Unmediated – (Continued)
To read Part One, click here.
PART FOUR: DOES THIS MAKE INABILITY A MERE THEORY?
I suppose that someone might object that this view of the pervasive presence of God so utterly mitigates the ‘total inability’ of man that it becomes a mere theory without effect in the real world.
But this focuses on the wrong point. The point is that IF God did not, THEN. That is so say, IF we were left to our own devices; without God’s unmediated presence, IF He were merely a Cosmic Clockmaker or Cosmic Bookwriter, then we would be unable to respond to the message of life, for the reasons given above and to follow. It is beneficial to recognize what our state would be under such an if. One might posit any number of if’s, such as, “If Jesus did not die for us and rise again, we would be without hope.” Yet we do have hope, because He did die for us. The IF overturned by redemption and the IF overturned by prevenient grace are both precious truths to be embraced in thankfulness to God.
PART FIVE: THE LIVING WORD OF GOD – ASSESSING HEBREWS 4:12 AND JOHN 6:63
One of the key biblical passages informing both our views is Hebrews 4:12 – “The Word of God is living, and powerful.”
In his use of this passage Leighton implies that this is referring to the message of the Gospel or perhaps more broadly the entirety of Scripture. I personally disagree for two reasons; one exegetical, the other, broadly contextual. My position is that the “the Word” is referring to Jesus, not the Bible.
One of the earliest quotations of this passage is from Origen (~225AD). In the poetic beauty of so many of the early writers, Origen weaves the passage from Hebrews in with multiple Old Testament allusions:
The texts of the New Testament, which we have discussed, are things said by Himself about Himself. [In] Isaiah, however, He said [Isaiah 49:2-3] that His mouth had been set by His Father as a sharp sword, and that He was hidden under the shadow of His hand, made like to a chosen shaft and kept close in the Father’s quiver, called His servant by the God of all things, and Israel, and Light of the Gentiles. The mouth of the Son of God is a sharp sword, for “The word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing 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]… according to the prophetic word, He made His mouth as a sword, as a sharp sword. Can any one behold so many wounded by the divine love, like her in the Song of Songs, who complained that she was wounded: “I am wounded with love” (Song 2:5)…
So one of the earliest recorded usages of the passage (if not the earliest) insists upon the Word being Christ Himself.
The Scriptures are not living – Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for searching the Scriptures thinking that they contained life – yet they simply point us to Life Himself. “You search the Scriptures,” Jesus told them, “because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life” (John 5:39-40). The message merely points us to God, it is not God Himself. There is a blessed difference – a difference I was ignorant of for many years – years filled with Scripture memorization, study, and debate. During this time activities such as listening to God, contemplating His being, and resting in His presence were utterly neglected. There is no life in Scripture per se – there is only a message pointing us to the One who is Life.
The other reason for embracing this view can be drawn from the immediate context. Immediately following Hebrews 4:12, the author explains that this Word of God is the discerner of the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Does Scripture discern our heart? Is Scripture the one before whom “all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account”, the judge of all the earth? Who is this Judge? Who is this Word? I believe it is He of whom it was said, “The Word was with God, and the Word was God,” He who is the theme of Hebrews: Jesus Christ. He is “the brightness of [God’s] glory and the exact image of His being” (Heb. 1:3). This “glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” is what the Holy Spirit shines into Christian’s hearts in an unmediated, mysterious, spiritual act (2 Cor. 3:18, 4:6) when we turn to Jesus Christ and the veil is taken away. The True Light which lightens every man (John 1:9) shines upon the unregenerate also, not only in the inspired testimony of the Gospel message (that there is life to be had) but also in the Life which is pressing upon them, “convict[ing] them of sin and unrighteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).
Nonetheless, this verse is admittedly contested among commentators. Whether one takes my view or not, I would point the reader back to John 39-40. Scripture is not God, and let’s be cautious of any inclination to conflate God’s unmediated working in our hearts with the message He has prepared in Scripture.
When God spoke, “Let there be light”, there was light. Likewise, when Jesus personally spoke to people, saying “Rise,” or “Receive your sight”, His words vivified and gave life.
