The Word, the Spirit, and Moving the Will to Believe


  When God entered the covenant with Abram (Gen. 12:1-3), God Himself promised to accomplish the content of His declaration contained in the future, “I will.” “I will” as the manifestation of God’s good pleasure (eudokia) manifests itself in history by the exercise of the gifts of faith and repentance; elements reciprocated to the object of that faith, Jesus Christ. Together, God’s will and its redemptive derivatives reflect the foreknowledge and predestination of God’s sovereign choice to save the elect, guaranteeing the fulfillment of His covenant to Abram.

            By God’s design, all those who are elect exercise a God-given faith derived from the revelation of God’s Word, the reasonability of Scriptural claims and the Holy Spirit moving the will to desire salvation. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God, (Romans 10:13). Scripture is therefore the central objective, historical element toward accomplishing God’s pre-creation decree to elect some of all those who are dead in trespasses and sins, Eph. 2:1. God’s covenant of election, the Holy Spirit and Scripture combine to secure the eschatological consummation of redemptive history.

        By God’s grace before and after conversion, those who are elect are irresistibly impelled by the Holy Spirit through the testimony of Scripture to intellectual concurrence as to the trustworthiness of Scripture’s subject and object, Jesus Christ, and the assent to believe the truth claims of God. This is the supernatural work of regeneration performed by the Holy Spirit whereby old things are passed away and … all things are become new, (2 Cor. 5:17). In this soteriological manner God, by grace, drives redemptive history to the certain end of eschatological consummation. How then does the Scripture participate in this driving or impelling force in the lives of those God chooses?

            The Scripture as God’s covenant was given by divine inspiration as the rational, empirical revelation of God to mankind through which the Holy Spirit would act judicially at the instruction of the Son. As such, the covenant is also a legal indictment against the sins of mankind and the mandate for escape from the sentence of eternal damnation. Mankind did not ask for this record, nor does it appreciate its revealing light. Being found guilty of the basest and most depraved sort of sin, living moment by moment under the constant fear of death and judgment, and being personally responsible and accountable to God Almighty, like Adam, the unregenerate hurry to conceal themselves from the impending doom which awaits them. From the fundamental truth of man’s total depravity, it may be properly argued that Scripture, to be efficacious in its results, has been imposed upon mankind and that in this imposition mankind, through the Spirit of God, has been impelled to obey the Scripture’s teachings. We read in Hebrews 4:12, For the word of God is quick and powerful, sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing to the diving asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

            According to this passage, the word of God is living, zwh and powerful, energhV. Philip Hughes comments,

It is no dead letter, no utterance lost as soon as it was spoken in an unresponding void. As the word of the living God it cannot fail itself to be living. And as God is the God who acts with power, his word cannot fail to be active and powerful. Its effectiveness derives from its source, which is God himself, and from its purpose, which is the will of God; and neither God nor his will is ever subject to frustration or defeat. God’s word, says Lefevre d’Etaples, “is not a transient and evanescent word which when uttered is immediately diffused through the air and perishes, but it is a permanent word, not carried off, not dispersed, not diffused, but sustaining and binding together all things.” Hughes, Hebrews, p. 164.

            The Word “has of its own power thus prevailed” over the incessant attacks of the world to destroy it, according to Calvin. Calvin, Institutes, 1.8.12. This has made it customary to seek the proper principium immediately in the Holy Scriptures–principium cognoscendi materiale. As such, the principium is a living agent. God is never a passive phenomenon but drives men with and through Scripture to “see His glory.” Kuyper, Principles, p. 347.

            Deuteronomy 28:2, reads, And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou wilt harken unto the voice of the Lord thy God. “Overtake” nasag (reach, take hold upon) occurs only in the hiphil stem, often occurring as a complement to radap “pursue.” Commenting on the opening verse of Deuteronomy 28, one writer has noticed,

The condition sine qua non of all enjoyment of the Divine bounty was obedience on the part of the people of the word and Law of Jehovah their God. This rendered, the blessing would come on them rich and full, and abide with them…. The blessings about to be specified are represented as personified, as actual agencies coming upon their objects and following them along their path. W. L. Alexander, Pulpit Commentary vol. 6, p. 428.

            Scripture prevails, moves, impels, drives, and overtakes. The written word of God is living in a redemptive sense. Each of these descriptive words deal with the Scripture as a canon of truth, which has its own “external” life, outside and apart from the ecclesiastical community. The word of God “lives” because the product of the unique process of giving inspired Scripture is itself inspired.

            One example of God’s living call in the principium is found in the Canons of Dort (1618-1619). Under the heading, “The Perseverance of the Saints,” Article 7 reads, “And again, by His word and Spirit He certainly and effectually renews them to repentance.” The key words are “certainly and effectually.” God’s Word and Spirit impel the believer to repent of his sins, the necessary complement of God’s elective grace. This impelling is God’s action in believers’ lives corresponding to His keeping power.

