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§ 1. The Word.
1. The word of God, as here understood, is the Bible. And the Bible is the collection of the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments.
2. These books are the word of God because they were written by men who were prophets, his organs, or spokesmen, in such a sense that whatever they declare to be true or obligatory, God declares to be true and binding. These topics have already been considered in the first volume of this work, so far as they fall within the limits of systematic theology.
3. The word of God, so far as adults are concerned, is an in dispensable means of salvation. True religion never has existed, and never can exist, where the truths revealed in the Bible are unknown. This point also has already been discussed when speaking of the insufficiency of natural religion.
4. The word of God is not only necessary to salvation, but it is also divinely efficacious to the accomplishment of that end. This appears, (a.) From the commission given to the Church. After his resurrection our Lord said to his disciples: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matt. xxviii. 19, 20). The words as recorded in Mark xvi. 15, 16, are, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel 467to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned.” The end to be accomplished, was the salvation of men. The means of its accomplishment was teaching. The disciples were to teach what Christ had taught them. That is, they were to teach the Gospel to every creature under heaven. All means derive their efficiency from the ordinance of God; as He has ordained the Gospel to be the means of salvation, it must be efficacious to that end. (b.) This appears further from the manner in which the Apostles executed the commission which they had received. They went everywhere, preaching Christ. They were sent to teach; and teaching was their whole work. “I determined,” said Paul, “not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor. ii. 2.) (c.) The power of the Word is proved from many direct assertions in the Bible. Paul tells the Romans that he was not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, because “it is the power of God unto salvation.” (Rom. i. 16.) To the Corinthians he says, in view of the utter impotence of the wisdom of the world, that “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” (1 Cor. i. 21.) The preaching of Christ crucified was “unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” (Vers. 23, 24.) In the Epistle to the Hebrews it is said: “The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Heb. iv. 12.)
The sacred writers, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are exuberant in their praise of the Word of God, as its power was revealed in their own experience. “The law of the Lord,” says the Psalmist, “is perfect, converting the soul.” (Ps. xix. 7.) By the law of the Lord is meant the whole revelation which God has made in his Word to determine the faith, form the character, anu control the conduct of men. It is this revelation which the Psalmist pronounces perfect, that is, perfectly adapted to accomplish the end of man’s sanctification and salvation. “Thy word.” he says “is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Ps. cxix. 105.) “The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple: the statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes: the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever: the judgments 468of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.” (Ps. xix. 7-10.) Almost every one of the hundred and seventy-six verses of the one hundred and nineteenth Psalm contains some recognition of the excellence or power of the Word of God. “Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” (Jer. xxiii. 29.)
In the New Testament the same divine efficacy is attributed to ths Word of God. It is the gospel of our salvation, i.e., that by which we are saved. Paul said that Christ commissioned him to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, saying, for this purpose I appeared unto thee to make thee minister and a witness, delivering thee from the Gentiles, “unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.” (Acts xxvi. 17, 18.) All this was to be effected by the Gospel. The same Apostle writing to Timothy says: “From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2 Tim. iii. 15, 16.) The Apostle Peter says that men are “born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God which liveth and abideth forever.” (1 Pet. i. 23.) Our Lord prayed, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” (John xvii. 17.)
Testimony of History.
There can, therefore, be no doubt that the Scriptures teach that the Word of God is the specially appointed means for the sanctification and the salvation of men. This doctrine of the Bible is fully confirmed by the experience of the Church and of the world. That experience teaches, — First, that no evidences of sanctification, no indications of the saving influences of the Spirit are found where the Word of God is unknown. This is not saying that none such occur. We know from the Bible itself, “That God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” (Acts x. 34, 35.) No one doubts that it is in the power of God to call whom He pleases from among the heathen and to reveal to them enough 469truth to secure their salvation.432432In the Second Helvetic Confession, chapter i., it is said: “Cum hodie hoc Dei verbum per prædicatores legitime vocatos annunciatur in ecclesia, credimus ipsum Dei verbum annunciari, et a fidelibus recipi, neque aliud Dei verbum fingendum vel cœlitus esse expectandum. . . . . Agnoscimus interim, Deum illuminare posse homines etiam sine externo ministerio, quos et quando velit: id quod ejus potentiæ est. Nos autem loquimur de usitate ratione instituendi homines, et præcepto et exemplo tradita nobis a Deo.” — Niemeyer, Collectio Confessionum, Leipzig, 1840, pp. 467, 468. Nevertheless it remains a fact patent to all eyes that the nations where the Bible is unknown sit in darkness. The absence of the Bible is just as distinctly discernible as the absence of the sun. The declaration of the Scriptures is that “the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1 John v. 19); and that declaration is confirmed by all history.
