The Word and the Spirit
Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?
- Jeremiah 23:29
The distinctive mark of the Protestant strand of the Christian religion is that it is the only form of faith which claims to be founded upon nothing other than the holy oracles of God. The only rule of faith and obedience is to be the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments; no tradition and no human works are allowed equal place. The Protestant Christian is called upon to recognize not only the beauty, coherency, and truth of the very words of the Bible but also to affirm that it is made powerful in the heart of man through the agency of the Holy Spirit. Man may be moved to a reverence for Scripture from its beauty or truth but it is only the joint action of the Word and the Spirit upon the heart which can make man wise unto salvation. The saving work of the Holy Spirit is wrought through the Word and the content of the Word is taught by the Spirit: the one cannot work efficaciously without the other.
As a proof of the unity of their work the Scriptures give synonymous qualities to the Word and the Spirit. Hebrews 4:12, speaking of the Word, says
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
The Bible is here spoken of as “living,” “active,” and “able to judge.” These are the marks of the Holy Spirit’s co-operation with the Word of God in the heart of man. In Ephesians 6:17 Paul encourages his readers to take up the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
Furthermore, the written words of the Bible are assumed to be the words of the Holy Spirit Himself. Several passages can be adduced to lead to such a conclusion:
And Jesus began to say, as He taught in the temple, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?
“David himself said in the Holy Spirit…”
~~ Mark 12:35-36
The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers.
~~ Acts 18:25
For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
~~ 2 Peter 1:21
It was the plenary inspiration of the Holy Spirit which moved the human authors of the Bible to write and it is this same Spirit which enables men to read. 19th century theologian John Girardeau clarifies this when he says,
The Spirit communicated the truth to the sacred writers by inspiration; the Spirit enables us to receive the same truth by faith.
~~ John Girardeau; Discussions of Theological Questions; pp. 292-293
Without the spiritual illumination of faith man is incapable of believing the Bible. John Calvin further explains, saying,
The Word is, in regard to those to whom it is preached, like the sun which shines upon all, but is of no use to the blind. In this matter we are all naturally blind; and hence the Word cannot penetrate our mind unless the Spirit, the internal teacher, by His enlightening power make an entrance for it.
~~ John Calvin; Institutes of the Christian Religion; iii. ii. xxxiv.
For man to be saved he must believe the Word of God but in order for man to believe the Word of God he must experience the work of the Holy Spirit in his heart. If this unity of operation is disregarded or obscured then serious error is the result. Contemporary theologian Dr. Joe Morecraft perceives the dangers of this error when he says,
The Bible makes much of the unity of the Word of God and the Spirit of God. The written Word of God is powerless to save without the accompanying work of the Spirit of God. We cannot expect the Holy Spirit to lead us apart from the direction of the written Word of God. Desiring the Word without the Spirit leads to empty externalism and cold intellectualism; desiring the Spirit without the Word leads to fanaticism and mysticism.
~~ Dr. Joe Morecraft; Authentic Christianity; vol. 1, p. 156 (1st edition)
If the Word of God combined with a Spirit imparted understanding of that Word comprise the road of true and authentic Christianity then irrationalism on the left hand and rationalism on the right make up the two ditches into which we can fall. Forsake the illumination of the Spirit and an empty, external, rationalism results; forsake the content of the written Word and a fanatic, mystical, irrationalism emerges.
Humanistic subversions of Christianity will always manifest themselves in one of these two ways. When the work of the Spirit is denied and man crowns himself the authoritative interpreter of Scripture then he ceases to compare spiritual things with spiritual things. When the supremacy and finality of the written Word is rejected then man sails into dangerous waters wherein the fleeting mists of his own brain become the compass by which he charts his course. Both of these are a recipe for disaster.
The Bible is never a dead letter and it must never be treated as such. It is powerful, active, sharp, living, like a hammer which delivers mighty blows, and able to make one wise unto salvation. To view the Bible as anything less than the living and active rule of faith that it is falls short of the Protestant faith. Likewise, to anticipate action or teaching on the part of the Holy Spirit which is distinct from the written Word is to deny the final authority of that Word.
Christ Himself defines the role of the Spirit as bringing to mind the things which Christ has already taught. In John 14:26 we read,
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
Again in John 15:26 we are told,
When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me.
The work of the Holy Spirit is not willy-nilly and never productive of irrational gibberish. The marks of His internal workings are genuine repentance, growth in Christian faith, and illumination in the teaching of Scripture.
The Church today has been infested by humanistic, and therefore wrongheaded, concepts of the operation of the Spirit and the Word upon the heart of man. Both cold and externalistic as well as fanatical and mystical attempts to promote the Christian faith will fail. The Word of God must go forth in the lively power of its accompaniment by the life-giving Spirit. To turn to the right hand or the left is to offer the world a gospel which is powerless to save and brings no glory unto the God of salvation.