Week 20 of 50 in the Institutes: The Holy Spirit of Promise

Those who are up to date with the reading assignments are in for a real treat tomorrow! Calvin provides us with a jewel of exegetical insight in 3.2.36 with regard to understanding the phrase, “the Holy Spirit of promise”, found in Ephesians 1:13 (“In him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation – having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise – NASB)

I am currently teaching through Ephesians in Sunday school, and I regrettably missed Calvin’s insights when we covered that passage last year.  Consider Calvin’s treatment in 3.2.36 (Beveridge’s translation, emphasis added), wherein he shows that faith is a matter of the heart:

The next thing necessary is, that what the mind has imbibed be transferred into the heart. The word is not received in faith when it merely flutters in the brain, but when it has taken deep root in the heart, and become an invincible bulwark to withstand and repel all the assaults of temptation. But if the illumination of the Spirit is the true source of understanding in the intellect, much more manifest is his agency in the confirmation of the heart; inasmuch as there is more distrust in the heart than blindness in the mind; and it is more difficult to inspire the soul with security than to imbue it with knowledge. Hence the Spirit performs the part of a seal, sealing upon our hearts the very promises, the certainty of which was previously impressed upon our minds. It also serves as an earnest in establishing and confirming these promises. Thus the Apostle says, “In whom also, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance,” (Eph. 1:13, 14). You see how he teaches that the hearts of believers are stamped with the Spirit as with a seal, and calls it the Spirit of promise, because it ratifies the gospel to us. In like manner he says to the Corinthians, “God has also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts,” (2 Cor. 1:22). And again, when speaking of a full and confident hope, he founds it on the “earnest of the Spirit,” (2 Cor. 5:5).

None of my commentaries picked up on any association of sealing having anything to do with the promises.  The closest anyone in my collection came was Peter O’Brien (The Pillar New Testament Commentary, The Letter to the Ephesians), in that he pointed out that “the believing and being sealed were two sides of one event” (p. 119).  But to equate the Spirit communicating and applying the gospel to believers personally at conversion with the essence of the seal itself is profound, and a perfect example of why Calvin’s works are still consulted for his insights both as a theologian and a commentator.

In his Commentary on Ephesians 1:13, Calvin emphasized the efficacious work of the Spirit in convincing men of the truth of the gospel (emphasis added):

Our minds never become so firmly established in the truth of God as to resist all the temptations of Satan, until we have been confirmed in it by the Holy Spirit. The true conviction which believers have of the word of God, of their own salvation, and of religion in general, does not spring from the judgment of the flesh, or from human and philosophical arguments, but from the sealing of the Spirit, who imparts to their consciences such certainty as to remove all doubt. The foundation of faith would be frail and unsteady, if it rested on human wisdom; and therefore, as preaching is the instrument of faith, so the Holy Spirit makes preaching efficacious.

This work of the Spirit in affirming the truth of the gospel on the hearts of believers is such that even those who admit to a lack of assurance will not trade what little hope they have for anything in the wide world.  Such confidence, albeit weak at times, stems from the work of the Holy Spirit of promise upon the heart, sealing a sense of forgiveness in a mysterious yet indefatigable way which manifests itself in a cry of “Abba! Father!” in times of need (Rom. 8:15). And this is because, deep down, the Spirit bears witness with the believer’s spirit that he is a child of God.  What’s more, the work of the Spirit in applying the promises personally to the heart only begins at conversion, and ceases only when we reach the Celestial City where faith ends in sight.  Glory be to Him!

Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes:

May 18:  3.2.32 – 3.2.37

May 19:  3.2.38 – 3.2.42

May 20:  3.2.43 – 3.3.4

May 21:  3.3.5 – 3.3.10

May 22:  3.3.11 – 3.3.15

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