The Seed and Root of Heavenly Life in Us: John Calvin on the Holy Spirit

One of the charges often leveled against Reformed and Presbyterian type Christians (such as myself) is that we do not emphasize the workings of the Holy Spirit enough.  I have often thought that this perception is probably based on the fact that the Reformed understanding of the Holy Spirit's work is fundamentally different than that of broad evangelicalism.  The Reformed emphasis is there... it just doesn't look like what the non-Reformed emphasis looks like. A Reformed emphasis on the Spirit includes discussion about how the Holy Spirit regenerates the hearts of the elect (Titus 3:5; Romans 2:29; Romans 8:1-2); how the Holy Spirit seals us for the day of redemption and testifies to the promises of God in our lives (Ephesians 1:13-14; Ephesians 4:30; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; 2 Corinthians 5:5; Romans 8:15); how the Holy Spirit gives gifts for edification within the church (1 Corinthians 12:4-7; 1 Corinthians 14:3); and how the Holy Spirit leads us in the work of sanctification (2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:1-2; 1 Corinthians 6:11).

Today, while reading some comments by John Calvin on the Holy Spirit, I began to realize just how much fuller our doctrine of the Holy Spirit is than for many other Christians (if I can be so bold to say that!).  Here's what Calvin says:

We must remember that Christ came provided with the Holy Spirit after a peculiar manner - namely, that he might separate us from the world, and unite us in the hope of an eternal inheritance.  Hence, the Spirit is called the Spirit of sanctification, because he quickens and cherishes us, not merely by the general energy which is seen in the human race... but because he is the seed and root of heavenly life in us....  He is called the "Spirit of adoption," because he is witness to us of the free favor with which God the Father embraced us in his well-beloved and only-begotten Son, so as to become our Father, and give us boldness of access to him... so that we can boldly cry, "Abba, Father."  For the same reason, he is said to have "sealed us, and given us the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts," because, as pilgrims in the world, and persons in a manner dead, he so quickens us from above as to assure us that our salvation is safe in the keeping of a faithful God.  Hence, also, the Spirit is said to be "life because of righteousness."

Since it is his secret irrigation that makes us bud forth and produce the fruits of righteousness, he is repeatedly described as water....  As those sprinkled with the Spirit are restored to the full vigour of life, he hence obtains the names of Oil and Unction.  As he is constantly employed in subduing and destroying the vices of our concupiscence, and inflaming our hearts with the love of God and piety, he hence receives the name of Fire.

In fine, he is described to us as a Fountain, whence all heavenly riches flow to us; or as the Hand by which God exerts his power, because by his divine inspiration he so breathes divine life into us, that we are no longer acted upon by ourselves, but ruled by his motion and agency, so that everything good in us is the fruit of his grace.... (Institutes, 3.1.2)