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Come, Holy Spirit:

 Seven Ways He Meets Us as We Gather

For many Christians today, that brief prayer is often connected with heightened emotions, unguided-spontaneous experiences, and an intense expectation of God’s nearness. Something unusual and powerful is about to happen.

Inviting the Spirit to come, however, is no new phenomenon. Christians of all persuasions have sincerely spoken or sung these words for centuries. Which raises a few questions.

  • If God is present everywhere, isn’t the Spirit already here?
  • Should we even be praying to the Holy Spirit?
  • And what exactly are we asking the Spirit to come and do?

We’re going to seek to answer those questions, specifically as it relates to the gatherings of the church. How are we to think about the Holy Spirit’s presence and our engagement with him?

Everywhere and Yet Present

In one sense, we can’t get away from the Spirit. King David asked, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” (Psalm 139:7). Scripture also tells us the Spirit is present when we gather, dwelling both within individuals and in his church (1 Corinthians 3:16–17; 6:19). The Holy Spirit is always with us.

In another sense, however, the Spirit makes his presence known in unique ways and specific times. He “localizes” his presence. One of those times is when the church meets. When we meet, Paul says, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). The Spirit manifests himself, or “comes,” in various ways and in differing degrees, depending on his intentions.

That leads us to our second question: Is it proper to pray to the Spirit? Prayers in the New Testament are almost always to the Father, sometimes to the Son. But we don’t find any examples of praying to the Spirit directly. Does that make praying to the Spirit wrong?

No. The Holy Spirit, as the third person of the triune God, can be worshiped, obeyed, and yes, prayed to. Praying to the Spirit is neither forbidden nor mandated in Scripture, and can remind us that the Spirit is indeed God. The most important thing is to recognize our need for his divine work each time we gather.

Seven Ways the Spirit Comes

Whatever language we choose to invoke the Spirit’s activity, there is often a vagueness in our requests for the Spirit’s work that can be misleading, unhelpful, and at times dangerous. So what can we consistently ask and expect the Holy Spirit to do when we gather?

1. The Spirit comes to enable us to worship God.

We are those who worship by the Spirit of God and can acknowledge the lordship of Jesus only because of his work (Philippians 3:3; 1 Corinthians 12:3). Apart from the Spirit, we wouldn’t see or want to respond to God’s glory. John Webster reminds us,

“We need to ask God to help us praise him. Praise isn’t natural — we can’t just turn on the tap and let it flow. In the end, praise is something that God works in us. There’s no question here of skill, of capacities that we can work on and hone to perfection. Praise is the Spirit’s gift.” (Christ Our Salvation, 101)

While Jesus makes our offerings of worship acceptable to God (1 Peter 2:5), the Spirit actually turns our hearts to treasure Christ over the poisonous idols that tempt us from without and within.

2. The Spirit comes to assure us.

While knowing and believing the truth of the gospel is a matter of eternal significance, God wants to give us more than head knowledge. We ask the Spirit to come so that we might feel the Father’s adopting love. It’s normal to value doctrine, theology, study, and orthodoxy and still be discouraged by our ongoing struggle with sin. We can start to think God has grown tired of us, is disgusted with us, or has simply forgotten us. Scripture reminds us that, “because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Galatians 4:6). We are personally, passionately, and particularly loved by our heavenly Father — and the Spirit assures us of that reality.

3. The Spirit comes to unify us.

God doesn’t command us to create unity with other believers. Instead, we are to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3). While Christ made our unity possible through his substitutionary sacrifice, Paul calls what we enjoy together the “fellowship of the Holy Spirit” (2 Corinthians 13:14). Can our unity be strengthened and deepened? Absolutely. But we are helpless to produce it. It is the Spirit who enables us to forgive others, to find evidences of God’s working in those around us, and to love others with a love that transcends our petty squabbles and cold hearts.

4. The Spirit comes to transform us.

God never intends for us to leave our Sunday gatherings unchanged and unaffected. Just as God saves us to make us like his Son (Romans 8:29), he calls us together for the same purpose. And how do we change? Not by hearing another list of things we aren’t doing, resolving to do better next time, or groveling in our sinfulness. The Spirit changes us as we behold the glory of Christ in the gospel and his word (2 Corinthians 3:18). He is the Holy Spirit, who works to free us from all the defiling effects of sin.

5. The Spirit comes to empower us.

What makes for a powerful Sunday meeting at your church? Certainly faithful preaching and skilled musical leadership are factors, but those aren’t the only ways God wants to display his power when we gather. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). Not to some, but to each.