            The principium cognoscendi externum is cognitive foundation of the believer’s knowledge of God. According to Muller, the principium cognoscendi materiale, is the written Word which impels the principium cognoscendi internum, “the internal principle of faith which knows the external Word and answers its call.” Muller, Dictionary, p. 246. The interaction between the believer’s knowledge of the written Word and the power it has in conjunction with the Holy Spirit is the basis for the self-attesting, self-authenticating nature (autopiston) of Scripture. Calvin writes,

Let this point therefore stand: that those whom the Holy Spirit has inwardly taught truly rest upon Scripture and that Scripture indeed is self-authenticated; hence, it is not right to subject it to proof and reasoning. And the certainty it deserves with us, it attains by the testimony of the Spirit. For even if it wins reverence for itself by its own majesty, it seriously affects us only when it is sealed upon our heart through the Spirit. Therefore, illumined by his power, we believe neither by our own or by anyone else’s judgment that Scripture is from God. Calvin, Institutes, 1.8.5.

            Presupposing the insurmountable subjectivity of the human mind to confuse the interaction between the Spirit, Word and believer, there is a persistent tendency to resist the objective components of this process. To deny the objective results, i.e., Scripture is true; Moses Crossed the Red Sea; Jesus rose bodily from the grave, of this subjective interaction is to close one’s eyes to the historical, observable continuity of biblical faith and doctrine. The dual driving force of Spirit and Word impel the true believer to a historically congruent common set of beliefs and practices. The fact that the believing community exists as the “Body” and “Bride” of Christ is sufficient to show the objectivity of this interaction.

This is not to say, however that objective adherence to the Spirit and Word will always result from reading the Bible. While the Holy Spirit is convicting the world of sin, the noetic effects of the Fall upon one’s ability to comprehend what they have been shown, leads them to a subjective, autonomous turning from the truth to idolatry. Furthermore, simply because one knows what they should do, does in no wise mean that they shall do it.

        Arguments and data can be presented from the Scripture that will lead an individual to think differently about something because of the new information. Learning is the obvious representation of this external influence. But assent or reasonable acceptance of the truth content of Scripture, no matter how logical, is insufficient to produce faith. Romans 1:18ff is the principal passage which delineates mankind’s comprehension of the truth, or that he knows what he should do but has no desire to do it.

        This leads us to considering the element of passion or desire. The will cannot be moved externally. The will either moves itself driven by passion or God Himself moves the will. No one can move another’s will. The adage, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” contains the sense. The simple presentation of this discussion is insufficient to move the reader’s will because it simply cannot. However, if the argument is biblically sound, grounds exist for the Holy Spirit to move the will to obedience in light of the new information. Not to follow the Spirit’s leading in the latter case, as orthodox believers, would be called sin.

        From this brief exchange we gather that negatively, the subjectivity of the covenantal interaction can be prohibited by resistance to the Spirit’s leading. Positively, when the Spirit moves one’s will according to the reason of God’s mind revealed in the Word, or, in other words, imparting faith subjectively exercised, this faith in the truth of Scripture bridges the perceived chasm between subject and object. The Scripture and Spirit testify to their own truth and perfection. The believer is illuminated to this power by none other than God the Holy Spirit to accept the testimony of the Word giving the believer certainty of Scripture’s truth content. Calvin expresses it this way,

the testimony of the Spirit is more excellent than all reason. For God alone is a fit witness to himself in the Word, so also the Word will not find acceptance in men’s hearts before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit” Calvin, Institutes, 1.7.4 and again, “Let us, then, know that the only true faith is that which the Spirit of God seals in our hearts.” Calvin, Institutes, 1.8.3.

The Spirit and Word move the subject to the objectivity and certainty of the Spirit’s witness and the Word’s revelation. This does not happen to all, but it does happen in the life of every covenant keeper.

Published by Dr. Peter Van Kleeck, Sr.

Dr. Peter William Van Kleeck, Sr. : B.A., Grand Rapids Baptist College, 1986; M.A.R., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1990; Th.M., Calvin Theological Seminary, 1998; D. Min, Bob Jones University, 2013. Dr. Van Kleeck was formerly the Director of the Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, Grand Rapids, MI, (1990-1994) lecturing, researching and writing in the defense of the Masoretic Hebrew text, Greek Received Text and King James Bible. His published works include, "Fundamentalism’s Folly?: A Bible Version Debate Case Study" (Grand Rapids: Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, 1998); “We have seen the future and we are not in it,” Trinity Review, (Mar. 99); “Andrew Willet (1562-1621: Reformed Interpretation of Scripture,” The Banner of Truth, (Mar. 99); "A Primer for the Public Preaching of the Song of Songs" (Outskirts Press, 2015). Dr. Van Kleeck is the pastor of the Providence Baptist Church in Manassas, VA where he has ministered for the past twenty-one years. He is married to his wife of 43 years, Annette, and has three married sons, one daughter and eighteen grandchildren.

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