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The Power of the Word

Chr. Anderson

Translated by Mark DeGarmeaux

1924 Synod Convention Essay

God in His grace has had mercy on us poor sinners. He has prepared salvation from sin and death, and He Himself comes and makes us partakers in this salvation.

But God in His unsearchable wisdom has not found it useful to bestow salvation to us expect through certain means instituted by Himself. These means are God’s Word and the two Sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Of these means of grace, God’s Word holds a unique position, not only because its use is most universal, but also because the Sacraments become known and of use to us through the Word. Through the Word God leads us to acknowledge our sinful guilt, so that we can become conscious of our great danger and need for salvation. In the Word He reveals Himself to us as the God of our salvation, and He uses this same Word as the means to make us partakers in salvation and He leads us into eternal blessedness.

What miraculous power, therefore, God’s Word comes to exercise in the world! “The gospel of Christ … is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). How important it is, therefore, that we can come to understand this great significance of the Word of God, so that we can learn to use it rightly and reap blessing from it!

In the following we shall consider the great power of God’s Word according to the instruction of our faithful fathers, based on God’s Word itself, under the following points:*


By God’s Word here is meant the Word which God Himself had written down in Holy Scripture, or the Bible.


This Word of God is living and powerful, it saves poor sinners; it enlightens and converts human beings, regenerates, keeps them in faith and leads them to eternal salvation. By this Word God’s church on earth is built; by it the church is sustained until the end of days.


God’s Word has power to effect all this, because God Himself has spoken it. Through this Word the Holy Spirit works in men and makes them partakers in the benefits of salvation.


God’s Word always possesses this power, even if it is only effective in blessing those who use it rightly.


God’s Word shows itself to be alive and powerful in all those who hear and read it. For those who oppose the Word’s work of grace, it becomes an aroma unto death, but for those who receive it, it becomes an aroma unto life [2 Cor. 2:16].


It is therefore of the greatest importance to keep God’s Word in its truth and purity, diligently preach, hear, and learn it.

— — — — —


By God’s Word here is meant the Word which God Himself had written down in Holy Scripture, or the Bible.

When we speak here about God’s Word, we mean the Word which God had written down in the Bible. God has not given us His Word in any other way. But Holy Scripture is God’s own Word to us human beings.

1) That makes it necessary for the Bible itself to exist. 2 Tim. 3:16: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Here the Apostle Paul says of all of Scripture (the Old Testament, as it was at that time), that it is inspired by God. “It is an extraordinary act of God by which He moved these men to write, communicated to them the lofty thoughts, the pure feelings, and the expressive words that are preserved in the books of the Bible, and which kept their writers from errors.” The lofty things that are contained in the Scriptures are of such a kind that they could not possibly arise among human beings. Therefore the Apostle Peter says: “For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” 2 Pet. 1:21. They were moved by the Holy Spirit to speak what we find in their writings. Heb. 1:1: “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son.” Here it says that God spoke by the prophets, as well as by the Son.

The very authors of the Old Testament writings also make this claim of speaking God’s Word. Moses says: “Thus says the Lord,” and “These words which the Lord has commanded that you should do them.” David says: “The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue,” 2 Sam. 23:2. Isaiah begins his book by demanding that heaven and earth listen; for the Lord has spoken. Jeremiah writes: “Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me: ‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth’,” Jer. 1:9. And in Ezekiel it says: “And He said to me: ‘Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with My words to them. … Receive into your heart all My words that I speak to you, and hear with your ears. And go, get to the captives, to the children of your people, and speak to them and tell them, ‘Thus says the Lord God’,” Ezek. 3:4, 10, 11. Hosea begins his book like this: “The word of the Lord that came to Hosea,” and “When the Lord began to speak by Hosea.” These are a few examples of what the prophets say about what they themselves are speaking and writing. And when passages from the Old Testament are quoted in the New Testament, it does not simply say: “Scripture says,” or “It is written,” but “God says,” “The Lord says,” “The Holy Spirit testifies.” This is said particularly about the Old Testament.

Even the New Testament makes the claim of being God’s Word. The Apostle Paul says about himself and the other apostles, 1 Cor. 2:13: “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” 1 Cor. 14:37: “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.” Gal. 1:11–12: “But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Thes. 2:13: “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.

They received not just the contents from the Spirit, but even the very words. The Apostle Peter says, 2 Peter 3:2: “that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior.” Here he places the Apostles’ words right with those of the prophets. And in verses 15 and 16 he places Paul’s epistles in a class with the writings of the Old Testament. Christ Himself says of the Apostles: “But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” Matt. 10:19[–20]. Jesus promises His disciples that He would send them the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who would guide them into all truth [John 16:13].

The whole Scripture thus makes the claim of being God’s own Word. It is therefore a perfect, reliable guide which we can securely follow to reach true happiness here and hereafter. It is the foundation, upon which God’s church is built in the world — as the Apostle Paul says about the church [menighed] in Ephesus, 2:20 — “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.

2) But from many different things we can see that these testimonies of the Bible about itself are not just empty expressions.

First, from the whole character of Scripture. The Bible contains many things that could not possibly originate in any human author. There is no other book in the world that is like it. Not once can our age, which boasts so much about its enlightenment, show any parallel to it. How then could anything like that arise in the grizzled ancient time? How could the Jewish people produce anything so unique, a people who otherwise have not made themselves known in scientific or cultural aspects? It contains many prophecies of coming events that have been literally fulfilled centuries after they were written down. It contains a moral doctrine so exalted that it has become a source and pattern for all true morality in the world. Otherwise it reports things that are of such a kind that human reason could never have thought them up. Only when we accept the Bible’s own testimony about its divine origin can we get a satisfactory explanation of how such a book could come about.

Next, the Bible’s remarkable preservation and dissemination speaks sufficiently about its divine origin. Where are the writings that came into existence among the world’s cultural people at the time when most Old Testament writings were written? Most of them have been lost and are forgotten. Some fragments have from time to time been unearthed among the ancient ruins, and these do not have any special significance except that they contain some historical notes. And many of them precisely confirm the Bible’s historical accounts. Is it not then extremely remarkable that the despised and often oppressed Jewish people’s holy ancient writings have been preserved in unchanged form up to our day, despite so much outward force with which the weapons of science have been applied in order to destroy them? The Bible has been spoken against by many in every age. One after another has thought he could destroy all the Bible’s assertions. They have spoken mockingly about it and predicted that this book would soon be laid among other memorials of ancient times that no longer have any significance. Yet the Bible has endured. The deniers are dead, and their assertions have long ago sunk into oblivion, while Holy Scripture exercises its influence over more people now than ever before. No book in the world has been translated into so many languages or printed in such large editions as the Bible is today.

Finally, we shall note the extraordinarily great influence that this book has had on human beings. The whole history of the world shows what a power it has been to advance human civilization, so that those peoples who long along benefited from the light of Christianity are without comparison the most enlightened people. The highest and purest morality has been developed among them. However much unbelievers might have to say against the Bible, they must still all admit that those who really live according to the prescriptions of this book are honest, good, and reliable people.

These things are irrefutable proofs that the Bible is God’s Word. Yet we will come to full conviction about the Bible’s truth only when, by devoting ourselves to and following its doctrine, we have experienced its great influence on our own soul. As Christ says: “If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority” [John 7:17].


This Word of God is living and powerful, it saves poor sinners; it enlightens and converts human beings, regenerates, keeps them in faith and leads them to eternal salvation. By this Word God’s church on earth is built; by it the church is sustained until the end of days.

Who can describe the power God’s Word exerts in the world! How much power lies just in words that are spoken by a weak, sinful human being! How a speaker, who himself is full of excitement for something, often can carry the listeners away with him and fill them with similar excitement! How leaders often with their appeal also put new life in their soldiers and thereby lead them to glorious victory! How many a misdeed has been prevented by people having been made aware of its ugliness and warned about its terrible consequences! Even in purely human words, therefore, there is a power of persuasion that is able to do more than any other power in the world. Therefore it has rightly been said: “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Human words, spoken and written, achieve more than any other human power in the world.

