Belief in God

By the water and the blood and the fire

What is Declared Concerning Christ Rendered to Us by the Secret Operation of the Spirit

by John Calvin (abridged)1,2

1. What Christ has received from His Father is nothing to us, till we are united to Him. Though it is true that we obtain this by faith, we see that the communication of Christ, offered in the Gospel, is not embraced by all. This leads us to inquire into the secret energy of the Holy Spirit, by which we are introduced to the enjoyment of Christ and all His benefits.

In 1 John 5:6,

This is He that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that bears witness, because the Spirit is truth. (KJVER)

it is declared that Christ came by water and blood that the Spirit may testify concerning Him. It is the Spirit that seals the ablution [cleansing] and sacrifice of Christ. For which reason Peter also says, that believers are “elect . . . through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:2). This passage suggests to us, that our souls are purified by the secret ablution of the Spirit, that the effusion of that sacred blood may not be in vain. For the same reason also Paul, when speaking of purification and justification, says, we enjoy both “in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). The sum of all is this—that the Holy Spirit is the bond by which Christ efficaciously unites us to Himself.

2. For a further confirmation of this point, we must remember that Christ was endued with the Holy Spirit in a peculiar manner, and the Spirit is called “the spirit of holiness” (Romans 1:4), because He is the seed and root of a heavenly life within us.

Now the prophets prophesied that there would be coming a more exuberant effusion of the Spirit upon all flesh. The most remarkable passage is that of Joel: “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh . . . in those days” (Joel 2:28, 29). Here, though the prophet seems to restrict the gifts of the Spirit to the exercise of the prophetic function, yet he signifies, in a figurative way, that God, by the illumination of His Spirit, will make those His disciples, who before were total strangers to the heavenly doctrine.

The Spirit is sometimes called the Spirit of the Father, and sometimes the Spirit of the Son.

Ye [says Paul] are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Romans 8:9).

It must also be remarked that He is called the Spirit of Christ, not only because the eternal Word of God is united with the same Spirit as the Father, but also with respect to His character of Mediator. For, if he had not been endued with this power, His advent to us would have been altogether in vain. In which sense He is called “the second man [Adam] . . . the Lord from heaven,” “a quickening spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:47, 45). Thus in the Apostolic benediction is pronounced, not only “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God,” but also “the communion of the Holy Ghost” (2 Corinthians 13:14). As he says in another place, “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:5).

3. And here it is proper to notice the titles by which the Scripture distinguishes the Spirit, where it treats of the commencement, progress and completion of our salvation: First, he is called the “Spirit of adoption” (Rom 8:15), because He witnesses to us the gratuitous benevolence of God, with which God the Father has embraced us in His only begotten Son, that He might be a father to us; and animates us to pray “Abba, Father.” For the same reason, He is said to be “the earnest” and “seal” of our inheritance, making us certain of our salvation (2 Corinthians 1:22, Ephesians 1:13, 14).

In whom you also trusted, after that you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that you believed, you were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, 14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:13, 14 KJVER)

Whence He is said to be “life because of righteousness” (Romans 8:10); since, by His secret showers, He makes us fertile in producing fruits of righteousness. The Spirit is frequently called “water,” as Isaiah says, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters” (Isaiah 55:1). Again Isaiah 44:3, “I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground.” To which corresponds Christ’s invitation, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me” (John 7:37; 4:14).

In Ezekiel, the cleansing energy of the Spirit is stressed, where the Lord promises to “sprinkle clean water” on His people to “cleanse” them from their impurities (Ezekiel 36:25). He is “unction” because He restores to life those whom He has anointed with the oil of His grace (1 John 2:20). He is called “fire” (Luke 3:16), because He burns up the vices of our concupiscence [selfish human desire], and inflames our hearts with the love of God. He is described as “fountain,” whence we receive all the emanations of heavenly riches; and as the “hand of God,” by which He exerts His power, directing us to do good. It has been clearly stated, that till our minds are fixed on the Spirit, Christ remains of no value to us. We know also that He benefits none but those who have Him for their “head” (Ephesians 4:15) and “firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29), and who have “put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). This union alone, as also in sacred marriage, renders His advent in the character of a Saviour available to us. But it is only by His Spirit that He unites Himself with us.

4. But faith, being His principal work, is the object principally referred to in the most frequent expressions of His power and operation. Faith is the only medium by which He leads us into the light of the Gospel (John 1:12, 13). Faith is the supernatural gift of the Spirit to the otherwise unbelieving. Faith proceeds only from the Spirit as Paul tells the Thessalonians, that “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).

Therefore Christ promised to send to His disciples, “the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive” (John 14:17). He ascribes to the Spirit the office of suggesting to their minds all the oral instructions which he had given them. It is by the Spirit’s illumination that our mental eyes are able to behold Him. The ministry of the Spirit is also highly commended by Paul (2 Corinthians 3:6).

As we have stated, complete salvation is found in the person of Christ. To make us partakers of this salvation, Christ “baptise[s]” us “with the Holy Ghost and with fire” (Luke 3:16), enlightening us unto the faith of the Gospel, regenerating us so that we become new creatures, and purging us from profane impurities, consecrates us as holy temples to God.

References and Notes

  1. An Abridgement of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion: Book I-IV, Editor: Timothy Tow, Far Eastern Bible College Press, Singapore, pp. 201-203, 1997.
  2. My emphases added in addition to some Scriptures written out explicitly. KJV unless otherwise stated.

Additional Reading

By John Gideon Hartnett

Dr John G. Hartnett is an Australian physicist and cosmologist, and a Christian with a biblical creationist worldview. He received a B.Sc. (Hons) and Ph.D. (with distinction) in Physics from The University of Western Australia, W.A., Australia. He was an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award (DORA) fellow at the University of Adelaide, with rank of Associate Professor. Now he is retired. He has published more than 200 papers in scientific journals, book chapters and conference proceedings.