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Sanctified By The Word -- Does This Involve the Guidance of The Holy Spirit Gift?
We have already shown that it is the word of God, the Bible as we have it, that is the power to transform a man's mind. Those who believe they have the Holy Spirit Gift today do not deny this, but believe that the Holy Spirit Gift is an extra element of divine grace since Pentecost which aids the believer; it counsels and guides him in the truth and so leads him to a fuller appreciation of the word. We have said this is not true, and so far have argued that these brethren have misunderstood the nature and operation of the Holy Spirit Gift. We now pursue the line that the scriptures are against the idea of an extra influence operating in the believer since Pentecost. Our topics for this chapter are:
1. Believers before the time of Christ were perfected, without the Spirit Gift.
2. Proof that God intends the Word to be the all sufficient power to change men's mind.
3. A look at the proposition that the Word can be more than the written word we call the Bible.
4. A misunderstanding on "the letter and the spirit."
5. The idea of God and Christ abiding in us.
Sanctification Of The Believer Before The Time Of Christ
If as some are saying, the receiving of the Holy Spirit Gift is a vital element in the process of our sanctification, there is the problem of the sanctification of those who lived before Pentecost. It would seem that not having this Holy Spirit Gift, their sanctification could not be as complete as those in New Testament times. Or, if one says their sanctification was as complete, how then is the Holy Spirit Gift an essential to the New Testament times? For if Old Testament believers could be perfected without the Holy Spirit Gift, why could not New Testament believers also be perfected without possessing the Holy Spirit Gift? This poses an unanswerable dilemma for those who believe in the present possession of the Holy Spirit Gift. Of course, for "christians" in the churches this is not felt as a problem; they will cheerfully say that the standards of righteousness attained in the times before Christ were inferior to those after. For them the christian dispensation is of a higher quality than that under the Law and the Prophets. But for the brethren and sisters believing that all the faithful from the beginning are all saved in Jesus Christ, are all partakers of the promises made to Abraham, will all inherit the earth, and possess divine nature, will all be part of the 144,000 with the Father's name written in the forehead, in whom is no guile and who are faultless before the throne -- for us believing the Truth, there can be no discrimination between those living before and after Christ. In fact, the Bible emphasis is on the excellence of those early times. Certainly they were fully sanctified -- and without the possession of the Holy Spirit Gift. We remind ourselves of the record of three of God's great men, Noah, Job, and Abraham "the friend of God."
We know that these men are among the towering trees of the kingdom. No one dare say that they were not fully sanctified. They are held out to us by Paul in Hebrews 11 as our examples. God perfected their characters by the power of His Word and angelic supervision of their lives; and this being so, why should
there now be a further essential, the Holy Spirit Gift, to accomplish this sanctification in our lives?
The simple fact is that all the virtues spoken of by the New Testament writers were known and practised in Old Testament times. And the wise man tells us this was through the power of God's word.
The process of sanctification in the Old and New Testament is the same, and this destroys the theory that we need the Holy Spirit Gift today to lead us into sanctification. A consideration of the believers before the time of Christ reveals a fundamental weakness in the theory.
The Word of God is All-Sufficient
In contrast with the belief that the possession of the Holy Spirit Gift is necessary to overcome sin and attain to holiness of life, the Bible continually stresses that the Word itself is sufficient to do this. The simple quotation of some of these passages will effectively make the point.
1. Paul to Timothy: "All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17). So the man of God is made complete, or "perfect" in the A.V., by the working of the scripture, reproving, correcting, instructing the mind that is responsive to it. He does not say that the Holy Spirit Gift does this.
2. Paul to the elders of the Ephesian ecclesia: "And now brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified."
Previously, he remarked that they were in possession of the Holy Spirit: but he does not commend them to the working of the Holy Spirit Gift, but to the Word of God's grace.
3. The teaching of the Master: Addressing his Father he says: "Sanctify them (the apostles) through Thy truth: Thy word is truth" (John 17:16). Here is the fundamental plainly revealed; it is the truth of God that gradually brings about our sanctification.
And this Truth has come to us through the Word. The "Word" is the teaching from God through Jesus, and those before. Jesus says so earlier in this prayer: "I have manifested Thy name unto the men which thou hast given me out of the world: Thine they were, and Thou hast given them me; and they have kept Thy word; for I have given them the words which Thou hast given me; and they have received them."
4. The Lord's definition of his words: Again, in the plainest terms, Jesus says that our spiritual quickening comes from his words or teaching (and of all the rest of scripture) accepted with full belief.