A second fact on which the testimony of experience is equally clear is, that true Christianity flourishes just in proportion to the degree in which the Bible is known, and its truths are diffused among the people. During the apostolic age the messengers of Christ went everywhere preaching his Gospel, in season and out of season; proving from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God; requiring those to whom they preached to search the Scriptures; exhorting younger ministers to preach the Word; to hold forth the Word of life; to give attendance to reading, exhortation, and doctrine; to meditate upon these things and to give themselves wholly to them. During this period the Gospel made more rapid progress, and perhaps brought forth more abundant fruits than during any equally long period of its history. When, however, the truth began to be more and more corrupted by the speculations of philosophy, and by the introduction of the Jewish doctrines concerning ceremonies and the priesthood; when “reserve” in preaching came into vogue, and it was held to be both lawful and wise to conceal the truth, and awaken reverence and secure obedience by other means; and when Christian worship was encumbered by heathen rites, and the trust of the people turned away from God and Christ, to the virgin and saints, then the shades of night overspread the Church, and the darkness became more and more intense, until the truth or light was almost entirely obscured. At the Reformation, when the chained Bible was brought from the cloisters, given to the press, and scattered over Europe, it was like the bright rising of the sun: the darkness was dissipated; the Church arose from the dust, and put on her beautiful garments, for the glory of God had arisen upon her. Wherever the reading and preaching of the Word was unrestricted, there light, liberty, and true religion prevailed, in a proportionate 470degree. Wherever the Bible was suppressed and the preaching of its truths was forbidden, there the darkness continued and still abides.
A third important fact equally well established is, that true religion prevails in any community, in proportion to the degree in which the young are instructed in the facts and indoctrinated in the truths of the Bible. This, in one view, is included under the previous head, but it deserves separate notice. The question does not concern the reason why the religious education of the young is so important; or the way in which that education can most advantageously be secured; but simply the fact that where the young are from the beginning imbued with the knowledge of the Bible, there pure Christianity abides; and where they are allowed to grow up in ignorance of divine truth, there true religion languishes and loses more and more its power. Such is the testimony of experience.
It is, therefore, the united testimony of Scripture and of history that the Bible, the Word of God, is the great means of promoting the sanctification and salvation of men, that is, of securing their temporal and eternal well being. Those consequently who are opposed to religion; who desire the reign of indifferentism, or the return of heathen doctrines and heathen morality, are consistent and wise in their generation, in endeavouring to undermine the authority of the Bible; to discourage its circulation; to discountenance attendance on its preaching; and especially to oppose its being effectually taught to the young. Those on the other hand who believe that without holiness no man can see God, and that without the light of divine truth, holiness is impossible, are bound as pastors, as parents, and as citizens to insist that the Bible shall have free course, and that it shall be faithfully taught to all under their influence or for whose training they are responsible.
To what is the Power of the Word to be attributed?
It being admitted as a fact that the Bible has the power attributed to it, the question arises, To what is that due? To this question different answers are given. Some say that its whole power lies in the nature of the truths which it contains. This is the doctrine held by Pelagians and Rationalists. On this subject it may be remarked, (1.) That all truth has an adaptation to the human mind and tends to produce an impression in accordance with its nature. If a mind could be conceived or destitute of all truth, it would be in a state of idiocy. The 471mind is roused to action and expanded, and its power is increased by the truth, and, other things being equal, in proportion to the amount of truth communicated to it. (2.) It is the tendency of all moral truth in itself considered, to excite right moral feelings and to lead to right moral action. (3.) It is further conceded that the truths of the Bible and the sources of moral power therein contained are of the highest possible order. The doctrine, for example, therein taught concerning God, that He is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth, is immeasurably above all that human reason ever discovered or human philosophy ever taught. There is more moral power in that single truth, than in all the systems of moral philosophy. The same may be said of what the Bible teaches of God’s relation to the world. He is not merely its creator and architect, but also its constant preserver and governor; everywhere present, working with and by his creatures, using each according to its nature, and overruling all things to the accomplishment of the highest and most beneficent designs. To his rational creatures, especially to men, He reveals Himself as a father, loving, guiding, and providing for them; never afflicting them willingly, but only when it would be morally wrong to do otherwise. The Bible doctrine concerning man is not only true, conformed to all that man reveals himself to be, but it is eminently adapted to make him what he was designed to be: to exalt without inflating; to humble without degrading him. The Bible teaches that God made man out of the dust of the earth and breathed into him the breath of life, and he became a living soul conformed to the image of God in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. Thus man is apparently the lowest of God s rational creatures, but made capable of indefinite progress in capacity, excellence, and blessedness. The actual state of man however exhibits a sad contrast with this account of his original condition. The Bible accordingly informs us that man fell from the state in which he was created by sinning against God. Thus sin was introduced into the world: all men are sinners, that is, guilty, polluted, and helpless. These are facts of consciousness, as well as doctrines of the Bible. The Scriptures however inform us that God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoso believeth on Him might not perish but have everlasting life. We are told that this Son is the image of God, equal with God. By Him were all things created that are in 472heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities or powers: all things were created by Him and for Him; and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist. This divine Person, for us and for our salvation, took upon Him our nature, fulfilled all righteousness, bore our sins in his own body on the tree; and having died for our offences, rose again for our justification; and is now seated at the right hand of the majesty on high; all power in heaven and earth having been committed to his hands. There is more of power to sanctify, to elevate, to strengthen and to cheer in the single word Jesus, which means “Jehovah-saviour,” than in all the utterances of men since the world began. This divine and exalted Saviour has sent forth his disciples to preach his Gospel to every creature, promising pardon, sanctification, and eternal life, including a participation in his glory, to every one, on the sole condition that he receive Him as his God and Saviour, and, trusting in Him alone for salvation, honestly endeavour to do his will; that is, to love God with all his heart and his neighbour as himself, and to do to others as he would have others do to him. In view of all these truths, God asks, “What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?” All the resources of moral power are exhausted in the Bible. Every consideration that can affect the intellect, the conscience, the feelings, and the hopes of man is therein presented: yet all in vain.