Every one of us is a potential means through which God wants to manifest the Spirit by displaying his power, kindness, and truth to others. As we eagerly desire spiritual gifts of all varieties (1 Corinthians 14:1), we are asking the Spirit to come and do what we could never do on our own. How different our churches might look if every member asked the Spirit to come and empower him or her to serve others for the glory of Christ!

6. The Spirit comes to enlighten us.

More times than I can count, I’ve sat under the faithful preaching of God’s word and seen something I never saw before. That’s the Spirit’s work. Apart from the Spirit in us, we’d be unable to comprehend or benefit from the Bible. Paul tells the Corinthian church that “we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12). No amount of human wisdom, study, experience, or effort can replace the need for God’s Spirit to open the eyes of our hearts to receive God’s truth and behold the beauty of Christ.

7. The Spirit comes to reveal God’s presence.

The modern emphasis among some churches on pursuing the presence of God has caused other churches to belittle or ignore the pursuit altogether. But the Spirit’s presence is more than mere doctrine. It is an unspeakable gift to be felt and cherished. He is the guarantee of our inheritance, a foretaste of that day when the dwelling place of God will be with man and we will see him face to face (Revelation 21:3; 22:4). For our good and for God’s glory, the Spirit at times will make us aware that God is with us — inexplicably, wondrously, mercifully. And he doesn’t restrict himself to events that are either planned or spontaneous. He works through both to bring conviction, peace, joy, and awe. So why wouldn’t we want to experience his presence more often?

Holy Spirit, Come

Graham Harrison, a UK pastor who is now with the Lord, once said,

“There can be no substitute for that manifested presence of God which is always a biblical possibility for the people of God. When it is not being experienced, they should humbly seek him for it, not neglecting their ongoing duties, nor denying their present blessings, but recognizing that there is always infinitely more with their God and Father who desires fellowship with those redeemed by the blood of his Son and regenerated by the work of his Spirit.”

Without neglecting what God has called us to do, nor denying his promise to be with us at all times, we can long and pray for a greater manifestation of the Spirit’s work in our midst. We can ask the Holy Spirit to come and do what only he can do.

And to what end? Certainly for our edification and joy. But ultimately that Jesus might receive more of the glory he alone deserves: “[The Holy Spirit] will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13–14). Therefore, Webster says, “The basic movement of our life together, the basic movement of assembly for worship, has to be prayer for the coming of the Spirit to make us new. That, Sunday by Sunday, is the chief business of our lives” (Christ Our Salvation, 96).

And so we pray, again and again, “Holy Spirit, come.”


Bob Kauflin (@bkauflin) is director of Sovereign Grace Music. He equips pastors and musicians in the theology and practice of congregational worship, and serves as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He writes at worshipmatters.com and is author of True Worshipers: Seeking What Matters to God. Bob and his wife, Julie, have six children and a growing number of grandchildren.


What God Can Do in One Conversation:

"Recovering the Power of Personal Evangelism"

Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28)

“You know,” Festus had said to the king, just one day prior, “I have this prisoner who the Jews are simply desperate to kill. Strange case, in my opinion. They came with the raucous of the gods, only to tell me the most idle of tales.”

“What tales?” asked King Agrippa.

“Apparently they want this man dead because he claims that some prophet died, a man named Jesus, and yet is now alive. Impossible to investigate such delusions. I am not sure what to say to Caesar.”

“May I examine the prisoner?”

“Of course, my King. We will make a spectacle of it tomorrow.”

The next day, as Agrippa sat enthroned in royal pomp and splendor with the mighty attending, he found Paul much smaller than expected. The royal hush washed over the assembly as the king motioned for Paul to give his defense.

“I consider myself fortunate,” began the prisoner, “that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently” (Acts 26:2–3).

Agrippa was ready to do just that.

He listened as Paul recalled growing up a Pharisee, hunting Christians, and meeting Jesus in a heavenly vision on the Damascus road. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Jesus was alive, Paul insisted. Furthermore, he said that Moses and the prophets spoke of this very thing and even foretold such things as salvation extending to the Gentiles (Acts 26:4–23).

“Paul, you are out of your mind,” Festus interrupted with a yell, “your great learning is driving you out of your mind” (Acts 26:24). To this Paul responds with something equally as shocking to the king’s sensibilities. And how Paul replies next, how he turns matters to the king directly, offers a balancing word to one of our evangelistic emphases today.

