THE sPIRIT AND THE WORD
In the Online version of his book entitled James and Other Studies, Duncan Heaster postulates that at the time of Baptism, believers are endowed with “a gift of heavenly health”, a “once off gift of the Holy Spirit”, and are also given the further opportunity of drawing upon the Spirit as the occasion arises, in order to receive Divine help in their Bible Study. Thus, under the heading, Holy Spirit at Baptism? he writes:
“… this approach to the subject makes more sense of the passages which imply that there is a once off gift of spiritual strength in our lives. Israel’s passage through the Red Sea was a clear type of our baptism and subsequent wilderness journey (1Cor 10:1). Miraculously, “there was not one feeble person among their tribes” (Ps 105:37) – of about four million people. This gift of physical strength after their Baptism surely prefigures our ‘gift of Heavenly health’ after our immersion … Titus 3:5,6 associates baptism with a once off ‘shedding’ of Holy Spirit: “the washing (‘laver’, Bro Thomas) of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit, which he shed on us abundantly.” This “renewing” would correspond to the “newness of life” spoken of in Romans 6 as following baptism, and with the statement that God “hath anointed us [2Cor 1:21,22] (and) given unto us the earnest of the Spirit” (2Cor 5:5).
Grammatically this must imply a once off gift of the Spirit to each believer … Despite having had this Spirit gift at baptism, the utmost personal effort is still required in responding to it”
Again, he writes:
“Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of (i.e. some of) his Spirit” (1Jno 4:13) is referring back to Jn. 15:4-7, which says that if the word dwells in us, then God is in us. Note original text: that being given some “of” God’s Spirit is parallel with our response to the word. Thus the word is only part of God’s total spiritual gift to us”.
And yet again:
“Surely there is no point in praying to undebrorstand God’s word if our own unaided intellect is all that is required (Ps 119:18). Such prayers are surely for God’s help to act upon us to assist us in our efforts to understand. Seeing that all God’s work is accomplished through His Spirit, it follows that we are asking from the help of His Spirit to understand the word.”
Here then, is the claim presented – and in terms concerning which there can be no doubt. At Baptism, believers are given “some of” the Spirit of God, as a “once off gift”of “spiritual strength” . And further, that this Spirit may be also drawn upon as required, to give assistance in understanding the Father’s Word. Several passages are cited in support of this proposition –but how does it stand up to closer scrutiny? What does the Word itself plainly teach concerning such a source of help and strength to believers?
We shall examine the ‘supportive’ passages used by D Heaster shortly, but by way of preliminary remarks, it is worth noting that no passage of scripture states that there is a “once off gift of heavenly health” given to believers. These kinds of terms are just not used. Neither, as we shall see, is there any passage which speaks of Holy Spirit endowment as being a source of “spiritual strength” – that term is not used at all either, let alone in this connection. Nor does any verse specifically state that believers ought to ask the Father to use His Spirit to give them understanding of the Word. As D Heaster himself admits, at best, the proof texts he gives can only ‘imply’ the points he makes. The evidence they provide is both inferential, and is expressed in terms of D Heaster’s own deductions, not the words of those passages themselves – as we shall see in due course.
A GIFT OF SPIRITUAL STRENGTH?
One more obvious example of this, is the parallel drawn between the physical blessing of Israel, and the spiritual blessing of believers today. The Scriptures state: “He brought them forth also with silver and gold: and there was not one feeble person among their tribes” (Ps 105:37). From this, it is reasoned that “this gift of physical strength after their baptism surely prefigures our ‘gift of heavenly health’ after our immersion”. But why must it “surely” be so? Scripture itself does not make that point, neither does it speak in the terms D Heaster uses. True, Scripture does describe how “all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition” (1Cor 10:11), but no passage aligns the health benefits given to Israel with the believer being given the Holy Spirit today. Indeed, if that were the case, then there ought to be “not one” spiritually “feeble” person amongst the tribes, or families of Christadelphia today! The facts show otherwise, as D Heaster himself states elsewhere in his writings where he speaks most disparagingly of present day Christadelphians.
THE POWER OF THE WORD
Rather than speaking of some mystical endowment of “heavenly health”at Baptism, the Oracles of the Most High declare that the Word itself gives strength to believers, being a power in it’s own right:
“the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are (being) saved, it is the power of God” (1Cor 1:18).
“I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth” (Rom 1:16).
“wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted (implanted) word, which is able to save your souls” (Jas 1:21).
“when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe” (1Thes 2:13).
