The Conjoining of the Spirit with Word and Sacrament
How is faith formed is us and how are we to nourish and continue that faith which the Holy Spirit effectually created in us?
The child who is conceived by his parents must also be nourished by them with food and then brought up in discipline lest his physical and mental growth be stunted. Likewise the faith which the Holy Spirit initially formed in us must also be nourished. Unless the life once quickened in us by the Holy Spirit is daily nourished by the means appointed by God, faith will wither and struggle, and not bear healthy fruit.
And just what are the appointed means God has given? The Word and the Sacraments. (1) The Preaching of the Word. We nourish the faith the Spirit begat in us first by assembling together with other Christians to hear the word of God preached to us. This is the ordinary means the Lord works faith in us, a means which He has promised to bless and bind Himself to. (2) The Administering and Receiving of the Sacraments which Jesus commanded us to partake of "till He come". The greater the frequency of being united to Christ through the sacrament of the Lord's Table the more our faith will receive nourishment. We should make it a habit to often come together, as did disciples, who "continued in the Apostles doctrine and fellowship and the breaking of bread and prayers" (Acts 2:42). This is the means they used to nourish and augment their faith that Christ had begun in them (Phil 1:6, 1:29).
We must always hold before us the truth, however, that hearing the word and receiving the sacraments are not by themselves able to engender and nourish our faith, apart from the working of the Holy Spirit who conjoins Himself with their ministry. The Holy Spirit sovereignly determines when He will use these means in more and less extraordinary ways to nourish us by uniting us to the Savior. The Word and the sacraments exhibit Christ to us who is the very life of our soul. By uniting us to the person and work of Christ through the preaching of the Word and the Sacraments, the Spirit creates and begets faith as well as nourishes our faith. The Sacraments being a visible presentation of the gospel and a means of sanctification. In other words the Word and Sacrament must be conjoined by the Holy Spirit in order to be effectual in our new birth and in our nourishment after the begetting of this new life. Thus we should earnestly pray that the Spirit bring light to our minds and hearts that we might find our life in Christ more meaningful and thus more fully understand His intent toward us in the Holy Scripture.
But if we wish to fully glorify God we need to better understand how it is that the Holy Spirit operates in the minds and hearts of those He sanctifies to Himself?
Consider how the Lord recovered us, recreated us and then set us free from the bondage we had in Adam. It is there, in Adam, that we must understand that we were damaged beyond recovery. Our redemption in Christ is not merely an improvement of our nature but a recreation of a new man, a new birth from above. The old cannot be improved upon and thus the natural man's condition is one of complete desperation and deadness to the things of the Spirit. That is because he/she does not have the Spirit. God, because He is holy, has called/commanded all persons to believe and obey the gospel ... commands which are both beyond the moral capacity of natural man. While Jesus calls us to come to Him, He also just as emphatically affirms that "no one will come to Him." (John 6:65). We regard as the uppermost in importance that these two equal truths be held in proper tension, lest we misapprehend the the whole counsel of Scripture. What man ought to do (believe) does not equal his moral ability to do so (Rom 3:19, 20). Just as water does not rise above its source, so the natural man does not and will not apprehend spiritual things. The Holy Spirit is necessary to apprehend spiritual things, apart from whom we are lost forever. Only God can save us out of our bondage to sin and this process God began when the Trinity took counsel with themselves in eternity (Eph 1:3, 9). It is there in the eternal Triune council that God sovereignly elected in Christ a particular people for Himself out those lost in Adam from every tribe, nation, people and language, whom He was to redeem by purchasing them with His blood ( Rev 1:5, 5:9). Although we deserved to suffer His just wrath for our rebellion it pleased Him to extend His infinite mercy by appointing His Son to take on our flesh, fulfil the law and endure the wrath on our behalf thus bringing about our eternal redemption. But in coming to us He did not intend simply to repair what is broken in our nature, but to recreate us in Him with an entirely new nature and disposition. This Divine blueprint did not itself save us but was His plan in eternity which would take on flesh in Christ who would accomplish our redemption in history.
