Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

Word and Spirit

Written by Rev. G.R. Procee
God's Word must be applied to our hearts. As churches we confess the applicatory work of the Holy Spirit. It is not enough to just hear God's Word; it must be applied to our hearts.

We find this necessity emphasized in Scripture. For instance, in Jeremiah 31:33 we read, "But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts and will be their God, and they shall be my people." The response to Paul's preaching in Philippi is another example. The Lord opened Lydia's heart, and in a strong convicting manner God's Word found entrance into the heart of the Philippian jailer (Acts 16). This application is really nothing less than what the Lord Jesus explains in John 3:5, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." By the mighty work of God's Spirit a sinner is led into the kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit, therefore, uses God's Word and applies it to our hearts.

When we refer to the necessity of the application of God's Word to our hearts, we must be careful and watchful for two errors. There are those who basically ignore the application of redemption and put all the emphasis on the accomplishment of redemption. They emphasize the work of Christ in acquiring salvation, but do not speak about the application of salvation. They find it mystical and unhealthy to speak about the application of redemption. They presume that redemption belongs to all who are church members.

But this does not give true comfort to people. They hear of redemption, but it is as if they have hungry stomachs and see a delicious meal behind a glass window which they cannot reach. They can pretend that they are eating and imagine that they are eating, but obviously, to have their hunger satisfied they have to be able to partake of this meal. That is what the application of God's Word by the Holy Spirit can be compared with. Without the applicatory work of the Holy Spirit, no one will find peace in Christ, nor will anyone receive the saving benefits of Christ.

On the other hand, there is the danger that all the emphasis is put on the application of redemption and that the accomplishment of redemption by Christ is not emphasized strongly enough. Then the redemption of Christ becomes dependent upon our feelings or emotions, and for instance, the doctrine of forgiveness of sins will be based on our emotions or our sanctification. Then we are in great danger of sinking away in the quicksand of our own feelings instead of basing salvation upon the finished work of Christ outside of us.

In preaching we must emphasize the objective basis for redemption through the finished work of Christ and show the subjective work of application by the Holy Spirit in the heart. In such preaching the true experience of God's Word will come by hearing the Object of faith proclaimed: the Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit works this faith and applies the merits of Christ to the heart. In other words, God's Word must be applied by God's Holy Spirit.

That brings us to the relationship between Word and Spirit. God's Word must be preached, but we must not forget that the Word of God is an instrument or a vehicle used by the Holy Spirit. Sinners must hear the voice of God speaking to them (John 5: 25: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live."

This new creation, new life or regeneration does not happen by the outward preaching alone. It is the Holy Spirit who makes His Word effectual, as the Canons of Dort say (III/IV,12). Speaking of this new life, the Canons state: "But this is in no wise effected merely by the external preaching of the Gospel, by moral suasion, or such a mode of operation, that after God has performed His part, it still remains in the power of man to be regenerated or not, to be converted or to continue unconverted; but it is evidently a supernatural work, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, astonishing, mysterious, and ineffable; not inferior in efficacy to creation, or the resurrection from the dead, as the Scripture inspired by the Author of this work declares; so that all in whose heart God works in this marvellous manner, are certainly regenerated and do actually believe."

God's Word and God's Spirit belong together. The Word of God has been inspired by God's Spirit. Therefore the preaching of God's Word can only be effective when it is accompanied by the powerful working of the Holy Spirit.

Preaching is not just advising people; neither does it awaken an automatic response. Isaiah even had to say: "Who hath believed our report" (=preaching). The natural man cannot understand the things contained in God's Word, for they are foolishness to him. He needs the illumination of the Holy Spirit.

Word and Spirit belong together. The Spirit opens the hearts, the eyes, the ears, and enlightens the understanding. It pleases the Lord to work by means of His Word. Where God's Word is opened we are in the realm of the work of the Holy Spirit. What we find in God's Word is what the Holy Spirit teaches the heart. The Word is not only the instrument of the Holy Spirit, but also the content of what He teaches the heart.

It is essential to maintain a good and proper understanding of this relationship between Word and Spirit. Many separate the two. For instance, there are many spiritual movements in our day such as the radical Pentecostal movements. There are the so called modern revivalists such as the Toronto Vineyard movement, which emphasizes feelings, emotions and experiences. They hold this to be the instruction of the Holy Spirit. God's Word has a very insignificant place, yet the focus is on emotions and emotionalism. This is unscriptural and dangerous. At times some of these extreme emotional effects can even be frightening.

The same danger can also be found in Reformed circles, when people live more by emotions and feelings and value them far more than the revealed Word of God. We must be very careful with these matters. The Spirit works through His Word. The Holy Spirit Who has inspired His Word also uses His Word to show sinners His will. The objective Word alone is the basis for the life of faith.

On the other hand, one can so closely identify Word and Spirit, that there is no need to pray for God's Spirit to work by means of His Word. Such preaching becomes very objective and it seems such people do not consider that God's Word has to be applied. In this case it is presumed that where the Word is, the Spirit works automatically.

But Scripture shows us that the same Word has a different effect upon the hearers. One will receive God's Word by faith worked by God's Spirit, while another one does not receive God's Word and rejects it.

The Lord comes to man by means of the preaching of His Word. In order for man to respond properly, God uses His Word as an instrument in the hands of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit causes God's Word to enter the heart so that the hearer recognizes himself in Scripture. Such a person sees something of his depravity and sinfulness and realizes the need of Christ in his or her life. The Spirit uses God's Word to reveal Christ to the soul. Bonds of lovingkindness are laid upon the soul which is drawn to Christ. Seeing Christ coming to us from the pages of Scripture, such a person is led to embrace this Saviour and to reject all other attempts to gain salvation. This occurs only by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Has God's Word been applied to your heart? Has the Holy Spirit shown you who Christ is in His willingness and ability to save? Is your conversion found in Scripture? Does God's Word have the foremost place in your life? These are important questions. If you cannot really answer them positively, beg God's Spirit to open your understanding and heart for the Lord Jesus and His Word of salvation, so that you too will experience that God's Word is a power unto salvation.

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