King in the Dock

“I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus,” Paul responds, “but I am speaking true and rational words.” And as if pointing to the throne, he continues, “For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe” (Acts 26:25–27).

Paul, on trial before the king, puts the king on trial before Christ.

Paul’s appeal is no vague word or bashful plea. He speaks plainly, courteously, boldly, and directly. He does not shoot over Agrippa’s head but lets the arrow fly at his heart. Before the watching eyes of everyone who is anyone in the region, Paul looks him in the eye, and says for all to hear, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

The arrow finds its mark. The king staggers. In wonder he asks, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28).

Whether Long or Short

I find great correction in this scene, summarized by Paul’s final response,

Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am — except for these chains. (Acts 26:29)

Organic, relational, “long” evangelism has its place. This form of evangelism tends to be especially useful with people woven into our lives. With those we will see again, we want them to witness our lives and open up to us that we might bring Christ to their specific hopes, sins, and sorrows. One brick at a time, one conversation at a time, because we have more time, so we think. “Whether short or long” he declared to Agrippa, “I wish that you would be a Christian.” He makes space for long.

But how many of us today have jettisoned the first half — the short-term, first-conversation evangelism that arrested the king? He did not expect that Paul would press the relevance of this news to his conscience and call for a response in their first conversation. “In such a short time,” he asked, “would you persuade me to be a Christian?” In such a short time, Paul would.

Not only did Paul have the spine to evangelize the king in front of all notable somebodies, but he turned to them, seeking to win everyone within the range of his voice to Christ. “I would that all of you be a Christian, just as I am,” he said turning to the spectators, “except, of course, for these chains.” He only had one shot. And so, with little regard to his own welfare, he broke down the fourth wall and addressed every man, woman, and child openly: “I would that all of you believed and were saved!”

Lies Short-Circuiting Evangelism

Do we do the same? Does it feel taboo to share the gospel at the bus stop, restaurant, basketball game, on the airplane? “Drive-by” evangelism, some have called it. Unnatural, ineffective, abrupt, and most likely offensive. That sort of thing is impolite and undemocratic, and if it must be done, surely it should be left to those especially gifted as evangelists, right?

When I am tempted to think this way, such resistance belies several wrong beliefs that are especially compelling in our day.

‘Jesus can’t save in one conversation.’

When I forget that the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16), I remain silent. Offering a word of true hope to a stranger can’t do anything but make me look foolish, so why bother?

But Paul remembered the power of the gospel.

One vibrating with divine life, quaking with expectation, muscular enough to capture and liberate even the chief of sinners. He was willing to persuade them, with a “loud voice” at his trial, and expected King Agrippa, the military tribunes, and “the prominent men of the city” to cast off their crowns and bow their knees before the King of glory (Acts 25:23). If Jehovah’s Witnesses, with their door-to-door evangelism, believe they have a message that can save in a moment — why not the actual witnesses of Jehovah?

‘Salvation is my work, not God’s.’

New birth is not fundamentally the offspring of a good relationship between a Christian and non-Christian. Our coffee conversations or basketball games or neighborly help has no power to raise anyone from the dead. Salvation is now and forever a sovereign act of our Almighty God. When Nicodemus hears Jesus explain this, he is perplexed and astounded (John 3:4). “You must be born again.”

  • No, Nicodemus, your positive assessment of me and my miracles is not enough — you must be born again.
  • Yes, your self-striving will not avail you of the kingdom. Correct, you can no more choose to be born again spiritually than you chose to be born physically.
  • You have as much control of the Spirit as you do the wind. And if you had read the Scriptures correctly, none of this should surprise you.

That night Jesus baffled Nicodemus, but it can encourage us in our evangelism. No matter how vulnerable, risky, awkward it feels, God, through his gospel, can and does save — sometimes over years of relationship and often in random, short conversations. Nicodemus’s life, for one, shows what one uncomfortable conversation can do (John 7:50–5119:38–40).

‘A personal relationship makes evangelism easier.’

In my experience, the less short-term mindset I have at the beginning, the harder long-term evangelism tends to be. If I refuse to tell someone from the get-go that I am a Christian, the harder it becomes to tell him later. It always feels odd to introduce something so massive about myself later on. It seems to betray that Jesus isn’t really that important to me.

“I know we have known each other for a while now, but did I ever mention what matters most to me? I believe a murdered Jewish carpenter — who was also God in the flesh and the fulfillment of God’s plan for the world — is now alive, enthroned in heaven, and will come back soon to judge the world in righteousness?”