There are two conditions necessary for the production of a given effect. The one is that the cause should have the requisite efficiency; and the other, that the object on which it acts should have the requisite susceptibility. The sun and rain shed their genial influences on a desert, and it remains a desert; when those influences fall on a fertile plain, it is clothed with all the wonders of vegetable fertility and beauty. The mid-day brightness of the sun has no more effect on the eyes of the blind than a taper; and if the eye be bleared the clearest light only enables it to see men as trees walking. It is so with moral truth: no matter what may be its inherent power, it fails of any salutary effect unless the mind to which it is presented be in a fit state to receive it.
The minds of men since the fall are not in a condition to receive the transforming and saving power of the truths of the Bible and therefore it is necessary, in order to render the Word of God an effectual means of salvation, that it should be attended by the 473supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle says expressly, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. ii. 14.) In the preceding chapter he had said, that the same gospel which to the called was the power and wisdom of God, was to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness. Our Lord said to the Jews: “Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my Word. He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not because ye are not of God.” (John viii. 43, 47.) Everything that the Scriptures teach of the state of men since the fall proves that until enlightened by the Holy Ghost they are spiritually blind, unable to discern the true nature of the things of the Spirit, and therefore incapable of receiving a due impression from them.
Experience confirms this teaching of the Bible. It shows that no mere moral power of truth as presented objectively to the mind is of any avail to change the hearts of men. There once appeared on earth a divine person clothed in our nature; exhibiting the perfection of moral excellence in the form of a human life: holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners; humble, disinterested, beneficent, tender, patient, enduring, and dispensing blessings on all who approached him. Yet this person was to the men of his generation without form or comeliness. He came to his own and his own received him not. They rejected him and preferred a murderer. And in what respect are we better than they? How is Christ regarded by the mass of the men of this generation? Multitudes blaspheme Him. The majority scarcely think of Him. He is to them no more than Socrates or Plato. And yet there is in Him such a revelation of the glory of God, as would constrain every human heart to love and adore Him, had not the god of this world blinded the eyes of those who believe not. It is vain therefore to talk of the moral power of truth converting men.
