By Dennis C. Abernathy
The study of the Holy Spirit is not something so dark and mysterious and incapable of being understood that we must take some blind leap in the dark.
How does the Holy Spirit work in conversion and sanctification? Does he work directly and without means, or does he work by means of the word of God? The question is not:”Did the Holy Spirit work directly during the time the revelation (the word of God) was being given?” but, “now that revelation has been completed, does he work through the word and only through the word in conversion (the alien sinner) and sanctification (the Christian)?”
Simply stated, the Bible teaches that whatever the Holy Spirit does today in either conversion or sanctification, he does it by means, not directly, and the means used by the Spirit is the word of God!
Name anything you choose that the Holy Spirit does today, and the word is the means for doing it! For example, does the Holy Spirit convert the sinner? The Word is the means (Psa. 19:7). Does the Holy Spirit edify? The Word is the means (Acts 20:32). This point cannot be overemphasized.
Much misunderstanding comes when we confuse passages that deal with the “miraculous” operation of the Spirit, when the Word was being revealed and confirmed, and apply these passages to the time when the revelation is complete and in written form. It is vital to remember that at one time there was no written revelation. The Spirit revealed the Word directly to the apostles and others who had received miraculous (spiritual) gifts. It is a fatal mistake to read passages that belong to that period of time and equate them, with the time after revelation had been completely revealed and confirmed. This appears obvious since we now (today)have a complete written revelation (Jude 3; 2 Pet. 13; Eph.3:1-4).
It is difficult for us today to think in terms of a time when there was no complete written revelation. But be assured that when passages that have to do with that preceding period are confused with the time afterwards when revelation was completed, it results in a complete misunderstanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in conversion and sanctification.
As an example of this, denominational preachers use John 14, 15, and 16 to support the direct leading of the Holy, Spirit, which was to the apostles and had to do with the revealing and confirming of the gospel. They apply these passages to preachers today, thus, confusing a period when, there was no complete written revelation with a period when revelation is completed and confirmed. The same thing results when we take passages which were written to Christians who had miraculous gifts during this preceding period of time and apply them to Christians today who do not have miraculous gifts, but do have the complete written revelation! This is vital to our understanding of this subject.
Most in the denominational world and many in the Lord’s church are influenced by Calvinism. The system of Calvinism is at the bottom of the teaching of the direct operation of the Holy Spirit on the sinner in conversion. This false system of doctrine says that the Holy Spirit may use the Word in conversion, but that he must operate directly and in addition to the Word in conversion. It is easy to see that what you have with this false concept is the Word of God . . . plus! To understand what Calvinism teaches on this point I recommend that one read the Campbell-Rice Debate. Specifically read pages 626,628,630,633 and 649. In his attempt to try to answer Campbell’s arguments that if the Holy Spirit operated directly, it would involve a miracle in conversion, read Rice’s remarks on pages 658 and 702. Mr. Rice then gives us his conclusion by saying: “How the Spirit operates on the heart in conversion and sanctification, I profess not to understand.”
In summary, Calvinism says that the Word of God is used in conversion, but there is an influence of the Spirit distinct from the Word of God and in addition to the Word that is necessary to conversion. This system also claims that the Spirit works in connection and in conjunction with the Word of God in sanctification (the life of the Christian), but also there is a direct and distinct influence (in the life of the Christian) just as there is in conversion (the alien sinner). It is maintained that this influence of the Spirit in addition to the Word is not a miracle, but in order to try and defend this inconsistent position, Calvinists “plain (?) that the operation as mysterious and invisible!
It is plain that the Bible teaches the Holy Spirit works through the Word on the heart of the alien sinner as well as in the life of Christian. But now, there are brethren who have adopted the old Calvinistic concept that the Holy Spirit influences the Christian in some direct invisible, and mysterious way! To illustrate this point, one preacher said (this can be documented): “I do not believe the Holy Spirit operates only through the Word of God in the life of a Christian.” He then summarized as follows: “(a) the Spirit through the Word (Eph.,6:17); (b) the Spirit operates only through the Word in conversion and conviction of sinners (there are no Christians where the Word has not gone); (c) however, the Holy Spirit actually dwells in Christians (Rom.8:9). If He does nothing as the indwelling Spirit,- there is no advantage in having Him in us.”
There you have it, beloved. I am asking for scriptural proof (1 Thess. 5:21) that the Spirit operates on the alien sinner only through the Word, but the Spirit operates on or in the Christian in addition to the word! Also, I am interested in hearing an explanation of how the Spirit operates and what he does in the life of the Christian, apart from the word! I anticipate the same response that the Calvinists give; i.e., the what and the how is mysterious and invisible and we must take it by faith because the Bible affirms it.
Beloved, we need to practice what we preach. We teach people that the Word of God is complete and all-sufficient (2 Tim. 3:16-17). But I say to you, if the Holy Spirit is influencing and doing things for the Christian separate and apart from, or, in addition to, the Word of God, it is just to that degree that the Word of God is incomplete and insufficient. We teach the truth concerning the conversion of the alien and then deny that very truth when we teach the Spirit is doing things for the Christian independent of the Word, through some personal indwelling. If I am wrong here, I beg to be corrected.
I am afraid that too many have read and studied too long and have drunk too deeply from the writings of Calvinism and find themselves refuting this false doctrine on the one hand and embracing it on the other. I suggest that every preacher (especially young preachers) read the Campbell-Rice Debate and the Nashville Debate (Moody-Harding). These will be enlightening as far as this study is concerned.
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 2, pp. 46-47
January 21, 1988