Although salvation is brought about in our Savior Jesus Christ, He illumines our understanding by the Spirit opening our mind to His Word. His death purchases the redemption of His people but only brings it to our knowledge by an inward call and recreation of our nature so our hearts and minds would grasp that which could not be naturally understood by our corrupted unspiritual nature. While Jesus commands his disciples to outwardly herald the gospel of His redemption to us, it is the Holy Spirit applying that work and uniting us to Him that we are able to reach out in faith to Him. Our hearts must be replaced that we might apprehend spiritual truth and see Christ's beauty and excellency. It is the Spirit who works the love of the truth and faith in the Savior in our souls. The Savior would be out of our natural reach if the means were not given us to apprehend Him. A man dead to spiritual things (Eph 2) cannot reach to take the tonic necessary unless first quickened/raised to life to appropriate it. The preaching of the gospel may make an outward impression on the natural mind and may be understood, but only with hostility, apart from the Spirit who unites us to Christ. His cross purchased justification and new life for us and gifts us with the spiritual capacity to apply the work to our soul through faith, for only now, by the renewing of Holy Spirit, do we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16). We cannot believe what is not understood. But we have received the Spirit "that we might understand the things freely given by God [the gospel]" (1 Cor 2:12). The corrupt nature itself cannot understand spiritual things so will not embrace the gospel (1 Cor 2:14). We are commanded to apply Christ to ourselves and the means of doing this is faith which is itself given to us as a gift as part of the essence of our new spiritual nature. In regeneration and faith in the gospel we are conjoined by the Holy Spirit to Christ. Without faith it is impossible to please God and all our good works are worth less than nothing without it.
But how is it that faith created in our souls? The gospel says "no one can come to Christ unless God grants it (John 6:65). Unless we are given new eyes, new ears and a new heart it is not possible to have faith in the Son. Remember we are not merely sick but dead in sin and are void of the Holy Spirit before salvation. Since the Spirit is absent we, therefore, have no spiritual life in our souls. The river of life must pour down from heaven if we are to reach up to heaven. Only as the Spirit of God quickens our hearts and minds are we drawn to Him. and as John 6:37 affirms, ALL whom God draws to Christ will believe to everlasting life. The Spirit gives life, the flesh counts for nothing (John 6:63). Likewise, unless the Spirit continues to nourish the life begat in us we would not continue in Him.
Prior to our conversion our mind is shrouded in a dark mist, blind by nature and full of vain affections for idols. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit then to bring order to our chaotic minds and illumine our darkened hearts. He gives us new eyes, streams in light banishing all darkness and blindness that were ours by nature. The outward preaching of the Word will not remove the blindness of an unspiritual man of itself just as light itself will not help a blind man to see. The heavenly light which has is origin in Christ alone, and not in us, must be communicated to us by the Spirit by conjoining Himself with the Word of God and applying to our newly regenerated souls. Only when the Spirit conjoins Himself with the gospel and quickens our heart will dead be raised to life. The preacher casts forth the seed of the gospel but it will fall on fallow ground unless the Spirit of God first plows it up and germinate the seed with His heavenly showers. When our minds are renewed and illumined he opens our spiritual eyes to see the excellency of Christ. An unspiritual man does not have spiritual eyes. Just prior to the quickening of the Spirit, the heart is hardened like stone and the mind is willfully blind because of its natural hostility to God. Heart and mind conspire against God in order to protect the idol which controls his affection. It jealously guards its idol with its life. The heart sets up this idol in the most high place of its soul in the place of God. But Christ will not let His own be captive and lost forever, so He comes and expels the dark clouds of our natural understanding, unbinds the sin which captivates us, disarms our hostility. He transfers us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of Light. As the darkness is removed, our love for our vain idols turns to distaste for them and He creates new desires for Christ in us for the fist time. Faith occurs then not as a result of the preaching of the word only but as the Spirit and power of God bring the truth of it to light (1 Thess 1:4, 5). To banish the idols from the affections of the unregenerate heart is not something that can happen naturally but is a supernatural event where the Spirit works faith in us. Our affections are not merely to be changed, for the natural person's affections are darkened by nature, so the Spirit must change the source of our heart from evil to good, from a polluted spring to a spring of fresh water welling up to eternal life. The natural heart only bubbles up with vile filth because that is what it is by nature. To make it good that it might love Christ, the source and ground of the heart must also be good. That is why Jesus says, that which is Spirit is spirit and that which is flesh is flesh (John 3:6). The Spirit must unite us to Christ that we may have the thoughts of Christ and have living waters bubble over in us.
To beget new life and faith in our soul the Spirit conjoins Himself to our ears in the preaching of the Word and to our eyes in the ministry of the Sacraments. He uses these instruments to create faith in us, but they have no power apart from His ministry. Since the heart is dead to spiritual things, preaching is ineffectual until the Spirit concurrently works in our stony hearts to turn it to flesh and opens our uncircumcised ears that we might hear. According to the Gospel, the Spirit must grant faith. He does not do this in a void but uses means. Thus we should learn from this and pray continually that the Spirit open the blind eyes of unbelievers. It is a mistake to merely preach the word and not follow with prayer because their faith is completely dependent on the work of the Spirit. Therefore call upon the Lord not only for unbelievers but also for the augmentation of our own faith as we gather in worship to hear the proclamation of the gospel and partake of the Sacraments. Our spiritual nourishment comes from the conjoining of Word and Spirit so be diligent to continually seek God using these means and by praying that the Spirit would warm our cold dull hearts to delight in the things presented in the Word.
John W. Hendryx