A former student wrote to me recently:
You know that I more than question my own worthiness. How more than alone I feel, and even unnecessary, maybe. Yeah, I do long to feel Jesus’ truths and promises within my own being. I guess I just don’t understand why the pathway of my life has just not been as it should be. . . . Why do I continue to find myself stuck on a dark path, feeling lost and so alone?
Of all the questioning, pleading cries I heard from young people during my years as a college chaplain, none were more frequent or urgent than these: “Am I alone in this universe? Do I matter? Can I be confident that I need not face my (sometimes difficult and heavy) life circumstances by myself?”
That’s precisely why I was—and still am—eager to help my young friends both to learn and also to become confident, deep-down, of a central truth John Calvin has taught to me: The Holy Spirit is the presence and power of Jesus in life. The Spirit’s presence can comfort us amid our beleaguering circumstances. His power can help us to endure as we somehow make our way through them.
As Calvin saw it, the Holy Spirit is anything but some junior partner within the divine Trinity. The Spirit’s person and work are no less prominent and important than the Father’s and the Son’s.
Reformation scholars call Calvin “the theologian of the Holy Spirit.” It’s their way of acknowledging that in his thinking the Spirit plays a central and undergirding role in the entire divine drama.
According to Calvin, it is the Holy Spirit who was active in God’s creating the world, in bringing Jesus to birth, in founding the Church, in inspiring the Bible’s writers, and in so much more.
Nor did the Holy Spirit cease his work centuries ago. Still today the Spirit keeps prompting persons, amid the unique and fine-print detailed circumstances of their lives, to place their trust in Jesus, to believe that Scripture’s promises and commands are God’s very Word to them, to be confident that baptism and the Lord’s Supper transport them into Jesus’ presence, and to use their (Spiritual!) gifts to serve and enrich others.
Given that many people nowadays feel so disoriented, alienated, and alone, I wish to underscore prominently one feature of the Holy Spirit’s work. I want everyone, but especially my dear young friends, to learn what Calvin taught me: the Holy Spirit welds us unbreakably to Jesus. In a sermon on Jesus’ suffering and death for us, Calvin pleaded with his listeners:
Let us know the unity that we have with our Lord Jesus Christ; to wit, that he wills to have a common life with us, and that what he has should be ours: nay, that he even wishes to dwell in us, not in imagination, but in effect; not in earthly fashion but spiritually; and that whatever may befall, he so labors by the virtue of his Holy Spirit that we are united with him more closely than are the limbs with the body.
Jesus is with us by his Spirit. Never need anyone feel orphaned and alone. Simply never. And with Jesus empowering us by that same Spirit, never need anyone feel himself without enough strength to endure life’s circumstances. Simply never.
To become aware of Jesus’ presence and power requires that we daily—sometimes hourly, sometimes by the minute—continue to declare our dependence on God, and to plead with God. Thus Calvin gave us these words to pray:
Almighty God and Father, grant unto us, because we have to go through much strife on this earth, the strength of thy Holy Spirit, in order that we may courageously go through the fire, and through the water, and that we may put ourselves so under thy rule that we may go to meet death in full confidence of thy assistance and without fear. . . . Amen.FOR DISCUSSION:
- Describe a time or times when you’ve “felt down on yourself” like Cooper’s former student did. What helped you through that struggle?
- Remind each other who the Holy Spirit is. What does Scripture teach about the Spirit?
- Cooper summarizes Calvin’s view that the Holy Spirit isn’t just a “junior partner” in the holy trinity. What important work does the Holy Spirit do? How does that affect our lives?
- How does the Holy Spirit “weld us to Jesus”? What difference does that make in our lives?
- So if, by the Holy Spirit’s work we have Jesus living in us, then are we still “totally depraved”? (Hint: check out Q&A 8 of the Heidelberg Catechism)