D Heaster claims that “the word is only part of God’s total spiritual gift to us”, and that believers also need a mystical ‘once off’ gift of the Spirit to obtain “spiritual strength”. But to say this is to diminish the power of the word – it is to say the strength the word gives by itself is insufficient, and that another source of enlightenment is also needed. And as we have said, there is no passage of Scripture at all which describes the Holy Spirit as being such a “spiritual strength” imparting a moral power, or “heavenly health” to the recipients. On the contrary, the Psalmist prayed, “my soul melteth for heaviness: strengthen thou me according to thy word”(Ps 119:28). That is the prayer of the faithful; to pray for strength to be given in accordance with what the Word teaches – to pray for a strength which the Word does not promise, or to look for power in a different place to where the Creator has provided it, is bound only to leave the petitioner weak and in need of true spiritual strength.
The Master, in his Parable of the Sower clearly described what source of spiritual growth and health is sown in the believer’s heart. “The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11). Notice, the seed is sown alone in the heart, the onus being on the individual to allow it to germinate and take root there. The Master describes no additional element being sown with the seed to help the recipient in some other way, it is down to the nature of soil, and disposition of the individual as to whether, and how that seed grows.
This seed so sown is that “implanted word” which “effectually worketh” within the believer, an ‘incorruptible seed’ (1Pet 1:23) which, is the germ of a new Spiritual life – a “new creature” (2Cor 5:17), and is a virile ‘power’ mighty to save. Indeed, it is that seed which is able to strengthen the believer to resist sin (1Jno 3:9), and which is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2Tim 3:17).
“THAT THE MAN OF GOD MAY BE PERFECT”
This latter passage is most instructive for our present considerations – the Word is a power able to reprove, correct, and instruct “that the man of God may be perfect”. Why then, do some consider there to be a need for an additional influence/strengthening power from elsewhere? Are we to suppose that the man of God may become more perfect than “perfect” by such additional “spiritual strength”? Nay, the word itself, after the pattern of the Manna of old is sufficient for the believer to feed upon, even though it may be but “light bread”, and insufficient for the murmerers.
Contrary to the claims with which we are being presented, possession of the Holy Spirit was not in any case, a source of “heavenly health” strengthening the possessors to be obedient. This we know, for though it gave the 1st Century possessors miraculous powers and abilities, it was still needful for Paul to exhort and warn the spirit-endowed elders at Ephesus that:
“of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. 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” (Acts 20:30-32).
The arising of apostate leaders was certain – but what was needed to edify the body to remain faithfully resistant to these? Mystical supplies of “spiritual strength” from above? No – the Word itself. These were men who certainly did possess the Holy spirit, but it was not that Spirit which gave them strength to resist the apostates, but the Word, understood, believed and acted upon. It is a power of construction, able to build a firmly founded edifice which cannot be shaken in the day of evil. The Spirit, whilst it gave miraculous powers, did not in itself impart an moral awareness to the recipients thereof, as witnessed by the manner by which certain at Corinth abused their miraculous ability to speak in tongues (1Cor 14). Only a Divine power impressed upon the fleshly tables of the heart can achieve moral results, and it has so pleased the eternal Creator to have that power contained within the written word.
THE EVIDENCE CONSIDERED
By way of support of this theoretical “gift of heavenly health”, a number of passages are cited, and alleged to substantiate the claim – by implication:
“Titus 3:5,6 associates baptism with a once off ‘shedding’ of Holy Spirit: “the washing (‘laver’, Bro Thomas) of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit, which He shed on us abundantly. This “renewing” would correspond to the “newness of life” spoken of in Romans 6 as following baptism, and with the statement that God “hath anointed us [2Cor. 1:21,22] (and) given unto us the earnest of the Spirit” (2 Cor 5:5).”