Typically, the more upfront we are in the beginning (if possible, in the very first conversation), the easier it becomes to return to Jesus later on. And again, it is our privilege to share the hope that we have, and not our responsibility to convert the person by our conversational prowess. The saving work is God’s alone.

God, Give Me One

None of this is an assault on “relational” or “friendship” evangelism. The apostle himself, after all, would win King Agrippa in a short time or long. My point is that long-term evangelism must not be our only method, nor is it a reasonable excuse to neglect single-conversation evangelism. Despite the merits of the statements like, “Truth travels best through relationship,” I want to remind you, as I remind myself, that gospel truth doesn’t only travel through well-established relationships, nor does it travel at all when not shared.

I know of an elderly saint in my church who recently told me, “I have prayed every day for God to send me one person that day to tell about Jesus, and in fifty years he has not failed me once.” Paul modeled such bold, firm, polite, short and long evangelism. Let’s pray such prayers and not fail when it comes time to speak.


Greg Morse is a staff writer for desiringGod.org and graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Abigail, live in St. Paul with their son and daughter.


How Human Is the Mind of Christ?

 Christ is the heart of Christianity. It is hardly surprising, then, that from the beginning of church history his own person has been the target of foes from without and heretics from within. Early on, some attacked the doctrine of his eternal deity, others the belief that he had a real physical body, and yet others that he had a real human mind.

This last attack is particularly fascinating because it was driven by a bishop, Apollinarius (310–390), who had previously distinguished himself as a defender of the deity of Christ. Most likely, he hesitated to acknowledge Jesus’s full humanity because he feared compromising the Lord’s deity. He took John 1:14, “The Word became flesh,” to mean only that the eternal Word took a human body: he did not take a rational human soul. The incarnation thus involved a union between the Son of God and only part of human nature. Jesus did not have a human mind.

Apollinarius’s doctrine eventually was condemned as heresy, but only after a keen debate. A key figure in this debate was Gregory, bishop of Nazianzen (in what is modern-day Turkey). Gregory (329–390) famously summed up his argument in the statement, “The unassumed is the unhealed” (Letter to Cledonius the Priest Against Apollinarius). His logic was simple: a rational soul is as essential to human nature as a human body; if Christ didn’t take such a soul, he didn’t take the whole of human nature; and if he didn’t take it, he didn’t redeem it. Without a human mind, Jesus would have saved only a part of man, and not the most important part.

Side by side with Gregory in this debate stood his friend, Gregory of Nyssa (about 335–395), who also bequeathed to us a memorable image. Starting from the premise that it was not the body only, but the whole man that was lost, he proclaimed that the Good Shepherd, who came to seek and to save the lost, “carries home on his shoulders the whole sheep, not its skin only” (Against Eunomius, 2.13). Thus did the Good Shepherd make the man of God complete, redeemed in both body and soul.

Tempted Yet Triumphant

We shouldn’t overlook how tempting it is for those who are sensitive about the deity of Christ to follow the path taken by Apollinarius and to shrink from giving the humanity of our Lord its due place. Indeed, we already see the temptation confronted in the epistle to the Hebrews, where some in the early church found it hard to believe that the Son of God could sympathize with us in our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15). This is likely why the writer has to stress that Christ was “made like his brothers in every respect” (Hebrews 2:17).

Before we go any further, however, we have to remind ourselves there is one exception to this: Christ was without sin. This fact is all the more remarkable when we recall that he not only shared our nature: he also shared our temptations (Hebrews 4:15). Indeed, he endured temptation to a degree that we shall never know because, unlike us, he never gave in. Though the devil pursued him relentlessly — through family, friend, and foe — Jesus would not yield, even when faced with the cursed death of the cross.

These temptations were real and protracted, sometimes cunning, sometimes violent, but from them all Christ emerges with his integrity inviolate. But the very fact that he was tempted is fatal to the idea that he had no human mind. A mere body cannot be tempted. The divine Logos cannot be tempted. Omniscience cannot be tempted. We are tempted by what we know, by what we shrink from, by what we fear, and by what we love. So it was with Jesus, as we see from his experience in Gethsemane. He knew something (but not all) of what the cup involved, he shrank from it, and he wished, as man, there could be some other way. But in the end, he prayed, “Not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). This was not mere submission. It was the keynote of his life.

