“And I think that I also have the
Spirit of God.”—
We have seen that tie apostolate has an extraordinary significance and occupies a unique position. This position is twofold, viz., temporary, with reference to the founding of the first churches, and permanent, with regard to the churches of all ages.
The first must necessarily be temporary, for what was then accomplished can not be repeated. A tree can be planted only once; an organism can be born only once; the planting or founding of the Church could take place only once. However, this founding was not unprepared for. On the contrary, God has had a Church in the world from the beginning. That Church was even a world-Church. But it went down in idolatry; and only a small Church remained among an almost unknown people—the Church in Israel. When this particular Church was to become again a world-Church, two things were required:
First, that the Church in Israel lay aside its national dress.
Secondly, that in the midst of the heathen world the Church of Christ appear, so that the two might become manifest as the one Christian Church.
By these two things the apostolic labor is almost exhausted. In St. Paul the two are united. No apostle labored more zealously to divest the Church of Israel of its Jewish attire, and no one was more abundant in the planting of new churches in all parts of the world.
The apostolate had, however, a much more extensive and higher calling, not only for those days, but also for the Church of the ages. It was the task of the apostles for which they were, ordained: by giving to the churches fixed forms of government to determine their character; and by the written documentation of the revelation of Christ Jesus to secure to them purity and perpetuity.
This is evident from the character of their labors: for they not
In this connection it is remarkable that St. Paul was conscious of a twofold current running through his word: (1) that of tradition, touching the things ordained by the Lord Jesus during His ministry; and (2) that of the Holy Spirit, touching the things to be decided by the apostolate. For he writes: “Now concerning virgins, I have no commandment of the Lord; yet I give my judgment as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful”
By these ordinances and regulations the apostles not only gave to the churches of those days a fixed form of life, but they also prepared the channel that was to determine the future course of the life of the Church. They did this in two ways:
First, partly by the impressions they made upon the life of the churches, and which were never wholly obliterated.
Secondly, partly also and more particularly by leaving us in writing the image of that Church, and by sealing the principal features of these ordinances in their apostolic epistles.
Both these influences, that directly on the life of the churches, and that of the apostolic Scriptures, have taken care that the image of the Church should not be lost, and that, where it was in danger of such loss, by the grace of God it should be fully restored.
This leads us to consider the second activity of the apostles, whereby they operated upon the Church of all ages, viz., the in heritance of their writings.
Our writings are the richest and maturest products of the mind; and the mind of the Holy Spirit received its richest, fullest, and most perfect expression when His meaning was put into documental form. The literary labor of the apostles deserves, therefore, careful attention.
When the apostles Peter and Paul preached the Gospel, healed the sick, judged the unruly, and founded churches, giving them ordinances, they performed in each of these a great and glorious work. And yet the significance of St. Paul’s labor when he wrote, e.g., the Epistle to the Romans so far surpassed the value of preaching and healing that the two can not be compared. When he wrote that one little book, which in ordinary pamphlet form would make no more than three sheets of printed mater, he performed the greatest work of his life. From this little book the most far-reaching influences have gone forth. By this one little book St. Paul became a historic person.
We know, indeed, that many of our present theologians reverse this order, and say: “These apostles were profoundly spiritual men; they lived near the Lord and had entered deeply into the mind of Christ; they labored and preached and occasionally wrote a few letters, some of which have come down to us; yet this letter-writing
Even tho it be granted that the apostle was unconscious of it, yet this alters not the fact. To-day, when the churches founded eighteen centuries ago have all past away, and the church of Rome can scarcely be recognized; when the people who by his wonderful power were healed or saved have all crumbled to dust, and not a single memory remains of all his other toil; to-day his epistolary inheritance still governs the Church of Christ.
We can not conceive what the condition of the Church would be without St. Paul’s epistles; if we were to lose the inheritance of the great apostle that has come to us through our fathers. What is it that controls our confession, if not the truths developed by him; what is it that governs our lives, if not the ideals so highly exalted by him? We can safely say, with reference to our own Church, that without the Pauline epistles its whole form and appearance would be totally different.
This being so, we are also justified in saying that the objectifying of Christian truth in the apostolic epistles is the most important of all their labors. Instead of calling it a “dead-letter,” we confess that in it their activity reached its very zenith.
However, the peculiar work of the Holy Spirit in the apostolate being the subject of our present inquiry, and not the apostolate itself, we will consider now the serious question: What is the nature of this work?
Our choice lies between the theory of the mechanical, and that of the natural, process.
The supporters of the first say: “Nothing can be more simple than the work of the Holy Spirit in the apostles. They had only to sit down, take pen and ink, and write at His dictation.” The advocates of the natural process state its case as follows: “The apostles had entered more deeply into the mind of Christ; they were holier, purer, and more godly than others; hence they were better fitted to be the instruments of the Holy Spirit, who after all animates every child of God.” These are the extreme views. On the one hand, the work of the Holy Spirit is considered as a foreign element introduced into the life of the Church and that of the apostles. Any schoolboy competent to write a dictation might have written the Epistle to the Romans joist as well as St. Paul. The obvious difference of style and manner of presentation between his epistles and those of St. John does not spring from the difference of personalities, but from the fact that the Holy Spirit purposely adopted the style and way of speaking of His chosen scribe, be he St. Paul or St. John.
The other extreme considers that the persons of the apostles account for the whole matter; so that to speak of a work of the Holy, Spirit is only to repeat a pious term. According to this view, the influence of Christ’s personal intercourse had an educating effect upon His disciples, which left such impress of His life upon them that they could understand His Person and aims much better than others; hence being the best-developed minds of the Christian circle of those days, they adopted in their writings—a certain apostolic authority.
Besides these two extremes, we must mention the view of certain friendly theologians who turn this natural into a supernatural, but still self-developed, process. They acknowledge, with us, that there is a work of the Holy Spirit which they also call regeneration, and allow that to this the gift of illumination is often added. And from this they argue: “Among the regenerated there are some in whom this divine work is only superficial, and others in whom He operates more deeply. In the former; the gift of illumination is undeveloped; in the latter, it attains great luster; and it is to this class that the apostles belonged, who were partakers of this gift in its highest degree. Owing to these two gifts, the work of the Holy Spirit attained in them such clearness and transparency that, in speaking or writing concerning the things of the Kingdom of God, they struck almost invariably the right note, chose the right word,
Over against these three opponents we wish to present the view of the best theologians of the Christian Church, which, altho fully appreciating the effects of regeneration and illumination in the apostles, still maintain that from these the infallible, apostolic authority can not be explained; and that the authority of their word is recognized only by the unconditional confession that these operations of grace were but the means used by the Holy Spirit when, through the apostles, He cast His own testimony into documental forms for the Church of all ages.
Calvin College. Last modified on 08/11/06. Contact the CCEL.