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§ 51. The Efficacy of the Word of God.

As the Holy Spirit, through whom alone men are converted, operates only by the Word, this Word must possess the power of producing in man all those effects which are described in the preceding article, On the State of Grace. And this power 501is of such a character that it is always attended with success when no opposition is made to it on the part of man. [5] Hence the Word is endowed with efficacy, i.e., “it has an active, supernatural, and truly divine force or power of producing supernatural effects; in other words, of converting, regenerating, and renewing the minds of men.” Hence the Word of God does not confine itself merely to teaching man externally the way of salvation and showing him the means whereby to attain it. [6] Its power is not to be compared to the convincing force which even an eloquent human discourse possesses; hence its power is not a natural one, such as dwells in every human word, but it is supernatural. [7] This power is inherent in the Word because the Holy Ghost attends it; from the moment that a Word of God is uttered, the Holy Ghost is inseparably and continually connected with it, [8] so that the power and efficacy of the Word is fully identical with that of the Spirit. [9] This is a truly divine efficacy; [10] and, just as we cannot conceive of the Holy Ghost as separate from this efficacy, so neither can we conceive of the Word of God as independent of it. [11] We are not, then, in any way to represent to ourselves the relation of the Word and the Spirit as though the Word were merely the lifeless instrument which the Holy Ghost employed, [12] or as though the Spirit, when He wished to operate through the Word, must always first unite Himself with it, as if He were ordinarily separated from it. [13]

[1] QUEN. (IV, 1): “We have heretofore treated of the grounds of our salvation; we must now consider the means by which we attain to it. The means, properly so called, on the part of God, are the Word and Sacraments, the saving antidotes to our spiritual disease.”

The Word and Sacraments are also designated as means of salvation under the general idea of the Word — as the Sacraments are designated as the Visible Word.

CONF. AUG. (V, 2). FORM. CONC. (Sol. Dec., XI, 76): “The Father will draw none to Himself without means, but He employs His Word and Sacraments as the ordinary means and instruments.” ART. SMALCALD. (VIII, 3): “We must firmly maintain that God bestows His Spirit and grace on none unless through the Word and by the external Word previously declared, that we may fortify ourselves against the Enthusiasts, who boast they have the Spirit 502before the Word and without it, and therefore judge, bend, and distort the Scriptures, or oral Word, as they please, as Münzer did, and many others at present do, who wish to discriminate very acutely between the Spirit and the letter.” HOLL. (991): “The means of salvation are divinely ordained, by which God graciously offers the salvation acquired by Christ, the Mediator, to all men who have fallen into sin, and bestows and preserves true faith in them, and at last introduces all who embrace the merit of Christ and persevere in it into the kingdom of glory.”

[2] FORM. CONC. (Sol. Dec., II, 56): “We should not and cannot always judge of the presence, operations, and gifts of the Holy Spirit from our feelings (the manner and time, viz., when they are experienced in the heart); but, inasmuch as these are often cloaked under much infirmity, we should be convinced from the promise that the Word of God preached and heard is assuredly the ministry and instrument of the Spirit, by which He truly and efficaciously operates in our hearts.”

[3] From what was said in the remarks preliminary to the articles on Faith and Justification, it follows that we cannot entirely adhere to the systematic division of the Dogmaticians in this Part IV. They do not treat, namely, of Faith and Works until under this head, and they call Faith also a means of salvation, according to which, therefore, they embrace more than do we under the phrase, means of salvation. This they can do, because they distinguish between “the means of salvation on the part of God, δοτικα, or those offering salvation (the Word and Sacraments), and the means of salvation on our part, ληπτικον, or that apprehending the offered salvation (faith in the merit of Christ).” In this section the Dogmaticians also treat the subject of the last things (death, resurrection of the dead, etc.), inasmuch as they designate these as means in a general sense, or executive and isagogical, that is, means divinely instituted, without the previous occurrence of which God does not accomplish the sentence of glorification, and by the final intervention of which men persevering in the faith are introduced into heaven.”

As we have assigned to the article of faith another place, it also appears better to separate that of the last things from this section, so as to confine ourselves, in it, to the proper and limited conception of the means of grace.

[4] The Word, which, in the article Of the Holy Scriptures, was described as the source of knowledge, is here viewed as a means of grace.