Real Human Mind

When we turn to Jesus in the Gospel accounts, we are immediately aware that here is someone who not only lived in a human body but one who also had a real human mind. This is made plain at the beginning, when Luke tells us that Jesus grew not only in physical stature but in wisdom (Luke 2:52). God doesn’t grow in wisdom. He is eternally all-knowing, but the child Jesus was not.

His physical development was accompanied by a normal human intellectual development. His mother would have taught him what every human mother teaches her child, but she would have shared with him, too, what she had been told by the angel who had been sent to announce his birth. He learned from the Scriptures, which he clearly read for himself and which he cherished as a font of wisdom all his life. He learned by attending the synagogue, and by questioning the rabbis at the temple (Luke 2:46). He learned from his father, Joseph, to whom he was apprenticed. And he learned by observing the world around him and the ways of his own people.

Yet this human mind, acute and probing as it was, was also aware that it didn’t know everything, and couldn’t answer every question that might be put to him. The prime example of this is his confession of ignorance about the time of his own second coming (Mark 13:32). He was never ignorant of anything he ought to have known, or of anything his people needed to know. From that point of view, the Father had delivered to the Son everything that would be helpful to the “babes” (Matthew 11:25 KJV). But on such a detail as the date of the end, all that Jesus could say was that the Father had set it by his own authority (Acts 1:7).

The fact that Jesus had a real human mind and confessed himself ignorant on certain matters doesn’t mean, however, that his knowledge was never more than ordinary. He clearly had supernatural knowledge, as appears, for example, in his conversation with the woman of Samaria. He has never seen or heard of her before, yet he knows all that she ever did (John 4:29). Yet supernatural knowledge is not omniscience. It was a normal adjunct of the prophetic office, as we can see clearly in the ministries of men like Elijah and Elisha.

Deep Affections

If we see in Jesus a man possessed of a real human mind, we also see in him a deeply affectionate human being. Above all, of course, this affection is directed toward his heavenly Father, whom he now loves according to his two natures, human and divine. But alongside this affection, the Gospels highlight Jesus’s love for his fellow humans.

Perhaps the most fascinating instance of this is Jesus’s love for the rich young man who approached him to ask what he had to do to inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17–23). The man went away sad, we are told, because he was unwilling to part with his possessions. We have no reason to believe that he ever chose eternal life, but we have very good reason to believe that Jesus loved him (Mark 10:21). Jesus was drawn to him, it seems, as one human to another.

It is clear, too, that Jesus loved company, and in this respect he was a marked contrast to his cousin, John the Baptist. John was a solitary who preferred life in the desert to life in the city and was happy to live on his diet of locusts and wild honey. Jesus never found fault with John’s lifestyle, nor did John with his, but they were men of different temperaments (Matthew 11:18–19). Jesus readily accepted invitations to enjoy the hospitality of others, even when they came from tax collectors and sinners.

But he also had his own circle of intimate friends. Its nucleus was the original band of twelve disciples, whom he called apostles “so that they might be with him” (Mark 3:14), but within this band there was another even more intimate circle consisting of Peter, James, and John; and even within the inner three there seems to have been one who was special: John, “the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved” (John 20:2). This also bears the mark of humanity. Some were close to him, others were even closer, and one was closest of all. But they were all his friends (John 15:14). He loved them as the Father loved him (John 15:9), and his love for them was to be the paradigm for the way they were to love one another (John 13:14, 34).

There was another group, too, to which Jesus was especially close: the Bethany household of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Jesus, we are told explicitly, loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus; and in the sisters’ message to Jesus informing him of Lazarus’s illness, they refer to their brother as “he whom you love” (John 11:3).

There was clearly a close bond here: a bond that embraced the sisters as well as their brother, and a love so deep that when Jesus saw Mary stricken with grief, he was profoundly moved in his spirit, and wept (John 11:33–35), even though he knew that Lazarus’s illness would ultimately lead not to his death, but to the glory of God. The sight of human heartbreak convulsed his soul.

Human Emotions

Then we see, too, that Jesus experienced ordinary human emotions.

He was moved to anger, for example, by the hardness of the human heart, by the hypocrisy of the religious, and by the desecration of his Father’s house. More typically, however, the emotion we see in Jesus is compassion. He feels pity for the crowds, living aimlessly like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36), and it is pity that moves him to raise the widow’s son (Luke 7:13) and to heal the leper who approaches him imploring, “If you will, you can make me clean” (Mark 1:40).