But we ought not confuse the means with the Person. When others copied Jesus’ words and attempted to cast out a demon possessed man (Acts 19:13), they found those words insufficient – the words did not possess life in themselves.
Even Jesus Himself, speaking these words of life, said that “No one can come into me unless the Father draws Him.”
What greater proof could there be that the words of the Gospel are insufficient without an additional action from God?The work of salvation involves the preaching of the gospel of Jesus’ work of redemption, the conviction of the Spirit, and the drawing of the Father. It is an intrinsically Triune effort.
I see no reason why Leighton or his readers would not expand his view of Scripture-as-the-personal-work-of-the-Holy-Spirit to every aspect of Christian life, and indeed many Christians do this to their own spiritual impoverishment. For instance, can we simply read the list of the Fruit of the Spirit and so be empowered to perform it, since we have read words that of themselves are allegedly sufficiently full of Spirit and Life? Is it a restriction upon the purpose and power of Scripture to say that Christians need the indwelling Spirit, since it is by Scripture (alone?) that a man may be “made perfect, thoroughly equipped for every good work”? This kind of thinking lies under the surface of much teaching, viz., when John MacArthur preached a sermon on “Putting on the New Man” in which he only mentioned the Holy Spirit twice – once off-handedly, the other as claiming essentially that the Spirit works in the background in a kind of automatic way. The Spirit is indeed the “forgotten God.”
Leighton and I both believe the same gospel: that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners (of whom I am the greatest). This salvation is graciously offered to every person, conditioned only upon a trust in Him which we can exercise.
But unless I am grossly misunderstanding him, Leighton believes that the only need of fallen man to trust in this Gospel is to hear it. There is nothing that must occur ‘behind the scenes’, no additional unmediated work of the Spirit upon the sinner’s enslaved, blinded, darkened heart. To this I cannot concur.
PART SIX: THROWING MYSELF INTO THE “C”?
Leighton asserted that my view of prevenient grace ultimately capitulates to Calvinist / Bezean regeneration. I disagree. Arminius pointed to the resistibility of grace as the keystone of His divergence from Beza (there is also, of course, the unlimited nature of the victory Jesus won on the cross, and other matters).
Because the grace of God’s Holy Spirit working personally upon unregenerate hearts is both resistable and not indwelling (even though it has internal effects) – merely pressing upon the soul or shining light through a window as it were – it avoids the excesses of the Genevan and the Hippolitan before him. Also against TULIP-ville, the Scottish Reformed (such as Torrance) would point to the ontological union and universal “Yes” of God to us in the person of Jesus Christ, but recognize the responding “No” of some to Him as real; a Surd, to them – nonreducible, inexplicable – but clearly real. God extends amazing grace and unity with Himself, but some resist Him. By maintaining these points, Wesleyans, Classical Arminians, and Scottish Reformed stay within a soteriology generally consistent with paleo-orthodoxy and general Church consensus contra deterministic soteriologies.
PART SEVEN: NOT “COULD HE?”, BUT “DOES HE?”
But perhaps we could leave behind the questions of whether this presence (the Reality, not just the picture) is necessary; whether He is needed to overcome some inability; whether He might be capable of crafting an inspired message of life and grace that would, on its own, enable belief.
I don’t think that He could while maintaining the supreme purpose of creation as sharing Himself with beings in His own image (see my article on this, “Trinity, Love, Theosis” ). But let us lay that aside for a moment, and recognize together that He doesn’t leave us with just the Gospel. He is closer to us than our own hearts. The gospel message is never merely alone. The message itself is not alive, but He who accompanies it is.
Jesus is alive and active, and it is He who goes out looking for the lost sheep, bringing it home upon His shoulders. He does not only send a message throbbing with His own love and grace and power (which the Gospel surely is), awaiting the response of the lost sheep; He also comes Himself to find the sheep. He does not only send a vibrant and hope-filled message that there is light to be had if they will but come; He shines the light of Himself upon the lost. The Light of the world is shining upon, pressing upon, seeking to awaken us, making it possible to open our eyes to Him – “The light shines in the darkness…” “Awake, sleeper, and Christ will give you light.”
