Source: Wat het geloof verwacht (De Vuurbaak), 1998. 7 pages. Translated by Wim Kanis.

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 20 - The Holy Spirit

Question 53: What do you believe concerning 
the Holy Spirit?

Answer 53: First,
                        he is, together with the Father and the Son,
                        true and eternal God.
                        he is also given to me,
                        to make me by true faith
                        share in Christ and all his benefits,
                        to comfort me,
                        and to remain with me forever.

I believe in the Holy Spirit.

It could not be any shorter. When the Twelve Articles spoke of God the Father, they added that he is the Almighty and Creator of heaven and earth. The Creed was even more elaborate when it spoke about the Son. But nothing further is said about the Holy Spirit…

Immediately after this, the Apostolicum speaks of the church, forgiveness, resurrection, and eternal life. Although we do understand all four of these as gifts of the Spirit, it is not said. Also, in its discussion of these four subjects, the Catechism repeatedly mentions the name of Christ, but only once that of the Spirit. That happens in Answer 54, but even there Christ is the acting Person. He gathers his church by his Spirit and word.

But does the church sufficiently honour the Holy Spirit when it formulates its belief in him in such an austere way? Even when it speaks about the Spirit’s gifts it hardly mentions his name, and yet time and again it does mention the Son. A striking difference: how are we to explain this? Both the one and the other have to do with what Jesus said about the Spirit: he will glorify me, for he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.1 The Holy Spirit can therefore rightly be called “the Spirit of Christ”.2

Yet he is certainly not of a lower order than the Son and the Father. Already the baptismal form mentions the three divine Persons next to each other without any distinction. Peter reproaches Ananias for lying to the Holy Spirit and adds that he has lied to God by doing so.3

The Spirit is God himself.4 But just like the Father and the Son, he also has his own place in the salvation of people. He makes us share in Christ and in all his benefits. Therefore, he focuses our attention on Christ and not on himself.

Why He is Called Spirit🔗

In both the OT and NT the name “Spirit” means “breath” or “wind”. Elihu calls him the breath of the Almighty.5 And Jesus breathes on his disciples as a sign that they are receiving the Holy Spirit.6 In conjunction with this, one of the signs with which the Spirit comes at Pentecost is the sound as of a strong gust of wind.7

His name reveals something of his mode of operation, reminiscent of the wind. In his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus explains it further. We can hear the wind blowing, but no one knows exactly where the wind started or where it is going. It blows where it wants to go. No human being has anything to say about that. In the same way, the Spirit goes wherever he wants to. No man stops him or can control his course. He does and can do what people think is impossible.8

Where he comes, the world changes in surprising ways. In the spring, he gives a new face to the landscape. God then blows his Spirit — his breath — like a warm spring wind over the fields.9

What seemed dead sprouts again and begins to smell wonderful. People can paint or embroider beautiful flowers. They can also nurture them, but it is the Spirit who makes them. Wherever he blows, everything that was dead begins to blossom again. He also awakens new life in people who are spiritually dead. He causes the spring in hearts of stone.

What happens to us when he does so?

The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament🔗

In general, anyone who thinks of the Holy Spirit quickly connects this to Pentecost — and thus to the NT. But we would be neglecting a precious resource for our knowledge of the Spirit if we ignored the period of the OT. He was present even then. Not just with a few, but with every Israelite. For Stephen said of all the Jews of the OT that they had resisted the Holy Spirit. So he believed that the Spirit was with them as well.10

In the OT and NT we meet the same Holy Spirit.

What does the Spirit do according to the OT? He transforms the barren landscape into a colourful and fragrant carpet. It smells so wonderful here, we say. That is what the Spirit does! But he also came upon judges and enabled them to superhuman feats: Othniel, Gideon, Samson.11

 He enabled farmers’ sons such as Saul and David to rule.12 He inspired prophets in such a way that they could infallibly reveal God’s thoughts.13 A varied program.

Yet all those acts bear the stamp of the one Spirit. But he allows each person to retain his own nature and takes into account each one’s task. To use an image: when the wind blows through a wind organ, we hear a multitude of tones. That is what the wind does. But the varied timbre is co-determined by the pipes of the organ. It is the same wind that blows through it, but each pipe gives its own sound. That is why Samson and David and Isaiah were not alike when the same Spirit worked in them. He works in each person in such a way that it reaches the surprising goal that God has determined for each of them: a barren landscape becomes a multi-colored paradise, a shepherd boy like David becomes king, a man like Samson gets the strength of a lion.

In addition to what he is doing, the OT already says Who he is. He is God. For he descends with absolute supremacy upon whomever he wills. No man can make him come down upon himself by his own power. Nor can he hold on to him. The Spirit can withdraw himself again, as happened with Saul.14 At the same time however, he is an independent Person. Between him and the LORD there is profound unity, but there is also distinction. Isaiah shows both one and the other well: the people grieved his Holy Spirit, therefore God changed before them into an enemy — not the Spirit, but the LORD. The LORD and his Spirit are two and yet one.15

Finally, the OT announces two surprises: the Spirit would descend on the coming Messiah, and more powerfully and abundantly than he ever did on all kinds of people. In the NT, we see both of these surprise announcements become a reality: Christ is anointed with the Spirit, and on Pentecost the Spirit is poured out.