In fact, as B.B. Warfield points out in his splendid essay “The Emotional Life of Our Lord,” compassion is the emotion most frequently attributed to Jesus in the Gospels, and it was no shallow feeling. The Greek verb used to express the Lord’s pity (splanchnizomai) is closely related to the word for the inward parts (“bowels,” in the older English versions) and underlines the fact that Jesus’s compassion was visceral. He was deeply upset, stirred to his depths, by the misery he saw around him, whether in the state of society in general or in the plight of individuals, and his distress was frequently accompanied by clear physical symptoms such as, for example, his weeping at Lazarus’s tomb and his tears over the doomed city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). Jesus felt, and felt deeply.

Nor is compassion something that Jesus, now that he has risen, has left behind as not fit to be taken back to heaven. After all, compassion is an emotion clearly ascribed to God himself (Psalm 103:13). Indeed, it is a key attribute in the name revealed to Moses when he hid in the cleft of the rock and the glory of God passed him by (Exodus 34:6). Pity is a part of the glory, and it is perfectly consistent, then, with the exaltation of Christ that he still sympathizes with his people in their weakness (Hebrews 4:15). He knows how they feel, he feels with them, and he feels for them, because he has stood where they stand.

Yet the fact that he can follow our experiences doesn’t mean that we can always follow his, because he has plumbed emotional depths that none of his brothers or sisters has ever known. The supreme example of this is Gethsemane. The cross had long occupied Jesus’s mind, but in Gethsemane, “Today is the day,” and the full horror of the cup he has to drink is well-nigh overwhelming. He cannot hide his anguish. “My soul,” he declares (speaking of his human soul), “is very sorrowful, even to death” (Mark 14:34); and he prays, not once but thrice. He wanted the cup removed. Could there not, he asked, be some other way?

These, as John Calvin put it, are the feelings of a condemned and ruined man (Institutes, 2.16.11), and when what he dreaded in Gethsemane became a reality on Calvary, they found expression in the dreadful cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). What did they mean? That is between himself and the Father. Only they know what our salvation cost them each. But let’s never forget that while we have all, at one time or another, cried from the depths (Psalm 130:1), we have never cried from such depths as these: the depths of the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13).

Does the Whole Sheep Matter?

Back, then, to the two Gregorys. Why was it important that the shepherd should carry the whole sheep — or, more prosaically, that the Redeemer of the human race should take to himself the whole of human nature, and not just a human body?

First, because the sins of the human soul need to be atoned for as well as the sins of the body. This becomes clear the moment we look at such a passage as Galatians 5:19–21, where Paul lists the sins of the “flesh.” It is doubtful that any of these is exclusively a sin of the body, but some — such as enmity, jealousy, envy, and fits of anger — are clearly sins of the mind; and the bearer of the sins of the world had to bear these sins of the mind as surely as he bore the sins of the body.

Second, the human mind had to consent to the sacrifice offered on Calvary. It was not merely a physical act, but a voluntary act; otherwise it would have had no moral value. The power of the cross lies not in the degree or quantity of the pain it involved, but in the fact that Christ offered himself in love. In the very act of delivering himself up, Christ loved the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind. Like Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, the cross was an act of worship (Genesis 22:5).

Third, the soul, no less than the body, had to bear the cost of redemption. This is the great truth highlighted by the Puritan theologians: “The suffering of his soul was the soul of sufferings” (Christ’s Famous Titles, 124). And just how real these soul-sufferings were, we have already seen. The cry “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” came from the depths of Immanuel’s soul.

Fourth, the soul, no less than the body, needs a full salvation. It needs renewal and cleansing as well as forgiveness. But just as the resurrection of the body presupposes our union with Christ, so does the transformation of the soul. We are sanctified in him, our souls united to his soul, and drawing on one and the same Spirit.

Full Propitiation

It would be a mistake, however, to assume that the two Gregorys provide a complete understanding of the atonement. There was a tendency among the great Greek theologians to see the union of the two natures in the person of Christ as itself the defining atoning act.

But the incarnation, magnificent as it was, was not an end in itself, as the writer to the Hebrews makes clear when he tells us that Christ took flesh and blood “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). Or, as he puts it a moment later, the reason that Christ became like his brothers and sisters in every respect was that he might make propitiation for his people’s sins. The propitiatory act was not his incarnation, but his death. He is a propitiation by his blood (Romans 3:35).


Donald Macleod served as professor of systematic theology at the Free Church of Scotland College in Edinburgh for more than thirty years. He is author of The Person of Christ and more recently Christ Crucified.

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