Given that our featured work for the podcast is Gerhard’s Sacred Meditations, I found this piece to be happily timed. Just posted today, and worth the read: “Why Karl Barth Should Have Just Read Johann Gerhard“, by Nathan Rinne and Paul Strawn on Just and Sinner.
Here’s an excerpt:
Hermann Rahtmann was a Lutheran pastor who, in seeking to defend the orthodoxy and usefulness of the writings of Johann Arndt, came to promote the idea that the Bible had no power in and of itself to convert, but it was only useful and helpful to those who had already been directly enlightened by the Holy Spirit. Thus the question was raised again, which had been raised years before by Casper Schwenckfeld, and that is: What is the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the Bible? To preaching? Could the Bible, could the conveyance of the Word of God in written and oral form be said to have any power in and of itself?
Rahtmann’s rejection of the idea was a result of observing that not all who read or heard the Word of God repented of their sins, believed the gospel, or were comforted by it. Since that is so, Rahtmann reasoned, it just must be that the Word of God as it found in creation is nothing out the ordinary. It merely contains signs pointing to the greater things signified.
Gerhard responded to this assertion by noting the similarities of the relationship of the written and spoken Word of God to the Spirit of God and that of (1) the divine and human natures of Christ, (2) the presence of the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament of the altar, and even (3) the relationship of the human soul to the body. As Christ died on the cross for all mankind, but many reject what was won for them there, as Christ is present in the Lord’s Supper, but not all benefit from that presence, as the soul of man exists within his body, but cannot be seen, so the Holy Spirit is present in and united with the Word of God as it is found in the Bible, and as it is proclaimed. Thus whether in use or not, the written Word of God must be said to have power, power which nonetheless is effective only when it is properly deployed.
As it is, however, it is a word that does what it says, and says what it does. The preaching of the Word was just as much an audible sacrament as the sacraments were the visible Word. Even then, the Sacraments were “Word events” occurring through the preaching of either the Trinitarian invocation or the Words of institution.
Yes, distinctions had to be made between (1) the Word which Christ brought with Him “from the womb of the Father,” (2) the Word engraved in the hearts of the apostles and prophets by the Holy Spirit, (3) the Word transcribed by biblical Scribes and included in the Scriptures, and (4) the Word that is read today in the Bible, heard in sermons, and believed. In other words the Word of God is both Trinitarian—flowing from the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—as well as incarnate: Appearing in time and space. Here the Lutheran Gerhard, so Steiger, predates Karl Barth’s similar (revolutionary!) Trinitarian presentation of the outgoing of the Word of God—a fact never acknowledged by Barth.