Friday, September 23, 2016

Grace through the Word: the Lutheran and Reformed Doctrines Contrasted

A (relatively) short time ago, while working on other things, I was listening through the renowned Presbyterian theologian Charles Hodges's Systematic Theology. Within that work, he has the following discussion about his (Reformed) view of the power and efficacy of the Word and the Lutheran view of the matter.  By reproducing the quotation below, I am not agreeing with or endorsing Hodge or his theology.  However, I wanted to reproduce it unedited and unchanged, and see what readers of this blog had to say about the doctrines affirmed and denied on this subject by Hodge as a Reformed theologian in contradistinction to what the Lutherans affirm.  In particular, what caught my attention was the difference between his Reformed view of the power of the Word--namely, that the Spirit in His sovereignty at times uses the Word in a greater way than at other times--versus the Lutheran view that this is not the case.  What do you think is the Biblical, and, therefore, we trust, the view that ought to be believed and practiced in Baptist churches--the Reformed view, the Lutheran view, or neither?  Do you have any Baptist historical theology that relates to this question that you would like to put in the comment section?  I look forward to hearing your Biblical comments and thoughts on this question.

The quotation from Hodge:

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 when 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 glory to glory, by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Cor. 3:18.) 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. 4:4.) 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 it, 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 call its faculties of sight and hearing into exercise. It is obvious that we can have no rational feelings of gratitude, love, adoration and 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;1 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 was 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.”1 And in the Larger Catechism,2 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.3

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 Quenstedt4 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:5 “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 Hollaz6 says it has this power “propter mysticam verbi cum Spiritu Sancto unionem intimam et individuam.”

Professor Schmid, 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 not be the Word of God, but the word of man. Quenstedt says that the action of the Word and of the Spirit is one and indivisible. Baier says:1 “Nempe eadem illa infinita virtus, quæ essentialiter, per se et independenter in Deo est, et per quam Deus homines 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.”2 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.”3 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.


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 see 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, or 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, and 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, is 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 them? 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 case. 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.1 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 he 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. 1:8.) “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 4:6.) 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.

1 See vol. ii. p. 656 f.
1 ii. viii. 3: Hase, Libri Symbolici, 1846, p. 331.
2 iv. 30; Hase, p. 540.
3 See 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 prophets, sive Elias, sive Elisæus, Spiritum sine decalogo sive verbo vocali accepit.” Hase, p. 333.
4 Theologia Didactico-Polemica, I. iv. ii. quæst xvi. ἔχθεσις, 4; edit. Leipzig, 1715, p. 248.
5 Ibid. I. iv. ii. quæst. xvi. fontes solutionum, 7; p. 268.
6 Examen Theologicum Acroamaticum. iii. ii. 1, quæst. 4; edit. Leipzig, 1763, p. 992.
1 Compendium Thelogiæ Positivæ, Prolegg. II. xxxix. d; edit. Frankfort and Leipzig, 1739, p. 106.
2 Quenstedt, Theologia, I. iv. ii. quæst. xvi. ἔχθεσις, 7, ut supra, p. 249.
3 Ibid. quæst. xvi. 9.
1 No 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.

 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3, 476–485.


KJB1611 said...

The question in this post has many important implications. Doesn't anyone have some Biblical thoughts on it?

Kent Brandenburg said...


If I had read that passage of Hodge, I'm quite sure I do not remember it. I read a lot of pages of it in the distant past sometimes while very sleepy, turning pages in a delirious state.

In one read through of the article, interestingly enough, the Lutheran view rang true with me more than the Reformed view, if Hodge does represent all of the Reformed on this doctrine. Many passages came to mind that would seem to back this up. Hodge refers so little to scripture that I wasn't convinced by what he wrote. It would require taking it line by line and thinking through my mental scriptural database, which is what I was doing, I know, in my one time reading.

