By Cecil Willis
We have been discussing various phases of the subject of faith. We have pointed out the evidences supporting our faith in God, in Christ as being the Son of God, and our reasons for believing the Bible to be the revelation of God to man. After discussing those things we then proceeded into a discussion of faith viewed subjectively. We studied the necessity of having faith, and then studied together how that faith was produced. We learned from the word of God that men are made believers by the word. In our last lesson, we stated that the Holy Spirit produces faith in one’s heart, but we then harmonized this statement with the one which said that faith came by hearing the word of God, by pointing out that the Bible, the word of God, was given to us by the Holy Spirit. Thus as we were made believers by the word of God, we were made believers by the Holy Spirit since the Holy Spirit gave us the word of God.
Now we want to turn our attention to an investigation of the nature of this power that produces the faith. Today the religious world has so mystified salvation that one hardly knows what to expect when he is saved. They tell us that first of all the Holy Spirit must descend upon one and operate directly upon his heart, and by this operation faith is produced. One must pray until God decides to send the Holy Spirit unto him; and until God decides to give him the Holy Spirit, it is impossible for him to be saved. But one might inquire, “What is the direct operation of the Holy Spirit?” There is not one person who claims to have received the Holy Spirit who can give a definition of what he has received that is agreeable to others who claim to have received the same thing.
If the reader does not think this is true, then sometime, when one of your friends tells you that he has gotten the Holy Spirit, question him about it. The only thing that he can tell you about it is that it is wonderful to have Him. This so-called operation of God is always clothed in a veil of mystery. The reception of the Spirit occurs in some odd way, and under strange circumstances. Those who try to explain what they supposedly have received use three or four nebulous, abstract phrases, and then proclaim that you cannot understand it for you have not received the Holy Spirit. As someone crudely put it: “It is better felt than telt!”
Consequence of a “Direct” Operation
Friends, I humbly ask this question: Is the power that God exerts to induce men to believe a power that is addressed to the human understanding and intelligence, or is it a subtle power of the Spirit sent immediately from God to operate upon man in some mysterious and incomprehensible manner? It cannot be this subtle power as taught by modern sensationalist, for a number of reasons.
First of all, if a man is made a believer by an immediate power from God, without the intervention of any medium, power or instrumentality, then he is made a believer without the mediator, Christ Jesus. A mediator is one who stands between two. Christ is the mediator between God and man. Denominationalists say that one is made a believer by a “direct” operation of the Holy Spirit, and they frequently define “direct” by saying they mean “without medium or instrumentality.” If there is no medium, then there could be no mediator. Denominationalists are going to say that this is a misrepresentation of their views, but one can judge their views only by the words they use to express them, and we cannot be held responsible for the mis-use of words which they might employ in stating what they believe. They deny the necessity of the mediator.
Secondly, if their contention as to how faith is produced be the correct one, then they set aside the mission of the church. One of the missions of the church is to support and to propagate the truth (1 Tim. 3:15), and by thus making known the truth, men are to be saved. But if faith comes without the proclamation of the gospel, then men are saved without the work of the church and thus its mission is vitiated.
Thirdly, this view sets aside the mission of the apostles. The apostles were to preach the gospel to the whole world, so that after hearing the message the world could believe it and thus be saved by it. Christ said, “Neither for these only (apostles-CM do I pray, but for all them that believe on me through their word, that they might be one Father, as thou art in me, and I in thee, that they may all be one in us, that the world may believe that thou didst send me” (Jn. 17:20, 21). Christ declared that men are made believers through the words of the apostles, but the doctrine of denominationalism says that they are made believers “directly.” If this be so, then the entire mission of the apostles likewise is set aside as being unnecessary.
In the fourth place, this false doctrine sets aside the gospel entirely in making believers and in turning men to God. The doctrine says that God produces faith directly, and if it is done directly, it could not be done through the gospel.
Fifth, the doctrine sets aside the Bible, tracts, religious journals and bulletins, evangelists, and all similar works, as being unnecessary in making men believers. These things would all be instruments used in making men believers, but if faith is produced without instrument, then these things could not be essentials.
Sixth, the conducting of evangelistic meetings are also made non-essential. If God makes men believers directly, then He is going to do it whether we have the gospel meeting or not, and so it is a waste of time, money and effort to have meetings, if this doctrine be true.
What the Bible Says
I know that you could not believe this doctrine if you only considered these consequences of it, but let us note some scriptures which show how people are to be saved. In a previous article we pointed out a number of passages teaching that men are made believers through the word, but now let us note that the power exerted through the word is a power that appeals to the intelligence of man, and is not some power that is inexplicable, non-intelligent, and mysterious. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). The power in the gospel is the power of intelligence. It contains divine intelligence, and thus it is addressed to men and women of intelligence. When honest souls hear it, they are moved by this divine message to believe it and obey it. “For though ye have ten thousand tutors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I begat you through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15). It was by the gospel that they were begotten unto a new life or new birth, and did not occur as modern teachers would have us to believe it occurred. They refer to receiving of the Holy Spirit miraculously as the new birth, but Paul says that it is by the gospel that we are begotten. It was not in >ome mystical manner that the Corinthians were iegotten, but when Paul brought the power of the gospel to bear upon their intelligence, they were moved to respond to it.
