THE SPIRIT OF PROPHECY

The Living Word of God

By

Gary Ray Branscome

 


"The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy // If they speak not according to this Word it is because there is no light in them." (Revelation 19:10, Isaiah 8:20)

 

    Prior to Christís advent, all who understood the way of salvation had a prophetic witness and testimony, simply because they looked to a future Messiah for salvation (Job 19:25). Although few of those people ever spoke or wrote by divine inspiration, they prophesied every time they testified of Christ. And, because they trusted in Christ, the Spirit of God rested on them, just as He rests on all that trust in Christ. [Acts 10:43, John 5:39, Numbers 11:29, Galatians 3:2&14.] 

    Nevertheless, things changed on the day of Pentecost, for it was on that day that the Holy Spirit began the work of bringing the entire world to Christ (John 15:26 and 16:8). However, the gospel was not one of the things that changed, for the Holy Spirit moved Peter to preach the same gospel that the prophets have always proclaimed, the good news that "whosoever believeth in Him [Christ] shall receive remission of sins" (Acts 10:43). That is the only gospel that God wants taught, and because He will never change, that gospel will never change (Revelation 14:6). Therefore:

When Luther undertook the Reformation of the Church and his eyes were opened to the fact that in Christ alone, but in Him completely, every believer has the forgiveness of his sins, it became his all-consuming object in life to exalt the atoning Savior, to preach the crucified, sin-destroying Christ, the risen, life-bestowing Redeemer; and because he humbly dedicated his marvelous mentality and tireless energies to teach Christ, preach Christ, exalt Christ, write Christ, sing Christ, love Christ, live Christ, always as Godís Son and the worldís Savior, there was not enough power on earth or in hell, among men and devils, to restrain his work. Nor can the churches today ever hope to be used of the Spirit in saving menís souls unless they, too, concentrate their efforts on Jesus. (Walter A. Maier, O GOD CLEANSE OUR CHURCHES, 1943)

    The message that Luther preached with such confidence, zeal, and dedication was not mere opinion, but the clear teaching of Godís Word. Luther did not change the face of Europe and exert a pivotal influence on history by interpreting Scripture, but by boldly and confidently proclaiming what the Bible explicitly says in words so clear that no interpretation is necessary. Because the Bible says, "The just shall live by faith", Luther taught, "the just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17). Because the Bible says, "A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law", Luther taught, "A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Romans 3:28). Because the Bible says, "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin", Luther taught, "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). In short, Luther taught the doctrine that God gave us in His Word, instead of teaching explanations of that Word. Because the doctrine was Godís he knew that it was true, and he could not compromise because he could not change what God had said.

 

    Since Luther allowed Scripture to interpret itself, he did not need to interpret what it said. For example: The statement, "A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" is interpreted by the words, "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin". We are justified by being cleansed of sin! And the "just shall live by faith" because they have been cleansed from all sin through faith in the finished work of Christ. It is as simple as that! Yet the children of this world are blind to what is right in front of their noses. "Hearing they hear not, neither do they understand", for the understanding that enlightens the heart and produces righteousness is the understanding of faith, not the reasoning of philosophers (Matthew 13:13, Hebrews 11:3). 

    As Luther proclaimed the message of Scripture from a heart full of faith and gratitude to Christ, he was mightily used by the Spirit of God, for "the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith" not from head to head (Romans 1:17). It is only as one internalizes the actual teaching of Scripture, embracing it in faith, that the Word of God can flow out of the heart as a river of life to a parched and thirsty world (John 7:38, Colossians 3:16). As the good news ó which Martin Luther preached so vigorously ó spread, thousands of monks who had previously been held in bondage, enslaved to their own works by vows required by the Church of Rome, left their monasteries and carried the gospel wherever they went. It was not long until entire nations embraced the gospel ó and this national conversion always took place from the bottom up, never from the top down. For fifteen years the gospel spread so rapidly that it seemed as though it could never be stopped. However, as time passed "intellectualism" robbed the gospel of its fervency, and the Reformation began to bog down in theological debates, while its passion gave way to sleepy "orthodoxy". 

    The doctrine had not changed. What had changed was the spirit in which that doctrine was preached. During the height of the Reformation, the gospel poured forth from those who proclaimed it as a heart felt expression of their newfound faith in Christ. As the Reformation waned, the gospel began to be treated more and more as a philosophy. It was divided into topics and sub-topics, dissected and analyzed, while questions not answered directly by Godís Word were discussed, debated, and answered by deduction. 

    As preaching became more and more an exercise of the intellect, it ceased to communicate the gospel effectively. Its wording may have been more theologically accurate, and its system more polished and profound, but it was an expression of the head rather than the heart, of the intellect rather than faith in Christ. In short, it is the heartfelt expression of faith in Christ, not theological categories, definitions, and reasoning, that effectively communicates the gospel (Romans 1:17, Philemon 6). 