HOLL. (992): “The Word of God is here considered not as the 503source of knowledge, but as the means of practice or action, by whose intervention the sinner is led by God to eternal salvation.”

The Dogmaticians remark, in advance, that by the Word they do not understand the bare external letters of the written Word. QUEN. (I, 169): “We must distinguish between the Word of God as it is materially expressed and exhibited in the written characters, points, letters, and syllables adhering to paper or parchment . . . or also in the sound and the external words formed in the air . . . and formally considered, as the divine conception and sense which we find expressed in these written letters and syllables and in the words of the preached Gospel. In the former sense it is called the Word of God only figuratively (σημαντικως); in the latter, however, κυριως, properly and strictly, it is the Word of God, the wisdom of God, the mind of God, the counsel of God. We ascribe not to the former, but to the latter, divine power and efficacy.”

CAT. MAJ., DECAL. (101): “Such is its virtue and power that where it is recalled to mind, or heard and considered with serious attention and interest, it never passes away without fruit, but always engages, retains, and excites the hearer with some new intelligence, delight, and devotion, and purifies his feelings and thoughts. For the words are not putrid or dead, destitute of sap and vigor, but truly living and efficacious.”

The Symbolical Books do not express themselves distinctly on the efficacy of the Word of God. The more fully stated views of the following Dogmaticians, according to which this efficacy or power is supernatural, if not precisely in the language of the Symbolical Books, are still in accordance with the opinions maintained in them.

[5] QUEN. (I, 170): “The innate power and tendency of God’s Word is always to convince men of its truth, unless its operation is hindered and prevented by voluntary self-assertion and contumacy superadded to a natural repugnance.” Hence the Word is to be regarded as producing an effect wherever it is used; but at the same time it depends on the conduct of men whether it has the special effect designed by its author. “The second act is considered either as the ενεργεια and operation or as the effect itself. If it be regarded as the energy and operation, then it always accompanies the Word of God preached, read, or heard, i.e., it always exerts itself when legitimately used, since the Word of God is never inoperative, but always operative. But, if it be considered as the effect itself, this does not always follow, in consequence of the impediment interposed by the subject or on account of the hardness of the hearts upon which it operates. Although, therefore, 504the effect of the preached Word is sometimes hindered, yet the efficacy or intrinsic virtue itself cannot be taken away or separated from it. And thus accidentally it may be inefficacious, not from a deficiency of power, but by the exercise of perverseness, which hinders its operation so that its effect is not attained.” . . . Hence the power of the Word is not irresistible, but resistible (171). This efficacy, as belonging to the Word of God, generally, is predicated both of the Law and the Gospel, yet with a distinction.

QUEN. (I, 170): “When we attribute to the Word a divine power and efficacy to produce spiritual effects, we wish not to be understood as speaking of the Gospel only, but also of the Law. For, although the Law does not produce these gracious results directly and per se, i.e., kindle faith in Christ and effect conversion, since this is rather to be ascribed to the Gospel, still the letter is not on this account dead, but is efficacious after its kind: for it killeth, 2 Cor. 3:6; it worketh wrath, Rom. 4:15, etc.

[6] HOLL. (992): “The efficacy of the divine Word is not only objective or significative, like the statue of Mercury, for instance, which points out the path, but does not give power or strength to the traveler to walk in it, but it is effective, because it not only shows the way of salvation, but saves souls.”

[7] QUEN. (I, 170): “The Word works not only by moral suasion, by proposing a lovely object to us, but also by a true, real, divine, and ineffable influence of its gracious power, so that it effectually and truly converts, illuminates, etc., the Holy Spirit operating in, with, and through it; for in this consists the difference between the divine and the human word.”

BR. (123): “(The Holy Scriptures have an active, supernatural force or power) which is to be sought neither in the elegance of their style, nor in the sublimity of their thoughts, nor in the power of their arguments; but it is far superior to every created and finite agency.”

It is a supernatural power in distinction from that which human eloquence possesses. But in another aspect it is also called natural, inasmuch as the Word of God cannot be conceived of without such an efficacy. QUEN. (I, 172): “We say that there is a natural efficacy in the Word of God, because it naturally belongs to it, and its essence and nature are such that it could not be the true Word of God unless it contained within itself that divine power and virtue to convert men, etc., etc.” BR. (124), however, observes: “To avoid ambiguity and disputes, we avoid the use of this term.”

