospel outside the confines of Israel. They are the “foundation” of the Church as Christ is its Chief Cornerstone (Eph 2:20)
Through the Apostles He also Inspired the New Testament Scriptures: Again, Kuyper informs us, “Through the apostles the Church received something not possessed by Israel nor imparted by Christ. Christ Himself declares: “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye can not bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth; for He shall not speak from Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak; and He will shew you things to come. He shall glorify Me; for He shall receive of Mine, and shall shew it unto you” (Johnxvi. 12-14).” (Vol 1, Ch 9 Article XXXIII) Bringing the truths of all the past ages to bear on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit has once and for all given us the heart of God, written on pages by the men whom He had created, chosen, guided and gifted to accomplish His purpose. Had the Spirit not been at work here, we would still be in our sins though all of the other works had been completed. This is the tool that He uses to open blind eyes and soften hard hearts. What an amazing God we serve! How little we count the works of His Spirit and how great the miscalculation as we add up His works done for our benefit! This brings us to His final special work.
The Creation of the Church: As it is the Spirit’s work to regenerate the sinner and impart faith to him, to indwell, gift and empower him for his service to the Church (1 Cor. 12:11, Eph. 2:18-21, Tit. 3:5). In that sense, He is the Creator of it. This all brings us back around to His work as He guides and cares for the elect before their conversion, preparing us for our place in the Spiritual Temple.
And so we ask, where is the place where the presence of the Spirit is not felt? Not just seen or understood, but encountered, interacted with and benefited from. Should we relegate Him to the mere Giver of Gifts, the Empowerer of Sanctification or even to the Applier of Redemption, we would slight Him and give Him only partial credit for His work on our behalf. Bringing all of this together, as I consider again my own life and conversion, I see that I have failed to give the Holy Spirit His due. The great mass of Christians who deny the truths of God’s foreordination and election, of His providential care and sovereignty, insult the Spirit of Grace and rob Him of His glory. What an amazing contrast to the ideas of God and of the Christian Faith that pervade the Church today!
My pastor’s heart wants very badly to call the Church back to this forgotten knowledge and to exalt the honor of God and particularly of the Holy Spirit to its rightful place. Oh, that we would see where we have fallen from and repent! I see it as my duty to call each one to trace the steps of their own conversion with Scriptures in hand and prayerfully, to seek out the secret and hidden movings of the Spirit in their own case. It was true in my case that the Spirit used my situation as much as my hearing of His word to break my heart and show me my need.
As Kuyper moves into the second volume of his work, he turns the focus to the individual and the work of the Spirit that is involved in the application of redemption. This section is really a study of soteriology in the most rigorous sense. First he deals with man and his nature, sin, the fall and its effects and then the concepts of Original Righteousness and holiness. Next he deals with what the aforementioned “Preparatory Grace” and then regeneration, finally with calling, repentance, justification and faith. He is well inside Reformed circles on his treatment of these topics as evidenced by the following excerpt, “From God proceed quickening, conversion, and sanctification, and in each God is the Worker: only with this difference, that in the quickening He works alone, finding and leaving man inactive; that in conversion He finds us inactive, but makes us active; that in sanctification He works in us in such a manner that we work ourselves through Him.”(Vol 2, Ch 3 Article XXIII) Beginning with the doctrine of Total Depravity, he finds man necessarily dead in sin and incapable of lifting himself to embrace the Savior. Thus, regeneration must be a monergistic effort on the part of God the Holy Spirit. As He regenerates the sinner He makes him willing and able to turn from sin and embrace the Savior and then becomes the Power and Impetus to bring about his sanctification.As the Spirit finds man inactive and must impart life to him in order for him to become able to respond to the call of the Gospel (1 Cor. 2:14), once enlivened he does become active in the conversion and sanctification processes.
Kuyper instructs us, “In conversion the fact of cooperation on the part of the saved sinner assumes a clearly defined and perceptible character. In regeneration there was none; in the calling there was a beginning of it; in conversion proper it became a fact. When the Holy Spirit regenerates a man, it is an “Effatha,” i.e., He opens the ear. When He effectually calls him, He speaks into that opened ear, which cooperates by receiving the sound, that is, by harkening. But when the Holy Spirit actually converts the man, then the act of man coalesces with the act of the Holy Spirit, and it is said: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him” (Isa. lv. 7); and in another place: “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” (Psalm xix. 7)” (Vol 2, Ch5, Article XXIX) Here is the point that I would like to focus on for the rest of this paper. Here, I believe, is where the previous providence that we spoke of most greatly impacts the salvation and sanctification of the sinner.
