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.