Monday, December 10, 2007

Charles Hodge on Word and Spirit

I'm presently working on a paper on Word and Spirit in Preaching. I've been asked to address this subject at a minister's fraternal in the new year. One of my aims will be to show that we need to seek the Spirit's empowering presence in the proclamation of the gospel. I'll be drawing on Vanhoozer's emphasis on the Spirit's role in giving perlocutionary effect to the Word. In my research, I also looked up what Charles Hodge had to say. His treatment of this theme was outstanding.
In his Systematic Theology, Hodge devotes attention to the Word of God as a means of grace. He considers the question, “To what is the Power of the Word to be attributed?” Hodge first discusses the “rationalist” view that the Word is effective because of its own inherent moral power. This is dismissed because,

"The minds of men since the fall are not in a condition to receive the transforming and saving power of the truths of the Bible and therefore it is necessary, in order to render the Word of God an effectual means of salvation, that it should be attended by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit." (ST Vol. III p. 473)

Then Hodge engages with the Lutheran account of the relationship between Word and Spirit. Lutheran theologians taught that the Spirit is indissolubly united to the Word. He gives the Word its divine power and sends it forth among men. The is no variation of the Spirit’s operation in this respect, just as there is no variation of the Spirit’s work in providentially upholding and guiding secondary causes in providence. But the theologian objects,

"This doctrine is inconsistent with the constant representations of the Scriptures, which set forth the Spirit as attending the Word and giving it effect, sometimes more and sometimes less; working with and by the truth as He sees fit. It is inconsistent with the command to pray for the Spirit. Men are not accustomed to pray that God would give fire the power to burn or ice to cool. If the Spirit were always in mystical, indissoluble union with the Word, giving it inherent divine power, there would be no propriety in praying for his influence as the Apostles did, and as the Church in all ages has ever done, and continues to do.

This theory cuts us off from all intercourse with the Spirit and all dependence upon Him as a personal voluntary agent. He never comes; He never goes; He does not act at one time more than at another. He has imbued the Word with divine power, and sent it forth into the world. There his agency ends." (ST Vol. III, p. 482).

Charles Hodge asks,

"What according to the Lutheran theory is meant by being full of the Holy Ghost? or, by the indwelling of the Spirit? or, by the testimony of the Spirit? or, by the demonstration of the Spirit? or, by the unction of the Holy One which teaches all things? or, by the outpouring of the Spirit? In short, the whole Bible, and especially the evangelical history and the epistles of the New Testament, represents the Holy Spirit not as a power imprisoned in the truth, but as a personal, voluntary agent acting with the truth or without it, as He pleases. As such He has ever been regarded by the Church, and has ever exhibited himself in his dealings with the children of God." (ST Vol. III, p. 484).
I wonder if it's the case that many evangelicals, dare I say it particularly evangelical Anglicans, hold to a Lutheran rather than Reformed view of the relationship between Word and Spirit?


michael jensen said...


I still don't really know what this talk of the 'spirit's empowering presence' actually means, if it doesn't mean what I already do by way of preaching: preparing prayerfully and delivering as earnestly and faithfully as I can.

Guy Davies said...

It means doing all that you say plus the Spirit's empowering presence, who gives preaching its perlocutionary effect.

michael jensen said...

So: what's the big deal? I pray for the Spirit to do his work when the word is preached - of course!

By overemphasis and conceptual vagueness in this area the door is opened to charismaticism, as recent history shows!

Guy Davies said...

I don't think that Hodge can be accused of conceptual vagueness. He delineates the difference between the Reformed and Lutheran view of the relationship between Word and Spirit with some precision.

michael jensen said...

He certainly does clearly distinguish because he offers such a travesty of the Lutheran view.

I still don't really know what Evangelical Anglicans are allegedly not DOING, if they are prayerfully preparing and delivering sermons and relying on and expecting the Spirit to do his work.

W. Travis McMaken said...

Thanks for bringing Hodge to the blogosphere. He, like Warfield, get far too little attention these days - at least stateside.

Point of interest: Barth was fond of saying that something far more interesting, amazing and miraculous happens in preaching than what the Catholics think happens in transubstantiation!

Guy Davies said...


This may partly be matter of terminology. I'm certainly not suggesting that the Spirit only empowers the preaching of those who hold to the Reformed view as described by CH/Lloyd-Jones etc. But would you agree with Hodge that preachers need to seek an outpouring of the Spirit upon their ministries? Or do you expect the Spirit to always be at work in more or less the same way when the word is proclaimed?


What impressed me most about Hodge on this point was not only his theological acumen, but his passionate concern for the work of the Spirit in preaching.

michael jensen said...

I guess I am saying:

who doesn't think this? I know no evangelical who thinks otherwise. So, what's the problem?

Guy Davies said...

If all evangelicals believe that we need the Spirit's empowering presence in preaching and that we should seek God earnestly for this, then there isn't really a problem.

michael jensen said...

Ah - but I suspect you actually mean something different in practice. Why else make such an issue of it? What do really mean by the 'Spirit's empowering presence'?

As I say, I don't think it is any coincidence that some followers of L-J headed off into charismaticism. The emphasis on this language didn't help.

Guy Davies said...

I think that there may sometimes be a tendency to so over react against charismatic excess that little room is left for any idea of the direct work of the Spirit. The view advocated by Lloyd-Jones is the standard Reformed position as expounded by Hodge in the post, and countless other writers. I'm not so fearful of "charismaticism" that I am willing to jettison the valuable insights of Reformed teaching on Word and Spirit.

I think that it is worth discussing this subject because we need to get to grips with what it means to preach "not in word only, but in the Holy Spirit and much assurance" (1 Th 1:5) and "in demonstration of the Spirit and power" (1 Cor 2:4). As I understand it, the Spirit's empowering presence gives enables us to preach with boldness, liberty and life-transforming effectiveness. His presence makes preaching an event where the God of the gospel is encountered in the fullness of his grace and power. I for one long to know more of what it means to preach with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven.

Dave said...

Why is the Spirit and the Word (meaning the Bible) tied so closely together? I think the Reformers (and many Anglicans, Presbyterians...) have confused termonology with regards to the Holy Spirit, the Bible, and the Word of God. When we re-read the NT with the Word being the Spirit of Jesus then we can develop a greater Biblical understanding of the topic!