As I recall my own experience and relate it to what we have been discussing, I see this as the powerful emotion, evoked by the pride-shattering revelation, that humbled me and gave me repentance unto life. Though man is regenerated my a sovereign act of the Holy Spirit, he is not brought into the Kingdom of God like a machine who has been switched on. If that was so, all that we have spoken of at the beginning of this paper would be moot. On the contrary, having brought the sinner through the time of his unregenerate life, God, in that time having shown him the goodness of common grace while allowing him to move according to the dictates of his own will, brings the fruit of that will to bear on His own goodness in giving and sustaining life and in His gracious call to reconciliation which comes through His Word. This merging of the Word and Providence as it applied to me as an individual is the most humbling grace that I can see in my own conversion.
After twenty-seven years of living for myself, according to the course of the world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who is at work in the sons of disobedience, among whom I once conducted myself, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind while I was by nature a child of wrath, the “But God!” broke through the darkness of my blind eyes and the scales fell off, showing me the repugnance of my self-centered self-righteousness. Twenty-seven years of lust, greed and self-gratification did not loosen those scales as I lived in an unconscious awareness of God’s love and care. On the contrary, without the Spirit’s life given to me, it only further alienated me from His goodness. Although the Spirit’s care and guidance did not make me engage in sex outside of a marriage relationship, He allowed me to follow the lust of my heart and lovingly gave me enough rope to hang myself. When the reality of the responsibility for the life of my yet unborn son came crashing down upon me, I saw myself for the first time in the true light, but how could I do that when I had lived I so long in utter darkness?.
Having had virtually no exposure to the Gospel until less than a year before that time, The Spirit was preparing me even before I entered the relationship with my (now) wife. He brought me the Word of God in a most uncanny way. For more then a year before the crisis even began to develop, a customer that we had at the screen print shop was having shirts printed (a few each week) with the Bible verse, John 3:3 on them. “Verily, verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (KJV) This was followed by a few paragraphs of very small type relating the basics of the Gospel message, including my alienation from God because of my sin, Christ’s remedy and the need of my repentance and faith. I hated that job because it was a small profit and it was very tedious. Each time I printed his small orders, I had to go over every letter in the tiny text to make sure it was clear in the screen and would yield a good quality print. It was just about like attending a Bible study every week as I set up the job. But the man and the job I had once mocked became the tool of the Holy Spirit to instruct me so that when He was ready, He would have what He needed to convert me.
The word of God, my previous lifestyle and its resultant crisis all came together at once and the Holy Spirit was there in the midst of it to do the job that only He can do. The funny thing was, there was no one else there, just Him and me. He had prepared me and brought me to that place. He knew exactly what it would take to humble a proud sinner like me. He gave me that tender heart for my son and He used that too, as He brought me to my knees to acknowledge my sin and my need for the Savior. What a glorious God! What amazing Grace! Leading me and guiding me, giving me my way and using my own will to accomplish His purpose.
What Kuyper says of sanctification is equally true of the whole process,
“1. The Word is a vital power in the Church which pierces even to the dividing asunder of the joints and the marrow, and, as such it is a divinely ordained instrument to create impressions in a man; and these impressions are the means by which holy inclinations are implanted in his heart.
2. Life’s experiences also make impressions in us more or less lasting; and these God uses also to create holy dispositions.” (Vol 3. Ch 1, Article XIII)
The result of these two things, as the Holy Spirit brought them together in my life while He opened my ears to hear and my heart to understand, was a profound conviction of the sinfulness of my life. I acknowledge that He is sovereign and calls into existence the things that do not exist, but I am sure that His providence is not without reason as well. I know for certain, that as Jesus said to Simon the Pharisee, “He who is forgiven much loves much” (Luke 7:47) that the reality of my Spirit-generated love, lies as well in my knowledge of Christ’s forgiveness for my previous rebellious life. That love is born out of this true conviction for my sin. Without it I would not see Jesus and His Gospel as being so worthy of my adoration.
As Kuyper speaks of the effectual calling of God through His Word he says this,
“Hence to this is added the illumination of his understanding, which wonderful gift enables him not only to apprehend the general sense of the preached Word, but also to perceive and realize that this Word comes to him directly from God; that it affects and condemns his very being, thus causing him to penetrate into its hidden essence and feel the sharp sting which effects conviction.
