A Pamphlet on the Reformation of the Church

(The following paragraph is the concluding paragraph of Chapter 1 in which Kuyper deals with general principles of church reformation. In particular, he has been talking in previous paragraphs concerning the nature of the offices in the Church of Christ. In this paragraph he discusses the work of the Holy Spirit in the office.)

12. In What Way the Holy Spirit Binds Together the Earthly Office With the Heavenly Messiah-Office of King Jesus

The ascension of Jesus to heaven is an actual historical fact which must be recognized in all its significance. The ascension must not, therefore, be interpreted as if Jesus was still really on earth after His ascension. No, He is now in heaven and remains there until the day of the renewal of all things. He is indeed with His own people in the operations of His grace, majesty, and Spirit, but He is not with them personally. Even in the holy sacrament of the Lord’s Supper Jesus does not descend to His elect, but pulls their souls up to feed them not on earth but in heaven with His true body and to give them to drink with His blood. In particular, over against the teaching of the Lutheran brethren, the purer Reformed teachers such as Calvin have always definitely maintained concerning this point the “in coelum subvecta” of the redeemed soul, i.e., that the soul of the elect is taken up into heaven by the holy sacrament of communion and is thus fed by Emmanuel. 

Jesus once came to earth: but this mission has now been replaced by another, the mission of the Holy Spirit; and a mission of the Son shall not again take place until the newest day. Then Christ will not come in mercy, but to judge the living and the dead. 

In this interim, therefore, the church must seek her Head above and “must seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.” Now, however, because the church still tarries on earth and must manifest herself on earth, the question arises in what way the bond is established which binds the ecclesiastical office on earth with the Messiah-office of King Jesus. The answer to that question is: this bond is established by the Holy Spirit. The person of the Holy Spirit is now the one sent Who works on earth and Who is thus not only in Christ as our Head, but in like manner in us as His members. In this way He binds Head and church together. First the Son was sent as our Comforter. But, now He is gone away and another Comforter is come in Whom we have more than the disciples had because the person of the Mediator stood outside their persons. But now the person of the Holy Spirit enters into our persons. “Know ye not that your bodies are temples of the holy spirit, who is in you, whom ye have from God?” “It is for your benefit that I go away because if I do not go away, the comforter cannot come.”

This operation of the Holy Spirit is now two-fold: an operation in man and an operation through man. 

It is an operation in man because the person of the Holy Spirit penetrates the elect, calls and persuades him internally, brings his will into subjection, and declares him innocent and righteous before the judgment of the seat of the conscience. Further, He regenerates and sanctifies him, prays in him with unutterable groanings, enlightens and comforts him, redeems and makes him free. 

But it is also an operation through man because it has pleased God to bind the person of the Holy Spirit in all His work to the word which He Himself has given. And it is exactly because of this that the person of the Holy Spirit is the One Who really seals the office. In and through that office He, in the first place, works to sanctify persons for the office. Secondly, in His own time, He internally draws them to that office. Thirdly, He qualifies, through, for, and in that office. Fourthly, by the exercise of this office, He makes the office fruitful. 

Actually both operations of the person of the Holy Spirit belong together. To work internally in the man the Holy Spirit makes use of the human office through which He works. And on the other hand, to be able to perform a work through the human office the Holy Spirit accompanies the external work with His personal work in and on the soul.

Yet we have not fully described this glorious operation of the Holy Spirit with these words. The operation of the person of the Holy Spirit proceeds not only to the individual members but also in those members to the whole body. Hence He “apportions the gift to each as He wills” and impels God’s elect to seek the fellowship of the saints in order that “they may have their gifts mutually and apply them to the greatest benefit of the other members.” The church is not for the office, but the office for the church. As Israel was itself originally called to send from all her tribes priests for the sanctuary of the Lord, and as later only Levi’s tribe was separated for the service because of Israel’s sin, thus it is also with the separate office in the church. Properly, the work of Christ ought to be able to proceed directly through and in all believers. And it is only because of sin and an account of our sinful limitation that now that which ought to rest on all is limited to a small segment of the church which holds the office. Hence, through this special office, the office of all believers becomes a wider foundation of the special office. Hence also the Holy Spirit triumphs continuously over sin by causing this office of all believers to manifest itself. It manifests itself not only in families, but also in the church, so that when the special office decays and degenerates, the office of believers powerfully revives again. The particular office is and remains necessarily the essential force. But the office of all believers, as it shall some day radiate in heaven, is the only high, holy, and glorious ideal which streams from the Messiah-office in the heart of Christ’s own. 

