(The last paragraph dealt with the distinction between the true and the false church and the importance of distinguishing between the two for the work of church reformation.)
60. Concerning Zechariah’s Cry: Not By Might Or Power, But By the Spirit Of the Lord. Reformation And Legitimacy.
The purpose of the previous paragraph was to prevent anyone from making a break with his church as church except as a last remedy, and to bind most seriously upon the heart of every child of God that such a break is allowed only when his church has either died or become a false church. Otherwise, never. Earlier than this, never. This is true for the conclusive reason that one’s church always remains a manifestation of the body of Christ until it either dies or becomes the false church.
Yet no one ought to think that it is our purpose to plead for a false passivity or an unholy legalism. It is for this reason that we must still say a word in this and the following paragraphs concerning both legalism and revolution.
He who applies himself seriously to the work of church reformation and desires to perform this work under God as the one who works is not only for others but also for himself, such a one can never put his hand to this glorious task with his eye fixed on a pre-determined result. He could do this if the book of God’s counsel lay before him unsealed, but now, because this book is and remains closed to him, the way is irrevocably shut for him to determine his activity with a view to the outcome. There remains only one way open to him: the way of obedience.
All reformation of the church, whether by spiritual awakening or gradual church renewal, or by a break with the organization of the church federation, or with the church itself, can never be undertaken in any other way than in the way of quiet and unconditionalobedience.
Even though it appears as if everything else fails, one must still reform, because reformation is God’s high command to His church, her ministers and members. Nothing, in whatever form it appears, can ever excuse the church, her ministers and members from that obligation to obedience.
However, in order that this obedience become no cloak for independent and arbitrary action, each child of God must first of all earnestly weigh the deliberations of his own heart whether the impulse that drives him is actually the desire to be obedient.
This can most safely be determined by facing these two questions: 1) whether one is conscious of his guilt before God for his former disobedience; and 2) whether one avoids offense to the honor of his God in the choice of the means he uses.
It is for that reason that we stress consciousness of guilt under the judgment of God as the point of departure for all good reformation, and at the same time we show all respect for the body of the Lord in each church which has not completely died and is not possessed by Satan. Especially the consideration weighs heavily which Calvin (Bk. IV, chap. 2, para. 12 of his Institutes) says of the churches of Rome: “Although they lack the legal form of the church, I cannot deny that there are still churches of God among them.” This is set alongside of the fact that in Israel the church flourished again even though idolatry had penetrated even to the temple.
If one should conclude from this that this Pamphlet sounds like: “Not by power or might, but by the Spirit of the Lord!” we answer that we despise that outcry in the false sense in which it is commonly found on passive lips. But we highly regard and wholeheartedly concur with the meaning which the Holy Spirit has given to this outcry of the prophet Zechariah.
We cannot impress upon the hearts of our brethren too strongly that they must cease from that unholy practice to use this precious Scriptural passage in such a wrong way that they falsify the sense and meaning, and finally make it say the opposite of what it intends.
Usually these words are quoted without paying attention to the context, and the conclusion is reached that the Holy Spirit addresses us: “You ministers and members of My church, cease from all your own attempts at reformation. Nothing will come of that. All that is power and might will accomplish nothing. You have nothing to do but simply to preach, and all else must come from My Spirit.”
There is not one word of this in the fourth chapter of Zechariah’s divine prophecy.
Mention is made of Zerubbabel the prince, who at the head of the returned exiles had undertaken the reformation of the fallen Jerusalem church. And he had undertaken this work, not by preaching only, but so far as possible by the use of trowel and pickax. Power and might therefore in the most literal sense!
According to that which many brothers understand by the sound of these words, Zerubbabel had to be instructed to abandon in his reformation the use of trowel and pickax, in short, all this busyness, all this show of power, and wait quietly for the Lord’s Spirit.
In the meantime, the thrust of this speech of God is the very opposite.
Zerubbabel wants to quit and the Holy Spirit charges him not to quit but to persevere courageously.
Zerubbabel was frightened.
The waylayers round about rose up against him with the power of weapons, and now his courage fails and he thinks: “I have no army to set over against that might of weapons. Thus I am lost. I give up reformation. Lord, you do it.”
But the Holy Spirit does not permit this and gives him this revelation: “Zerubbabel, do not discontinue your reformation of Jerusalem’s church for a moment. Because you are mistaken to think that you alone can reform when you can set power over against the power of the enemy. They will be of no avail against you. Because, see, the outcome does not depend on power over against power, or might over against might, but totally on the secret and invisible working of the Spirit of the Lord.
Far indeed from recommending passivity, this Word of Scripture condemns all passivity and commands us rather to proceed calmly with reformation in the way of the obedience of faith, also when it appears as if we butt our heads against a copper wall.
Or, to say it yet more clearly, following the words of the text themselves, there is the cry: “Not by power and might, but by the Lords Spirit shall it happen.” Thus this is an explanation of the immediately preceding vision.
And what was this vision? This Zechariah saw a golden candlestick standing, a symbol of the church of Christ. A candlestick with seven lamps. Now for each of these lamps a supply pipe stretched upward and through these pipes the oil, i.e., the inflowing of the Holy Spirit to the church had to be brought. For this reason the seven supply pipes reached a jar and into this jar oil dripped from the two olive trees which were placed to the left and the right of that oil jar.
We do not want at this point to investigate further the significance of those two olive trees, an investigation which is connected with the explanation of the two witnesses in Revelation 11:4. Nevertheless, it is certain, according to all expositors, that these two olive trees refer to men, official persons, priests and prophets. The thrust of this prophecy can thus never be that we say: “The work of the Holy Spirit comes outside of human effort.” The opposite is true: “The flowing forth of the Holy Spirit comes to the congregation by the mediation of individual persons in whose heart I work My grace.”
This gives us the occasion to expose the basic error of an incorrect passivity.
This error is hidden in an incorrect conception of the work of the Holy Spirit.
Some think of this work of the Holy Spirit as outside the ordinary means and activity of the ministry. This is a dualistic conception.
This is not and cannot be the case. This would lead us completely along the fanatic paths of Anabaptism. Enthusiasts of all kinds, not the Reformed, are those who always press for such a dualistic working of the Holy Spirit. According to the pure doctrine of the work of the Holy Spirit all official obedience in the ministry is either dead form and then characterized by barrenness, or else fruitful because of the influences of the Holy Spirit.
One must not go the Romish road of considering obedience in the official ministry as a meritorious work of ministers. Then one forsakes entirely the Reformed heritage. But if one does this in such a way that one honors no work of his own in this official obedience, it speaks for itself: Whose work shall it be then if not the work of the Holy Spirit?
A person in office should never be able to shrink back from the duties to reformation with an appeal toZechariah 4:6. He ought rather to keep his eye on that very word. Every avoidance of the obligation to obedience is severely censured and opposed by the power of the Word. This should be pressed upon his soul: That he must exactly be incorporated into one of these two olive branches, through whose branches and twigs, i.e., through whose obedience also in the work of reformation, the anointing oil of the Holy Spirit must be brought to the seven churches of the living God.