The internal testimony of the Holy Spirit and the connection to the Word of God By Jack Kettler
As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, commentary evidence, and confessional support for the purpose to glorify God in how we live.
The internal testimony of the Holy Spirit, called the testimonium Spiritus sancti internum whereby we are convinced of the truthfulness of the Word of God. This doctrine has important implications for our assurance of salvation.
The following passages show the relationship and work of the Holy Spirit to illumine the believer’s minds to believe the Word of God and have the certainty of saving faith.
From Scripture and select commentary entries:
“And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.” (John 10:4)
From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on John 10:4:
“10:1-5 Here is a parable or similitude, taken from the customs of the East, in the management of sheep. Men, as creatures depending on their Creator, are called the sheep of his pasture. The church of God in the world is as a sheep-fold, exposed to deceivers and persecutors. The great Shepherd of the sheep knows all that are his, guards them by his providence, guides them by his Spirit and word, and goes before them, as the Eastern shepherds went before their sheep, to set them in the way of his steps. Ministers must serve the sheep in their spiritual concerns. The Spirit of Christ will set before them an open door. The sheep of Christ will observe their Shepherd, and be cautious and shy of strangers, who would draw them from faith in him to fancies about him.” (1)
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)
“And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet.” (Acts 28:25 ESV)
In the above two passages, we see the work of the Holy Spirit in confirming and leading Christ’s people.
“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” (Romans 8:16)
From Barnes’ Notes on the Bible on Romans 8:16:
“The Spirit – The Holy Spirit. That the Holy Spirit here is intended, is evident,
(1) Because this is the natural meaning of the expression;
(2) Because it is of the Holy Spirit that the apostle is mainly treating here;
(3) Because it would be an unnatural and forced construction to say of the temper of adoption that it bore witness.
Beareth witness – Testifies, gives evidence.
With our spirit – To our minds. This pertains to the adoption; and it means that the Holy Spirit furnishes evidence to our minds that we are adopted into the family of God. This effect is not infrequently attributed to the Holy Spirit, 2Corinthians 1:22; 1John 5:10-11; 1Corinthians 2:12. If it be asked how this is done, I answer, it is not by any revelation of new truth; it is not by inspiration; it is not always by assurance; it is not by a mere persuasion that we are elected to eternal life; but it is by producing in us the appropriate effects of his influence. It is his to renew the heart; to sanctify the soul; to produce “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance,” Galatians 5:22-23. If a man has these, he has evidence of the witnessing of the Spirit with his spirit. If not, he has no such evidence. And the way, therefore, to ascertain whether we have this witnessing of the Spirit, is by an honest and prayerful inquiry whether these fruits of the Spirit actually exist in our minds. If they do, the evidence is clear. If not, all vain confidence of good estate, all visions, and raptures, and fancied revelations, will be mere delusions. It may be added, that the effect of these fruits of the Spirit and the mind is to produce a calm and heavenly frame; and in that frame, when attended with the appropriate fruits of the Spirit in a holy life, we may rejoice as an evidence of piety.
That we are the children of God – That we are adopted into his family.” (2)
“And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” (Galatians 4:6)
“Because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” (1Thessalonians 1:5 ESV)
Once more, we see in Galatians and 1Thessalonians the work of the Holy Spirit in confirming and authenticating the Word of God.
“Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, Today, if you hear his voice,” (Hebrews 3:7 ESV)
From Vincent’s Word Studies on Hebrews 3:7:
“Wherefore as the Holy Ghost saith (διὸ καθὼς λέγει τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον)
See on Hebrews 1:6. The formula the Spirit the holy (Spirit) is common in the N.T. with the exception of the Catholic Epistles, where it does not occur. The construction of the passage is as follows: Διὸ wherefore is connected with βλέπετε take heed, Hebrews 3:12. The point is the writer’s warning, not the warning of the citation. The whole citation including the introductory formula, down to rest, Hebrews 3:11, is parenthetical.
Today if ye will hear his voice (σήμερον ἐάν τῆς φωνῆς αὐτοῦ ἀκούσητε)
The Hebrew reads, O that you would hear his voice today. Today is prophetically interpreted by the writer as referring to the Christian present, the time of salvation inaugurated by the appearance of Christ.” (3)
Protestant reformer John Calvin was in the lead explaining the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. It would be good to consider some of his insights.
John Calvin on the testimony of the Holy Spirit:
“’The testimony of the Spirit is more excellent than all reason. For as God alone is a fit witness of himself in his Word, so also the Word will not find acceptance in men’s hearts before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit” (I, 7.4).
“Therefore, illumined by his power, we believe neither by our own nor by anyone else’s judgment that Scripture is from God; but above human judgment we affirm with utter certainty (just as if we were gazing upon the majesty of God himself) that it has flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men. We seek no proofs, no marks of genuineness upon which our judgment may lean; but we subject our judgment and wit to it as to a thing far beyond any guesswork” (I, 7.5).
“Scripture will ultimately suffice for a saving knowledge of God only when its certainty is founded upon the inward persuasion of the Holy Spirit. . . . But those who wish to prove to unbelievers that Scripture is the Word of God are acting foolishly, for only by faith can this be known” (I, 8.13). (4)
In the above quotes, Calvin explains how Holy Spirit confirms and establishes the authority of the Scriptures. Calvin called this the internal witness of the Spirit the testimonium Spiritus sancti internum.
Theologian Gordon H. Clark puts the insight of Calvin into a contemporary language in the next citation.
