III. Understanding the Means of Grace: Benefits of the Word
The first and foremost theological relationship of the Word is with the Spirit. The Bible, either preached or read, is mightily used by the Holy Spirit to convert, sanctify and preserve the elect. As Ezekiel 37 demonstrates, the Spirit of Christ is pleased to use this humble tool of the Word to even resurrect spiritual Israel from the dead.
The Confession clearly echoes the Bible's own insistence that the Word of God is the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17). It is an instrument so closely aligned with the work of the Spirit that Paul claims that those who call upon God need the Word preached (Rom. 10:14ff.), for "it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" (1 Cor. 1:21). Indeed, the power of preaching the Word is the power of the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:4). Turretin explains:
He [the Spirit] is not given to us in order to introduce new revelations, but to impress the written word on our hearts; so that here the word must never be separated from the Spirit (Is. 59:21). The former works objectively, the latter efficiently; the former strikes the ears from without, the latter opens the heart within. The Spirit is the teacher; Scripture is the doctrine which he teaches us.
Thus the Word has no intrinsic power but only that which the Spirit is pleased to bestow through it. Through the history of redemption, we find the Word of God commanding, explaining, transforming, admonishing and even chiding the people of God. It brings revival, reformation, renewal as well as discipline, rebuke and judgment. We see the transformation of Israel under Josiah's discovery of the Pentateuch (2 Kgs. 22:1ff). The New Testament Israel exemplifies this fact by its life-sustaining growth through the Word (Acts 4:4; 6:7; 8:4; 13:49; 19:20).
Of the various means of grace (Sacraments, prayer, family worship, etc.), only the Word of God inscripturated is the means of grace par excellence; it is the means of the Spirit upon which the other means depend. Any conscience event in the life of the believer--prayer, worship, fellowship, Bible study and all other means broadly considered--necessarily builds upon and requires the Word. From it flows the efficacy of the Spirit: whether the Sacraments, public or
private worship, prayer or any other means of Christian growth, the Bible as read, and especially preached, is the foundational and continuous primary instrument of spiritual growth. This is manifested in the nature of the Word and its functions.
Firstly, the nature of the inscripturated Word is that it is the will of God to the Church. It is the mind of God in written form and as such is infallible, inerrant and God-breathed (1 Tim. 3:15ff.). It abides forever (Is. 40:8); it is living, active and sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12); it is sanctifying truth (John 17:17); and it is spirit and life (John 6:63). These characteristics set it apart from the other means of grace: the power and energy of the Spirit is closely aligned with the Word. Indeed, faith operating in the environment of the other means, whether public or private, cannot exist without the object of Christ, and Christ is found nowhere else than in the truthful and inspired Word.
Secondly, the Word functions in a much broader manner than the other means of grace. Broadly it is profitable for every aspect of the Christian's life: "...that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16). Narrowly, as it contains the Law of God it convicts, restrains and guides. It exposes sin, holds back wickedness in society and shows the will of God for believers. As it contains the Gospel of God it calls men to salvation, converts the sinner, and strengthens believers in the Spirit of Christ.
The Spirit is the prime mover and energizer in the life-birthing and spiritual growth of Christians, but He is pleased to ordinarily utilize the Word as the foundation of the believers who were "born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of
God which lives and abides forever..." (1 Pet. 1:23). The Word convicts sinners and calls them to repentance, and it places Christ and Him crucified vividly before the sinner as the object of faith and conversion (1 Cor. 1:18ff; Gal. 3:1). Within this context regeneration by the immediate hand of the Spirit marvelously transpires. Moreover, the Word continues its function through initiation into the covenant by the Spirit who seals with the Word (Eph. 1:13). The Church, by Christ's power, is sanctified and cleansed by "washing of water by the word" (Eph. 5:26). Her fellowship and unity are based upon it (Acts. 2:46). The Bible as used by the Spirit of Christ guides believers into a closer walk with God (Prov. 3:1ff). Pointing out the depths of sin and the wiles of the devil, it lightens the path of godliness (Ps. 119:105, 130).
These truths alone should attract us to the Word and to find ways to learn more about Jesus as He is in the Scriptures. The Spirit is the energizing power of the Church, but He works in an environment of His choosing. And that is the Word heard, read, memorized, studied,
proclaimed and practiced. Thus, why would we wish to spend less time in the Word?
Next: The Power of God
Means of Grace Series:
I. What Are They?
II. Passion for the Word
III. Benefits of the Word
IV. Power of God
V. The Foolishness of God
VI. The Initiatory Rite