One chapter in our book on the gospel is the relationship of the Word of God to the gospel. David Warner is doing it and he's studying on that right now to do the presentation this year in the WOT conference.

If I were to explain what I think I believe on this in a very brief way it is that the Word of God is always as powerful as it can be, but it falls on different types of listeners or hearts or soil. The Holy Spirit works through the Word. He does. If it isn't happening, it's because of the receptacle.

Some of what I read with Hodge on the Reformed relates to consistency with Calvinism, following its logic.

Jon Gleason said...

I Cor. 2 and other passages are very clear, the direct working of the Spirit is needed for salvation. Romans 10 and I Peter 1 and other passages are very clear, the Scripture is needed.

So both are needed. Is equal power always present in every case or is more power present in some cases? We're not directly told, so we have to draw logical conclusions.

Ephesians 2:1-3 describes the lost as "dead" who are quickened by God. No one who is not saved is quickened, so there is clearly a work of the Spirit in salvation which does not take place at other times. Why? Because of a response of belief, or because of a choice of God to bring life so that belief will result?

I think the question is essentially one Calvinists and Arminians/non-Calvinists have disputed for centuries, isn't it? Does the Spirit's work of regeneration logically precede/result in belief, or logically follow/result from belief? If the former, obviously Hodge is right. There is a greater exertion of spiritual power by the Spirit through the Word when God has elected to save. If the latter, the Lutheran view (at least as described by Hodge) is more correct -- the greater exertion of spiritual power is in response to a human response of belief, the same power was always there.

Ephesians 2, I Corinthians 2, and some other passages would at least initially appear to support the Reformed view. The Parable of the Sower and some other passages would at least initially appear to support the Lutheran view. I suspect there is no general historical Baptist position, that Baptists have come down on both sides of the question.

Sometimes I just want to run and hide behind John 3:8 and say we aren't supposed to try to parse exactly how this works because aspects of it are beyond our understanding. I really do think sometimes, in our attempts to define terms to our satisfaction, we end up asking questions that Scripture is not really trying to get us to ask.

This question by Hodge about the uniformity of the outpouring of salvific spiritual power, to me, seems of greater interest to the professional technical theologian who wants to write books asking and answering hard questions than it is to the pastor who is trying to teach faith and godliness. I can't imagine asking and trying to answer this question in a sermon.

That doesn't really give the answer to the question about whether Hodge or the Lutheran is right, of course, unless it is to ask whether they are both in danger of arguing about words to no profit.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Pastor Brandenburg,

Thanks for the comments. As I mentioned in the post, I am not committed to either position, and would like to see some historic Baptist theology in regard to the question. Maybe there is a third alternative. Lord willing, I will also listen to what Bro Warner says in the conference. However, let me note the following points:

One. I don't think that either a Lutheran or a Calvinist would say that the Word is less powerful. The question is whether the Holy Spirit applies the word all the time in the same manner to all people. David's prayer that Jehovah would open his eyes that he may behold wondrous things in his law seems to indicate that the Holy Spirit would do that work in a greater way as a result of that prayer. The Old Testament's teaching about the resurrection of Christ was always in there, but until Christ opened up the eyes of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they did not see it. Do not texts such as these show that the Holy Spirit works in a greater way through the Word as some times more than others?

Two. I agree that Hodge does not do a very good job presenting a scriptural case for his position.

Three. Just as you do not remember reading this section when you read his systematic theology, I do not remember having this question discussed anywhere else I have read, although it is an important question.

Four. I think that both Hodge and a Lutheran would agree that the hardness of men's hearts – that is, the condition of the soil – has a great deal to do with the reception of the word or the lack of reception. in fact, they might both agree that in the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve would both have perfectly received the word every single time. They would have seen the resurrection of Christ in the Old Testament the way the disciples before the cross did not. However, since we are sinners, and various texts indicate that God does work in us to illuminate our understanding, change our hearts, etc. the question remains whether God does this work to the same extent at all times and all persons, which the texts that I mentioned above make me leaning toward concluding that He does not.