But if this can truly be said about the word of imperfect, weak human beings, how much more it applies to the Word of the almighty, living God! The more wisdom and shrewdness a person has, the better he can understand how to choose his words so that they are able to persuade human beings and move them both to good and to evil. What infinitely greater power those words must have which are spoken by the perfect, all-knowing, and almighty God! Heb. 4:12 says of His Word: “For 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.” In this picturesque passage it is pointed out how God, before whose eyes “all things are laid bare and outstretched,” by His Word is able to expose the core of the human heart and to judge its hidden thoughts and plans. With such ability it is clear that God with His Word can exercise the most penetrating influence on human beings in all their circumstances.

God’s Word is called in Scripture “the Word of life” (Phil. 2:16), because it creates life in human beings. It is called “the Word of truth,” which “bears fruit in the whole world” Col. 1:6. And further it says: “The Word [message] of the cross is … the power of God to us who are beings saved,” 1 Cor. 1:18. The Apostle says that God’s Word “effectively works in you who believe,” 1 Thes. 2:13. He admonishes Titus to hold fast to the Word so that he may be able, “by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict,” Titus 1:9. A servant of the Lord therefore ought to study God’s Word diligently in order thereby to be qualified to instruct others in the saving truth and to admonish and rebuke those who contradict the truth. This Word has power to overcome the opposition it meets in the human heart. It is only by the continued proclamation of the Word that those who set themselves against it can be saved. This is presented most clearly in the familiar passages, 2 Tim. 3:16–17: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” This passage describes the effect of God’s Word. God’s Word teaches us what is most important for us. It convinces us of the truth of this doctrine and how highly we need for our salvation what the Word brings us. It corrects us when we go astray, reproves us when we sin, leads us on the right paths so that we can become complete and equipped for every good work [2 Tim. 3:17].

Here it shows the way in which the Word exercises its power on human beings. By its teaching the Word enlightens man’s understanding, so that it teaches us to acknowledge the truth which God reveals. Man learns to recognize the danger of his sin and the salvation which God has prepared. Then the Word exerts its influence on man’s will so that he begins to look with aversion on his sin and to be filled with longing for the salvation which God has prepared. Finally it cleanses man’s mind and heart, the evil desires are overcome, and a new desire for good arises and becomes the determining factor for man’s life. The old Lutheran theologian Huelsemann says: “God’s Word exercises its divine power and influence on man, not by physical power, by outward touch, as opium, rhubarb, poison, fire, etc., work physically on objects; but it works in a moral way, since it enlightens the understanding, moves the will — turns man away from evil toward good — and cleanses the emotional makeup and desires.”

In order to be able to show more precisely how God’s Word exercises its power, we must note the difference between Law and Gospel. God’s Word contains two different doctrines, the Law and the Gospel. These two doctrines have different contents and work in different ways. It is important that we distinguish between these doctrines and keep them precisely apart from each other if we want to get the benefit of the Word which God will prepare us with.

Scripture describes the power and activity of the Law like this: “by the law is the knowledge of sin,” Rom. 3:20. By the Law God teaches us what He wants us to do and not do. In it He places His righteous demand to us; when the Law speaks to us, we cannot avoid seeing how we have come short — that we have transgressed God’s commandments and have thereby deserved the punishment which in the Law He threatens to inflict on transgressors. But the Law does not give us any desire to keep it; it does not create any ability to fulfill its demand. “The Law brings about wrath,” Rom. 4:15. The Law shows people that they stand as irretrievably lost sinners before God. This incites them only to opposition and anger against God, instead of to love, by which alone God’s Law can be fulfilled. And during this struggle which by the proclamation of the Law arises between God and men, man must finally succumb. Man is driven to acknowledge that he is lost. Therefore the Apostle says: “The letter” — that is, the Law — “kills,” 2 Cor. 3:6. By the Law, people are brought to acknowledge their great sinful guilt. They learn thereby to see themselves as lost and condemned to death and eternal damnation. This is the effect of the Law. If we therefore continue simply proclaiming God’s Law to the indifferent and defiant sinner, God Himself will therefore touch His conscience so that he begins to acknowledge his transgressions and is filled with anxiety and fear of God’s wrath over sin.

But the Law does not give the sinner any desire or ability to improve himself and be saved from sin. Only the Gospel can accomplish that. In 2 Cor. 3:6 it says: “The letter kills, but the Spirit makes alive.” By the Spirit here is meant the Gospel, just as it is proclaimed now in the New Testament since Christ has finished His saving work. This Gospel has power to create new life in the person dead in sin, in order to justify and lead him into eternal life. “The Gospel of Christ is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,” Rom. 1:16. When we speak about the great power of God’s Word, we therefore think primarily about the miraculous power which the Gospel has in the hearts that are broken and crushed by the Law. The Gospel kindly invites the lost sinner who has learned to see his misery. It says to him: “Come, for all things are ready,” [Luke 14:17]. “He has saved us and called us with a holy calling,” 2 Tim. 1:9. By the Gospel God calls us, invites us to come and receive a share in the salvation from sin, death, and eternal damnation, which He has prepared for us in Christ Jesus.

Next, God’s Word has power to convert sinners. The Lord says through the prophet Jeremiah: “‘Is not My word like a fire?’ says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” Jer. 23:29. God’s Word is like a fire that consumes the thorns and thistles of the human heart, washes and cleanses it from the impurity of sin. Just as with heavy hammer-blows the Word crushes the hardened human heart which defies and opposes God and His will.

How God exercises His power over the defiant human heart, we see from the account of Paul’s conversion, Acts 9:3–4. Saul had stubbornly set himself against the proclamation of the Gospel and persistently persecuted the believers. But on the way to Damascus, where he was going with complete authority from the high priest to imprison the believers there, he was suddenly surrounded by a light from heaven. A voice cried out which said to him: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? … I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” At hearing these words it suddenly occurred to him how shamefully he had acted and what guilt he had thereby brought upon himself. His hard heart was crushed. Yet he was not irretrievably lost; for the One who was speaking to him was Jesus, the Savior, who had come into the world to save sinners. Longing for this salvation was awakened in Saul, and by God’s merciful love he was also made a partaker in this salvation. He who earlier under Satan’s guidance had persecuted God’s church was now converted from Satan’s power not only to enjoy salvation in Christ for himself, but he became the supreme instrument in God’s hand to bring this salvation to others. Certainly the Lord revealed Himself to Saul in a miraculous way; yet it was the Words from the Lord which he heard that caused him to acknowledge his sin and which awoke the longing for salvation in his heart. It was these Words of the Lord that converted him from being Satan’s willing servant to becoming the Lord’s faithful witness.

Something similar happens with every sinner who is converted. Of course, usually no voice from heaven is heard. But God’s Word has the same power, even if it is sounds forth from the mouth of weak, sinful human beings. This Word of God convinces man of sin, shows him his errors, and fills the heart with anxiety and terror of the judgment of the Almighty. But the Word also brings the message about Him who saved us from our sins, and it comforts the troubled sinner with the assurance that all his sins are blotted out and forgiven for the sake of Christ’s death and blood. God’s Word assures the poor, miserable sinner that God has taken him into grace and made him His dear child, and it wakens in him a desire to serve the Lord who has prepared for him such a glorious salvation. Thus God’s Word is able to convert and translate the poor sinner from darkness to light, from Satan’s power to God [1 Pet. 2:9].

We will recall what miraculous power the Word exerted on that first Pentecost. When the great crowds came together in front of the house where the Apostles were sitting, Peter spoke to them about their sin, that they had taken Jesus of Nazareth and crucified Him with lawless hands and killed Him [Acts 2:23]. But he testified also how God on the third day raised Jesus from the dead and set Him at His right hand in heaven and made Him Lord and Christ. When they heard this, “they were cut to the heart” [Acts 2:37], and they were immediately willing to be baptized. So God’s Word also now goes to sinners’ hearts and works repentance and conversion.