Lastly, the Holy Spirit plies this conviction—which otherwise would quickly vanish—so long and so severely, that finally the sting, like the keen edge of a lancet, pierces the thick skin and lays open the festering sore. This is in the called a very wonderful operation. The general understanding puts the matter before him; the illumination reveals to him what it contains; and the conviction puts the sharp two-edged sword directly upon his heart. Then, however, he is inclined to shrink from that sword; not to let it pierce through, but to let it glance harmlessly from the soul. But then the Holy Spirit, in full activity, continues to press that sword of conviction, driving it so forcibly into the soul that at last it cuts through and takes effect.” (Vol 2, Ch 5, Article XXVIII)
As I look around the Church of Jesus Christ, I see this idea of real conviction as very conspicuously lacking. This was so powerful in my experience and I wonder at what is lost to those who have never experienced it? When I came into the Church, I was first instructed that once one said “the prayer” that any further conviction over sin was of the devil and was to be quickly expunged from the mind. Faith was to be anchored in the profession that was made, rather than the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the person professing. And so, as I wonder what has been lost, I must concede that it may well be the very work of regeneration and conversion that has been forfeited by people who have refused to heed the Word of God and the words and works of the men in the Church who have gone before us. Woe to those who have not looked beyond themselves in their study of these sacred truths.
The greater our conviction over sin, the greater our love for the One who rescued us from it. Therefore, as I consider this amazing co-mingling of events; the Spirit’s bringing me to the end of myself as He allowed me to have my way, the bringing in of His Word where I would never have welcomed it otherwise, and His powerful act of regeneration followed by the conviction wrought through this coalescence of those events, remorse and great joy still fill my heart as I contemplate the blessed Providence of God, brought to me by His Holy Spirit. Humiliation and elation lead me simultaneously, to worship at His feet.
Thus, in all of this, the Holy Spirit is given a much greater and more comprehensive adoration for His intimate work within the human heart and life. But His work does not cease at the point of conversion. The Spirit is still at work in the next phase of our lives. As Christians we must be sanctified as well. The experiences that lead to my conversion were entirely the result of sin which was the defining element of my unconverted life. Born in sin and living up to its expectations, this may have been the way to make me see my need, but it is not the way that I can continue as I live in light of God’s grace and mercy. (Romans 6:1-14)
Volume Three of Kuyper’s work deals comprehensively with this part of the Ministry of the Holy Spirit. Once He has brought us to faith, He then begins to conform us to the image of Christ. Working in us, leading us and empowering us, yet working in conjunction with us, He accomplishes this task. The result in us being; holiness, self-denial, love and an attitude of dependence demonstrated through prayer. All of these are brought about in us as a result of the Spirit’s work, as we respond in faith (also initially His work) to the Gospel. From this we are transformed into the image of His Son (See Romans 8:23-30) and brought to glory.
All of this demonstrates the work of the Spirit from the beginning of creation, through all of the vital events of history, and onward, to the calling and perfecting of all that have been given to the Son by the Father. It is certainly the “commonness” of His activity that shields it from our eyes, for He is active in every sphere. That activity is not necessarily a visible activity as we have seen, and so it goes unnoticed by the mass of humanity. Yet, I believe it is also our own lack of due diligence as saints, that keeps us from looking hard into His own Self-Revelation to see the great work that He has done and continues to do. This is combined with a third element that I believe is very definitive of our own culture, that is an ignorance of God’s sovereignty and of His active work of Providence. It has certainly become more fashionable to think of God as our Helper than our Governor, to consider His work an aid to our own rather than for Him to be the Author and Finisher of it. This relates back to our refusal to see our sin in its true light, as absolute rebellion against a Sovereign God, and to see God as He really is, the Ultimate Authority and Holy Judge of the Universe. This is not to push us too far the other way, away from God and His great love. On the contrary, if we understand these fundamental truths we will come to appreciate God’s love all the more.
John Calvin began his Institutes of the Christian Religion with these words, “Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts; the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” (Pg 37) When we choose to give up either one or both, we will never come to a true knowledge of either. We must begin at the beginning. We must continually go back to the Scriptures and allow the hermeneutical cycle to redefine our presuppositions until they are saturated with Biblical truth. We must begin again and again as our minds are renewed by the Scriptures and the Spirit of God and we must let God teach us about Himself and about ourselves. It is a long journey from self-willed and rebellious to humble and teachable, and there is only one way there. It is the way I have described above. How do I know this? Not by experience, though I have had that experience. But by the Word of God which I continually subject my experience to.
Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Beveridge ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Grand Rapids Book Mfg., 1975. Print.
Calvin, John. Calvin: Commentaries – Complete. Calvin Translation Society ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996. N. pag. Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI. Web. 9 Jul 21 11.
English Standard Version of the Bible. E-Sword ed. Vol. 1. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing, 2001. N. pag. 1 vols. Download.
Kuyper, Abraham. The Work of the Holy Spirit. 3 vols. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1946. Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI. Web. 21 July 2011.