Re: verification of God's work

Murphy (
Fri, 14 Feb 1997 20:33:38 -0500

Donald E Degraaf wrote:
> On 09 Feb. George Murphy wrote in response to Paul Arveson:
> "The Holy Spirit works in a saving fashion _normally_ through means,
> rather than directly, the means being Word & sacraments."
> ----
> Even though God uses means to bring people to saving faith in Himself,
> this work of the Holy Spirit in a person's heart amounts to giving him or
> her a new spiritual life. It cannot be acounted for as a "natural"
> process. Consider:
> John 1:12-13:
> Rom 8:7-8
> Eph 2:4-5
> Col 2:13:
> It seems to me that we need to regard the Spirit's action in giving
> anyone a new birth as a _supernatural_ act, that cannot be accounted for
> by a natural human response.

I agree. But the question I was addressing was _how_ the Holy
Spirit does this. Certainly the means of grace do not act simply in
"natural" ways. I.e., while God is at work in the ordinary processes of
acoustics, hydrodynamics, and nutrition, God does something different
_in addition_ in the proclamation of the gospel, Baptism, & Eucharist
because God has attached his promise to these actions & elements. "For
without the Word of God the water is plain water and not a baptism, but
with the Word of God it is a baptism, that is, a grace-filled water of
life and a "bath of the new birth in the Holy Spirit." (Luther, _Small
If you wish to call this a "supernatural" use of the physical
elements, I won't object. I _will_ object, however, if the meaning is
that God is doing something outside the ordinary course of nature
_directly_, and that the spoken word or physical elements &
sacramental actions are only symbols of what God is doing.
Again I don't want to just rehash old polemics between different
traditions. But it is worth noting that there are historic differences
between Lutheran & Reformed understandings in this area.

> George also wrote:
> "There's a close correspondence with the way God works providentially in
> creation. In the _vast majority_ of cases, God works mediately, through
> natural processes." (emphasis added)
> ----
> George, how do you _know_ that God works _mediately_ "in the vast
> majority of cases."

This seems to me quite clear from the fact that we are able to
understand so much of what goes on in the world in terms of scientific
treatment of natural processes.

>Is this a presupposition? Do you have a firm
> theological basis for this view?

This is the way traditional doctrines of providence have spoken,
using the language of God's "concurrence" or "co-operation" with natural
processes. IMO it receives strong theological support from the theology
of the cross & strong scientific support from the fact that science
works - as above.