But what do this passages actually say? Titus 3:5,6 reads as follows: “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour”. D Heaster cites Bro Thomas’ rendering of the word “washing” as “laver”, thus appearing to give his interpretation credibility. But though he gave this rendering, we find Bro Thomas’ exposition varied greatly to that of D Heaster:
“Now, the ‘testimony of God’ came by the Holy Spirit, by which God testified in His prophets; and in the last days spoke through His Son and the Apostles. Hence, the effects of the word believed are attributed to the spirit; and because the word sets men to breathing in God’s moral atmosphere, it is termed “spirit and life”. These remarks will explain the saying of the apostle to Titus, “According to his mercy God saved us through the laver of regeneration, and renewal of the Holy Spirit”. That is parallel to the saying, “Sanctified and cleansed in the laver of the water by the word”; for the reader must not suppose that any man, woman, or child, who is ignorant of the word, can be regenerated, or born again, by being plunged into a bath. The Holy Spirit does not renew the heart of man as he renews the mortal body, when through Jesus he raises it from the dead. In this case, the power is purely physical. But, when the heart is the subject of renewal it is by the knowledge of the written testimony of God, or the word. “God”, says Peter, speaking of the Gentile believers, “purified their hearts by faith”; and Paul prays, “that Christ may dwell in their hearts by faith”. Now, faith comes by hearing the word of God; in other words, it is the belief of God’s testimony concerning things to come, which are not seen; and without which it is impossible to please Him. When a man is renewed by the truth, he is renewed by the spirit, and not before … The truth is the purifier to those only who understand and obey it; and there is no moral purity, or sanctification of spirit before God, without it. It is only believers of the truth, then, who can be the subjects of a regeneration by being submerged “in the laver of the water”. When they come out of this, they have been “washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, by the spirit of God”. (Elpis Israel, P 52,53).
Bro Thomas’ point here, is that the “washing of regeneration”which Titus speaks of is not Baptism per se, for a cold bath in itself has no intrinsic regenerative virtue. Rather, it is the cleansing effect of the Word written by the Spirit, as shown elsewhere in Scripture (Eph 5:26 – It is interesting to note in passing here, that Cornelius, before he was baptised was described to Peter as having been “cleansed” by God. Before his Baptism, he had been washed with the Word). The same Spirit poured out at Pentecost has produced the Inspired writings so powerful to us today; the renewing of a believers heart by the Word is a work of the Spirit in this sense only.
The abundant shedding of the Spirit referred to in Titus, is a clear reference back to the outpouring at Pentecost, where the same word is used (cp Acts 2:33), and notice there, the bestowal of the Spirit gifts was not circumstantially linked with Baptism. The believers to whom Paul wrote did have the Holy Spirit gifts – a clear difference between their circumstance and ours . But it was the washing of the Word, not a “once off” “gift of heavenly health” which effected the moral cleansing.
THE EARNEST OF THE SPIRIT
Another passage cited by D Heaster by way of support for his case, is 2Cor 1:21,22 which reads as follows:
“now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.”
But to whom is the Apostle writing? We must bear in mind the context of what was being spoken in order to correctly discern the meaning. The believers of the First Century had the Holy Spirit gifts – they had been given the Spirit. And Paul was writing to these believers at Corinth, as shown by the words which immediately follow: Moreover I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet to Corinth” (2Cor 1:23). The believers at Corinth had received the Holy Spirit, yes. But believers today do not. The “earnest of the spirit” given to the Corinthians enabled them to perform miracles, and to speak in tongues; if we are to say that we possess the same “earnest of the spirit”today, why do we not have the same gifts? The same remarks apply to 1Jno 4:13, also cited as evidence: “Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit”. The “we” here did have the Spirit gifts, which was a powerful testimony to the abiding presence of the Almighty (cp Heb 2:4) , something which we, in our generation do not possess. Rather, we have a power those believers did not have – enshrined within the New Testament which had not then been written.
HELP IN UNDERSTANDING
We saw earlier how that D Heaster claims believers can further draw upon the Spirit to assist them in learning of Divine things:
“Surely there is no point in praying to understand God’s word if our own unaided intellect is all that is required (Ps 119:18). Such prayers are surely for God’s help to act upon us to assist us in our efforts to understand … it follows that we are asking for the help of His Spirit to understand the word”.
Notice again, an assertion is given, but not from the words of Scripture. “Surely” it must be so – but why? No verse of Scripture states that believers should pray for the Holy Spirit to aid their Bible Study – those terms are not used. On the contrary, even prophets to whom the words of the Spirit came direct, had to exert much effort themselves in seeking out their meaning: “Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace which should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow” (1Pet 1:11). These inspired prophets received the Spirit – it operated through them to give us the words of Scripture, yet they did not understand the import of those words, and how they testified of the coming Messiah.. The Spirit did not give them understanding of what they themselves wrote. They had to show themselves to be “workmen that needeth not to be ashamed”, seeking to rightly divide the Word of Truth – as do we. The way to understand the Word, is to “search diligently”, following the example of the worthies of old, not to pray for a source of understanding they did not have, and which the Father has not promised. And why should it be otherwise? “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing, but the honour of kings is to search out a matter” (Prov 25:2). True, it may be attractive to the flesh to suppose that though we be workmen, we do not have to work hard! That we are, in some mysterious way, “helped” to understand, so saving us hours of thoughtful meditation, but that is not the revealed way of the Most High.
