Apr 1, 2002

The Gift of the Spirit

4 Min Read

Callers to a psychiatric hotline heard the following message:

“If you are obsessive-compulsive, please press 1 repeatedly. If you are co-dependent, please ask someone else to press 2. If you have multiple personalities, please press 3, 4, 5, and 6. If you are paranoid, we know who you are and what you want—just stay on the line so we can trace the call. If you are an evangelical, listen carefully and a little voice will tell you which number to press.”

It’s true, isn’t it? Many in the church today seem to rely more on a little voice than on the Bible as their rule of faith and life. However, as our little anecdote above suggests, this is not so much error as it is madness. Indeed, John Calvin made just this assertion, saying: “Those who, rejecting Scripture, imagine that they have some peculiar way of penetrating to God, are to be deemed not so much under the influence of error as madness. For certain giddy men have lately appeared, who, while they make a great display of the superiority of the Spirit, reject all reading of the Scriptures themselves, and deride the simplicity of those who only delight in what they call the dead and deadly letter” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, I, 9).

The seriousness of this madness is little understood. The Scriptures say that when God spoke to Moses, the people saw thunder and lightning, heard the trumpet, and beheld the mountain in smoke, and so they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “ ‘You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die’ ” (Ex. 20:18–19). As John Frame has correctly said, “People who want God to speak directly to them without mediation don’t know what they are asking for.”

More than that, they don’t know what they are missing. Scripture is an incomparable gift from God. As B.B. Warfield has said, “The fundamental fact in all revelation is that it is from God”—He is the “Divine Giver.” However, those who emphasize spiritual gifts often overlook the more important and enduring gift of God’s Word. In the Scriptures, God has bestowed a wonderful treasure on the church, a gift of immeasurable worth. It would be hard to overestimate the value of this gift since the Scriptures say that God has exalted His Word above His name (Ps. 138:2). Thus, those who exult in private, subjective, and individualized revelation not only denigrate the Scriptures, they dishonor God’s name.

Scripture is also inseparably linked to the Spirit. The apostle Peter says that “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20–21). The concept of Word apart from the Spirit is foreign in the Scriptures; it is always Word and Spirit (Spiritus cum verbo). This is an unbreakable bond. So those who most value the work of the Spirit are the same as those who most appreciate the Scriptures. Likewise, those who insist that the Spirit speaks apart from the Scriptures end up denying what they wish to affirm.

The Westminster divines avoided this trap when they wrote that, “The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture” (Westminster Confession of Faith, I, 10). As John Murray has rightly said, the expression “the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture” is to remind us that Scripture is not a dead letter but the living and abiding language of the Holy Spirit. Far from a dead letter, “the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). So those who want to honor the Spirit will not revel in private, subjective, and individualized revelation. Rather, they will rejoice in the inseparable link between Word and Spirit.

Finally, Scripture is supernatural. Anyone who really esteems the supernatural must hold Scripture in the highest regard. Scripture is supernatural in both its source and mode. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God (2 Tim. 3:16). This means that Scripture is supernatural in its source. In times past, God spoke in various ways or modes, each of which was supernatural—He revealed Himself in theophanies, dreams, and visions. He put His Word in the mouths of the prophets and in Balaam’s beast alike. The inert stones were prepared to cry out should these other means hold their silence. Each of these modes is absolutely supernatural. And the written Word is no less supernatural. Again, those who wish to argue for the continuation of supernatural revelation today need to consider the supernatural nature of the finality of Scripture.

In the final analysis, the church is richer, not poorer, for having the completed canon of Scripture instead of continuing private, subjective, individualized revelation. In the finality of Scripture there are inexhaustible treasures given to the church by God, inseparably linked to the Holy Spirit, and supernatural in source and mode. Let all those who seek a deeper appreciation of the gifts, the Spirit, and the supernatural find these blessings in the finality of the Scriptures.