Five. I do not claim to have this all perfectly thought out – my desire for comments at the beginning of the post is not just theoretical, but I actually want to hear what people have to say biblically.

Thanks again for the comment.

Kent Brandenburg said...

I think there is value to understanding how the Word of God works in people's lives. I know that people, leaders, are messed up in it in independent Baptist circles. If you preach the Bible and you preach something other than what it says, it's not going to go ahead and work in a powerful way in people's lives. That's just one point.

Others will preach and use all sorts of emotionalism and other verbal techniques to sway their hearers and they call that preaching the Word with some kind of Holy Spirit unction, while someone who calmly exposes a passage, not depending on the same vocal instrumentation, aren't preaching the Word with the Holy Spirit accompanying it, giving it the power it is missing.

It is worth talking about, but it would be better to go through all the passages in the Bible about the Bible, and then write about it. I don't get that kind of work from Hodge above. It's more historical theology, and trying to decipher then why they think that way without direct references to scripture.

Jonathan Speer said...

Jon Gleason, could you elaborate on your opening statement regarding 1 Cor. 2 and the Spirit's direct working?

James Bronsveld said...

Bro. Ross,

Under the fourth point in your last comment, are you suggesting something along the lines of Jesus' statement in Mat. 11:20-24 about the illumination received by Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom in comparison to the cities of his time?

Jon Gleason said...

Brother Speer, I can spend little time here, unfortunately, and probably should not have involved myself in this thread at all, since I believe the question here to be more theoretical theology than practical, pastoral theology, a question that man asks rather than God. Others view it differently, and I should have left it to them to discuss.

That is to say I cannot get involved in extensive discussion on this thread. But I will answer your question briefly.

I believe the Scriptures teach that salvation comes through the direct working of the Spirit. I Corinthians 2:1-5, especially verse 4, implies this.

I Cor. 2:14 says the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit, but the context tells us that it is the Spirit that reveals them. By implication, it is the Spirit who overcomes the natural man's spiritual blindness.

Jesus said none can come unless the Father draws him. I believe that this drawing work is actively administered by the Holy Spirit.

II Corinthians 3:8 calls the preaching of the new testament the ministration of the Spirit. I understand this to be a reference to the person of the Holy Spirit. Later in the chapter, it says a vail is upon the heart, but turning to the Lord results in the vail being taken away -- certainly, this is a spiritual working that happens directly in the individual life.

I Corinthians 12:3 says no man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Spirit. But no man can be saved without confessing with the mouth the Lord Jesus. The Spirit must work to bring one to truly say that Jesus is the Lord.

John 3 speaks of regeneration as the work of the Spirit.

John 16 says that when He is come He (the Comforter) will reprove the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. These are works that must take place for salvation. By saying that He will do these things "when He is come" the implication is that this is indeed an active and direct work of the Spirit.

I do not diminish the force of passages which emphasise the life-giving power of the written Word of God, such as I Peter 1:23-25. Nor do I water down the necessity of Scripture in salvation as taught by Romans 10:17.

The direct working of the Spirit is not in opposition to the life-imparting force of Scripture, but complementary to it, the means by which that power is applied to the unregenerate. I believe it is a mistake to try to divorce the active working of the Spirit from the power of the Word. I do not believe it is an accident that the Scriptures themselves are called God-breathed and that the word for "breath" is also the word for "Spirit".

Other Scriptures you might want to consider would be John 6:63, Romans 8:10, and Revelation 22:7.

Much more could be said, but I apologise, time fails me. Some of the passages I've cited could be understood differently, but taken together the case appears to me compelling.

Tyler Robbins said...

Bro. Ross - thanks for the discussion.