Through conversion, a person comes to faith, by which alone we can enter into fellowship with Christ and be partakers of His salvation. We confess that we cannot by our own reason or strength come to faith in Christ, but that is the Holy Spirit’s work. By God’s Word the Holy Spirit awakens faith in our hearts. Therefore Scripture says that God’s Word, and especially the Gospel, works faith in us. In John 1:7 it says of John the Baptizer: “This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe.” John was thus to testify, in order with this testimony of his to bring to faith those who heard him. He testified what God put into his mind; his testimony was therefore God’s Word.

In His high-priestly prayer Jesus says: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word,” John 17:20. We come to faith by hearing God’s Word proclaimed. The Word paints before our eyes a picture of the crucified and risen Savior. By meditating on this picture, a longing arises in our hearts to receive a share in His salvation, and this longing gradually grows to become a living assent and confidence in God’s grace in Christ. In 1 Cor. 3:5 the Apostle Paul calls himself and his co-workers “ministers through whom you believed.” Through the ministry of the Word they awakened faith in their hearers. And in 2 Tim. 3:15 he speaks to Timothy about “the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” The Scripture can make wise for salvation by awakening faith, the means by which we receive salvation. In the Ethiopian eunuch, whom the evangelist Philip met on the road, we have an example of how God works faith in the heart. When the prophecies about Christ were explained to him, he gave this confession: “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God,” Acts 8:37.

Scripture thus testifies clearly and plainly that God’s Word works faith in the human heart. Our confession therefore says: “That we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted,” Augsburg Confession Article 5. And Luther says:

“Then you also see clearly that this our faith in Christ comes from the preaching of the Gospel, as St. Paul says, Romans 10:17: ‘Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.’ Yes, therein lies the power: From God’s Word, not from human words; God’s Word does it” (Walch XI 1969).

And in another place he says:

“So there is now no other way nor any other means by which we come to faith than by hearing, learning, and meditating on the Gospel. … Therefore one should not despise the oral Word, but consider it exalted, great, precious, and valuable” (Erlangen 45:360–361).

Holy Scripture describes the believers as born anew or regenerated. John 1:12-13: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Here we learn that those who believe are born of God. Jesus says to Nicodemus: “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” John 3:3. Compare Hebrews 11:6: “But without faith it is impossible to please God.” Thus through regeneration the faith is created by which we alone can please God and come into His kingdom. And regeneration is effected, according to Scripture, by God’s Word. The Apostle Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth: “In Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel,” 1 Cor. 4:15. And to the Galatians he says: “My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you,” Gal. 4:19. By the sincere words which he wrote in this letter the Apostle begot them again, that is, he brought to faith again those who had fallen away. James 1:18: “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” And 1 Peter 1:23: “having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.” And just afterwards this is added (v. 25): “Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you.” God’s Word is an incorruptible seed that falls on the human heart; it grows up and works faith and new life. Luther says:

“In physical birth it goes like this: When the seed is received, it is changed, so that it no longer seed. But this — namely, God’s Word — is a seed that cannot be changed; it remains forever. But it changes me, so that in it I am changed, and what is evil in my nature completely comes to an end.” “Then it becomes a completely different person, different thoughts, different words and deeds.”

The Word procures nourishment for the new man, who was created through the regeneration. It sustains us in faith; it enables and moves the regenerated person to live a new life. 1 Peter 2:2: “As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.” This milk, which we are admonished to use for our spiritual growth, is God’s Word, which the Apostle spoke about just before this. Through this Word we are enabled to lay aside the works of the old Adam. Verse 1: “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking.” By using God’s Word we are able to lay aside these wicked deeds. 1 Peter 1:22: “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart.” “In obeying the truth” — by obeying the Word of truth we can cleanse our souls and practice the Christian virtues for which God by the Word created us [Eph. 2:10].

The Apostle Paul writes (Rom. 15:4): “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” Scripture thus gives patience and comfort which we need so much to continue steadfast in faith and hope. 2 Tim. 3:15–17 says that Holy Scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; it makes the man of God complete, equipped for every good work. Scripture equips the Christian; it gives him desire and power for all good works.

In 1 Cor. 1:6–7 the Apostle shows that the Corinthians did not lack any gift of grace, because Christ’s testimony had been confirmed in them. They were well instructed in the Gospel of Christ, and it bestowed on them these gifts of grace. Psalm 1 compares the one who “has his delight in the Law of the Lord and meditates on it day and night” with a “tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season.” From the Lord’s Law, God’s Word, he constantly gathers nourishment to grow and to blossom and bear fruit to the glory of God. Luther says:

“The Word is pure and clean, upright, holy and sure; therefore also the soul that holds on to it becomes of the same kind as the Word, pure and clean, wise, upright, and holy. Just as coal is black, but when it comes into the fire, it become red and takes on all the characteristics of fire. So also, faith makes the soul completely united with the Word, thoroughly warmed and filled by the Holy Spirit (Durchgottet), so that it receives the same nature as the Word” (Walch XI, 2357).

In another place he says:

“So you cannot have evil thoughts in your heart if you take for yourself and read anything from God’s Word, or come to another person and talk with him about it, that evil desires will be conquered, and the flesh will be silent. I have often tried; and if you try, you also will find and grasp these fruits and know that it is as God says” (XI 656).

By God’s Word those who have gone astray are led back to the paths of truth and righteousness. In his first letter to the Corinthians the Apostle Paul complains very much about the great sins that are rife among them. With God’s Word he rebukes them sharply, scolds and corrects them. And this Word bore fruit. The Corinthians acknowledged their sin and turned from their error, so that the Apostle can joyfully say in his second letter: “For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance” 2 Cor. 7:8–9. In a letter to Elector John, Luther says:

“Removing offense must be done through God’s Word. For even if all outward offenses were cleared and removed, it does not help as long as the heart is not converted from unbelief to true faith. Therefore in the New Testament the devil and offense must be driven out in the right way, namely by God’s Word, and the heart thereby be conquered: Then the devil falls by himself with all his pomp and power” (Erlangen 53, 276).

Likewise God’s Word exercises its power in us under afflictions and temptations in the world. Thereby the devil and his minions, the world, and our own wicked flesh, are conquered. The psalmist says, 119:80: “Let my heart be blameless regarding Your statutes, that I may not be ashamed.” God’s prescriptions, His Word, keep us from being ashamed, since it strengthens us against the devil’s attacks on our faith in the hour of affliction. When the wicked foe tries to get us to doubt God’s grace, tries to lead us to believe that we are such great sinners that God cannot possibly want to save us, then the Gospel’s glorious promises sound forth and assure us that “where sin abounded, grace abounded much more,” Rom. 5:20. With these glorious promises the afflicted person is led to get new courage, and Satan who afflicts him is exposed as a liar. The power that the Word displays in this way, all true Christians have gotten to know so often by their own experience.

And the Word gives the believer power to overcome the many temptations to sin which come from the devil and his allies. The Word is called “the sword of the Spirit,” with which the attacks of the wicked foe are repelled. We remember how Christ, when He as our Substitute was attacked by the devil, repelled every attack by using God’s Word. Luther says in his Large Catechism:

“Besides, it is an exceedingly effectual help against the devil, the world, and the flesh and all evil thoughts to be occupied with the Word of God, and to speak of it, and meditate upon it, so that the First Psalm declares those blessed who meditate upon the Law of God day and night. Undoubtedly, you will not start a stronger incense or other fumigation against the devil than by being engaged upon God’s commandments and words, and speaking, singing, or thinking of them. For this is indeed the true holy water and holy sign from which he flees, and by which he may be driven away.

