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The Holy Spirit & the Church

Thabiti Anyabwile writes on Calvin’s view of the Holy Spirit in the corporate life of the church:

imgCalvin perceived the intertwining of Jesus’ person and work with that of the Holy Spirit and the local church. According to Calvin:
img[Jesus] was anointed by the Spirit to be herald and witness of the Father’s grace. We must note this: he received anointing, not only for himself that he might carry out the office of teaching, but for his whole body that the power of the Spirit might be present in the continuing preaching of the gospel. [Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.15.2.]
   Calvin understood what some habitually forget—effective gospel preaching depends wholly on the power of the Spirit as Christ offers Himself in the gospel. If we neglect to proclaim the work of Christ or to beseech the work of the Spirit, all preaching is lifeless and impotent.
   But Calvin reminds us also that the Spirit is necessary for producing the unity fitting for renewed life. In His atonement, Christ becomes “our peace,” and purchases and makes for Himself “one new man” (Eph. 2:14–15). But the Spirit is the agent who applies this reality.
   Commenting on Ephesians 2:16–19, Calvin writes, “We must all participate in one Spirit.” That participation in the Spirit of God produces “such a union among us as might show that we are in very deed the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not enough for us to be piled up together like a heap of stones, but we must be joined together with cordial affection.” [Calvin, Sermons on Ephesians, 326.] Calvin unswervingly proclaimed that “when God’s Spirit governs us, He reforms our affections in such a way that our souls are joined together.” [Ibid.]
   What a beautiful picture of life together in the local church. But this was no preacher’s flourish for Calvin; he believed Scripture teaches that unity is a mark of the church of God. He writes:
We must keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. For here he puts down the unity of the Spirit as a mark that is required in the church and flock of God, insomuch that if we are divided among ourselves, we are estranged from God. And with this, he shows us what we have seen briefly before, which is that if we are not at one among ourselves, God disclaims us and tells us we do not belong to Him. This unity therefore is something which ought to be valued nowadays seeing it is the way in respect of which we are acknowledged as God’s children. [Ibid., 323.]
   If this unity was to be prized in Calvin’s day, it is no less needed in our day. Unity in the truth and in God’s Spirit is essential. It must be among the ends for which gospel preachers and all Christians labor, remembering that our love and unity commend to a perishing world the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ (John 17:20–21).
   The twenty-first-century church needs a number of things, including a deeper understanding of saving faith and conversion, a greater desire for sanctification and deliverance from worldliness, a resurgence of powerful gospel preaching, and a unwavering commitment to unity in the church. Five hundred years after his life and ministry, Calvin teaches us that essential to meeting all of these needs is daily reliance on God the Holy Spirit, “the chief key by which the gate of paradise is opened to us.” [Ibid., 207.]

—Thabiti Anyabwile, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 105–107.

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Posted  in: Church History · John Calvin · John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology · Thabiti Anyabwile
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