This is really a presuppositional issue. It depends what kind of systematic grid you bring to the Scripture. I'm a Calvinist. I believe repentance and faith are both sovereign gifts from God. I believe God has to first remove the satanic veil so that the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ would shine in to men's hearts and minds (cf. 2 Cor 4:3-4). With that grid, I believe Hodge's view makes excellent sense.

If you believe in prevenient grace, then you'd take a very different view. I'm not commenting on the validity of effectual calling or prevenient grace (and that isn't the purpose of this discussion), but merely stating the presupposition which will probably inform what you think of Hodge's excerpt. I think Hodge is correct.

As to whether this is a historic Baptist doctrine, you do have a rich history from the Particular Baptists in the 17th century onward. Beyond that, you just have Scripture. I would be interested in what the General Baptists had to say. I'll dig into my source documents when I get home to see if I can find something worthy to share. That brings us full circle - a discussion of this issue will probably devolve into a discussion on the merits of effectual calling and unconditional, single election.

Tyler Robbins said...

I suppose I will add this - does the effect of the preached or read Word depend in any way on me, or is it the sovereign work of the Spirit? I think it is the Spirit. Why does an unsaved man hear the Gospel and reject it on Sunday, yet hear it again and accept it two weeks later? Is it him? Or, was it the effectual call of the Spirit of God?

Of course, I believe God sometimes does take a LONG TIME to draw some people to faith. Setting that caveat aside, I think what you think about Hodge's position will really depend on this question - does the effect of the preached or read Word depend in any way on me, or is it the sovereign work of the Spirit?

Prevenient grace (as I have seen it described in Roger Olson's work and in a Nazarene systematic theology) goes to all men indiscriminately, giving grace to believe to all people, thus all are without excuse who reject the Gospel - and those who do repent and believe do so only by the grace of God.

To sum up - I guess I'll repeat that this is a presuppositional issue. The Word does have an impact on some, and not others. It even has a different impact on the same person at different points in his life (e.g. before conversion he rejects, and at the moment of conversion he accepts).

I think a walk through the early apostolic sermons from the Book of Acts will bear this out. Would be a good study to do.

Jon Gleason said...

Oops, E.T. pointed out my typo. Revelation 22:17, not verse seven. Sorry about that.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hello Everyone,

I have definite beliefs about the place of the Word of God in salvation and sanctification. I believe the Holy Spirit always works through His Word, but when I say that, I don't believe He works through what it doesn't mean. If someone preaches error, the Holy Spirit isn't working through that. Assuming that someone is preaching the truth of scripture, the Holy Spirit always works, so it isn't an either/or. I don't believe the Holy Spirit works separately from scripture. I believe that Holy Spirit works the most He can work through scripture. The differences in effect, I believe relate to the degree that it isn't the truth and the hearts of the people upon whom scripture settles.

Calvinists, it seems, see the Holy Spirit working separate from scripture to regenerate someone preceding faith without which he could not comprehend scripture, because he's dead. I see the Holy Spirit using scripture as his means of faith, not some separate Holy Spirit working bereft of scripture. This separate work from scripture seems to be an addition to scriptural teaching, adding to scripture, a logical addition, to fit a Calvinistic presupposition, not reflected by scripture. I'm happy to be corrected on this.

Tyler Robbins said...

I would say the Word is the means by which the Spirit regenerates God's chosen people - the vehicle which the Spirit uses. So, I would not say the Scripture works separately from the Spirit. That's why we're command to preach the Gospel to every creature

KJB1611 said...

Dear all,

Thanks for the comments.

If the Spirit works in all through the Word to the very greatest extent, I would be interested in understanding why the Apostles did not appear to understand Christ would rise from the dead before the resurrection, but then afterwards, when Christ opened their eyes, they understood it--they do not appear to have been any more holy afterwards than before.

Dear Pastor Brandenburg,

I think we are definitely in agreement that we should not expect the Spirit to work when Scripture is misinterpreted, and that when it is rightly interpreted He will work in a greater way.

