With good reason John Calvin has been called the theologian of the Holy Spirit. His dealings with the work of the Spirit were mostly aimed at giving spiritual guidance. Exactly that motif brought him into polemics. The work of the Spirit is first of all soteriological. The Spirit of Christ brings a sinner into a saving union with Christ. Calvin’s thinking on the Spirit can clearly be discerned in his polemics with Roman Catholic doctrine, with the Anabaptists, and with Luther. Over against Rome Calvin emphasizes that it is not the power of the church that confers salvation, but that God’s Spirit is always the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of the Word. That becomes visible in the church, but it does not make the church the author of salvation! Over against the Anabaptists Calvin stresses faith. Faith is knowing and trusting Christ in a personal relationship. This implies experience, but it is always a relationship of faith, with its ground outside ourselves, in Christ. Genuine faith, therefore, cannot be measured by someone’s extraordinary experiences, but by a living knowledge of Christ. Luther was inclined to include the work of the Spirit in the Word of God, and in Calvin’s view this detracted from the freedom of the Spirit to, not automatically, make use of the Word. Some attention is paid to Calvin’s thinking about spiritual gifts. Seeing that here he did not clearly stick to his conviction on the close bond between Spirit and Word, it helps us to realise that Calvin was human - not infallible ...
The Holy Spirit being the Spirit of faith, the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of the Word, however, remains important for the church in our age.
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