Christ Being Anointed With the Spirit🔗

None of all those great men of the OT allowed themselves to be completely controlled by the Spirit. They often got in the way of him in a vexing manner. As a result there was the need to wait for the Messiah in whom the Spirit would descend with all his power. The Spirit of the LORD, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD would rest upon him.16

This became a reality when Jesus came to earth. He was conceived in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit.17 The Spirit descended on him at his baptism in the Jordan.18 The same Spirit led him out into the wilderness.19 In the strength of the Spirit he then returned to Galilee.20 And in the synagogue at Nazareth he declared that the prophecy of Isaiah 11:1, 2 had been fulfilled in him! It was him upon whom the Spirit of the LORD rested.21

The Spirit had never worked so mightily in a man before. Yet in this resting of the Spirit on Jesus we recognize his style of the OT. Just as he gave Samson and David and the prophets the power to fulfill each of their callings, so he gave Jesus the power to accomplish his messianic task on earth.22

This does not mean that the Spirit subjected Jesus to himself with a certain compulsion. It is true that the texts mentioned above speak clearly of a certain guidance that the Spirit gave to Jesus. For example, he led him out into the desert. But this direction in Jesus’ life was at the same time nothing else than giving support on a path that Jesus himself chose. The way in which the Spirit worked in him had everything to do with the difficult task that Jesus had to accomplish. Once that task had been accomplished, things changed: it was no longer the Spirit who directed Jesus, but rather the other way around: it was Jesus who would send the Spirit.23 And that is in complete agreement with what Peter says on the day of Pentecost: he, the Christ, has caused this outpouring.24

This brings us to that other great event that was looked forward to: the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit Since Pentecost🔗

To best understand the meaning of Pentecost, we will first examine what the Spirit is doing from that day on. Jesus said of him, “He will take what is mine and declare it to you.”25 In line with this, the baptismal form says that he appropriates to us what we have in Christ. Mentioned are the forgiveness of our sins and the daily renewal of our lives. According to the form for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, he causes us to live in communion with Christ and makes us partake in all his treasures: eternal life, righteousness and glory.

And Lord’s Day 20 says that he was given to make me share in Christ and all his benefits. In various ways we hear that the Spirit brings us, and pours out in us, the gifts that Christ has earned for us. He is, as it were, the Liaison between Christ and us.

This work of the Spirit is indispensable to our salvation.

Without him, all the precious treasures Christ has earned would remain unattainable for us. Just like precious food parcels that are ready at the airport, but are not forwarded to the hungry population. They will not benefit at all. Without the airlift of the Spirit, i.e., without the preaching, the treasures of Christ would never have reached us. In this case we should add that the gospel is not something that seems good to us. We would rather starve than feed on it, even if it were placed right in front of us. We think it is foolishness that one Man by his death on a cross laid the foundation for a perfect world. Without the Spirit this gospel is not accepted by anyone, even though the apostles and pastors would speak ever so engagingly. In themselves, mission, evangelism, nurture and instruction are powerless means to bring anyone to the conviction that Jesus is Lord. Only the Holy Spirit with his divine power can give us this faith.

But What Was the Change That Pentecost Brought About?🔗

On the Day of Pentecost the Spirit descended on young and old, male and female, lord and servant, on priest and farmer. Later also on the Greeks and Romans. Numerous boundaries fell away. That was new. The Spirit was poured out on all that were living.26

But how big is the change? Because the Old Testament also tells of people with a strong faith. Among them was — note well — the father of all believers, Abraham. Their faith was equally the work of the Holy Spirit for faith comes from him.27 Yet they lived long before the Spirit was poured out. What is the difference between before Pentecost and after? Before that, “the Spirit was not there yet”.28 What is meant is that he had not yet been poured out. The rain shower of all kinds of gifts of grace had yet to start. That could only happen after Jesus had been glorified and had triumphed over sin and death.29 After all, the Spirit could not draw from Christ’s accomplished work before that. However, it was certain that Jesus would overcome. Therefore, centuries before, the Holy Spirit already granted salvation to people like Adam and Abraham. We should therefore not exaggerate the difference between the time before and after Pentecost.

But what then is the gain of Pentecost? From that day on, the Spirit can draw fully from the accomplished work of Christ. And this also explains all the other differences with the past. All kinds of barriers from the past could disappear, because salvation was ready: God’s justice had been satisfied. Time was pressing. That is why the Spirit’s sphere of activity broadened to include the whole earth. The ancient boundaries of age, gender, nationality, church or social position disappeared.

Hence: the outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh.