Dear James,

I'm not entirely sure if I follow what you are asking about Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom. The people in Sodom did not get as much revelation (as much of the Word, as it were.) If either the Lutheran or Reformed view would get mileage here, I'm not sure how.

Dear Tyler,

Thanks for the comment.

I think it is natural for a Reformed person to take Hodges' view, but not necessarily that a non-Reformed person must not take the view.

Dear Jon,

I think one very significant practical question here is whether the same message preached by the Lord Jesus and by Judas would necessarily have the same spiritual effect upon the hearers, the Spirit working in exactly the same way if the sinless Son of Man preached the same words as if the devil Judas did. "Yes" seems to be the implication of the Lutheran view, "no" of the Reformed view.

I would like to see the Scripture that teaches that the Spirit always works to the greatest extent whenever the Word is rightly divided.

Thanks all for the comments.

Jonathan Speer said...


Thanks for the elaboration.

I asked for it because I have begun to see the idea of the sufficiency of scripture as it is taught in the Bible be undermined by those who claim to hold to all five "solas" of the reformed tradition.

I don't have a lot of time to discuss this in depth and I don't want to detract from other more pertinent points of discussion on this matter, so I will reference you to an article where a brother is distinguishing a Biblical view from both Calvinistic and Arminian perspectives.

I'm not asking for your response to the linked (if the link wasn't allowed, it is at Soteriology 101 and posted on June 6, 2016) article, only for your consideration of it and of the question of whether scripture can be considered truly sufficient when, from the very beginning of one's relationship with God, more than scripture is required.

I do think this touches on the idea in TDR's article revolving around "efficacy."


Jon Gleason said...

I fear, once one gets into a thread, he cannot get out. :)

"I think one very significant practical question here is whether the same message preached by the Lord Jesus and by Judas would necessarily have the same spiritual effect upon the hearers, the Spirit working in exactly the same way if the sinless Son of Man preached the same words as if the devil Judas did. "Yes" seems to be the implication of the Lutheran view, "no" of the Reformed view."

I would say that is a very interesting question, but I'm not sure its practicality. Whatever the answer, I am commanded to seek purity myself and to protect the purity of the church, and so I must always seek to remain in close communion with my Lord when preaching or when not, and must always seek (as best I can) to ensure that those who preach in our church are in close communion with him. And to avoid fellowship with those who are not.

You said this is a practical question. What would we say or do differently if the answer is "yes" from if it is "no"? I believe the answer is "no", for what it is worth. You said "necessarily have the same effect." If you had asked, "Can it have the same effect," I would say absolutely, and cite Nineveh in Jonah. As to Judas, if his preaching was never effective, the disciples would have suspected him when Jesus said one would betray Him.

So I would say that the same message preached by different people (including even Judas) can have the same effect, because the Spirit still works through the Word. But I'm with you on this:
"I would like to see the Scripture that teaches that the Spirit always works to the greatest extent whenever the Word is rightly divided."

I too would like to see it. I know of no such verse. On the other hand, Galatians 1:11-15 appears to say that Paul received the Gospel "when it pleased the Lord," which is perhaps relevant to this discussion.

But we see so little that is really clear on the topic.

I will read the article, Lord willing, maybe not today. At the risk of answering a matter before I hear it, preemptively I would caution against seeing the working of the Spirit through the Word as undermining the sufficiency of Scripture. I see the Scripture as sufficient because the Spirit works through it, in a sense, is IN it. Without the God of the Word, the Word would not be the Word, as I'm sure we'd all agree. So perhaps we risk splitting hairs to no profit if we try to divorce the Spirit's working from the power of the Word. If they are not one and the same, they are in such total and complete harmony and agreement and coordination as to be indistinguishable to any practical effect.

Jesus said, "The words that I speak to you, they are Spirit and they are life."

Water may be sufficient, but someone leads the horse to the water, and the horse drinks. Neither the leading nor the drinking changes the efficacy of the water, but they are necessary for the efficacy to be applied.

