What are the subjective causes of the spiritual life for the believer?

November the 16th is a very special day for those who enjoy Herman Bavincks Theology.  Volume 2 of his Reformed Ethics is published on that day.  I have ordered mine, but it will take time to arrive as it is through the post.  Here in Finland the clocks have gone back to the Wintertime and one can feel that soon the temperatures will be below zero.   It reminds me of the children’s story about the Moomin.  Autumn is almost finished and soon the snows will come and the Moomin will be hibernating except the young ones as they start their own adventures.  In the United Kingdom today is Bonfire Night.  This is a celebration of stopping a gun powder plot to blow up the houses of Parliament.  

So, our question today is: What are the subjective causes of the spiritual life for the believer?


When I was studying I made a box for my calliper

This raises serious questions about the steps to conversion (the origin of our spiritual life) being a follower of Christ.  Herman Bavinck points out that within the Churches there are many different views. So, what are the views?

“An actual preparation in the sense of using the light of nature by the free will of humans (Pelagius) or through the means of grace (Remonstrants, Lutherans) does not exist, of course. Remonstrants require that one longs for righteousness through Christ while still in a sinful condition”.  (From: Reformed Ethics; Herman Bavinck; edited by John Bolt; Book 2, chapter 7, page 255-256)

When looking at these different views Bavinck says it can become ‘stifling’. (Page 256) I can see where Bavinck is coming from, and it is so much easier to follow the Reformed view that ‘that regeneration is the absolute beginning of the spiritual life’(ibid). When I became a Christian, it was very simple; I heard the sermon God spoke to my heart and that I should follow Christ.  I was only 14 and I did not understand all the ins and outs and the truth is that when the Holy Spirit calls us it is God who is doing this work.  In our past sinful life, we were dead in our sins.  How can a dead person bring themselves to life?

So, what sorts of things precedes Christian conversion?

It is interesting that in the footnotes we have Ames’ ideas mentioned:

“Ames, Conscience, II.iv.1e7. This preparation includes self—examination based on “seriously looking into the Law of God,” resulting in a “conviction of conscience” (Rom. 1:20, 32; 2:20; 7:7), concluded by despair arising from our inability to save ourselves (Rom. 7:9, 13), followed by “a true humiliation of heart, which consists of grief and fear because of sin,” which “brings forth conversion” (Matt. 9:12)”. (Footnote 83 page 256)

Then Bavinck mentions the “British theologians at the Synod of Dort spoke similarly of “antecedents to conversion” such as the hearing of God’s Word, going to church, awareness of God’s will, a sense of sin, fear of punishment, thought of liberation, and hope of some pardon. Divine grace does not work through sudden enthusiasm; it assumes predispositions. “

Herman does not have a problem with preparatory thinking “as long as rebirth/regeneration remains the absolute beginning.” (Page 256)

Having said all of this Bavinck prefers the words ‘antecedent acts’ to ‘preparatory acts.’  The Master theologian gives us some very helpful Scriptural references:

·        Zacchaeus climbed a tree to see Jesus (Luke 1921—10).

·        Peters preaching ‘moved’ the crowd before the conversions (Acts 2)

·        The jailer was scared and confused with the earthquake (Acts 16)

·        Paul was struck to the ground and was blind (Acts 9)

With what we have been talking about Herman gives us some thing helpful when thinking about what preceded salvation (regeneration):

“The spiritual life never develops gradually from it, is not earned by it. Sometimes God regenerates apart from all those preparations, at once, suddenly. But ordinarily this preparation precedes, and that is why we must observe the outward means of grace: going to church, reading God’s Word, searching our souls in the light of conscience and Scripture, testing ourselves. God binds his blessing to the use of these means. To this extent we can agree with Prof. Shedd that someone who proceeds in this manner will probably be born again and converted.  At any rate, we must do what we can, taking the path God uses for conversion.” (Page 257)


God calls us into his salvation.  We cannot save ourselves from being completely separated from God.  Before we come to a place to follow Christ, we all have our own story to tell. Our experiences vary but with God nothing is impossible.  I had a Catholic and Muslim background, refugee for a couple of days, displaced from Cyprus because of the troubles in 1974; Then divorce followed, and physical and psychological abuse filled my life. I failed school and as a teenager went to work in a couple of textile mills. I became a Christian in the very early eighties at the preaching the word of God.  The hymn was:

            Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.

Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!

Heir of salvation, purchase of God,

Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

            This is my story, this is my song,

Praising my Savior all the day long.

This is my story, this is my song,

  Praising my Savior all the day long. https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/308

Following Christ is the best thing that happened to me.  I am not a ship without a rudder.   With the gift of faith all the bad is turned to good.  I left the mill went to college and became a theologian, teacher and now at the moment a carpenter.   Let us fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfector of our faith and I want to Finnish off with some verses from Hebrews:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3 NASB


Next time I will follow Herman Bavinck teach us what some of these antecedent acts are. 

You might be a child, teenager, adult or a senior person.  All I can say is that God is love and he reaches his hand out to you no matter how good or bad you might have been.  The Trinitarian God offers you a genuine life in this life and eternal life in the next life.  There is true freedom in obedience.  If you want to know more consult with your local pastor or minister they can pray and support you as you look into these issues.


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