In his article “The Spirit’s Life Giving Work: not Merely a Moral Advising” in the May 15, 2000 issue of the Standard Bearer, Rev. Laning writes, “Let there be no confusion. By confessing this article, we are not rejecting the truth that the Spirit speaks to us externally in the preaching, persuading us to repent and believe. But we are maintaining that the Spirit also speaks to us internally….”
I agree that the Holy Spirit speaks to us internally through the preaching of the Word, but I am not convinced that the Canons or Scripture teach that the Spirit speaks externally in the preaching.
The Spirit certainly speaks internally in the hearts of elect preachers as they preach, and speaks internally in the hearts of elect hearers so that both elect preachers and elect hearers “hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Rev. 2:7), and thereby hear the voice of Christ their Good Shepherd (John 10:27). But, for the Spirit to speak externally in the preaching, would He not have to speak personally through the mouths of preachers? In which case would not preachers literally become the infallible voice of Christ Himself, rather than remaining “ambassadors for Christ” speaking externally “in Christ’s stead” (II Cor. 5:20)? If we maintain that the Spirit speaks externally in the preaching, are we not making an error similar to the error that the Roman Catholics make when they teach that the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper literally become the body and blood of Christ?
Your question, it appears to me, has to do with what is meant by the word “external” in this connection. I was using the common Reformed distinction between the external and internal aspects of the saving call of the gospel. The external aspect is the official preaching of the Word by the instituted church, and the internal aspect is the writing of that Word in the hearts of God’s elect people. Not only the internal, but also the external aspects of the saving call are performed by Christ through His Spirit. Christ is indeed the One speaking in the preaching of the gospel, so that the preached Word is not merely the word of man, but the Word of Christ, as is taught in Romans 10:14, among other places.
It is, of course, true that the preacher can err. The preached Word is the Word of Christ insofar as it agrees with Holy Scripture.
— Rev. J. Laning
Thank you for starting off the 2000-2001 publication year of the Standard Bearer with editorials reminding us of the meeting of some CRC and PRC ministers at the Pantlind Hotel in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1939. It was the English translation of Herman Hoeksema’s speech before that group that at last made clear to me the errors of common grace. After reading what Hoeksema said in a pamphlet of it published by one of our churches, I was enabled, at last, to join the PRC myself. I pray that the reprinting of Hoeksema’s speech will help others to understand why we maintain the particularity of God’s grace over against the watered-down version of it maintained by the common grace camp.