Jonathan Speer said...


These seem more like comment webs than threads sometimes, especially in threads like these where so much loaded terminology is being used. :-)

In short, I agree with your statement about not separating the work of the Holy Spirit from the word. Ironically, that is what it seems to me is being done by virture of reformed thought.

The distinction I am making is between the following two positions. One says the Spirit works through the word. Period. The other says the Spirit works through the word sometimes based upon God's posture toward the individual and whether or not he is led or drawn to it.

In the first position, God's word is always enough because the Spirit works through it toward the same end for all men, but human freedom is in play both in the proclaiming and the hearing.

In the second position, God's word will never be "enough" in some, maybe most, cases because the Spirit will not work effectively on behalf of some individuals toward understanding and salvation.

I think this is sort of a distillation of Kent's post above and, obviously, as Tyler pointed out, this distinction is based upon presuppositions regarding one's soteriology.

On 1 Corinthians 1-4: it is taken up largely with Paul establishing the basis for the source his authoritative words. It is true when he says what he does in 1 Cor. 2:14, and just as true in 1 Cor. 2:10 when he says that the things that had been enigmatic were revealed to "us". The question is whether one takes the "us" in verse 10 to mean all believers for all time or if it is speaking only of the "us" of Paul and other writers of scripture. I understand it to mean that all the things that needed to be revealed were revealed in God's word and that his word was then preserved so that we, today, would know what those things were. I don't understand it to be saying that we need the Spirit to more clearly or effectively reveal what already has been revealed and recorded and preserved. I might be missing something from your perspective though.

As for the question of practicality, I believe this issue is of utmost practicality because it will change how we view our responsibilities to God and what we teach folks their responsibilities to God and his word are. Namely, one would never be able to say that they aren't in full obedience to God's word because the Spirit had failed to do a first work from my perspective. This includes both saved and lost folks. On the other hand, your perspective would inevitably give that excuse to at least the lost person who wasn't led, as you say, to the water so he could drink.

Jon Gleason said...

Jonathan, the question of an excuse is certainly practical. In essence, your argument is that those have an excuse upon whom the power of the Spirit has not worked equally or sufficiently. What will you then do (with your view) with those who have never had access to the Scriptures? If my view gives some an excuse, your view gives others an excuse.

If you use that construct as a petard to hoist me on this issue, you join me dangling from the highest rafter. The view may be nice, but I'd hate to leave you there, so I'll choose rather to deconstruct the construct. The Scriptures say none have an excuse, so the construct must be wrong.

The Scriptures do NOT say that access to effectual salvific power is the reason there is no excuse. They say that the reason there is no excuse is because none honour God and are thankful. I'm sure you know I'm citing Romans 1. In saying this, I am not arguing that the Spirit does not draw all men. If I understand John 12:32, He does -- but that is not the reason there is no excuse. Romans 1, in discussing why man has no excuse, does not make access to (and rejection of) salvation part of the reason. It says they have no excuse because they are rebels.

At root, I think this goes to a very common but deeper confusion which arises from sloppy exegesis and careless thinking. It also, by the way, contributes to much sloppy "evangelism" / "Gospel preaching." We're so busy trying to get people to "believe the Gospel" that we come to think "not believing" is the core of the problem. It isn't.

Man's core problem is sin. Man is not condemned for not believing that Jesus died on the cross for him. Man is condemned for sin. He is condemned because he does not believe, but the thing for which he is condemned is sin. Belief would get him a pardon for his sin and cancel the condemnation, so unbelief is the reason he remains condemned, but unbelief is NOT the condemnation, the crime that brought the condemnation. John 3:17-19. I've elaborated more here, but it's not a long article:

If murderers are in prison, they are condemned for murder. If one is not offered a pardon, he has no excuse, even if the next guy is offered a pardon. If one is offered a pardon but can't read and sign the acceptance paperwork and is too stubborn to get help, so never receives the pardon, he still has no excuse. If help with the paperwork is offered and he refuses it because he doesn't like the speech accent or skin colour of the guy offering help, he still has no excuse. And if helps is offered and received, and he receives the pardon, he still has no excuse -- but he DOES have the pardon.