There is still more. Just as the person of the Holy Spirit manifests Himself not only in each believer, but also in the fellowship of the saints through the office of all believers, so also the person of the Holy Spirit works not only in each one who holds the special office, but He works in the official gatherings of the officebearers of King Jesus. As frequently as the royal officebearers of King Jesus come together in official gathering, more is present than the sum of the individuals. A gathering of Jesus’ royal officebearers, provided that they come together officially, represents the power of Christ over His whole church whether it be a gathering of the officebearers of a local church over that local church, or whether it be a gathering of the royal officebearers of more churches over those churches in common. And finally, the power of Christ is represented in a convocation of officebearers of all the churches from one land over that national church, or of the churches of many lands over the whole visible church on earth. In all these convocations, gatherings, or councils, whether one calls them consistories, classes, synods, or councils, the organic unity of the body heightens the significance of each individual officebearer. And it is exactly in this organic union of many that the person of the Holy Spirit can reveal better and more powerfully than in the limitation of the individual the majesty of his divine, infinite, irresistible operation. Therefore, such a gathering of officebearers, where the word of the Lord only has power and where Christ presides in the president through His Holy Spirit, stands above every particular conference, council, or group of believers in spiritual authority. 

The key of wisdom for these official gatherings lies in the opening words of the decree of the Jerusalem Synod: “‘It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” 

The expression of a gathering must never, after the passing away of the apostolate, be identified with the utterance of the Holy Spirit. Rome fell into error by taking this position. There always remains a yawning chasm between the infallible word of the Spirit and the fallible word of man. But also through this fallible word of man the person of the Holy Spirit carries the church on earth forward and leads it into all truth. The calling of the Holy Spirit is that which glorifies the Father and the Son. Therefore the Holy Spirit is the witness in the word of prophets and apostles and comes to us as witness in the written word. But that word must not only be read and echoed; it must be taken up by the church, continuously brought from the obscure to clearer consciousness, and thus be transmitted to the church of all ages for their independent proclamation of the virtues of Him who has called the church out of darkness into His marvelous light. And now the person of the Holy Spirit works in the formulation of dogma. I.e., the Holy Spirit formulates as clearly as possible before the consciousness of the church that truth which is brought to us by the word concerning the eternal counsel of God. Such a dogma sinks deep roots in the heart of the churches because the person of the Holy Spirit prepares it in the hearts of the believers through the struggle between the truth and the lie, and deeper still through the struggle with sin itself. Secondly, the Holy Spirit raises up heretics so that the form of the lie which is suppressed in the hearts of the believers is made to gallop away in full armor against the welfare of the church. This has the purpose of compelling the church and her teachers to exert herself spiritually in order that in the sweat of that spiritual labor the life-giving food of the church may be produced. The result is that the gathering of Jesus’ royal officebearers, in whom the word of the Lord has power and Jesus Himself presides in the Holy Spirit, harvests this labor of the men present and thus the word finds the form in which the truth of God is confessed. 

When that confession is brought out, be it but in a still fallible form and always subject to appeal to the word, this official work now returns to the congregation of believers upon whose lips is now laid this discovered confession. 

Thus the church receives that confession not as the fruit of the thought of learned thinkers but as precious jewels gloriously prepared for her by the Holy Spirit in the soul-struggle of believers and in the frightening needs of the church. She finds in her confession a piece of her own life. She cherishes that confession as a costly document by which her triumph over: heresy and error is recognized, thanks to the Spirit’s operation. He approaches that confession as the only comfort which leads her safely to the true meaning of the word through the thicket of many interpretations of that word. She desires to see that confession more precise, more correct, more pure. But she never permits one part of this beautiful organism to be mutilated or much less cut out. And without ever or in any way bringing that confession to a level with the unique Word of God, she nevertheless maintains her conviction in the power of the Lord God that as long as no purer confession is found, her confession is the simplest and yet most complete prepared expression of the glorious truth which God has revealed to us.