“Now, for this reason alone you ought gladly to read, speak, think and treat of these things, if you had no other profit and fruit from them than that by doing so you can drive away the devil and evil thoughts. For he cannot hear or endure God’s Word; and God’s Word is not like some other silly prattle, as that about Dietrich of Berne, etc., but as St. Paul says, Rom. 1:16, the power of God. Yea, indeed, the power of God which gives the devil burning pain, and strengthens, comforts, and helps us beyond measure.” [Concordia Triglotta, Large Catechism Preface 10-11]

This powerful Word is the means by which we can be preserved in faith until the end. Just as faith takes its beginning with the Word, it is also sustained by it. The Word enlightens the believer and causes him to grow in knowledge, gives him answers to life’s important questions. It comforts him in times of sorrow and opposition, infuses him with new courage, and fills him with confidence and hope during the struggle of life. It strengthens him in the struggle and gives him power to conquer all enemies of the soul. The psalmist says, 19:7-8: “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.” And Psalm 119:25: “My soul clings to the dust; Revive me according to Your word.” Verse 50: “This is my comfort in my affliction, For Your word has given me life.” When the two disciples were walking on the road to Emmaus that first Easter day, they were full of sorrow and worry. Their faith in Christ was almost extinguished. But when Jesus came and walked with them and opened the Scriptures for them, their faith was kindled anew. “And they said to one another, ‘Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?’” Luke 24:32. Thus God comforts, strengthens, and sustains faith in us by His Word.

At the end of our course of life we meet the last and greatest enemy — death. God’s Word has power to overcome also this enemy.

Jesus Christ … has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,” 2 Tim. 1:10. By the Gospel, Christ brings life and immortality to light, for by the Gospel He makes us partakers in His victory over death. Jesus says: “Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death,” John 8:51. What a glorious promise: Whoever keeps Christ’s Word shall never see death! The Word fills the believer with a blessed hope, gives him confidence in the hour of death, since it assures that through physical death he shall enter eternal life. It is the promises of God’s Word that thus give him victory over death.

And this same Word has power to lead the believer to eternal salvation. “The Holy Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus,” 2 Tim. 3:15. “The gospel of Christ … is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes,” Rom. 1:16. Paul speaks of the Gospel “by which also you are saved,” 1 Cor. 15:2. In 1 Cor. 1:21 he says: “It pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” And the Apostle James writes: “The word, which is able to save your souls,” James 1:21.

It ought to be our highest concern as Christians that we can believe in Christ, live a holy life, and die a blessed death. We cannot do that by ourselves. But God’s Word is able to do it in us. If we might diligently use this Word and learn to love it, then from our heart we can praise God and say:

God’s Word a treasure is to me,

Through sorrow’s night my sun shall be,

The shield of faith in battle.

The Father’s hand hath written there

My title as His child and heir,

“The kingdom’s thine forever.”

That promise faileth never.

[Johann N. Brun: How Blest Are They Who Hear God’s Word, ELH 586:2]

By God’s Word the individual soul is thus led through conversion and justification into eternal life. But this Word also gathers all true believers into unity and keeps them in the fellowship of faith with their Savior unto the end. It is God’s Word that edifies and preserves the Christian church on earth. Before His ascension Jesus said to His disciples: “You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth,” Acts 1:8. They were to testify of Him, preach the Gospel about Him, and thereby gather children into God’s kingdom. He gave them this command: “And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.’ … And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs,” Mark 16:15, 20.

On the first Pentecost the Apostles began their proclamation. It bore glorious fruit. “Those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them,” Acts 2:41. The proclamation continued, and “the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved,” Acts 2:47. These believers “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers,” Acts 2:42. In a rather short time the number of the believers grew to nearly five thousand, Acts 4:4. “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith,” Acts 6:7. God’s Word spread, it says. Through this the number of believers is increased. By God’s Word, the church was founded; it grew by [the Word]; by the Word souls were gathered into God’s kingdom.

But the proclamation of the Word was not limited only to Jerusalem. When the persecutions against the believers broke out after Stephen’s martyrdom, many of the disciples went out into Judea and to Samaria and proclaimed salvation in Christ, and Christian congregations were established in many places. When Peter spoke in Cornelius’ house, “the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word,” Acts 10:44. This Word among the Gentiles continued and it is reported that “the Word of God increased and spread.”

When the Apostle Paul, the instrument chosen by God to bear His name before Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel, went out on his missionary journeys, the obedience of faith was established among the Gentiles, and God’s church grew day by day. “Now when the Gentiles heard this [his preaching], they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed,” Acts 13:48. The work was continued, and “so the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed,” Acts 19:20. One people after another submitted to the obedience of faith by the power of the Word. During the great persecutions of Christians, the Word conquered until the foremost nations of the earth were gathered under its banner. Just like the mustard seed, the seed of the Word grew from a little plant into a large tree that fills the whole earth, under whose delightful branches all the peoples of the earth seek shelter [Matt. 13:31-32].

And the Word has shown itself to possess power to overcome all the wicked foe’s attacks which have been made with power and cunning against the one saving truth. The Jews who tried to stifle the cause of the truth during its lowly beginning were put to shame. Today the hardened Jewish people are found spread among all people, a living testimony of the Word’s power over those who try to hinder its advance. The Gentile philosophy that for a while put all its might into overthrowing the growing construction of the church, soon had to submit to the power of the truth. The Roman Antichrist, who succeeded in confirming his power, so that for a long time he could rule with unlimited power within Christianity, had to lay down his weapons before a lowly monk, Martin Luther’s proclamation of God’s pure Word. And Rationalism’s cold pall that later was laid over the church was cast off wherever faithful witnesses stood up and confidently presented the full truth of God’s Word.

God’s Word is the means with which we also now must build, maintain, and spread God’s church. God’s Word must be preached and used richly in our congregations, if they are to grow and thrive. If there can be success in gathering great crowds to our congregations by the aid of other means, interesting lectures and gathering or offering other outward advances, it will result in little use. Only to the degree that God’s Word is really proclaimed and used publicly and privately will the congregation send out true growth and become an assembly of saved souls. Therefore what matters is that God’s Word is richly preached and rightly divided; that the members use it diligently by participating in the public Divine Services and by meditating on it in their homes. Above all, what matters is that individuals, who make up the congregation, are thoroughly instructed in God’s Word from childhood on. Only in this way can they become wise unto salvation. If this right and full use of God’s Word is neglected, we can certainly achieve getting outward social gatherings, but not a true congregation of God or communion of saints. The missionary goes out to the Gentiles with this Word. By instructing them thoroughly in God’s Word, he can lead them to conversion and faith. No true Christian congregation can be established with general secular work of enlightenment. The Word alone is able to do that.

And this Word is the only means by which Christian congregations can beat back the enemies of truth and promote the cause of truth. There has been much talk among us about outward union among the Lutherans, in order to establish through a powerful outward organization a counterweight against all that can lead astray. It has been said: “If all Lutherans in this country were united, think what a front we could set against the papacy, against Reformed influence, and against the intrusion of modern unbelief.” Yes, if all could be bound together as one in the truth, much good would be brought about by that. But if such outward union can only be achieved by knocking off something of the truth, nothing is won, but much is lost. The great crowds can accomplish nothing for real progress in God’s church. And if we, in order to become great outwardly, must knock something off the truth, we have thereby blunted the only weapon with which the cause of truth can be advanced. One man alone with truth’s weapons is able to do more in the Lord’s war than thousands who have blunted or completely laid aside the only weapon with which they could expect to win the victory. All alone, Martin Luther was able to take a stand against pope and emperor and their whole army of allies, because he used God’s pure Word. Alone, he won a victory over these powers which hundreds of thousands could not have won by using the same kinds of weapons as the enemies. Only when we continue unshakably faithful to the truth, whether we are many or few, can we expect to be able to do anything against the enemies of the truth. But then — even if we are few — we shall win the victory over principalities and powers, over the armies of wickedness under heaven [Eph. 6:12]. The Lord Himself has promised us this. God’s Word is the power which preserves and sustains God’s church so that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it [Matt. 16:18]. Therefore we sing:

And were the world with devils filled,

All watching to devour us,

Our souls to fear we need not yield,

They cannot overpower us;

Their dreaded prince no more

Can harm us as of yore;

His rage we can endure;

For lo! his doom is sure,

A word shall overthrow him.