To apply to our Gospel preaching, we need to stop preaching that people's problem is unbelief and if they would just believe all would be ok. That leads to easy-believism errors. We need to start preaching that their problem is that they are lost and condemned sinners under the wrath of a holy God, but that He has gloriously made a pardon available.

To apply to the question of election, since we're dancing on the edge of that question, no one will ever effectively argue against the Calvinist position by saying it gives some an excuse. No one has an excuse, even if the next guy is offered a pardon and they aren't. The excuses argument should die and never be resurrected.

To apply to this thread directly, and whether the "pardon offer" is provided with equal help to all at all times, we can remove the "some people will have an excuse" construct from the discussion. No matter how we view this question, no one ever has an excuse, because all are sinners and justly condemned. All have refused to honour God as God and be thankful to Him, all are rebels. So we can return to asking what Scripture says and jettison any concerns about excuses ramifications -- there are none.

Tyler Robbins said...

Jon Gleason:

I hear what you're saying. I agree with a lot of it. I think it is important that, both from an Arminian (prevenient grace) or Calvinist (effectual calling) perspective, all men are entirely without any excuse at all. Most people who criticize prevenient grace don't understand it, and have never actually read material from any proponent who advocated it - and vice versa.

This issue is important, because it undergirds how you actually do ministry and preach the Gospel. Some people are tempted to say this issue is a doctrine for bored theologians. Not so.

Jonathan Speer said...


I'll just briefly respond now per paragraph and fill out my answers a bit more later:

Paragraph 1: Regarding your question about those who have never heard, I have a forthcoming longer answer in which they still have no excuse.

What do you believe happens to those who have never had access to the Scriptures?

Paragraph 2: What is a petard in Ireland? :-) Your deconstruction is certainly of a position to which I do not hold if you seek to deconstruct any system in which men are given logically or philosophically derived excuses before God.

Paragraph 3: I totally agree with you on the reason we are condemned: it is sin. (And I am not referring only to the "sin of unbelief" though it is most certainly a sin as well.) The full reason men are said to be without excuse in Romans 1 is because God's eternal power is clearly seen and understood through the creation, but men, who knew God and held his truth in unrighteousness, didn't glorify him and weren't thankful to him, but were instead vain in their imaginations. That men have no excuse before God is not established merely by the fact that they sin: it is established by the fact that God had revealed himself and they knew it and they ignored him.

Your statement about the Spirit drawing all men is confusing to me because John 12:32 says that Jesus, not the Spirit, would draw all men after he was lifted up. What do you mean when you say that the Spirit draws all men?

Your last two sentences are agreeable enough. :-)

Paragraph 4: "Sloppy exegesis and careless thinking" is how one might characterize any number of disagreeable beliefs, but it doesn't further any particular arguments and, even if it is accurate, tends only to come across as condescending, so such terms could be dispensed with in our conversations. We may as well just point out the Biblical errors and leave it at that. Of course, that takes a lot of give and take. :-)

Besides a particular conflation that I will deal with in my longer response, I mostly agree with the remainder of that paragraph.

Paragraph 5: Agreed

To be continued...

Jonathan Speer said...

Continued from above

Paragraph 6: It seems to me that you are simply laying out an analogy to demonstrate that men who are condemned are condemned for their sin regardless of any circumstances surrounding potential pardons and their refusal or inability to accept the pardon has no bearing on the reasons for their original condemnation. I agree.

I mostly like your analogy because it primarily deals with people to whom pardon has actually been offered. I believe this includes all men.

Do you believe that there are those to whom God has not offered a pardon?