There are some who throw a vail over this rationalistic doctrine, and delude themselves and others into the belief that they stand on more Scriptural ground than Rationalists, because they admit that the Spirit is operative in the truth. Every theist believes that God is everywhere present in the world and always sustaining and coöperating with physical causes in the production of their various effects. So the Spirit is in the world, everywhere present and everywhere active, coöperating with moral causes in 474producing their legitimate effects. There is nothing in the operation of physical causes transcending their legitimate effects; and there is nothing in the regeneration, conversion, and sanctification of men which transcends the legitimate effects of moral truth. The one series of effects is just as natural, and just as little supernatural, as the other. It has already been shown on a previous page,433433See vol. ii. p. 657, ff. that this is all that the most advanced rationalists require. It excludes the supernatural, which is all they demand. In the effects produced by physical causes guided by the providential efficiency of God, there is nothing which exceeds the power of those causes; and in the effects produced by the moral power of the truth under the coöperation of the Spirit, there is nothing which exceeds the power of the truth. The salvation of the soul is as much a natural process as the growth of a plant. The Scriptures clearly teach that there is an operation of the Spirit on the soul anterior to the sanctifying influence of the truth, and necessary to render that influence effective. A dead man must be restored to life, before the objects of sense can produce upon him their normal effect. Those spiritually dead must be quickened by the almighty power of God, before the things of the Spirit can produce their appropriate effect. Those spiritually blind must have their eyes opened before they can discern the things freely given, or revealed, to them of God. This influence being anterior to, cannot be through, the truth. Hence we find numerous prayers in every part of the Scriptures for this antecedent work of the Spirit; prayers that God would change the hearts, open the eyes, and unstop the ears of men; or that He would give them ears to hear, and eyes to see. The Spirit is everywhere represented as a personal agent, distributing his gifts to every one severally as He will. He arouses their attention, controls their judgments, and awakens their affections. He convinces them of sin, righteousness, and judgment. He works in the people of God both to will and to do. He teaches, guides, comforts, and strengthens. His influence is not confined to one activity producing an initial change, and then leaving the renewed soul to the influences of the truth and of the ordinances, it is abiding. It is not however the influence of a uniformly acting force coöperating with the truth; but that of a person, acting when and where He pleases; more at one time than at another, sometimes in one way and sometimes in another. He is a “Helper” who can be invoked, or who can be grieved and resisted. All these 475representations of the Scriptures, which are utterly inconsistent with the purely rationalistic doctrine, as well as with the doctrine which either confounds the operations of the Spirit with the providential efficiency of God, or regards them as analogous, have impressed themselves on the general consciousness of the Church. Every believer feels that he stands to the Holy Spirit in the relation which one person sustains to another: a person on whom he is dependent for all good; whose assistance must be sought, and whose assistance may be granted or withheld at pleasure; and who may come or withdraw either for a season or forever. Such has been the faith of the Church in all ages, as is manifest from its creeds, its hymns, and its prayers. While all Christians admit that God’s providential efficiency extends over all his works, and that all good in fallen man is due to the presence and power of his Holy Spirit, yet they have ever felt and believed, under the guidance of the Scriptures, that the divine activity in these different spheres is entirely different. The spheres themselves are different; the ends to be accomplished are different; and the mode of operation is different. In nature (especially in the external world) God acts by law; his providential efficiency is a “potentia ordinata;” in grace it is more a “potentia absoluta,” untrammelled by law. It is personal and sovereign. He does not act continuously or in any one way; but just as He sees fit. He works in us “both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Phil. ii. 13.) As just remarked, therefore, every Christian feels his dependence not upon law, but on the good-will of a person. Hence the prayers so frequent in Scripture, and so constantly on the lips of believers, that the Spirit would not cast us off; would not give us up; would not be grieved by our ingratitude or resistance: but that He would come to us, enlighten us, purify, elevate, strengthen, guide, and comfort us; that He would come to our households, renew our children, visit our churches, and multiply his converts as the drops of the morning dew; and that He would everywhere give the Word of God effect.
This sovereignty in the operations of the Spirit is felt and recognized by every parent, by every pastor, and by every missionary. It is the revealed purpose of God that it must be acknowledged. “See your calling brethren,” says the Apostle; not the wise, the great, the good, but the foolish, those who are of no account, hath God chosen in order “that no flesh should glory in his presence.” (1 Cor. i. 26-29.) No man is to be allowed to attribute his conversion or salvation to himself, to law, or to the 476efficiency of means. It is in the hands of God. It is of Him that any man is in Christ Jesus. (1 Cor. i. 30.) In like manner He so gives or withholds the influences of the Spirit that every minister of the Gospel, as the Apostles themselves did, should feel and acknowledge that his success does not depend on his official dignity, or his fidelity, or his skill in argument, or his power of persuasion, but simply and solely on the demonstration of the Spirit, given or withheld as He sees fit. Why was it that so few were converted under the ministry of Christ, and so many thousands under that of the Apostles? Why is it that a like experience has marked the whole history of the Church? The only Scriptural or rational answer that can be given to that question is, “Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight.” We know indeed that the Spirit’s sovereignty is determined in its action by infinitely wise and good reasons; and we know that his withholding his coöperation is often judicial and punitive, that He abandons individuals, churches, communities, and nations who have sinned away their day of grace. It is important that we should remember, that, in living under the dispensation of the Spirit, we are absolutely dependent on a divine Person, who gives or withholds his influence as He will; that He can be grieved and offended; that He must be acknowledged, feared, and obeyed; that his presence and gifts must be humbly and earnestly sought, and assiduously cherished, and that to Him all right thoughts and right purposes, all grace and goodness, all strength and comfort, and all success in winning souls to Christ, are to be ascribed.
The Office of the Word as a Means of Grace.
Christians then do not refer the saving and the sanctifying power of the Scriptures to the moral power of the truths which they contain; or to the mere coöperation of the Spirit in a manner analogous to the way in which God coöperates with all second causes, but to the power of the Spirit as a divine Person acting with and by the truth, or without it, as in his sovereign pleasure He sees fit. Although light cannot restore sight to the blind, or heal the diseases of the organs of sight, it is nevertheless essential to every exercise of the power of vision. So the Word is essential to all holy exercises in the human soul.