[Martin Luther: A Mighty Fortress, ELH 251:3]


God’s Word has power to effect all this, because God Himself has spoken it. Through this Word the Holy Spirit works in men and makes them partakers in the benefits of salvation.

But from where does God’s Word have such miraculous power? It has this power because it is God’s Word. God in His unsearchable counsel has decided to put such power in it in order to use it as a means of making us poor sinners partakers in salvation. It is God’s almighty power that thus is recorded in the Word; that is why it can exert such a miraculous effect on us. 2 Cor. 4:6: “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” God, who with the Word of His almighty power created light so that it would shine over all the earth — He is likewise able, through the Word which He has revealed in Scripture, to enlighten our hearts so that we can acknowledge and become partakers in that glory which He has prepared for us in Jesus Christ. We ought to note that it is precisely about his preaching that the Apostle says this. It is therefore God Himself who through His Word works in us and makes up partakers in the benefits of salvation.

In 2 Tim. 3:16 the Apostle says: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Because Scripture is inspired by God, it has this usefulness, this power. It is constantly emphasized that it is God who speaks in Scripture. It is God Himself who spoke through the prophets and apostles. In 1 Thes. 2:13 Paul writes: “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God.” And then he adds: “which also effectively works in you who believe.” Because it is God Himself who speaks through the Word, therefore it is so effective. When the author of the letter to the Hebrews says that God’s Word is living and powerful, etc., he justifies it with the fact that “there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” Heb. 4:12–13. In the Word we are dealing with God. When the Word sounds forth to us, then by it we are laid bare and outstretched before the eyes of God. It is God Himself who exerts His power on us. Therefore the Gospel of Christ is also called “the power of God,” Rom. 1:16. Isaiah 53:1: “Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” From this it is evident that “the arm of the Lord,” His power, is revealed through the message that comes from Him in His Word.

Just as it is God Himself who works through the Word and makes it powerful, so it is also He alone who can equip the ministers of the Word and bless their work for the salvation of souls. The fruits of preaching are not dependent on the minister’s own wisdom and cleverness, but only on him using God’s Word and dividing it rightly in his preaching. The Apostle Paul says: “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit,” 2 Cor. 3:5-6. From this, all ministers of the Word should learn that they become effective useful ministers only when they humbly learn to look completely away from themselves, are completely absorbed in God’s Word, and let it constantly be the one urgent thing, diligently preach the Word and divide it rightly, then God can do His work through that. And all hearers should learn to seek in the preacher not human wisdom and ability, but unshakable faithfulness to the saving truth.

The Apostle Paul would not give in to the Corinthians in their yearning to hear human wisdom and brilliant speaking. He therefore carefully refrained from everything that could impress them, humanly speaking, and wanted to know nothing among them except Christ and Him crucified [1 Cor. 2:2]. About his preaching, he says to them: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us,” 2 Cor. 4:7. So all preachers have their treasure, that is, God’s Word, in earthen, corruptible vessels. They are weak, sinful human beings. Yet they are able to achieve glorious results through their preaching, for through the Word which they present, God does His work and exercises His infinite power. The minister’s own ability shall have no praise for it. All honest and faithful preachers must confess with the Apostle: “For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient,” Rom. 15:18. What is achieved by our preaching is accomplished by the Lord; none of it is achieved by us.

Holy Scripture teaches that it is God the Holy Spirit who calls, enlightens, leads us to faith, and makes us partakers in salvation in Christ. And the Spirit uses the Word of God, which He Himself inspired, as a means by which He accomplishes His work in us. The Word is so powerful because it is the Holy Spirit who works through it. Christ says: “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life,” John 6:63. The words which Christ speaks and which are recorded in Holy Scripture are spirit; they are permeated with God’s Spirit who thereby exerts His power on us. The Apostles say the same about their preaching. Paul says, 1 Cor. 2:4-5: “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” God’s Spirit was thus present with His powerful activity in the Apostles’ words and preaching, so that the faith which was kindled by his preaching was not a product of his own wisdom, but of God’s power. In Gal. 3:2 the Apostle shows that the Galatians had “received the Spirit … by the hearing of faith.” Thus, by the proclamation of the Gospel, the Spirit was present, and through this proclamation He worked on the hearers’ hearts.

God has nowhere promised in His Word to have the Holy Spirit work on us except through the means of grace, the Word and Sacraments. In the Formula of Concord II 4 we confess: “God the Holy Ghost, however, does not effect conversion without means, but uses for this purpose the preaching and hearing of God’s Word.” And in paragraph 10 [13] it says: “Also, we reject and condemn the error of the Enthusiasts, who imagine that God without means, without the hearing of God’s Word, also without the use of the holy Sacraments, draws men to Himself, and enlightens, justifies, and saves them.” God’s Word, together with the Sacraments, is thus the means by which the Holy Spirit works on us and makes us partakers in salvation. The Augsburg Confession Article V says about this: “That we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given, who works faith where and when it pleases God in those who hear the Gospel.” And the Formula of Concord II 35 [71]:

“Since the natural powers of man cannot do anything or help towards it (1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 3:5), God, out of His infinite goodness and mercy, comes first to us, and causes His holy Gospel to be preached, whereby the Holy Ghost desires to work and accomplish in us this conversion and renewal, and through preaching and meditation upon His Word kindles in us faith and other godly virtues, so that they are gifts and operations of the Holy Ghost alone.”

From these and many other places we see that our Lutheran Confession according to God’s Word teaches that the Holy Spirit according to the order of grace leads and guides poor sinners to achieve status as a child of God here, and eternal salvation hereafter. The activity which we have already seen that Scripture ascribes to the Word, it attributes also to the Holy Spirit. That is, because the Holy Spirit works this precisely through the Word as means. We will simply refer to a passage from our confession which presents a list of Bible passages that show this:

“Reason and free will are able to a certain extent to live an outwardly decent life; but to be born anew, and to obtain inwardly another heart, mind, and disposition, this only the Holy Ghost effects. He opens the understanding and heart to understand the Scriptures and to give heed to the Word, as it is written Luke 24:45: Then opened He their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures. Also Acts 16:14: Lydia heard us; whose heart the Lord opened that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. He worketh in us both to will and to do of His own good pleasure, Phil. 2:13. He gives repentance, Acts 5:31; 2 Tim. 2:25. He works faith, Phil. 1:29: For unto you it is given, in behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him. Eph. 2:8: It is the gift of God. John 6:29: This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent. He gives an understanding heart, seeing eyes, and hearing ears, Deut. 29:4; Matt. 13:15. He is a Spirit of regeneration and renewal, Titus 3:5. 6. He takes away the hard heart of stone, and gives a new tender heart of flesh, that we may walk in His commands, Ezek. 11:19; Deut. 30:6; Ps. 51:10. He creates us in Christ Jesus to good works, Eph. 2:10, and makes us new creatures, 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15. And, in short, Every good gift is of God, Jas. 1:17. No one can come to Christ unless the Father draw him, John 6:44. No one knoweth the Father, save him to whom the Son will reveal Him, Matt. 11:27. No one can call Christ Lord except by the Holy Ghost, 1 Cor. 12:3. Without Me, says Christ, ye can do nothing, John 15:5. All our sufficiency is of God, 2 Cor. 3:5. What hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now, if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it? 1 Cor. 4:7. Accordingly, St. Augustine particularly writes of this passage that by it he was convinced that he must lay aside his former erroneous opinion … (De Praedestinatione, chap. 3): ‘I erred in this, that I held that the grace of God consists only in this, that God in the preaching of the truth reveals His will; but that our consenting to the preached Gospel is our own work, and is within our own powers.’ Likewise, St. Augustine writes further: ‘I erred when I said that it is within our own power to believe the Gospel and to will; but it is God’s work to give to them that believe and will the power to effect something’.” Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration II 12 [26].

We will recall another passage which clearly shows that our whole salvation from beginning to end is ascribed to the effect of God’s power, namely Romans 8:28–30:

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”

Here it emphasizes that God who from eternity predestined us to status as His children is also the One who Himself accomplishes in us everything that is necessary so that we can become partakers in the salvation which is prepared for us.