And this is why I quoted Irenaeus: “…The light shines…”. This light which lightens every man is Jesus Christ himself (John 1:9), the eternal Logos of God. The Light Himself shines in the darkness of the unregenerate heart, and people may open their eyes to Him or resist Him.
This personal pursuit is echoed in the poem “The Hound of Heaven:”
…Still with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
Came on the following Feet,
… ‘Rise, clasp My hand, and come!’
What unmediated intimacy is expressed here, in the flight from God who ultimately, personally, shows man that there is no rest but in Himself!
We see the unmediated pursuit echoed in Wesley’s line,
“The first faint spark of pure desire
is kindled by Thy gracious breath.”
We hear it in the popular Christian song,
“You have run down every road / And you’ve lost your way back home / And you feel so dirty / You know you’re unworthy… There’s no distance too far / That I can’t reach you / There’s no place that’s so dark / That I can’t find you…” (Jordan Feliz, “Never Too Far Gone”).
Surely this language of poetry and worship evokes that the God’s pursuit of man is more about the unmediated presence of God than the information set down in words of Scripture by the Holy Spirit in the Gospel message, no matter how inspired it is.
AW Tozer – certainly no follower of TULIP – wrote,
“…the miracle of the perpetuation of life is in God. God did not create life and toss it from Him…All life is in Him and out of Him, flowing from Him and returning to Him again, a moving indivisible sea of which He is the Fountainhead. That eternal life which was with the Father is now the possession of believing men, and that life is not God’s gift only, but His very self.” (God’s pursuit of Man, p.11)
Yet again, Tozer writes,
“…[it is an evil, this] habit of languidly ‘accepting’ salvation as if it were a small matter and one wholly in our hands… “No man can come to me except the Father draw him”… God has indeed lent to every man the power to lock his heart and stalk away darkly to His overtures of grace, but while the “No” choice may be ours, the “yes” choice is always God’s. He is the Author of our faith as He must be its Finisher.” (Ibid, p. 38-39)
For Tozer, the “No” is in a different category of action than the “Yes,” for it is God Himself who is not merely providing us with a choice, but personally, unmediatedly, intimately pressing us in that direction. I agree.
The gospel message is inspired, a work of the Spirit, and a personal communique from the Good Shepherd. But that is not all the Good Shepherd does to light our way home. He sends Himself – not only on the Cross, not only in regeneration and Christian living, but in every space in between.
May God bless us – everyone.
End note – Athansius’ quote in context:
…although the sacred and inspired Scriptures are sufficient to declare the truth—while there are other works of our blessed teachers compiled for this purpose, if he meet with which a man will gain some knowledge of the interpretation of the Scriptures, and be able to learn what he wishes to know—still, as we have not at present in our hands the compositions of our teachers, we must communicate in writing to you what we learned from them—the faith, namely, of Christ the Saviour; lest any should hold cheap the doctrine taught among us, or think faith. in Christ unreasonable. For this is what the Gentiles traduce and scoff at, and laugh loudly at us, insisting on the one fact of the Cross of Christ; and it is just here that one must pity their want of sense, because when they traduce the Cross of Christ they do not see that its power has filled all the world, and that by it the effects of the knowledge of God are made manifest to all. 4. For they would not have scoffed at such a fact, had they, too, been men who genuinely gave heed to His divine Nature. On the contrary, they in their turn would have recognised this man as Saviour of the world, and that the Cross has been not a disaster, but a healing of Creation. 5. For if after the Cross all idolatry was overthrown, while every manifestation of demons is driven away by this Sign , and Christ alone is worshipped and the Father known through Him, and, while gainsayers are put to shame, He daily invisibly wins over the souls of these gainsayers —how, one might fairly ask them, is it still open to us to regard the matter as human, instead of confessing that He Who ascended the Cross is Word of God and Saviour of the World? But these men seem to me quite as bad as one who should traduce the sun when covered by clouds, while yet wondering at his light, seeing how the whole of creation is illumined by him. 6. For as the light is noble, and the sun, the chief cause of light, is nobler still, so, as it is a divine thing for the whole world to be filled with his knowledge, it follows that the orderer and chief cause of such an achievement is God and the Word of God.
(Read the full document here: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2801.htm )