5. The Lord's statement of the Word's influence: Yet another statement of Jesus confirms the all sufficient power of the word to transform: "Now are ye clean through the word which I have spoken unto you" (John 15:3). Jesus did not say that the eleven were clean by the inworking of the Holy Spirit Gift: The Word spoken, understood, believed, and obeyed was the quickening and cleansing power.
6. The teaching of the Psalms: The Lord's doctrine concerning the quickening power of the Word, was not a new idea. The disciples would be well acquainted with what the Psalmist had said. The whole of the 119th Psalm is extolling the wonder of God's word to convert a man into holiness and godliness,
7. The Whole Ecclesia Cleansed of the Word: Paul says that all believers, all the ecclesia of God, are cleansed by the word: "that Christ gave himself for the ecclesia that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word" (Eph. 5:26).
In every one of these seven scriptures, in their various contexts, from Old and New Testament, the idea is plainly expressed that the word of God is the means by which God is sanctifying his servants.
These scriptures also teach that the word can have no power without the diligent co-operation of the individual. If the word is to reprove and correct (2 Tim. 4:16), one must be consciously applying it. As David and Solomon said, there must be an 'inclining of the ear,' 'an applying of the heart,' 'a binding of the commandments about the neck,' 'a taking heed unto one's way according to the word.' David is an outstanding illustration of diligent application to the word of God, and to the power the Word can have on heart and mind. "0 how love I thy law, it is my meditation all the day. Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation .... Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way. Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path. I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments" (Ps. 119:97-106).
The process of sanctification is one of understanding the word, receiving it, and consciously acting on it. As the parable of the sower puts it: "But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience" (Luke 8:15). There is, as we have noted earlier, the unseen care of the angels, but this does not alter the normal processes of diligent application to the word of God and prayer. It is reasonable to believe that our minds and conscience were so constituted in the beginning as to respond to the word of God and be moulded by its influence. This resulted in right character formation in the days of the fathers, and no doubt is still the way of holiness today. An additional Holy Spirit Gift is not needed: nor is it apparent anywhere today.
What is the Word of God?
Some say that sanctification by the word of God does not necessarily mean the operation of the written (or spoken word) upon our minds. Jesus Christ is seen as the living Word of God (Heb. 4:13), and he can by his Holy Spirit Gift cause the word to dwell in us by a more direct process than the conscious study and application of ourselves to the written word. This idea cannot be justified from scripture, as we shall now show.
John in the opening chapter of his gospel speaks of the Word as part of God, and as existing from the beginning, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Clearly John is here using "the Word" in a wider sense than the message spoken by the prophets. He is using 'Word' or Logos -- to describe the whole divine
purpose conceived by God, a purpose, John says, to reveal spiritual life in the earth (John 1: 14). A few verses on, he says this Word, this purpose and power to reveal spiritual life, had become flesh. The Word was manifested in the life and words of Jesus, the son of God.
Now although John in these opening verses of his gospel is speaking of the Word in this fundamental and profound way, it does not alter the fact that our knowledge of this Word has come through the spoken and written words of the prophets, and of Jesus and the apostles, We remind ourselves of Peter's words, that in our being begotten by the incorruptible seed, the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever, he adds: "and this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you." Truly the word of God is an incorruptible seed, it is unchanging and ever living, but the believers only had it by consciously responding to what was preached (or in our case what has been written).
'Word' in 1 Peter 1: 25 is not in the Greek logos, but rhema, an utterance. The word of God for us are men's utterances, by the Holy Spirit upon them. This same Greek word rhema is used in other important passages, as Eph. 5:26, where Paul says Christ gave himself for his ecclesia that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word (rhema utterances). Likewise in Eph. 6:17: "the sword of the Spirit which is the word (rhema) of God." So our acquaintance with the mind of God is through His Word -- His utterances -- and not by more direct influence.
Jesus tells us that the word of God for us is the spoken or written word. At the end of his ministry, he says: "And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not (i.e. at that time, GP) to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which hath sent me, He gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that His commandment is life everlasting" (John 12:41-45).
This is plain enough; it is the spoken or written word that will be the basis of our judgment, not any word that we suppose we have received by a Holy Spirit Gift. It is a matter of men listening to, and receiving, what came from God through Christ. There is no direct Spirit power putting the mind of God, the Word of God, into us. The apostles themselves illustrate this. Jesus says of them: "I have manifested Thy name unto the
men which Thou gavest me out of the world: Thine they were, and Thou gavest them me; and they have received them" (John 17:6-7). So for them it was the word spoken and received by conscious reflection and willing assent; it cannot be otherwise for us. The Logos of God is in us only by receiving consciously the words spoken and written by Jesus, the apostles and prophets.