Do you believe that there are those to whom God has made such an offer of pardon and have the analogous difficulties you describe but who are NOT "too stubborn" to get help with the paperwork?

Do you believe that there are those to whom God has made such an offer of pardon but who never receive it?

(I realize that none of those questions have much to do with the particular point you are trying to make, but I'm asking because I'm curious and it may shed light on the rest of our conversation.)

Paragraph 7: I agree and hold easy believism in at least as much contempt as you seem to.

Paragraph 8: Just because a system like Calvinism says that something is so, doesn't make it logical or true. :-)

Logically speaking, if God is the cause of the condemnation and penalty of sin, and God causes a particular man to suffer that penalty without any potential for remedy, then, logically speaking, that man does have an excuse for why he will be suffering.

In light of that, I could use the sentence you rightly used against the belief system you deconstructed just as rightly against the system I've just dealt with logically: "The Scriptures say none have an excuse, so the construct must be wrong."

I agree that the excuses argument should go away, but it is the philosophical tenets of both Calvinism and Arminianism that continue to provide men with logically plausible excuses. When these two systems are abandoned in favor of Scripture, the excuses argument will certainly die. That's my two cents on the matter. :-)

Paragraph 9: Because of some of the above material, I don't necessarily agree with all of your final paragraph, but we can hash it out later if need be.

Thanks for answering my original question and for the interaction!

Jon Gleason said...

Jonathan, very briefly and I must withdraw (from this and the translation thread) as responsibilities are exploding on me.

1. I believe those who never have access to the Scriptures are lost, as described in Romans 1 and less directly by Romans 2:12-15. I would make an exception for infants who die very young, but that is a complicated theological question to which I cannot take the time to address myself here.

2. I neither know nor care what a petard is in Ireland. There is a ferry between here and there, but that part of your response to me missed the boat. :)

3. Jesus draws all men to Himself by the work of the Spirit as described in John 16:7-11 and elsewhere. It is obvious by His leaving that this universal drawing would be through the agency of others, Another, or both. John 13-16 identifies that Other (this is not to discard the agency of believers, of course). The point of my statement, however, was that Jesus' statement (along with others, of course), tells us of a universal drawing.

4. My reference to "sloppy exegesis and careless thinking" was not intended to be directed towards you, but to those who say men are condemned for unbelief, rather than for sin. If that were your belief, yes, I would want you to wear a fitting shoe. But I thought it far more likely that you knew the truth on this and had merely failed to apply it to your "excuse" construct.

5. Yes, paragraph six was simply an analogy for those who might not understand the distinction I was drawing between condemned for sin and condemned because of unbelief.

6. I believe an offer has been made to all, and that not all receive it. You asked, "Do you believe that there are those to whom God has made such an offer of pardon and have the analogous difficulties you describe but who are NOT "too stubborn" to get help with the paperwork?" If the answer to your question is "NO" we are all lost.

Finally, you said, "Logically speaking, if God is the cause of the condemnation and penalty of sin...."

I'd reject that premise. God is not the author of sin, and so He is not the cause of its condemnation or its penalty. His laws are not arbitrary, but based on what is really true and just. That He has established them, so that we can know truth and justice, and enforces them to uphold truth and justice, does not make Him the cause of condemnation and penalty, but rather the Just Administrator of those things.

But even if that premise were somehow true, I'd still reject that God owed all men, or any men, a "potential for remedy." If His justice were based on arbitrary rules which He had established, sinful, guilty man has knowingly broken those rules and brought the penalty on himself (again, Romans 2:12-15, Romans 3, etc). There was no theoretical obligation for God to provide a pardon under any logical construct we can conceive.

And so there is no excuse, and never could be.

As I said, I now have to withdraw, but I think my prior comments and this one have sufficiently laid out what I believe on these topics, and the Biblical and logical basis for those beliefs. May the Lord bless and teach you as you study His Word.