In every act of vision there are three essential conditions — 1. An object. 2. Light. 3. An eye in a healthful or normal state. In all ordinary cases this is all that is necessary. But 477when the object to be seen has the attribute of beauty, a fourth condition is essential to its proper apprehension, namely, that the observer have æsthetic discernment or taste natural or acquired. Two men may view the same work of art. Both have the same object before them and the same light around them. Both see alike all that affects the organ of vision; but the one may see a beauty which the other fails to perceive; the same object therefore produces on them very different effects. The one it delights, elevates, and refines; the other it leaves unmoved if it does not disgust him. So when our blessed Lord was upon earth, the same person went about among the people; the same Word sounded in their ears; and the same acts of power and love were performed in their presence. The majority hated, derided, and finally crucified Him. Others saw in Him the glory of the only begotten Son of God full of grace and truth. These loved, adored, worshipped, and died for Him. Without the objective revelation of the person, doctrines, work, and character of Christ, this inward experience of his disciples had been impossible. But this outward revelation would have been, and in fact was to most of those concerned, utterly in vain, without the power of spiritual discernment. It is clear, therefore, what the office of the Word is, and what that of the Holy Spirit is in the work of sanctification. The Word presents the objects to be seen and the light by which we see; that is, it contains the truths by which the soul is sanctified, and it conveys to the mind the intellectual knowledge of those truths. Both these are essential. The work of the Spirit is with the soul. That by nature is spiritually dead; it must be quickened. It is blind; its eyes must be opened. It is hard; it must be softened. The gracious work of the Spirit is to impart life, to open the eyes, and to soften the heart. When this is done, and in proportion to the measure in which it is done, the Word exerts its sanctifying influence on the soul.
It is a clear doctrine of the Bible and fact of experience that the truth when spiritually discerned has this transforming power. Paul was full of pride, malignity, and contempt for Christ and his Gospel. When the Spirit opened his eyes to behold the glory of Christ, he instantly became a new man. The effect of that vision — not the miraculous vision of the person of the Son of God but the spiritual apprehension of his divine majesty and love — lasted during the Apostle’s life, and will last to all eternity. The same Apostle, therefore, teaches us that it is by beholding the glory of Christ that we are transformed into his image, from 478glory to glory, by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Cor. iii. 18.) Hence the Scriptures so constantly represent the heavenly state, as seeing God. It is the beatific vision of the divine glory, in all its brightness, in the person of the Son of God, that purifies, ennobles, and enraptures the soul; filling all its capacities of knowledge and happiness. It is thus that we are sanctified by the truth; it is by the spiritual discernment of the things of the Spirit, when He opens, or as Paul says, enlightens the eyes of our understanding. We thus learn how we must use the Scriptures in order to experience their sanctifying power. We must diligently search them that we may know the truths therein revealed; we must have those truths as much as possible ever before the mind; and we must pray earnestly and constantly that the Spirit may open our eyes that we may see wondrous things out of his law. It matters little to us how excellent or how powerful the truths of Scripture may be, if we do not know them. It matters little how well we may know them, if we do not think of them. And it matters little how much we think of them, if we cannot see them; and we cannot see them unless the Spirit opens the eyes of our heart.
We see too from this subject why the Bible represents it as the great duty of the ministry to hold forth the Word of life; by the manifestation of the truth to commend themselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. This is all they need do. They must preach the Word in season and out of season, whether men will hear, or whether they will forbear. They know that the Gospel which they preach is the power of God unto salvation, and that if it be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the God of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. (2 Cor. iv. 4.) Paul may plant and Apollos water, but God only can give the increase.
Besides this general sanctifying power of the Word of God, when spiritually discerned, it is to be further remarked that it is the means of calling forth all holy thoughts, feelings, purposes, and acts. Even a regenerated soul without any truth before is, would be in blank darkness. It would be in the state of a regenerated infant; or in the state of an unborn infant in relation to the external world; having eyes and ears, but nothing to tall its faculties of sight and hearing into exercise. It is obvious that we can have no rational feelings of gratitude, love, adoration 479and fear toward God, except in view of the truths revealed concerning Him in his Word. We can have no love or devotion to Christ, except so far as the manifestation of his character and work is accepted by us as true. We can have no faith except as founded on some revealed promise of God; no resignation or submission except in view of the wisdom and love of God and of his universal providence as revealed in the Scriptures; no joyful anticipation of future blessedness which is not founded on what the Gospel makes known of a future state of existence. The Bible, therefore, is essential to the conscious existence of the divine life in the soul and to all its rational exercises. The Christian can no more live without the Bible, than his body can live without food. The Word of God is milk and strong meat, it is as water to the thirsty, it is honey and the honeycomb.