So the written word, though but cold print and dead to the unresponsive mind, can be a wonderful power in the receptive mind: it does not need the added power of the Holy Spirit Gift to transform us. We may suppose that the all-wise Creator so constituted His Word and our mental and emotional powers that they react together to produce the new birth and the growth of the new man. Paul indicated this when he says "the Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Heb. 4:11-12).
The Letter and the Spirit
The phrase "letter and spirit" is used of the word of God. This is not using spirit in the same sense as Jesus saying his words were spirit. Spirit here takes its meaning from the contrast with the letter, and has the sense of inner meaning or significance. We may merely regard the letter of the word of God, or we may grasp its meaning. The word of God is only quick and powerful where it is taken hold of by the believer in sincerity and diligence. Paul several times exhorts the brethren as to the need to imbibe the spirit of God's law, whether Old Testament or New Testament. The Jewish nation listened to the word of God every sabbath in the synagogue, but it was largely the letter of the law that interested them; their circumcision was outward in the flesh, and not inward in the heart. So Paul writes: "For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter" (Rom. 2:28-29). Later in the epistle he tells them to leave behind the old formal attitude of the nation to God's word: "But now we are delivered from the law (seeking "righteousness" by "keeping commandments" -GP) that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of letter" (Ch. 7:6). Believing in Christ had brought a changed attitude to the word of God, a change from serving in the letter to serving in the spirit of the law.
Letter and Spirit in 2 Corinthians
Paul's words to the Corinthian brethren are widely misunderstood by orthodoxy and by some brethren. His words in the third chapter of the second letter are construed to mean that spirit is an essential of the New Covenant, and letter was an essential of the Old Covenant; spirit is made to mean the Spirit outpouring on the day of Pentecost.
But in this very chapter Paul indicates that under the New Covenant, people could still serve in the letter and not in the spirit. His words are: "God hath made us able ministers of the new testament, not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life" (2 Cor. 3:6). There was a "letter or spirit" of the new covenant as well as of the old. Whether in the time of the old covenant or the new covenant, it was a serving in the spirit, and not the letter, that gave life. Under the old covenant the nation had largely made the word of God, the Law and the Prophets, of no effect by their formal attitude to it, seeking justification by works according to the law. This was observing the letter of the law, and so Paul speaks of the letter of the old covenant that killeth. The law had become a ministration of death (v. 7), a ministration of condemnation (v. 9), but this was because of their attitude of serving the letter of law. There had always been some who attended to God's law in the Old Testament time, with proper understanding and appreciation, and they served in the spirit and not the letter of law; this gave them a title to life, through the promises of God. Jesus himself was pre-eminently the one who served in the spirit of the Old Covenant, and pleased God. So when a man lays hold of God's word, whether old or new covenant, in its spirit and not merely letter, it shapes his life, God and the spirit of God are in him.
In 2 Corinthians 3, the actual contrast Paul makes between old and new covenants is not letter or spirit, but "ministration of death," and "ministration of spirit," where he is using 'spirit' to mean spiritual life in contrast with death. It is a different use of the word spirit from that in "letter and spirit."
God and Christ Abiding in Us
God or Christ abiding in us is an expression used several times in John's gospel and epistles. "Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man loves me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him and make our abode with him" (John 14:24). "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love
that God hath for us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him" (1 John 4:15-16).
These and similar scriptures are quoted when brethren are trying to justify our receiving the Pentecostal gift of the Holy Spirit. But it is merely an assumption to say Christ abiding in us involves the Holy Spirit Gift; this assumption is not necessary, in order to give proper meaning to the words. God and Christ dwell in us when their mind, and thinking, and ways are in us, and this comes from the Word of God, whether written, or, as in the first century, by the Holy Spirit power in the apostles, causing them to speak the words of God. There is such diffuse thinking on the idea of God and Christ dwelling in us that it will be useful to examine the matter in an analytical way. The following facts taken together are against the idea of our receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit in order that God may dwell in us.
1. The dwelling or abiding is mutual: not only is God in the believer, but the believer is in God. Our explanation of God in us, must also fit the idea of our being in God.
2. The language is figurative not literal; obviously God does not literally dwell in us. The figure is that of the vine and the branches -- so Jesus says: "I am the vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit He taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, He cleanseth it that it may bring forth more fruit. Already ye are clean because of the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; so neither can ye, except ye abide in me . . . . if a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch and is withered . . . . and they are burned" (John 15:1-6 -- R.V.).
3. From these words of Jesus we can learn much. The relationship of mutual abiding here described is something more fundamental than the receiving of the Holy Spirit Gift. It is describing a life or death relation: in Christ we have life, out of him we are dead. In the natural, the sap flowing up into the branches and back again to the roots maintains a vital organic relation between branches and the rest of the tree. Jesus is using this figure of the vine and its branches to describe the oneness of mind and disposition between the disciples and himself. The Christ mind in them, like the sap of the tree, was the bond of the branches to the tree.
