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The Holy Spirit in the Ministry of the Word Pt. 2
The Essentially Attendant Power of the Holy Spirit
by Pastor Bob Burridge ©1990
Man, as to his fallen nature, is morally unable to come submissively to the truth of the gospel. He is also intensely opposed to the testimony of Scripture concerning himself and his only hope for restoration to fellowship with his Creator. That inclination is so much a part of his fallen nature that no effort of man could overcome his prejudice and make him desire the way of the atonement. Natural man is inclined to cling to his own pleasures and cast away the grace of God. In his own eyes his temporal baubles and trinkets are more precious to him than the precious gift of the Son, which he turns away without consideration. We ask along with the disciples, "Then who can be saved?" Our Lord's reply cuts sharply into our own conscience, "With men it is impossible" (Mark 10:26-27).
The Work of Grace
The awesome message of grace sovereignly set forth in the form of a covenant promise, affirms that such supernatural hope does exist! All three persons of the Trinity work to provide the only salvation morally possible. The Father has chosen some from the fallen race to be given to his Son according to his own good pleasure. The Son took the place of these same ones bearing their sin and satisfying the demands of holy justice by his suffering, death and exaltation. It is the efficacious work of the Holy Spirit operating in the word that applies the word of promise to the sinner's heart.
God sovereignly administers his work of grace with some diversity. We notice that there is both an ordinary and an extraordinary way by which that work is done.
God's Ordinary Administration of the Word by the Spirit
Ordinarily the word is administered and empowered by the Spirit through the regular, daily and personal seeking of God's ways in prayer, through the reading of Scripture and by the mutual ministries of the church in fellowship, worship (including the sacraments), and discipline.
The prosperous man of God is shown as the one who meditates in his law day and night (Psalm 1:2). The proper and spiritual use of these means of grace, through the unceasing dependence upon the Holy Spirit's ministry to our hearts, is the ordinary way believers grow in grace.
The covenant of God stipulated that its precepts were to be faithfully taught in the home on a regular daily basis. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 commands that covenant homes be places where the word of God is ever present in conversation, thought and behavior. God's law is to be taught diligently to the children and must always be before us.
In the remarkable devotion of the people of Israel in the days of Joshua we see the result of a long and persistent wilderness education (Joshua 24:31; Judges 2:7,10-11). Puritan James Buchanan points out that "they had seen the wonderful works of the Lord, the miracles which he wrought in the wilderness", they had been "trained from their childhood in hardships and trials, which taught them their entire dependence on God, and the duty of an absolute submission to his sovereign will", and "they had heard the reading of God's law, and were acquainted with its glorious truths."
God's Extraordinary Administration of the Word by the Spirit
At times God has moved most extraordinarily. There have been occasions where the word and Spirit come in grand events bringing sudden conviction to individuals or to whole nations. In these cases we see dramatic turnings of lives from open rebellion to humble submission.
The Scriptures record infallibly that such occasions have taken place. We could cite the great revival in the time of Josiah, or the great coming to Messiah by the expectant covenant people on the day of Pentecost.
We are also ensured that such special workings may sovereignly occur throughout the history of the church as Christ's kingdom grows. The Reformation was one example of a special time of the kingdom's expansion. The word was proclaimed in its full authority. The Spirit opened hearts to behold, and submit to, its transforming message.
We have seen special movings of God's Spirit in the word preached in the great revivals of Ulster, Stewarton, Lanarkshire and Glasgow of the early 1600's. The following century also experienced special outpourings of grace in Northampton and North America. In most ages there have been times when extraordinary revivals have taken place.
There is of course a danger. There is a tendency in the human heart to swing from one extreme to another like the pendulum of an old clock. Our momentum of reaction to one abuse or another often causes us to find it hard to settle in the center. Instead we rush past a balance of truth to the other side and miss altogether the clear council of God.
Some become so caught up in seeking the spirit of revival that they fail to see the ordinary workings of God which sustain His church between such events. They miss the regular workings of God as He prepares the skills and hearts of the vessels through whom extraordinary blessings are dispensed. Its easy for those of this mentality to try to duplicate the effects of revival by copying its outward manifestations and emotional outpourings. But in doing this they often neglect the foundation of a sound exposition and proclaiming of the word. A humble and contrite attitude of seeking the instigating and converting work of the Holy Spirit may be missing. They overlook the Sovereign nature of the administration of extraordinary outpourings and seek to make them the ordinary and expected means of daily Christian experience. This often creates a false measurement of spirituality which divides the church most tragically.
On the other hand, it is possible to react improperly against the abuse of extreme revivalism. Those who are understandably offended by the humanness and shallowness of the abuse might overlook the reality of extraordinary sovereign workings. In immoderate response, they might retreat into a scholasticism which replaces altogether the ministry of the Spirit with mere linguistic, theological and historical studies. The differences that arise among those who would place a spiritually impoverished scholasticism before us are sufficient to their own refutation.
Abraham Kuyper warns, with some sarcasm, against such an extreme by likening scholasticism to a yoke we place upon ourselves and our congregations. He says, "If we must bear a yoke, then give us that of Rome ten times rather than that of the scholars; for although Rome puts men between us and the Scripture, they speak at least with one mouth."
God works sovereignly. We should conduct our lives by regular, diligent and faithful use of the means of grace and expect the ordinary operations of God to be sufficient to his church. Yet we also must pray for society, for the elect who have yet to come to him. We should be ready for such extraordinary outpourings God may be disposed to sovereignly send to his church. And we should be quick to respond with praise and thankfulness to any legitimate revival lest God's grace be answered by unwarranted skepticism.