The Lutheran Doctrine.
This doctrine has already been briefly, and, perhaps, sufficiently discussed on a preceding page;434434See vol. ii. p. 656 f. it cannot, however, be properly overlooked in this connection. The Lutherans agree in words with Rationalists and Remonstrants, in referring the efficiency of the Word of God in the work of sanctification to the inherent power of the truth. But Rationalists attribute to it no more power than that which belongs to all moral truth; such truth is from its nature adapted to form the character and influence the conduct of rational creatures, and as the truths of the Bible are of the highest order and importance, they are willing to concede to them a proportionate degree of power. The Lutherans, on the other hand, teach, — First, that the power of the Word which is inherent and constant, and which belongs to it from its very nature as the Word of God, is supernatural and divine. Secondly, that its efficiency is not due to any influence of the Spirit, accompanying it at some times and not at others, but solely to its own inherent virtue. Thirdly, that its diversified effects are due not to the Word’s having more power at one time than at another; or to its being attended with a greater or less degree of the Spirit’s influence, but to the different ways in which it is received. Christ, it is said, healed those who had faith to be healed. He frequently said: “According to your faith be it unto you,” or “Thy faith hath saved thee.” It was not because there was more power in the person of Christ when the woman touched his garment, than at other times, that she 480was healed, but because of her faith. Fourthly, that the Spirit never operates savingly on the minds of men, except through and in the Word. Luther in the Smalcald Articles says: “Constanter tenendum est, Deum nemini Spiritum vel gratiam suam largiri nisi per verbum et cum verbo externo et præcedente, ut ita præmuniamus nos adversum enthusiastas, i.e., spiritus, qui jactitant se ante verbum et sine verbo Spiritum habere.”435435II. viii. 3.; Hase, Libri Symbolici, 1846, p. 331. And in the Larger Catechism,436436IV. 30; Hase, p. 540. he says: In summa, quicquid Deus in nobis facit et operatur, tantum externis istius modi rebus et constitutionibus operari dignatur.” Luther went so far as to refer even the inspiration of the prophets to the “verbum vocale,” or external word.437437See Smalcald Articles, II. viii. 10, 11: “Quare in hoc nobis est, constanter perseverandum, quod Deus non velit nobiscum aliter agere, nisi per vocale verbum et sacramenta, et quod, quidquid sine verbo et sacramentis jactatur, ut spiritus, sit ipse diabolus. Nam Deus etiam Mosi voluit apparere per rubum ardentem et vocale verbum. Et nullus propheta, sive Elias, sive Elisæus, Spiritum sine decalogo sive verbo vocali accepit.” Hase, p. 333.
This divine power of the Word, however, is not, as before remarked, to be referred to the mere moral power of the truth. On this point the Lutheran theologians are perfectly explicit. Thus Quenstedt438438Theologia Didactio-Polemica, I. IV. ii. quæst. xvi. ἔχθεσις, 4; edit. Leipzig, 1715, p. 248. says: “Verbum Dei non agit solum persuasiones morales, proponendo nobis objectum amabile; sed vero, reali, divino et ineffabili influxu potentiæ suæ gratiosæ.” This influx of divine power, however, is not something occasional, giving the word a power at one time which it has not at another. It is something inherent and permanent. Quenstedt says:439439Ibid. I. IV. ii. quæst. xvi. fontes solutionum, 7; p. 268. “Verbo Dei virtus divina non extrinsecus in ipso usu demum, accedit, sed . . . . in se et per se, intrinsice ex divina ordinatione et communicatione, efficacia et vi conversiva et regeneratrice præditum est, etiam ante et extra omnem usum.” And Hollaz440440Examen Theologicum Acroamaticum, III. ii. 1. quæst. 4; edit. Leipzig, 1763, p. 992. says it has this power “propter mysticam verbi cum Spiritu Sancto unionem intimam et individuam.”