But in what way does the Holy Spirit work through the Word? We have heard that God’s Word does not work by physical power; but by its moral persuasion it enlightens man’s understanding, bows his will, and cleanses the heart. But here we must learn to distinguish between the power of moral persuasion that even mere human words can have, and the divine power of God’s Word which brings a completely new light into our sin-darkened understanding and creates a new life in us. A moral sermon with its enthusiastic talk about human virtues can often make a strong impression. When a speaker presents a topic in a clear and striking way, points out his reasons, and shows the usefulness and advantage one can have from it, then he can often win over his hearers to his opinion. In this way one can often also lead other people away from the saving truth. That is how human speaking works.

Even someone who confesses and proclaims God’s Word ought to point out the truths of God’s Word in a clear and reasonable way and with Scripture drive back the foolish objections which are made by opponents. He shows what a glorious benefit the salvation is, which we attain by faith in Christ. He shows the sad consequences of rejecting this salvation, that it leads to being eternally lost. But when these things are pointed out by God’s Word, then the Holy Spirit is present and in a miraculous way works on man’s understanding, will, and conscience, so that by the Word he comes to acknowledge his sin, and a living faith arises in their hearts.

When the true faith is thus produced by the Holy Spirit, it is a divine conviction of the truth of salvation. The believer therefore knows what he believes because he has it from God Himself, and basis of human reason is able to shake him in his faith. Luther writes:

“It is the correct distinction between divine and human faith, that human faith rests on the person, believes, trusts, and honors the word for the sake of him who said it. But divine faith on the other hand rests on the Word, that is, God Himself; he believes, trusts, and honors the Word, not for the sake of him to said it, but he feels that it is so certain and true that no one can any long tear him from it, even if the preacher himself would try to do so.” (Walch XI 145.)

As the Holy Spirit thus by the Word creates a living faith in the human heart, then by the same Word of God He brings forth in the believer all good deeds which are a fruit of the true faith. The one who is reborn by God’s Word lets himself be guided by this Word in all that he does and leaves undone. God’s Word is the power that brings forth the good deeds in the believer. Therefore these works are divine works, since they are not brought forth by the person’s own motives, but by God’s power which lives in the believer by the Word. Because faith and good works are worked in the Christian by the Holy Spirit, therefore the Apostle calls the Christians in Corinth — and it applies to all Christians — a living epistle, “an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God,” 2 Cor. 3:3.

This activity of the Spirit through the Word is not dependent on the ability of the one who proclaims it. Baier says in his Compendium:

“Scripture’s effect is not to seek beauty in speech, nor worthiness in sentences or in the emphasis that is given from the reasons cited in eloquence, but it is an effect that lies above all created and perishable powers, an effect that is not natural, but rather supernatural, or which according to the divine order is most closely connected with the nature of Scripture.” I 154.

Of course, it is very important that the one who proclaims the Word with all the diligence he can, make an effort to point out its truths clearly and plainly, so that they can be found. Yet the power lies not in the preacher’s effective way of presenting, but in the Word itself which is preached.

Those who proclaim the Word shall therefore not set as their goal to make the hearers receptive to the truths of the Word with their own beautiful speaking and ingenious argumentation, but they should diligently present the Word, for it possesses the power itself to open the hearts of those who heart it. Christ did not command us to prove the Gospel, but to proclaim the Gospel. Without involving ourselves in justifying or making excuses for the Word, we should in all simplicity proclaim to the hearers that they are all sinners, but that they are redeemed, and that by faith in Christ they can attain eternal salvation. Then we should leave it in God’s hands by this simple preaching to create faith and save those who hear it. That is what Paul did. When he came to Corinth, he purposely refrained from using fine words and throwing around words of human wisdom according to all the rules of the kind that the hearers were so desirous to hear. He knew that all such outward pomp would only hinder the Corinthians from being fixed on the one thing needful [Luke 10:42]. That is why He determined “not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” 1 Cor. 2:2. He says to them: “My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God,” 1 Cor. 2:4–5.


God’s Word always possesses this power, even if it is only effective in blessing those who use it rightly.

In the foregoing, we have seen what extraordinary power God’s Word exerts, and from where it has this power, namely because the Holy Spirit works powerfully through the Word. What then is the relationship between the Word and the Spirit? Is the Holy Spirit always present in the Word, or is it simply at certain times and under certain circumstances that the Spirit works through it? There have been and there still are big differences in the understanding of how the Spirit works on human beings by the Word. In the Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic [Orthodox] church there is little emphasis on the Word as means of grace. In the Roman church, preaching completely steps into the background, and Scripture reading is limited. On the other hand, emphasis is placed principally on the Sacraments, of which the Roman church, as is known, has many more than we. In the Roman Catechism it says: “Sinners are forgiven only through the Sacraments, when their form is observed. The church is not given any right to absolve from sin in another way.” Sp. 4.

When Luther began to testify against the errors of the pope’s church, he powerfully pointed out the significance of the Word as means of grace, through which the Holy Spirit works on us. But, at the same time as Luther, a host of enthusiasts and fanatics arose who did not think Luther went far enough in his testimony against the dead form of the pope’s church. They boasted about having the Spirit in rich measure. They described the written Word as a dead letter, and taught that those who want to be saved must have the Spirit without the Word. Schwenkfeld, the leader among them, writes: “The outward word testifies only about the inner word which is Christ; it urges and awakens. But forgiveness of sins is not bestowed by it as a means, since only the inner word has the right to do this.” And in another place: “The prophetic and apostolic Scriptures are an outward and physical Word of God, and not the living Word of God which nourishes the soul.” These Enthusiasts have had many successors all the way to our day. It is characteristic also for the enthusiastic spirits of our time to separate the Spirit from the Word, and to think that they come directly under the influence of the Spirit without the Word as a means. Even among those who bear the name Lutheran, we find many who talk a lot about the work of the Spirit without being so strict about using God’s Word.

It is also a characteristic of the Reformed church bodies that they do not put the proper emphasis on God’s Word as means of grace. Zwingli, who lived at the same time as Luther, says: “But the Spirit needs no porter or no vehicle; for it is itself a power and a porter by whom all things are carried, and which therefore has no need to be carried.” Oecolampadius, Zwingli’s co-worker, says: “No more must be placed in the outward words as elements than that they are signs of the inner word, which is in the hearts of men beforehand. And where one ascribes to the external word more than such significance and reminder, it must be regarded as wizardry, that is, a magic effect.” Calvin, the most influential of the Reformed church fathers, says: “It is indeed to be noted that the minister of the Word presents and expresses something external, but God carries it out inwardly; therefore it is not ascribed to any mortal human what God claims for Himself alone.” From this it is evident that he means that God, completely independent of the preacher and his preaching, works on the human heart and creates faith in Christ.

On this point all the Reformed church bodies faithfully followed in the footsteps of their doctrinal father. In their later confessions they distinguish similarly between the outward preaching of the Word and the inner enlightenment of the Spirit, and teach that God demands faith first and then use of the means of grace. See Guenther’s Symbolics par. 10 and par. 94. Therefore it is so common among the Reformed to neglect thorough instruction in God’s Word while one resorts to “revivals” and all kinds of artificial methods of conversion in order to lead people into the kingdom of God.

