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This post is a continuation of On the Efficacy of the Sacraments and Word, Spirit, and Dry Bones, in which I have been trying to get my head around the differences between Lutheran and Reformed understandings of the relationship between the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, and the sacraments.

Louis Berkhof’s explanation sheds more light on the differences for me:

…the Reformers maintained that the Word alone is not sufficient to work faith and conversion; that the Holy Spirit can, but does not ordinarily, work without the Word; and that therefore in the work of redemption the Word and the Spirit work together. Though there was little difference on this point at first between the Lutherans and the Reformed, the former from the beginning stressed the fact that the Holy Spirit works through the Word as His instrument (per verbum), while the latter preferred to say that the operation of the Holy Spirit accompanies the Word (cum verbo). Later on Lutheran theologians developed the real Lutheran doctrine, that the Word of God contains the converting power of the Holy Spirit as a divine deposit, which is now so inseparably connected with it that it is present even when the Word is not used, or is not used legitimately. But in order to explain the different results of the preaching of the Word in the case of different persons, they had to resort, even though it be in a mild form, to the doctrine of the free will of man. The Reformed indeed regarded the Word of God as always powerful, either as a savour of life unto life or as a savour of death unto death, but maintained that it becomes efficacious in leading to faith and conversion only by an accompanying operation of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of sinners. They refused to consider this efficaciousness as an impersonal power resident in the Word. (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 4th ed., 611-12)

From this, I think that I have been pretty close, but nevertheless off, on my understanding of the issues here. I would restate the two positions thusly:

  • Both Lutherans and the Reformed see both the Word/Sacraments and the Spirit as powerful.
  • Lutherans see the power of the Holy Spirit inseparably annexed to the Word and the Sacraments so that, when you have the Word/Sacraments, you have the Holy Spirit, and vice versa.
  • The Reformed see the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit as necessary in order for the Word/Sacraments to become powerful unto salvation.

In my mind, this clarifies the potential objection to the Reformed view that I suggested in my post on Ezekiel’s dry bones–the prophecy of Ezekiel is indeed powerful, being the Word of God; however, because powerful working of the Spirit of God to grant life and salvation is not inseparably annexed to the Word of God, the Spirit of God must bring the Word of God to life if someone is to be saved.

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