THE EVIDENCE CONSIDERED
D Heaster refers to one passage of Scripture as a prop to sustain his argument, Psalm 119:18: “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy Law”. Notice here, the Holy Spirit itself is not directly spoken of. David does not pray for the Holy Spirit to help his understanding – those are not the terms he uses, even if D Heaster asserts that to be his meaning. David simply besought Yahweh to “open his eyes” – to state that this would be by the direct operation of the Holy Spirit giving understanding is an assumption not contained in the text.
Interestingly, the Hebrew for “open” used here by the Spirit literally signifies, to uncover; to reveal. The idea is that of the eyes being covered over, the prayer being that this covering may be removed, so that the “wondrous things” contained within the Mosaic Law might be seen. Hence, Rotherham renders the verse thus: “unveil thou mine eyes that I may discern wondrous things out of thy law”. But what are those wondrous things? David certainly knew and understood the Law very well; later in the same Psalm he says: “O how love I thy law! It is my meditation all the day. Thou through thy commandments hast made my wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me” (Ps 119:97,98). Already having been given understanding and wisdom (notice, from the commandments, not Holy Spirit bestowal), there was yet something contained within the Law which was veiled from his sight, and which he sought to “see”.
The Apostle speaks similarly of Israel, and their inability to see the wonderful things testified of the Master: “seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which was abolished: But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the Old Testament … even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart.” (2Cor 3:15). That which is veiled from Israel even today, is an appreciation of how the Law spoke of the Lord Jesus. Their minds are blinded to this; there is a need for them to have their eyes opened, and their hearts unveiled in order for them to recognise the Messiah who came to fulfill the Law. Even so with David; yet he sought to have that vail removed.
This is something which was indeed revealed to David by Divine Revelation, for he was a prophet: “being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ” (Acts 2:31). But D Heaster is not a prophet, and neither is anyone else today! When we cite a verse, we must pay attention to it’s historical context, or we become no better than the Apostasy who pick out verses to wrest to their own destruction.
Here then, we see the prayer and it’s fulfillment. David prayed that he might see wondrous things; and being a prophet those things were shown to him, that “seeing this before”, he might speak of the resurrection of Christ. The revelation which he sought came both in the “oath” sworn to him through Nathan the prophet, as recorded in 2Sam 7, and also through prophetic vision which he received himself – which things we do not experience today. David, as other men of old had direct communication from the Most High, whereas we do not. He then, was placed in a unique position greatly different to ours, whereby he could pray to have things revealed to him. For our part, we must be content with the Divine injunction to use personal effort, to “search diligently” that we might show ourselves workmen that need not be ashamed.
THE WORD – A SPOKEN, THEN WRITTEN REVELATION OF THE SPIRIT
What we have endeavoured to show, is that the power of the word itself imparts understanding to the hearer. As the voice of Wisdom crieth: “My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee … then shalt thou understand the fear of Yahweh, and find the knowledge of elohim. For Yahweh giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding …” (Prov 2:1-6). Out of the mouth of Yahweh, that is, via His Spoken Word, understanding and knowledge was given to his prophets, and they wrote it down for others. We obtain knowledge of the Most High by heeding that revelation, not by seeking another revelation to, in some way clarify the first. But the word itself is a power because it is the product of the breath, or Spirit of Yahweh, as we touched upon earlier. Thus Paul spake to the Corinthians of the formerly concealed mysteries of the Gospel: “God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit … for what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God” (1Cor 2:10,11).
So then, ‘no man’ can know the things of God, but by the Spirit of God. But how? By a mystical impartation of understanding? No – by the words taught by the Spirit, for this is how the Apostle spake of the revelations given to him, and committed to paper: “now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Spirit teacheth, comparing Spiritual things with Spiritual” (v 12,13). So, true, we can only know of Divine things from the Spirit. That is, through the words which the Spirit teaches in the pages of our Bibles. What we must do therefore, rather than to give petition for additional power from the Father, is to attend to that which He has already imparted by the Spirit, and contained within the word. We must shun the words which man’s wisdom teaches, and give ear to the oracles of God, that showing ourselves “workmen” who need not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of Truth, we might be given a spirit-nature, being heirs of the promises contained within that word.