4. Jesus declares how this oneness came: "Already ye are clean because of the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me." It is the quickening word received in the heart that binds us as branches to the Christ vine.
5. It is clear from the Lord's words that the disciples were already abiding in him, and the emphasis of the parable is that he exhorts them to continue in him. So it was not a question of waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit Gift at Pentecost for this mutual abiding to exist. The abiding existed before the giving and was apart from this. And the abiding depended on the word abiding in them, as Jesus says a few verses on: "if ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done for you." Christ would abide in them by his words abiding in them.
6. Lastly from this figure of the vine, the abiding depended on the stedfastness of the disciples. "Abide in me," "If a man abide not in me," "If ye abide in me," So it is not receiving the Holy Spirit Gift that makes the abiding, as something God does. The abiding depends on our faithfulness: "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love" (verse 10). So we see that all the detail of these verses is against the Holy Spirit Gift as the basis of the abiding.
7. The Lord's words in the previous chapter of John support what we have seen in the parable of the vine. In verse 23 he turns from the apostles to the believers in general: "If a man love me he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come and make our abode with him." It is the action of the believer in "keeping my words" that brings about the abiding. In verse 25, addressing the apostles, he says: "These things have I spoken unto you, while yet abiding with you" (R.V.). "While yet abiding with you" conveys more than just his physical presence: it speaks of companionship, of a close relationship and friendship. Jesus was abiding with them, and this relationship would continue when he physically left. The souls of David and Jonathan were "knit together" (1 Sam. 18: 1) -- they dwelt in each other's heart -- though David had to flee into the wilderness.
So Jesus' words further illustrate the nature of the abiding, and that it existed before the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost.
8. The recognition that the mutual abiding between God and the believer existed for the apostles before the Spirit Gift was given, may be extended backward in time. God abode with the believer in Old Testament time, just as in New Testament time, "Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and lofty place, with him also that is contrite and of a humble spirit" (Isaiah 57:15). God by His word has always been in the hearts of his children. This abiding in us is not some peculiarity dependent on the giving of the Holy Spirit Gift.
9. From another figure the Lord uses later, we may add in
confirmation that the abiding and dwelling mutually between the believer on the one hand, and God and Christ on the other, is intended to describe a oneness of mind and fellowship, and not a possession of the Spirit Gift. Addressing the Laodicean eldership, he says: "Behold I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come into him, and will sup with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:19). This is a figure of friendship and oneness of mind. Though Jesus is in heaven and the believer on earth, the distance matters not. Like earthly friends, the bond is still real and strong; they dwell in each other's hearts like two lovers who may be separated. One does not have to involve the coming of the Holy Spirit Gift to bring about this relationship. The basis of the relationship is stated, and it is in harmony with all we have already found. It is: "If any man hear my voice." His voice came to the Laodiceans in the words of rebuke through John. The dwelling together depended on the initiative of the Laodiceans: to buy gold tried in the fire, to get white raiment, to anoint the eyes with eyesalve, that is, with the illumination of the Word of God.
10. Finally a word on the use of spirit in 1 John 3:24: "He that keepeth his commandments abideth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Holy Spirit which he gave us." First, this confirms that the abiding depends on our keeping the commandments, not on surrendering to the Holy Spirit effluence to work within us. As to the Holy Spirit, the R.V. corrects the A.V. by putting the tense in the past. This is not a continual receiving of the Holy Spirit as each new believer is baptised, but is a reference back to the precise giving of the Holy Spirit in power to the apostles. Through the power of the Holy Spirit in the apostles, they had received infallible teaching and evidence of the way of salvation, and God's grace and love towards them.
The moral issue in this discussion on the Holy Spirit Gift should be appreciated. Several times we have noted that the dwelling of God in us, and we in God depends on us. With God there is no variableness. His part is certain. His love and power cannot fail. But we must keep his commandments, let his words abide in us, 'keep his words,' 'hear his voice.' We are free to do this or not. It requires our determination, our stedfastness, our heart's desire. Here is the moral struggle and the over-coming of the world (1 John 5:3-4). And it is in this matter that the idea of the present possession of the Spirit Gift is dangerous. Assuming we received the Gift at baptism, its advocates tell us to surrender to its sweet influence, that it may lead us into the
paths of holy living. However much the advocates wish to minimise the difference between these two positions, a fundamental difference is there, and the next generation, growing up in this belief will begin to adopt the attitude of the churches in this matter: that some distinct effluence from God overshadows and guides them. They will cease to maintain their diligence in using the Word of God as the power to overcome.
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