[8] HOLL. (993): “A divine power is communicated to the 505Word by the Holy Spirit joined with it indissolubly.” Hence, there is a native or intrinsic power and efficacy belonging to the Word, deeply inherent in it. The Dogmaticians draw proofs of this, (1) From the qualities which the divine Word ascribes to itself, John 6:63; Rom. 1:16; Heb. 4:12, 13; 1 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:23; James 1:21. (2) From the similar supernatural and divine operations which are ascribed to the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, ex. gr., calling, 2 Tim. 2:14; illumination, 2 Pet. 1:19; conversion, Jer. 23:29; regeneration, 1 Pet. 1:23; justification, 2 Cor. 3:9; sanctification, John 17:17. (3) HOLL. (ib.): “The Word of God, as such, cannot be conceived of without the divine virtue, or the Holy Spirit, who is inseparable from His Word. For if the Holy Spirit could be separated from the Word of God, it would not be the Word of God or of the Spirit, but a word of man. Nor is there any other Word of God, which is in God, or with which men of God have been inspired, than that which is given in the Scriptures or is preached or treasured up in the human mind. But, as it cannot be denied that that is the divine will, counsel, mind, and the wisdom of God, so it cannot be destitute of the divine virtue or efficacy.”

[9] QUEN. (I, 183): “We are to assume here not only a certain conjunction or union of distinct actions, or even a unity of aims or effects, but also a unity of energy and operation. For the Holy Spirit does not by Himself do something, and the Word of God by itself something else, in the conversion of men; but they produce the one effect by one and the same action. For such is the peculiar nature of the principal and subordinate causes, intrinsically united together, that they produce an effect by one and the same action. Thus the soul and the eye see by a single action, and not by distinct actions.”

[10] BR. (1124): “Truly that same infinite virtue which is essentially per se and independently in God, and by which He enlightens and converts men, is communicated to the Word, and, although it is communicated to the Word, yet it must be considered as divine.” . . . But it by no means follows from this that there is a commingling of God and the Word in regard to this divine power; hence BR. (128) says: “They frequently and diligently impress it upon us that the same virtue belongs to God and the Scriptures, but not in the same way; for that of God is essential, fundamental, original, and independent, while that of the Scriptures is dependent and participative or derived.” . . . Hence it is said of the Word that it exhibits its power and efficacy οργανικως, or instrumentally . . . . QUEN. (I, 172): “The divine Word is not 506the principal agent in the work of conversion, regeneration, and salvation, but it is only a suitable means or organ which God ordinarily uses in producing spiritual effects, not indeed by necessity or indigence, as if He so bound His efficacy in the conversion of men to His Word that He could not convert men without any means, or by any other means or organ than His Word if He wished, but of His own free will, because thus it pleased Him. 1 Cor. 1:21.”

[11] QUEN. (I, 170): “Whether the Word be read or not, whether it be heard and believed or not, yet the efficacy of its spiritual effects is always intrinsically inherent in it by the divine arrangement and communication, nor does this divine efficacy only come to it when it is used. For the Word of God, as such, cannot even be conceived of apart from the divine virtue and gracious working of the Holy Spirit, because this is inseparable from the Word of God.”

HOLL. (993) uses the following figures: “It possesses and retains its internal power and efficacy even when not used, just as the illuminating power of the sun continues, although, when the shadow of the moon intervenes, no person may see it; and just as an internal efficacy belongs to the seed, although it may not be sown in the field.”

In order to avoid misapprehension, it is expressly observed that the Word does not operate physically (by the contact of an agent, as opium, poison, fire, etc.), but morally (by enlightening the mind, moving the will, etc.); and a distinction is made between the efficacy of the Word considered in the first act and in the second act, or between efficacy and efficiency. When it is said that the Word operates extra usum, when not used, it is only meant that the power is constantly inherent in the Word, just as the power to give light always exists in the sun; so that, when the Word is to produce a certain effect, the power must not first come to it, but that the Word exercises its legitimate influence only where it is properly used.”

QUEN. (I, 171): “The first act is the operating power δυναμις ενεργητικη; the second act is the real operation. The Word does not exhibit its efficacy in the second act unless in the legitimate use of it.”