The Lord defined the plan of salvation as a teaching process, rather than something that you are “to get.” Today the denominationalists teach that we must “get” the Holy Spirit before one can learn the things of the Spirit. It is a matter of getting the Spirit, and as one gets the Holy Spirit, he is said to have gotten salvation. And then, having received both the Holy Spirit and salvation, he may be taught the things of the Spirit. Christ said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned” (Mk. 16:15, 16). They were to be taught in order that they may be saved. The gospel was that which they were to teach. It was such that it would appeal to the intellect of man, and once being taught the gospel, man could be saved by obedience to it by believing and being baptized according to its commands. In Matthew’s parallel account of the great commission, “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:19, 20). The gospel was something to be taught and not something to be gotten, and yet Paul said in Rom. 1:16 that the gospel was the power of God unto salvation. So, salvation is something that appeals to the intelligence of man, and something the conditions of which must be taught to man.
Further, the Lord said to Paul, “But arise, and stand upon thy feet: for to this end .have I appeared unto thee, to appoint thee a minister, and a witness both of the things wherein thou hast seen me, and of the things wherein I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom I send thee, to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive remission of sins and an inheritance among them that are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:16-18). Paul was to be responsible for teaching the Gentiles that they might have remission of sins and an inheritance, but it was to come through teaching, and not through some mysterious means. It was by the power of instruction that appealed to the intelligence that their faith was to come.
Paul says, “It pleased God by the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). In every instance of the conversion of man in the New Testament, someone taught him the things that he had to know. It was always done through preaching that appealed to the intelligence. “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (Jas. 1:18). “Having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which liveth and abideth” (I Pet. 1:23).
The Power of God Unto Salvation
“The Almighty puts forth intelligence through Christ, through the Apostles, through the Holy Spirit, and through the Gospel, preached by the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven, to the understanding and heart of the sinner, makes him a believer, and turns him to the Lord. This work Is In some instances, ascribed to God; In some instances, to Christ; in some instances to the apostles; in some instances to the Holy Spirit; and, in some instances, to the Word. But he who would express the whole, in one sentence, says God does this work through Christ, the apostles, the Holy Spirit, and the Gospel. But it is the same, no matter whether ascribed to God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the apostles, or the Word. The power of God, of Christ, and of the Holy Spirit is put forth, through the gospel, to save man.” (Benjamin Franklin, the Gospel Preacher, Vol. I, pp. 74, 75.)
But someone objects and asks: “Is there power in the mere word to quicken a sinner, dead in trespasses and sins, and turn him to God? Is there power in ink and paper?” First of all, men of faith do not refer to the word of God as the mere word. We read, “For the word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any twoedged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and. intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). The Bible is not the dead letter that some would have you believe it is. But pause and reflect for a moment: If God chose to exert power through His word, wouldn’t it be the same power as though God were to choose to do it directly? One need not argue the power of the word of God when its power is continually being demonstrated. We see the stouthearted made submissive, the haughty made humble, the strong man made to cry, as they are brought face to face with the teaching of our Father as it is revealed in His word.
If God sends saving power directly upon the sinner without any medium, then why would a church send gospel preachers to a foreign land to teach them about God? If God should decide to save them, He would do it whether they were taught the Bible or not. If the doctrine be true, and if they were taught, but God did not decide to send them saving power, they still could not be saved. Denominationalists betray their doctrine of a direct operational saving power every time they send a preacher into a foreign land or even every time they have a meeting. These things are not necessary, if what they teach is true.
Friends, where is the justice in sending one man to hell for not believing, and in sending, another man to heaven for believing, if God is the miraculous sender of faith? It is no longer the responsibility of the man for not believing, but it becomes God’s responsibility for his unbelief, if this doctrine be true. I have talked to men who have told me that they were just as sincere as they possibly could be when they went down to the front of a meeting house of some denomination and prayed for the saving power. One time a man told me, “I stand before God, and He knows thqt I wanted to get the Holy Spirit, but J couldn’t.” According to the doctrine here being discussed, if he died and went to hell, it would not be his fault. One has the same right to believe this man in what he said about wanting “to get” the Holy Spirit as he does to believe others when they say they `got” the Holy Spirit. There would be no justice to such an action if God sends salvation directly.
God does not produce faith in some non-intelligent manner, but through the gospel of Christ men are begotten again unto a living hope. It is a power that is addressed to the intelligence of man. Thus we plead with you to study the word of God and by the evidences presented therein believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and obey the commandments contained in the gospel that you might some day stand in the presence of God justified eternally.
Truth Magazine XIX: 41, pp. 643-646
August 28, 1975