Professor Schinid, of Erlangen, in his “Dogmatik der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche,” quotes from the leading Lutheran theologians their views on this subject. Hollaz, for example, says that this “vis divina” is inseparably conjoined with the Word; that the Word of God cannot be conceived of without the Spirit; that if the Holy Spirit could be separated from the Word, it would 481not be the Word of God, but the word of man.441441Hollaz, Examen, III. ii. 1, 4, edit. Holmiæ et Lipsiæ; 1741, p. 987. Quenstedt says that the action of the Word and of the Spirit is one and indivisible. Baier says:442442Compendium Theologiæ Positivæ, Prolegg. II. xxxix. d; edit. Frankfort and Leipzig, 1739, p. 106. “Nempe eadem illa infinita virtus, quæ essentialiter, per se et independenter in Deo est, et per quam Deus nomines illuminat et convertit, verbo communicata est: et tanquam verbo communicata, divina tamen, hic spectari debet.” A distinction, says Quenstedt, is to be made between the natural instruments, such as the staff of Moses, or rod of Aaron, which God uses to produce supernatural effects, and those, as the Word and sacraments, which are “sua essentia supernaturalia. . . . . Illa indigent novo motu et elevatione nova ad effectum novum ultra propriam suam et naturalem virtutem producendum; hæc vero a prima institutione et productione sufficienti, hoc est, divina et summa vi ac efficacia prædita sunt, nec indigent nova et peculiari aliqua elevatione ultra efficaciam ordinariam, jamdum ipsis inditam ad producendum spiritualem effectum.”443443Quenstedt, Theologia, I. IV. ii. quæst. xvi. εχθεσις, 7, ut supra, p. 249. That the Word is not always efficacious is not because it is attended by greater power in one case than another, but because of the difference in the moral state of those to whom it is presented. On this point Quenstedt says, “Quanquam itaque effectus Verbi divini prædicati nonnunquam impediatur, efficacia tamen ipsa, seu virtus intrinseca a verbo tolli et separari non potest. Et ita per accidens fit inefficax, non potentiæ defectu, sed malitiæ motu, quo ejus operatio impeditur, quo minus effectum suum assequatur.”444444Ibid. quæst. xvi. 9. A piece of iron glowing with heat, if placed in contact with anything easily combustible, produces an immediate conflagration. If brought in contact with a rock, it produces little sensible effect. So the Word of God fraught with divine power, when presented to one mind regenerates, converts, and sanctifies, and when presented to another leaves it as it was, or only exasperates the evil of its nature. It is true these theologians say that the operation of the Word is not physical, as in the case of opium, poison, or fire; but moral, “illustrando mentem, commovendo voluntatem,” etc. Nevertheless the illustration holds as to the main point. The Word has an inherent, divine, and constant power. It produces different effects according to the subjective state of those on whom it acts. The Spirit acts neither on them nor on it more at one time than at another.482
1. It is obvious that this peculiar theory has no support from Scripture. The Bible does indeed say that the Word of God is quick and powerful; that it is the wisdom of God and the power of God; and that it convinces, converts, and sanctifies. But so does the Bible say that Christ gave his Apostles power to work miracles; and that they went about communicating the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, healing the sick, and raising the dead. But the power was not in them. Peter was indignant at such an imputation. “Why look ye so earnestly on us,” he said to the people, “as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk?” If the Apostles working miracles did not prove that the power was in them, the effects produced by the Word do not prove that the power is in it.
2. This doctrine is inconsistent with the constant representations of the Scriptures, which set forth the Spirit as attending the Word and giving it effect, sometimes more and sometimes less; working with and by the truth as He sees fit. It is inconsistent with the command to pray for the Spirit. Men are not accustomed to pray that God would give fire the power to burn or ice to cool. If the Spirit were always in mystical, indissoluble union with the Word, giving it inherent divine power, there would be no propriety in praying for his influence as the Apostles did, and as the Church in all ages has ever done, and continues to do.
3. This theory cuts us off from all intercourse with the Spirit and all dependence upon Him as a personal voluntary agent. He never comes; He never goes; He does not act at one time more than at another. He has imbued the Word with divine power, and sent it forth into the world. There his agency ends. God has given opium its narcotic power, and arsenic its power to corrode the stomach, and left them to men to use or to abuse as they saw fit. Beyond giving them their properties, He has nothing to do with the effects which they produce. So the Spirit has nothing to do with the conviction, conversion, or sanctification of the people of God, or with illuminating, consoling, or guiding them, beyond once for all giving his Word divine power. There it is: men may use or neglect it as they please. The Spirit does not incline them to use it. He does not open their hearts, as He opened the heart of Lydia, to receive the Word. He does not enlighten their eyes to see wondrous things out of the law.
4. Lutherans do not attribute divine power to the visible words 483or to the audible sounds uttered, but to the truth which these conventional signs are the means of communicating to the mind. They admit that this truth, although it has inherent in it divine power, never produces any supernatural or spiritual effect unless it is properly used. They admit also that this proper use includes the intellectual apprehension of its meaning, attention, aud the purpose to believe and obey. Yet they believe in infant regeneration. But if infants are incapable of using the Word; and if the Spirit never operates except in the Word and by its use, how is it possible that infants can be regenerated. If, therefore, the Bible teaches that infants are regenerated and saved, it teaches that the Spirit operates not only with and by the Word, but also without it, when, how, and where He sees fit. If Christ healed only those who had faith to be healed, how did He heal infants, or raise the dead?