A similar doctrine has arisen in recent time also within a large part of the Lutheran church. More modern theologians among the Lutherans in Europe have long held to the doctrine that the preached word is the main means through which the Holy Spirit works faith. By that they do not mean the Word of Scripture which is proclaimed in the sermon, but a product, something generated from man himself. It is the believing congregation’s consciousness that makes itself heard in the sermon. This is the living word that the believing congregation and especially the believing preacher proclaims from his own believing heart. They believe that the Holy Spirit has connected His activity to this testimony. In contrast to this, a reading from Scripture is only dead words. It is not the Word that God has spoken and which He has had recorded in the Bible, but it is the believer’s own experience of salvation, which comes as a brilliant testimony from the preacher’s mouth; it is that, which penetrates the hearers’ hearts and kindles faith in them. They thus separate the Holy Spirit’s work from God’s Word in its essential understanding, the Word that is recorded in Holy Scripture. This idea is beginning to become so common also among Lutherans in this country. This appears in the unconditional trust that so many place on certain leaders in the church, not just in what concerns the organization of the outward church work, but also when it concerns doctrine and practice. What these “men taught by God” say and do must be right. Even if our people have not been convinced that they believe such a doctrine, it is apparent that they often so blindly follow the proclamation of their leaders, instead of searching the Scriptures, like the Bereans, to see if these things are so [Acts 17:10-15].

And it is likely for the natural man to come to such thoughts. Our proud reason has always been offended that we should be bound to the Word, that we have to believe that the Holy Spirit is present and works in this Word. Therefore one wants to seek excuses like this. Our church’s faithful teachers and our confession have therefore sharply called all enthusiasts to account and pointed out that God’s Word always has power in it, and that it is efficacious even when it is not used. Quenstedt says (Systematics I 170):

“God’s Word is always efficacious: Whether one reads it or does not read it, whether one hears it and receives it in faith or not, it still always has an inner power and ability to produce spiritual works, because God has arranged it this way and bestowed on it such power, and such power does not first come with its being used, — the Word without the Holy Spirit is simply not God’s Word or not the power of God for salvation.”

Here it is taught that the Holy Spirit is already connected with God’s Word, so that it always is a power of God, both when it is used and not used.

God in His wisdom has found it useful to let the Spirit work through the revealed Word and not in any way outside the Word. This is maintained in the Smalcald Articles 8, 3: “

“And in those things which concern the spoken, outward Word, we must firmly hold that God grants His Spirit or grace to no one, except through or with the preceding outward Word, in order that we may [thus] be protected against the enthusiasts, i. e., spirits who boast that they have the Spirit without and before the Word, and accordingly judge Scripture or the spoken Word, and explain and stretch it at their pleasure, as Muenzer did, and many still do at the present day, who wish to be acute judges between the Spirit and the letter, and yet know not what they say or declare.”

Only when we are able to discern the spirits, when we know that the true Spirit works only through the Word of Scripture and the truth that is revealed in the Word.

And it is extremely comforting both to preachers and to hearers to know that the Spirit is always present in the Word and works through it. When we preach the Word diligently and faithfully, we can without worry leave it to God to create the fruits. This is emphasized in the Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, II 27 [55]: “

“Now, although both, the planting and watering of the preacher, and the running and willing of the hearer, would be in vain, and no conversion would follow it if the power and efficacy of the Holy Ghost were not added thereto, who enlightens and converts the hearts through the Word preached and heard, so that men believe this Word and assent thereto, still, neither preacher nor hearer is to doubt this grace and efficacy of the Holy Ghost, but should be certain that when the Word of God is preached purely and truly, according to the command and will of God, and men listen attentively and earnestly and meditate upon it, God is certainly present with His grace, and grants, as has been said, what otherwise man can neither accept nor give from his own powers. For concerning the presence, operation, and gifts of the Holy Ghost we should not and cannot always judge ex sensu [from feeling], as to how and when they are experienced in the heart; but because they are often covered and occur in great weakness, we should be certain from, and according to, the promise, that the Word of God preached and heard is [truly] an office and work of the Holy Ghost, by which He is certainly efficacious and works in our hearts, 2 Cor. 2:14ff; 3:5ff.” (See also the same place, XI 51.)

Yes, how comforting it is in this way to be able to put our whole confidence in the promises of the Word, since we are certain that the Holy Spirit is always present in the Word and works in us everything that the Word promises.

And then the Word’s effect is not dependent on the faith of the man who proclaims it. The preacher does not bear witness of his faith, but of the salvation that God has revealed in His Word. If he really proclaims the Gospel, his own spiritual condition makes no difference. About this, our confession, the Augsburg Confession Article 8, says:

“Although the Church is properly the congregation of saints and true believers, nevertheless, since in this life many hypocrites and evil persons are mingled among the believers, it is allowable to use the sacraments which are administered by evil men, according to the saying of Christ, ‘The Scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat,’ etc. [Matt. 23:2]. Both the sacraments and the Word are effective because of the institution and commandment of Christ, even when administered by evil men.”

In the Formula of Concord the error of the Schwenkfeldians is rejected: “That the minister of the church who is not on his part truly renewed, regenerate, righteous, and godly cannot teach other men with profit or distribute genuine, true Sacraments” [Epitome 27]. Of course it is not desirable to use unconverted people to proclaim the Gospel and administer the Sacraments. Not only will their lack of faith and experience in spiritual things make them unsuited to bring healing and comfort to troubled sinners; but their lack of the correct insight into the truth of God’s Word, which only the Holy Spirit can give, must make it very difficult, not to say impossible, to share the Word of truth rightly. So instead of encouraging, therefore, we should rather urgently advise against using unregenerate people in the ministry of the Word. And yet, if God’s Word actually is proclaimed in its truth and purity, by whomever and with whatever purpose it may be done, then God’s Spirit works through it. The Apostle Paul rejoices that Christ is preached, even if it is done with impure goals, for the sake of envy and quarrelling, for Christ is nevertheless proclaimed, and that cannot do other than bring benefit, Phil. 1:15-16. It is of great comfort to us that the Word and the Sacraments are effective no matter who proclaims and administers them, for who of us could be certain otherwise of getting the benefit from these means of grace? Who is really able to look into the minister’s heart and assure himself that this is a true believer?

Proofs from Scripture that the Holy Spirit is always present and working in the Word, we have in the passages which have already been cited. Here especially John 6:63 can be mentioned: “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” God’s Word is spirit and life, not just at certain times and under certain circumstances, but always; it belongs to the essence of the Word, and the Spirit therefore cannot be separated from the Word. In 1 Peter 1:23 the Word is called an “incorruptible seed.” In many other passages in Scripture the Word is described as a seed that has vitality in itself to germinate and bear fruit. The seed has this power in itself. It is not procured by the one who plants or by other outward circumstances.

When we maintain that the Spirit and the Word are always connected with each other, then from this it follows that, when the Word is proclaimed, heard, and meditated, then God thereby touches human beings, not as if the Word were in possession of a magical power, but the personal Spirit, the third Person in the Godhead, is thereby active in human hearts. Yet at the same time as this can be said with truth, we must not forget that the Holy Spirit is Lord, and the Word is servant. The Word is the means through which the Spirit is regularly active. The Spirit can also work on people immediately, without the Word, of which we have examples from Scripture. Yet the Holy Spirit Himself in His unsearchable wisdom has chosen to connect His activity with this means, and He has bound us to this arrangement. We have no promise at all of being made partaker in the Spirit’s work except through this means. Scripture says: “It pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” 1 Cor. 1:21.

The Holy Spirit works freely through the Word, “when and where He will.” “The wind blows where it wishes,” John 3:8. So it is with the work of the Spirit. His force on people is not always equally strong. For the individual, there are particular hours of grace when the Spirit steps particularly close to him with God’s grace. The heart of one is touched especially by one Bible passage, the other by another. Holy Scripture is a glorious treasure trove from which He bestows to each one particularly according to his need. Although we cannot demonstrate the Spirit’s work in all situations, He is still always surely and powerfully present in God’s Word.


God’s Word shows itself to be alive and powerful in all those who hear and read it. For those who oppose the Word’s work of grace, it becomes an aroma unto death, but for those who receive it, it becomes an aroma unto life [2 Cor. 2:16].

God’s Word is already living and powerful; it will therefore never sound forth in vain, but will always have its effect. God Himself has promised that His Word shall always accomplish what He sends it to do, Isaiah 55:10–11:

“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater, So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”

We therefore never need to doubt whether the Word shall have effect on those who hear and read it.

