For me sometimes reading theology turns into praising God. Today, Reading Bavinck’s insight on the role of the Holy Spirit became an occasion to reflect joyfully on how God works out “so great a salvation.”
He writes the following:
Word and deed went hand in hand in the first dispensation; they also go hand in had in the economy of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit not only regenerates but also illumines. Just as the spiritual miracles do not add a new element to the objective facts of revelation but are only the working out of the miracle of God’s grace accomplished in Christ, so also the illumination of the Holy Spirit is not a revelation of things previously hidden but the application of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge present in Christ and displayed in His Word.
What’s that mean? First of all, Bavinck says that God uses revelation in order to dwell with His people. In other words, God’s goal in revelation is much more than people would understand new facts about Him or that they might be stirred emotionally in a certain way, but it is ultimately so that He can live among his people.
Now for the quote itself: What he means by “the first dispensation” is the time period when Scripture was written, the time when God revealed himself by acting in history and interpreting his acts. Get that: revelation is always acts and interpretation of acts. So, Christ lives a perfect life as a real man, dies on the cross, rises again, ascends to heaven, and sends the Holy Spirit—act. The apostles write that this means Christ’s righteousness is given to His people, his death is for their sins, His resurrection is their resurrection unto new life, one day, He will make them rise again to be with God, and now they have the Holy Spirit—interpretation. But now that “dispensation” is over. The results still continue, no doubt. But that mode of revelation is finished. The cannon (scripture) is closed. Now we enter into a new mode of revelation, that of the Holy Spirit. He also works in the same manner. He acts and interprets. He regenerates, that is, he makes new life in individual believers, washing and regenerating them—act. And He gives them the gift of illumination that their minds might be renewed (Rom 12:1-2), that they might be brought into the knowledge of Christ (Col 3:10)—interpretation.
What’s the cash value of all this? I think it helps us balance two things that are so often off kilter: knowledge and experience. Bavinck’s insight shows that we need both. What would happen if God only acted in history but didn’t actually explain anything? We would look with some amazement at what happened, but we wouldn’t know how it benefited to us. We wouldn’t know what it meant. What would happen if God give us an interpretation of things that never happened? Well, we’d be lost in our sins, of course. So also, we need the regenerating power of the Spirit, to make us into new people. And, we need knowledge of the gospel so we know how to apply it. We need to worship and we need to learn. We need songs and we need sermons.