It was the early spring of 1958. I had spent the entire morning hours, till noon, on my knees beside my bed. It was the most passionate prayer experience of my young Christian life. I had been converted in September of 1957 and was now facing the deepest crisis of my nascent spiritual pilgrimage.
At issue was this: my girlfriend was coming to campus. She was the girl I loved and desired to marry. My resolve toward matrimony with her was kindled when I was in the eighth grade, five years earlier.
The previous months were difficult for her. She received a letter I wrote to her the night I became a Christian. She read it with zero comprehension of what I was talking about. At first she was puzzled by my new religious fervor. Her bewilderment turned to grave concern as our mutual friends warned her that I had gone off the deep-end and morphed into a religious fanatic. Then concern gave way to hostility knowing she could not spend her life with a religious nutcase.
Each day she fielded my letters that were laced with quotations from the Bible and testimonies of each new experience I had with Christ. Soon we both understood that our relationship was headed for a train wreck, one not unlike the one she and I experienced in Alabama in 1983 — hence my prayer vigil. This was not mere intercession. It was importunity, spiritual begging with a vengeance. I knew that unless she became a Christian, there was no way we could ever marry.
I picked her up at the bus station, and she checked-in at the girls dorm on campus. After dinner I took her to our weekly Bible study in the parlor of the church across the street from “Old Main.” There in the course of the opening of the Word, her heart was opened as well, and she made the transition from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. She met the Master, and He redeemed her.
That night her sleep came in fits and starts. She kept pinching herself asking silently, “Do I still have it?” Satisfied that indeed she still had it, she drifted off to sleep.
First thing the next morning I picked her up at the dorm to begin our journey home for the weekend. On the way down Route 19 toward Pittsburgh, she looked at me with a radiant smile and said, “Now I know who the Holy Spirit is.”
She had grown up in church. She sang in the choir. She heard the words of Scripture, but they bounced off her recalcitrant heart. She had no ears to hear, no eyes to behold the excellency of Jesus. Until that night in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, the Holy Spirit was a mere abstraction, a third of the ritual of the weekly benediction. But now she knew Him as the third person of the Trinity.
Less than twenty-four hours as a Christian, and she had no training in theology. She was illiterate with respect to the content of the Bible. But she was, by intuition, already a Calvinist. She understood that her conversion was not caused by my prayers or by my oratory. She knew the cause did not reside in the inclinations of her own flesh. She knew her faith was not self-created. No, she clearly knew that what was wrought in her soul was wrought by the immediate, supernatural, and efficacious work of God the Holy Spirit.
The accomplishment of all that was needed objectively for her redemption had been achieved by Christ centuries earlier. But the personal application to her soul, the subjective appropriation of the objective work of Christ, was done by the Holy Spirit.
It was John Calvin who was known as the “theologian of the Holy Spirit.” He was dubbed this not because he manifested the gifts of tongues or became so preoccupied with the Spirit as to lean toward a unitarianism of the third person of the Trinity. He was called the theologian of the Holy Spirit because of his biblical emphasis upon the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit in our redemption. He understood that just as the Bible sets forth the divine work of Creation as a triune activity involving the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, so, in a similar fashion, Scripture reveals the work of redemption as the threefold activity of the Godhead. In our redemption, it is the Father who designs and plans our redemption. It is the Father who sends the Son into the world and, together with the Son, sends the Holy Spirit.
In the administration of redemption, though all three persons of the Godhead are co-equal in being, glory, and eternality, there is nevertheless an economic subordination that takes place. The Son comes to do the will of the Father. His task is to satisfy the demands of God’s justice and righteousness. His meat and His drink is to do the will of the Father. He speaks with authority, but it is an authority not His own. Rather, it is an authority delegated to Him by the Father.
His perfect obedience is both active and passive. Actively, He kept every jot and tittle of the Law. In that endeavor, He was perfectly successful. He is more than sinless. To be sinless is to be free from all fault, taint, or blemish. It is to be innocent of guilt. But the Son is more than innocent. He is righteous. He achieves perfect merit. He fulfills the details of the covenant by which God promised the reward of blessing to those who achieved obedience. It is the fruit of Christ’s active obedience that is the ground of our justification and the righteousness that is imputed to us by faith.
In His passive obedience, like the silent lamb at the slaughter, the Son acquiesces to the dreadful punishment of the curse of God. He drinks the cup of the bitterness of God’s wrath to its dregs.
In His active and passive obedience, the Son accomplishes our redemption objectively. Yet, for that redemption to avail for us, it must be appropriated subjectively. Faith is required as the necessary instrument for us to receive the benefits of Christ’s accomplished work of redemption.
The subjective appropriation of the work of the Son is accomplished by the application of that redemption by the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who regenerates us. In that regeneration, He generates the faith in us that is necessary for our appropriation of the work of Christ.
That application via regeneration and faith is not a joint venture between the sinner and the Spirit. The Spirit does not regenerate those who believe. No, He regenerates the unbelieving sinner unto faith. He quickens to spiritual life those who are dead in sin. He changes the recalcitrant heart of the sinner, making the unwilling willing to come to Christ. He makes the indisposed disposed to Him, the disinclined fully inclined. Our salvation is entirely of God — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Soli Deo Gloria.