QUEN. (ib.) (from his Theses against Rathman): “The distinction we make is not unreasonable, between the power, or the first act, and the divine operation, or second act, of the outwardly read or preached Word. Per se, and in itself, it always is a power, or has in itself a power, to move all readers and hearers, hypocrites as 507well as believers and converted persons, which is not a physical power, physically included in the letter, like that of medicine, but a divine power, which is always communicated to the read or preached Word by the Holy Spirit. But this power, although it is always present in the preached Word, yet is not always operative on all.” HOLL. (994) illustrates this by the following example: “The hand of a sleeping man does nothing, yet neither is the power of action bestowed on it in vain, nor is the hand thus inoperative, dead.”

The Lutheran theologians, in general, had reason to illustrate very particularly the doctrine of the operation of the Word of God, in order to oppose the Enthusiasts and Mystics, who held that the Holy Spirit operated rather irrespectively of the Word than through it; and to oppose also the Calvinists, who, led by their doctrine of predestination, would not grant that the Word possessed this power per se, but only in such cases where God chose. Hence the position that the Word also possessed a power extra usum was specially defended against Rathman (1628), who denied it, and who appears to have maintained only an objective efficacy of the Word of God. (QUEN. (I, 174) gives the following opinions of Rathman: “Rathman compares the Word of God to a statue of Mercury, to a picture, to a sign, and even to a channel; namely, to instruments altogether passive and inoperative. He asserts, moreover, that the divine efficacy is external to the Word of God, separable from it at any moment, and merely auxiliary (παραστατικον); that the Holy Spirit with His virtue joins Himself to the Word only in the mind or heart of man, and only then when it is legitimately and savingly used.”) But an efficacy extra usum must necessarily be maintained, if the Word of God is not to be put on a precise level with every human word.

HOLL. (992) thus sums up the doctrine: “The Word of God is the most efficacious means of salvation, for its power and efficacy are not only objective, but also effective; not consisting in moral suasion, but in supernatural operation; not external and coming to it when used by men, but intrinsic in the Word; not accidental, but necessary, by a divinely ordained necessity, and therefore not separable, but perpetual, inherent in the Word itself extra usum, as the first act. This efficacy is truly divine, producing the same effect as the Holy Spirit, who is perpetually united with the Word, which (effect) the Spirit influences together with the Word, by the divine power which belongs to the Holy Spirit originally and independently, but to the divine Word communicatively and dependently, on account of its mysterious, intimate, and individual union with the Spirit.”


[12] QUEN. (I, 171): “We must distinguish between the mere natural instruments, such as the staff of Moses, the rod of Aaron, etc., employed by God to produce a supernatural effect, and His essential supernatural means, such as the Word of God and the Sacraments. The former are destitute of a new motive or elevating power wherewith to produce a new effect beyond their proper and natural power; but the latter, from their very origin and production, are endowed with a sufficient, i.e., a divine and supreme power and efficacy, nor do they need any new and peculiar elevating power beyond the ordinary efficacy already infused into them for producing the spiritual effect.” The later theologians, therefore, prefer calling the Word a means rather than an instrument of the Holy Spirit, although they do not hold that the latter expression, which is used also in the Symbolical Books, is altogether inadmissible, provided that no mere lifeless instrument is thereby understood.

MUSAEUS (in Br., 131) distinguishes between “instruments which are not united with an operative cause, unless they be in use, such as an axe, hammer, etc., and instruments which always have an operative cause impliedly and virtually united with them even when not used;” and he holds that the expression instrument, in relation to the Word of God, is admissible only in the latter sense. Another distinction is that which is made between passive and cooperative instruments. But QUEN. (I, 186) says: “We grant that the Word of God may be called the instrument or organic cause of conversion, etc., namely, when considered concretely and as administered, so far as the Word of God is externally read or preached. For these external means are truly organs, into which the Spirit enters with His virtue and efficacy.”

[13] HULSEM. (in QUEN., I, 186) says: “That elevation of the sense of the Word, as they call it, is by no means an accessory and separate power of the Holy Spirit, which may sometimes be absent from the Word; but the Word of God embraces in itself, by its own natural constitution, wonderful and inexplicable divine energy and power of penetration, far better adapted than the sentences of Seneca and Cato to arouse the minds of readers.”

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