Word vs. Spirit? Calvin’s Institutes 1.9

Many today would say they are spiritual but have nothing to do with God’s word.

“Those who, rejecting Scripture, imagine that they have some peculiar way of penetrating to God, are to be deemed not so much under the influence of error as madness.”

Calvin pulls no punches. He makes the point that to call oneself spiritual without any reference to God or his word is crazy, because what spirit is guiding them? Some may feel they are being more open and generous to say they are spiritual apart from the Bible, but what spirit are they opening themselves up to?

Christians are tempted by this as well. We may stray from the written word and think that experiences of the Spirit are paramount.

“But they say that it is insulting to subject the Spirit, to whom all things are to be subject, to the Scripture: as if it were disgraceful to the Holy Spirit to maintain a perfect resemblance throughout, and be in all respects without variation consistent with himself.”

John 16:13 says that the Spirit never speaks of himself. The doctrine of the Trinity describes a three-in-one God who is perfectly harmonious within himself. Why then do we long for a spirit that is unconstrained and free, without borders? The Holy Spirit, because he is part of the godhead must act in accordance with God’s nature, and therefore, with God’s word.

The Spirit and the word go together. The Spirit is not superior to the word. He administers and confirms the word.

“God did not produce his word before men for the sake of sudden display, intending to abolish it the moment the Spirit should arrive; but he employed the same Spirit, by whose agency he had administered the word, to complete his work by the efficacious confirmation of the word.”

Calvin warns at the end of the chapter of fastening onto random notions of our own minds.

“…the word is the instrument by which the illumination of the Spirit is dispensed.”

He says we are daily invited to experience the Spirit through the hearing and reading of the word. The Spirit administers and confirms and enlivens the word.

To put the Spirit at odds with the word or to seek him apart from the word is not to seek the true Spirit at all.

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