But the Word’s effect is completely different according to the suitability of the ground, in which the seed is sown. Some of the seed falls on the wayside, some on stony ground, and again some among the thorns, and in all these cases the Word remains without fruit for blessing. Only some of the seed of the Word falls on good ground and bears the fruits of salvation, Luke 8. To those who do not receive the Word and keep it in a fine and good heart, the proclamation of the Word becomes only destruction; while to those who receive it in faith, it becomes a blessing. The Apostle Paul says about this proclamation, 2 Cor. 2:15-16: “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life.” The proclamation of the Word has this double effect, because Christ, the heart and core of the Word, becomes for human beings either life or death. Of the Child Jesus, Simeon says to His mother Mary: “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against … that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed,” Luke 2:34-35. The Gospel sounds forth to people, with the goal of saving them. But when they despise this salvation and tread the blood of the covenant underfoot, the proclamation of the Gospel serves only to harden them even more, so that what should have been salvation for them becomes only destruction.

When Christ Himself brought the message of salvation to those who were God’s chosen people in the Old Covenant, most of them refused to receive it. He says to them: “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe,” John 6:63-64. He directs this question to them: “And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me?” John 8:46. And at the end of His work, He laments: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” Matt. 23:37. And Christ shows that for that very reason they incur such great guilt, because salvation is offered to them and they push it away from themselves: “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin,” John 15:22.

The Apostles’ proclamation had this same effect on many of the hearers. When Peter and John had borne witness before the Jewish leaders about Christ’s glorious salvation, they did not allow themselves to be persuaded: “When they heard this, they were furious and plotted to kill them,” Acts 5:33. And it says of the members of the High Council, when Stephen had testified to them: “When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth,” Acts 7:54. God’s Word has such an effect on so many every time, because they, just like the Jews, oppose the Holy Spirit and thereby hinder Him from saving them.

The reason that for so many the Word is an aroma of death leading to death is not to be sought in this, that God’s Word does not have power to save them, or that God does not want them to receive the message of the Gospel and be saved. The reason for it must be sought only in their own wicked heart. Concerning this, our confession, in agreement with Holy Scripture, says:

“For few receive the Word and follow it; the greatest number despise the Word, and will not come to the wedding, Matt. 22:3ff. The cause for this contempt for the Word is not God’s foreknowledge [or predestination], but the perverse will of man, which rejects or perverts the means and instrument of the Holy Ghost, which God offers him through the call, and resists the Holy Ghost, who wishes to be efficacious, and works through the Word, as Christ says: How often would I have gathered you together, and ye would not! Matt. 23:37.” Formula of Concord XI 32 [41].

By His atonement Christ atoned for the sins of all people. Many are lost despite this, not because salvation is not procured and offered, but because in unbelief they reject salvation. Unbelief, therefore, is really the sin that condemns them. When the message of salvation sounds forth and people harden themselves against it and will not receive salvation, the proclamation of the Gospel serves simply to harden them even more. The prophet Isaiah received this command: “Make the heart of this people dull, And their ears heavy, And shut their eyes; Lest they see with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And return and be healed,” Is. 6:10. And how was the prophet to do this? He was to harden them completely by continuing precisely to proclaim the glorious message of salvation to the stubborn people. The proclamation of the Gospel has this same effect on all those who hear it and in unbelief reject the salvation offered. God’s Word, which should have become salvation for them, therefore becomes for them only an aroma of death leading to death.

But even if the proclamation of God’s Word becomes condemnation for many, it will still always, as far as it is proclaimed correctly, become salvation for some of those who hear and read it. God’s promise about His Word not returning to Him void, but accomplishing what He pleases [Is. 55:10], applies especially to the activity of creating spiritual life and leading people to eternal salvation. We can therefore always be certain that in every place where God’s Word is rightly preached, the Lord always has some there who belong to Him. We should therefore not become discouraged if our preaching and our work in God’s church often seem to bear so little fruit. Where God’s Word sounds forth, children of God are always created. And “the Lord knows those who are His” [2 Tim. 2:19], even if we cannot always demonstrate the fruits of the Word. We should continue with confidence to “preach the Word in season and out of season” [2 Tim. 4:2] and “with all gentleness rebuke those who oppose God ever wanting to give them conversion to the knowledge of the truth.” We ought to sow the good seed with confidence; and even if it is sometimes done with tears, the faithful minister shall someday reap with joy, when God in eternity shall reveal the fruits of our preaching and instruction. The Word must bear fruit to eternal life, for it is “the power of God for salvation” [Rom. 1:16].


It is therefore of the greatest importance to keep God’s Word in its truth and purity, diligently preach, hear, and learn it.

God’s Word is living and powerful, but this applies only to what is actually God’s Word. If we falsify the Word that God has revealed to us in Holy Scripture by mixing in our own thoughts, then it is no longer God’s Word entirely; and what we then proclaim does not have the power that the pure Word of God possesses. Therefore we must show unshakable faithfulness to the revealed truths since we take all our thoughts captive under the obedience of faith to what is written. In order to be able to keep the powerful work of the Spirit in front of us and our children, we must with true zeal defend the truth of the Word, in order that the wicked foe might not succeed into wresting from us the heavenly treasure which we have in God’s Word. And here what is important is that we guard ourselves not only from the big errors, but also from those that can seem less significant. For “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” [Gal. 5:9]. If the wicked foe is successful in gaining entry through even the smallest hiding place, he will soon know how to get the whole fortress of faith in his power. Therefore we can never be too careful in our striving to keep the pure truth of God’s Word unfalsified.

But then it is also important to let God’s Word dwell among us richly [Col. 3:16]. We ought not let ourselves be satisfied with the Word being proclaimed sparsely in our congregations. It ought to sound forth as often as possible in our assemblies. And the listeners ought not let it be enough simply to come now and then to where the Word is proclaimed. They ought not forsake their own assembling together [Heb. 10:25], but take care to be present as much as possible every single time the Word sounds forth in the congregation, for they do not know when the hour is coming which the Lord will let be a special time of grace for them. If they have the habit of neglecting the Divine Services, they will surely miss out on many glorious opportunities for spiritual edification, that perhaps will never come again.

But we also ought to get used to daily reading God’s Word for ourselves and in the family circle. Thereby we ought to get used to seeking nourishment for our soul, just as regularly as we seek nourishment for our physical life. “As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby,” 1 Pet. 2:2. In this way, as God’s beloved children, we can associate with our heavenly Father and daily derive desire and power to live a new life.

And it is especially important that the children, who through Baptism are engrafted into God’s kingdom, from youth on can become confirmed in the saving truths. In the childhood years the inner person as well as the outward person is developed more quickly than later. Then the foundation is laid on which one builds later in life. If instruction in God’s Word is neglected in this important time, this neglect will be difficult to compensate for later. Our missionaries who work among the heathen must work primarily with the children. Among the adults who have already acquired a definite view of life, comparatively little is achieved. And for those who are baptized in Christian congregations but grow up with little or no Christian instruction, it is difficult to accomplish anything later in life. If God’s Word is to dwell among us richly and become a power for young and old, then we must establish Christian schools where our children first and foremost can become imprinted with what is the one thing needful [Luke 10:42].

On the whole we ought to let it stand clearly before us during all our work in God’s church [menighed], that it is God’s Word alone that can work in us to will and to do [Phil. 2:13]; God’s Word is what alone can waken a new life in us and sustain this new life. We should not rely on all kinds of outward arrangements in order to procure our work’s success. But our first and last thought should be to let God’s Word sound forth rightly, in its truth and purity. For it is the power with which individual souls are saved and God’s church [menighed] is caused to grow, spread, and thrive. If we arrange it that the power of God’s Word can come into practice in us and among us, then our work will have success. Then it will be to the glory of God and the salvation of many souls.

* These theses are essentially the same as those used by Prof G. Stöckhardt in an essay on the theme: “The Power and Effect of God’s Word,” which is found in the Report of the Missouri Synod’s Western District Meeting in 1892. In preparation of the individual points the essayist has partly followed the presentation in that excellent essay.