Regeneration: The Key to Believing the Truth by Gordon H. Clark
“When Adam fell, the human race became, not stupid so that the truth was hard to understand, but inimical, to the acceptance of the truth. Men did not like to retain God in their knowledge and changed the truth of God into a lie, for the carnal mind is enmity against God. Hence the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, for the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God because they are spiritually discerned. In order to accept the Gospel, therefore, it is necessary to be born again. The abnormal, depraved intellect must be remade by the Holy Spirit; the enemy must be made a friend. This is the work of regeneration, and the heart of stone can be taken away and a heart of flesh can be given only by God himself. Resurrecting the man who is dead in sin and giving him a new life, far from being a human achievement, requires nothing less then almighty power.
It is therefore impossible by argument or preaching alone to cause anyone to believe the Bible. Only God can cause such belief. At the same time, this does not mean that argument is useless. Peter tells us, “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” This was the constant practice of the apostles. Stephen disputed with the Libertines; the Jerusalem council disputed; in Ephesus Paul disputed three months in the synagogue and then continued disputing in the school of Tyrannus. (Acts 6:9; 15:7; 19:8, 9: compare Acts 17:2; 18:4, 19; 24:25). Anyone who is unwilling to argue, dispute, and reason is disloyal to his Christian duty.
At this point, the natural question is what is the use of all this expounding and explaining if it does not produce belief? The answer should be clearly understood. The witness or testimony of the Holy Spirit is a witness to something. The Spirit cannot produce belief in Christ unless a sinner has heard of Christ. “How then shall they call on him of whom they have not heard? … So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:14, 17).
No doubt, God in his omnipotence could reveal the necessary information to each man individually without a written Bible or ministerial preaching. But this is not what God has done. God gave the apostles and preachers the duty of expounding the message; but the production of belief is the work of the Spirit, for faith is the gift of God.
This is part of the reason why it was said above that the best procedure for us, if we want someone to accept the doctrine of plenary and verbal inspiration, is to expound the Scripture in detail. We may well use archaeology and historical criticism too, but the main task is to communicate the message of the Bible in as understandable language as we can manage.
It is to be noted too that the sinner, without any special work of the Spirit, can understand the message. Belief in its truth and understanding its meaning are two different things. The Bible can be understood by the same methods of study used on Euclid or Aristotle. Despite some pious disclaimers, it is true that antagonistic unbelievers often enough understand the Bible better than devout Christians. The Pharisees saw the significance of Christ’s claims to deity more quickly and more clearly than the disciples did.
As Paul persecuted the Christians in Jerusalem and set out for Damascus, he understood the words, “Jesus is Lord” as well as any of the twelve. It was precisely because he understood so well that he persecuted so zealously. Had he been unsure of the meaning, he would not have been so exercised. But the trouble was, he did not believe it. On the contrary, he believed that it was false. Then on the Damascus road Christ appeared to him and caused him to believe that the statement was true. Paul did not understand the phrase any better a moment after his conversion than a moment before. Doubtless, in later years God revealed further information to him for use in his epistles. But at the moment, Christ did not enlarge his understanding one whit; he caused him to receive, accept, or believe what he had already understood quite well. Thus it is that the Spirit witnessed to the message previously communicated.
Strong emphasis needs to be placed on the work of the Holy Spirit. Man is dead in sin, an enemy of God, opposed to all righteousness and truth. He needs to be changed. Neither the preacher nor, much less, the sinner himself can cause the change. But “blessed is the man whom you choose, and cause to approach you” (Psalm 65:4). “And I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26, 27). “As many as had been appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). “God when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-5). “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). “God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2Thessalonians 2:13). “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth” (James 1:18).
These verses, which primarily refer to regeneration, are applicable to our acceptance of the Bible as the very word of God. Indeed, the new life which the second birth initiates the life to which we are “raised from the death of sin” is precisely the life of faith; and a full faith includes a plenary and verbal inspiration of the salvation message. It is the gift of God.
This is why the greatest of all the creeds issuing from the Reformation, the Westminster Confession says:
The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or Church, but wholly upon God (who is Truth itself), the author thereof; and, therefore, it is to be received, because it is the Word of God. “our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness, by and with the Word, in our heart (I, iv and v.)
In the last analysis, therefore “although historical and archaeological confirmation of the Bible” accuracy is of great interest to us and of great embarrassment to unbelievers a conviction that the Bible is really the Word of God cannot be the conclusion of a valid argument based on more clearly evident premises. This conviction is produced by the Holy Spirit himself.
It must always be kept in mind that the proclamation in the Gospel is part of a spiritual struggle against the supernatural powers of the evil one, and victory comes only through the omnipotent grace of God. Accordingly, as Jesus explained his mission to both Peter and the Pharisees, so we today must expound and explain the Scripture in all its fullness to all sorts of men; and we can then be assured that our Father in Heaven will reveal his truth to some of them.” (5)
Philosopher Alvin Plantinga has examined the necessary conditions for human knowledge. He states this in a logical form.
He says that a person:
“S knows some proposition P only if:
(1) S believes P,
(2) P is true,
(3) S’s belief in P is produced by a cognitive faculty that is (a) functioning properly in an appropriate environment and (b) successfully aimed at truth.” (6)
Chapter one in the Westminster Confession of Faith states:
“The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore, it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.”
“And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.” (John 10:4)
Therefore, we can say with the apostle, Christ’s followers know his voice. These Scriptures surveyed are the grounds of our certainty and assurance.
1. Matthew Henry, Concise Commentary, John, (Nashville, Tennessee, Thomas Nelson), p. 1673.
2. Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Romans, p. 2190.
3. Marvin R. Vincent, Word Studies In The New Testament, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARY, (Albany, Oregon), p. 963.
4. Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, The Library of Christian Classics, XX-XXI, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), Book I, I, 7.4, I, 7.5, I, 8.13.
5. Gordon H. Clark, God’s Hammer: The Bible and its Critics, (Jefferson, Maryland, The Trinity Foundation), p. 20-23.
6. Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief, (Oxford England, Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 153-56.
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: http://www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com