    Those in the pew have long recognized the truth of what I am saying. However, they have usually assumed that it was the emotion of the preacher, rather than the fact that he was preaching from the heart, that made his preaching more effective. That assumption is wrong. I personally find emotion for the sake of emotion almost as boring as a dry philosophical sermon. When a pastor truly speaks from the heart, his delivery will be animated. The passion he feels for the gospel will not be hidden from his listeners. However, it is his faith rather than his emotion that effectively communicates the gospel. When a sermon comes from the heart (as an expression of faith rather than theology) it communicates the righteousness of God as living waters (Romans 1:17, 1 Corinthians 1:17). Furthermore, Godís sheep will respond to such preaching, just as they responded to the preaching of Jesus, John the Baptist, Martin Luther, and Dr. Walter A. Maier. (Mark 1:5 and 12:37) 

THE LIVING WORD OF GOD 

    John Newton, author of the song "Amazing Grace", expressed the truth of what I have just said in the words, "Go bear the Saviorís name to lands unknown, Tell to the southern world His wondrous grace, and ENERGY DIVINE thy words shall own." (From a poem given to Richard Johnson, first missionary to Australia, at his departure from England in 1787) 

Dr. Walter A. Maier expressed that truth this way:

Our broadcasting shows that sermons centering in the crucified Savior still have the promise of DIVINE BLESSING. No matter how completely international scenes may be shifted, the personal soul-questions remain; and nothing men have ever devised can bring the comfort to be found in the Saviorís cleansing blood, atoning grace, and life-giving death. Let pastors and laymen who wonder whether the old Gospel has lost its appeal look to our broadcast and understand from this nation-wide demonstration that the one message which has the assurance of blessing is the good news of a Savior slain for the sins of an evil world! (Introduction to "Courage in Christ" a book of Lutheran Hour sermons, 1941)

A year later Dr. Maier made this statement: 

During the past months we have been able to broadcast over almost 350 stations in the United States and twenty-five foreign countries. During the last six months about a quarter of a million people have written us. Your financial support has been more generous than ever, your interest greater, and ó above all the number of souls won for Christ, we pray, much larger. Someone has figured that for every minute of these messages a sinner has been reclaimed for His Savior. There have been difficulties, of course; I have been attacked and slandered, just as our preaching of salvation in Christ alone has been repeatedly opposed. The wonder of it all is that there have not been more assaults and more treachery during this spiritually darkened age. But you have been praying fervently for the broadcast, and your petitions have helped restrain atheism and unbelief. (From the sermon "Away With Unbelief! Believe!" 1942)

Seven years later he made this statement: 

During the past sixteen seasons of broadcasting Christís eternal Gospel, almost every name you can imagine has been heaped on us by atheists, war-mongers and rabble-rousers, because God has helped us call sin "sin," denounce evil in high, as in low places, and then point men to Jesus, the only Redeemer from ruin. Despite all this, our broadcast has, by Godís grace Ė and again we ask you to believe that we mean only by Godís grace, not by human efforts, least of all mine Ė steadily grown, until today, as we open our seventeenth season in the name of the triune God and for the spread of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus, "Bringing Christ to the Nations" is larger and more widespread than ever before. The more violently the message of the cross has been assailed, the greater has been the Almightyís blessing. (From the sermon "You Too Should Be A Fundamentalist", September 1949)

THE NEED FOR LIVING WATER 

    When my father realized that he was near death and that many who would attend his funeral were unsaved, he requested that the gospel be presented to those in attendance. However, the funeral sermon was ineffective because it was over the heads of most of the people who were there. The language was theologically correct, but it was foreign to those who had no knowledge of theology. Although, the sermon spoke of imputed righteousness versus infused righteousness, those who most needed assurance of Godís grace went away without any idea as to what those terms mean. [1 Corinthians 1:17 and 14:9]

      Opaque theological terminology and dry "intellectualized" preaching has turned many churches into spiritual deserts. Even when the doctrine is technically correct, words that express theological formulations rather than faith are often of "none effect" (1 Corinthians 1:17 and 14:9). In saying this, I am not denying that the Word of God always has the power to save. It had that power before the day of Pentecost, and always will (Isaiah 55:11). However, because the Holy Spirit works through prophesy, the oral proclamation of Godís Word must testify of Christ if it is to be effective (Revelation 19:10, Mark 16:20). At this point let me make it clear that I am not saying that we should ignore doctrines that do not deal directly with Christ. What I am saying is that we need to understand everything that the Bible says in the light of faith, and then proclaim the full counsel of God in a way that lifts up Christ as the only source of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. That means that every doctrine must be proclaimed in a way that testifies of Christ. That means that the purpose of the law is not to make people righteous through works, but to point them to Christ as their only hope so that they might be made righteous through faith in Him (Romans 10:4, Galatians 3:22-24). That means that, because every word of Scripture was written to testify of Christ, those words are only understood correctly when they are understood in the light of what the Bible says about Christ, and the Bible is only being used correctly when it is used to point people to Christ (John 5:39 and 20:31, 1 Timothy 1:7). 

    While people usually associate the word "prophet" with the inspired writers of Scripture, all who have come to faith in Christ are the spiritual children of the prophets, and all who testify to their faith in Christ prophesy (2 Kings 9:1, Acts 3:25, Revelation 19:10). Moreover, because a person who speaks by divine inspiration has no need to see that his message is in accord with anything, the words, "Let us prophesy according to the Proportion of faith," are not talking about divine inspiration, but about testifying of Christ. Our testimony must be in accord with the written Word of God (Isaiah 8:20, Romans 12:6).

CONCLUSION

      As believers, God has given us a message to proclaim, and that message is the message of Scripture itself. Moreover, in proclaiming that message, we are not to depart from Godís Word by adding to or by taking from what the Bible already says (John 8:31, Proverbs 30:6, 1 John 4:6). Furthermore, our understanding is to be the understanding of faith, for it is only through faith that we understand that "Christ died for our sins," and that "there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved" (Hebrews 11:6, 1 Corinthians 15:3, 1 Peter 3:18, Acts 4:12). Once we have that Word in our heart, it will gush forth as living waters, as we, like Luther, "teach Christ, preach Christ, exalt Christ, write Christ, sing Christ, love Christ, live Christ, always as Godís Son and the worldís Savior" (Colossians 3:16, John 7:38).