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In a previous post, I quoted Charles Hodge’s argument that the Spirit of God alone gives efficacy to the Word and to the sacraments:

There is, therefore, a strict analogy, according to the Reformed doctrine, between the Word and the sacraments as a means of grace. (1.) Both have in them a certain moral power due to the truth which they bring before the mind. (2.) Neither has in itself any supernatural power to save or to sanctify. (3.) All their supernatural efficiency is due to the cooperation or attending influence of the Holy Spirit. (4.) Both are ordained by God to be the channels or means of the Spirit’s influence, to those who by faith receive them. (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. III, p. 502)

I am coming across an interesting wrinkle, though, as I study to preach Ezekiel 37:1-14 about the Valley of Dry Bones. In the passage, the Spirit of YHWH brings Ezekiel to a valley full of dry bones and commands Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones. Ezekiel thus preaches that YHWH would bring these bones to life, that they may know that he is YHWH.

As Ezekiel begins to prophesy, the bones begin to assemble themselves, and sinews, flesh, and skin begin to cover the fresh skeletons. Full bodies stand before Ezekiel; however, the text then says, “But Ruach there was not in them” (Eze. 37:8–the Hebrew ruach, like the Greek pneuma, can alternately mean spirit, wind, or breath). Only when the ruach enters these bodies do they live, brought to life suddenly as a terrible army.

Much could be said about this passage, but here are my questions, which lean heavily on what I wrote in the earlier post: (1) How can the Lutheran perspective, understanding the Word and the sacraments to have power in themselves, be correct if the corpses do not live until they receive the Ruach? and (2) How can the Reformed perspective, understanding the Word and the sacraments to have no inherent power (being made efficient through the work of the Spirit alone), be correct when these bones and bodies come together by the proclamation of the word of God alone?

My first thought is that this passage suggests that the Word is indeed inherently powerful for a kind of preliminary work in converting the dead to life; however, only the Spirit of God actually grants life to the dead. Perhaps Jesus’ parable of the seeds falling on rocky soil and weed-filled soil is, in fact, speaking of a person who encounters some kind of preliminary work by the Word, yet who never gains true life by the Spirit.

I will have to continue to wrestle with this thought.

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