There is an abiding perception in the Christian world that Reformed folks do not talk much about the Holy Spirit. If you want to be in a church where the Holy Spirit plays a key role, so it is argued, then you will need to go in a charismatic or pentecostal direction.
If one is interesting in speaking in tongues or hearing modern-day prophecies, then I suppose this perception may be somewhat accurate. But, this does not mean that Reformed folks do not talk about the Spirit. On the contrary, the history of Reformed theology demonstrates a keen interest in the work and ministry of the third person of the trinity. B.B. Warfield perceptively observed John Calvin’s wide and deep interest in the work of the Holy Spirit, famously dubbing him “the theologian of the Holy Spirit.”
Reformed folks highlight the work of the Spirit in many areas such as regeneration, sanctification, preaching, the sacraments, and more. But, during the time of the Reformation itself, one area took center stage, namely how the Spirit relates to the Scriptures. The two are so connected, argued the Reformers, that if there was no Holy Spirit then there would be no Scriptures.
The Spirit relates to the Scripture in three critical ways:
1. Inspiration: the Holy Spirit is the Author of Scripture. One of the most fundamental acts of the Spirit is how it inspired human authors to write precisely what God intended them to write. 2 Pet 1:21 is particularly clear in this regard: “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” It is this foundational work of the Spirit that allows us to affirm that the Scriptures are absolutely true in whatever they affirm. When the Scriptures speak, the Holy Spirit speaks. The author of Hebrews understood this so well that he even introduced a quotation of Scripture with the phrase, “The Holy Spirit says…” (Heb 3:7).
2. Testimonium: the Holy Spirit is the Witness to Scripture. It’s one thing to believe the Scriptures are inspired, but it is another thing to know which books are Scripture. God does not leave us in the dark on this critical issue, but has given us the testimonium spiritus sancti internum, the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. This “testimony” is not some private revelation given to believers, but an act of the Spirit by which He opens the eyes of sinful people to apprehend the divine qualities of Scripture. As Jesus declared on John 10:27: “My sheep [those with the Spirit] hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” The testimonium was a key part of the Reformers’ response to Catholic claims that one needed official church declarations to know which books are Scripture.
3. Illumination: the Holy Spirit is the Expositor of Scripture. Even if one believes the Scripture is inspired, and even if one knows which books are Scripture, there is still the question of how we interpret Scripture and whether our interpretations can be trusted. In order to address this concern, the Reformers highlighted the role of the Spirit as one who illuminates our understanding of Scripture and gives us clarity on what it means. The confession acknowledges this truth when it says, “We acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word” (WCF 1.6). This doctrine also played a role in the Reformers’ interactions with Rome, as the latter insisted that only with the church’s help could the Scriptures be rightly understood.
All three of these functions of the Spirit are critical to having a Scripture that actually functions in the life of the church. Without (1) we would have no reason to think the Scriptures are true. Without (2) we would have no certain way of knowing which books are Scripture. And without (3) we would have no certainty that Scripture could be rightly understood.
Indeed, it is true that without the work of the Holy Spirit there would be no Scripture.