5. The theory in question is contrary to Scripture, in that it assumes that the reason why one man is saved and another not, a simply that one resists the supernatural power of the Word and another does not. Why the one resists, is referred to his own free will. Why the other does not resist, is referred not to any special influence, but to his own unbiased will. Our Lord, however, teaches that those only come to Him who are given to Him by the Father; that those come who besides the outward teaching of the Word, are inwardly taught and drawn of God. The Apostle teaches that salvation is not of him that willeth or of him that runneth, but of God who showeth mercy. The Lutheran doctrine banishes, and is intended to banish, all sovereignty in the distribution of saving grace, from the dispensations of God. To those who believe that that sovereignty is indelibly impressed on the doctrines of the Bible and on the history of the Church and of the world, this objection is of itself sufficient. The common practical belief of Christians, whatever their theories may be, is that they are Christians not because they are better than other men; not because they coöperate with the common and sufficient grace given to all men; not because they yield to, while others resist the operation of the divine Word; but because God in his sovereign mercy made them willing in the day of his power; so that they are all disposed to say from the heart, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory.”
6. This Lutheran doctrine is inconsistent with the experience of believers individually and collectively. On the day of Pentecost, what fell upon the Apostles and the brethren assembled with 484them? It was no “verbum vocale;” no sound of words; and no new external revelation. The Spirit of God Himself, enlightened their minds and enabled them to remember and to understand all that Christ had taught, and they spoke every man, as the Spirit (not the Word) gave them utterance. Here was a clear manifestation of the Spirit’s acting directly on the minds of the Apostles. To say that the effects then exhibited were due to the divine power inherent in the words of Christ; and that they had resisted that power up to the day of Pentecost, and then yielded to its influence, is an incredible hypothesis. It will not account for the facts of the cast. Besides, our Lord promised to send the Spirit after his ascension. He commanded the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they were imbued with power from on high. When the Spirit came they were instantly enlightened, endowed with plenary knowledge of the Gospel, and with miraculous gifts. How could the “verbum vocale” impart the gift of tongues, or the gift of healing? What according to the Lutheran theory is meant by being full of the Holy Ghost? or, by the indwelling of the Spirit? or, by the testimony of the Spirit? or, by the demonstration of the Spirit? or, by the unction of the Holy One which teaches all things? or, by the outpouring of the Spirit? In short, the whole Bible, and especially the evangelical history and the epistles of the New Testament, represents the Holy Spirit not as a power imprisoned in the truth, but as a personal, voluntary agent acting with the truth or without it, as He pleases. As such He has ever been regarded by the Church, and has ever exhibited himself in his dealings with the children of God.
7. Luther, glorious and lovely as he was — and he is certainly one of the grandest and most attractive figures in ecclesiastical history — was impulsive and apt to be driven to extremes.445445No one knows Luther who has not read pretty faithfully the five octavo volumes of his letters, collected and edited by De Wette. These exhibit not only his power, fidelity, and courage, but also his gentleness, disinterestedness, and his childlike simplicity, as well as his joyousness and humour. The enthusiasts of his age undervalued the Scriptures, pretending to private revelations, and direct spiritual impulses, communicating to them the knowledge of truths unrevealed in the Bible, and a rule of action higher than that of the written Word. This doctrine was a floodgate through which all manner of errors and extravagances poured forth among the people and threatened the overthrow of the Church and of society. Against these enthusiasts all the Reformers raised their voices, and Luther denounced them with characteristic vehemence. In opposition to their pretensions 485he took the ground that the Spirit never operated on the minds of men except through the Word and sacraments; and, as he held the conversion of sinners to be the greatest of all miracles, he was constrained to attribute divine power to the Word. He was not content to take the ground which the Church in general has taken, that while the Word and sacraments are the ordinary channels of the Spirit’s influence, He has left himself free to act with or without these or any other means, and when He makes new revelations to individuals they are authenticated to others by signs, and miracles, and divers gifts; and that in all cases, however authenticated, they are to be judged by the written Word as the only infallible rule of faith or practice; so that if an Apostle or an angel from heaven should preach any other gospel than that which we have received, he is to be pronounced accursed. (Gal. i. 8.) “We are of God:” said the Apostle John, “he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” (1 John iv. 6.) The Scriptures teach that not only the Holy Spirit, but also other spirits good and evil have access to the minds of men, and more or less effectually control their operations. Directions, therefore, are given in the Bible to guide us in discriminating between the true and false.
The power of individual men, who appear in special junctures, over the faith and character of coming generations, is something portentous. Of such “world controllers,” at least in modern times, there are none to compare with Martin Luther, Ignatius Loyola, and John Wesley. Though so different from each other, each has left his impress upon millions of men. Our only security from the fallible or perverting influence of man, is in entire, unquestioning submission to the infallible Word of God.
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