Over eighty years ago, B.B. Warfield dubbed John Calvin “the theologian of the Holy Spirit.” Since we’ve been preaching on the Holy Spirit, and since we’re reading through Calvin’s Institutes with the Advanced Year Porterbrook Omaha students, I thought it would be instructive to post some quotes from Calvin on the Holy Spirit.
In the following quote, Calvin reflects on how the Spirit interacts with the human will, enabling us, for example, to “by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13) or to “pray at all times in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18), so that God gets glory for empowering our obedience.
Let us duly reflect upon the way in which the Spirit of the Lord acts upon the saints … When the Lord establishes his Kingdom in [his people], he restrains their will by his Spirit that it may not according to its natural inclination be dragged to and fro by wandering lusts. That the will may be disposed to holiness and righteousness, He bends, shapes, forms, and directs it to the rule of his righteousness. That it may not totter and fall, he steadies and strengthens it by the power of his Spirit. In this vein Augustine says: “You will say to me, ‘Therefore we are acted upon and do not act ourselves.’ Yes, you act and are acted upon. And if you are acted upon by one who is good, then you act well. The Spirit of God who acts upon you is the helper of those who act. The name ‘helper’ indicates that you also do something.” In the first part of the statement he indicates that man’s action is not taken away by the movement of the Holy Spirit, because the will, which is directed to aspire to good, is of nature. But when he directly adds that from the word “help” it can be inferred that we also do something, we must not so understand it as if something were to be attributed to each of us separately. But in order not to encourage indolence in us, he connects God’s action with our own in these words: “To will is of nature, but to will rightly is of grace.” [Institutes 2.5.14]