An Often-Asked Question🔗

Until now we have not spoken about all the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit such as speaking in tongues, receiving visions and healing the sick. But, according to one of the arguments often heard, these are precisely the characteristic features of Pentecost. That all this has disappeared is attributed to the fact that the church has turned into a rigid organism. Everything is arranged according to fixed schedules: ministers, elders and deacons do the work. The ordinary members of the congregation hardly get a chance. This leaves little or no room for the enthusiasm that the Spirit wants to give. In other words, the church has quenched the fire of Pentecost. But this reasoning is not correct. According to the NT, apostles, prophets and teachers are just as much gifts of the Spirit as speaking in tongues and the like.30 It may be true that some imposing office bearers cultivate passive followers, but then we are talking about the bad ones. However, anyone who claims that office bearers by definition cultivate lazy church members is fundamentally criticizing the typical management style of the Spirit.

How important are tongues and the like anyway? The NT does not state anywhere the requirement that every believer must be able to speak in tongues. Especially in 1 Corinthians 12-14, Paul speaks at length about the gifts of the Spirit. He does not consider them all of equal importance. The highest-ranking gift is love31 and certainly not speaking in tongues. He himself would rather speak five comprehensible words within the congregation than thousands of them “in an (unintelligible) tongue”.32 According to the apostle, the main goal of the Spirit is not that people speak in tongues or heal the sick or are able to predict the future, but that they come to the confession: Jesus of Nazareth is Lord.33 It corresponds to the fact that Paul in a later letter does not mention any sensational gifts, but rather that he speaks of love, joy, kindness and self-control. These are apparently the gifts that prove that we “belong to Christ Jesus.”34

He Is Also Given To Me …🔗

How can I be so sure that the Holy Spirit has also been given to me? Do I then not think too highly of myself? But the question is not what I believe about myself and whether I think I am good enough to receive the Spirit. The question is: What do you believe concerning the Holy Spirit? The decisive factor is not whether I consider myself acceptable to him, but what he promises me black-on-white in the gospel: I want to live in you. He sealed this at my baptism.J35 Therefore I may believe that he is also given to me. This is not the brazen assertion of someone who overestimates himself, but a confession of what faith expects on the basis of the word of God.

Of course it is encouraging to also be able to experience that the Spirit is at work in us. The Canons of Dort rightly speak of an assurance that believers may find in the experience of believing with their whole heart.36 Moreover, this experience is not an extra luxury, but is indispensable for their rest. Feelings of guilt and spiritual dejection can easily disturb this experience. The peace found therein is then also gone. Yet all is certainly not lost. For the source and basis of the now violated experience remains the unchanging promise of the Spirit: I want to remain with you forever. The assurance that he is also given to me comes profoundly from faith in this promise. It is the last yet impregnable barrier in which the failing believer may continue to trust.37


  1. ^ John 16:15.
  2. ^ Romans 8:9.
  3. ^ Acts 5:3, 4.
  4. ^ C. Bijl, Leren geloven, Art. 11, II.
  5. ^ Job 33:4.
  6. ^ John 20:22; see also H. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics II, 279-280.
  7. ^ Acts 2:2.
  8. ^ John 3:8; See H. Ridderbos, Het evangelie naar Johannes I, 153.
  9. ^ Psalm 104:29-30.
  10. ^ Acts 7:51.
  11. ^ Judges 3:10, 6:34, 14:6, 15:14.
  12. ^ 1 Samuel 10:10; 16:13.
  13. ^ Ezekiel 11:5; 2 Peter 1:21.
  14. ^ 1 Samuel 16:14.
  15. ^  Isaiah 63:10; see also J. Ridderbos, Bible Student’s Commentary — Isaiah.
  16. ^ Isaiah 11:2.
  17. ^ Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:35.
  18. ^ Mark 1:10.
  19. ^ Mark 1:12.
  20. ^ Luke 4:14.
  21. ^ Luke 4:19, 19.
  22. ^ J.A. Heyns, Dogmatiek, 291.
  23. ^ John 15:26; see also J.A. Heyns, Ibid., 291, 292.
  24. ^ Acts 2:33.
  25. ^ John 16:14.
  26. ^ Joel 2:28, 29; Acts 2:17, 18.
  27. ^ Heidelberg Catechism, QA 65.
  28. ^ John 7:39.
  29. ^ H. Ridderbos, Ibid., at John 7:39.
  30. ^ 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11.
  31. ^ 1 Corinthians 13:13.
  32. ^ 1 Corinthians 14:19.
  33. ^ 1 Corinthians 12:3; see C. Bijl, Leren geloven, Art. 11, V.
  34. ^ Galatians 5:22, 24.
  35. ^ .G. Woelderink, Het doopsformulier, 304-309. For further Scriptural proof see 2 Corinthians 1:21,22; Galatians 3:14; 4:6; Ephesians 1:13; 1 John 3:24; 4:13.
  36. ^ Canons of Dort, Ch. III/IV,  Art. 13.
  37. ^ See also Canons of Dort V, 10. The main thing is that the certainty does not come from some special revelation without or outside the word but from faith in God’s promises. Only then is it said that this assurance also comes from witnessing the Spirit with our spirit. That affects us on the inside, but here too it applies that assurance does not happen “outside of or without the word”. In other words, the word always has the last word.

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