Holy Spirit, Word Only – True Beliefs of the Restoration Movement

It is declared by “progressives” associated with the churches of Christ that they are true to the Restoration Movement in purpose, beliefs, and practices. The words of Restoration leaders often contradict them. These “progressives” affirm that the Holy Spirit operates outside of the Word of God upon people today, and they label those who believe that the Spirit operates upon Christians only by His revealing of truth in the Scriptures as “word only” and ignorant. For the record, the operation of the Holy Spirit is great even in the creation of the world. It is not the operation of the Holy Spirit that is questioned since He makes intercession for us outside of the word of God. It is not that the Holy Spirit operates outside of the Word, but He does not operates upon man outside of the Word of God.

In reading volume one (1830) of the Millennial Harbinger by Alexander Campbell, Campbell soundly refutes the thinking of “progressives” and defends by the Spirit’s revelation of Scripture that the Scriptures are the all-sufficient source of the Spirit’s revelation. I have put in bold key statements of Brother Campbell, and due to the length of the article you may want to go straight to these bold texts. Campbell’s title is “The Voice of God and the Word of God: The Gospel No the Word of God”, and He writes,

“IT is very instructive to examine, with great accuracy, the various uses and applications of important words and phrases in the sacred writings. By so doing we form an acquaintance with the language which those holy men used as they spoke by the Holy Spirit; and from such an acquaintance with their language, we obtain the same ideas which they entertained of the great objects of christian faith and hope. Words and phrases which, in the Jewish writings, were used in a more general sense, are, in the New Institution, used in an appropriated sense. Thus while the term Christ was generally applied to all the anointed ones in the Jewish Age, it is in the apostolic writings exclusively appropriated to the Saviour. The phrase ‘the Word of God,‘ is used in a like restricted sense in the apostolic writings. From the ascension of Jesus it is appropriated to denote the glad tidings concerning Jesus. This is its current acceptation; so that out of thirty-four times which it occurs, from Pentecost to the end of the volume, it thirty times obviously refers to the gospel. On three occasions it is applied to the literal voice of God at the Creation and the Deluge, and once to him who is in his own person the Word of God. But what I wish to note here, is, that it is never applied to any writing or speech from the day of Pentecost, but to the gospel or proclamation of mercy to the human race. The previous writings given to the Jews are not called the word of God now, because this phrase has in it the idea of the present command and will of God.

‘A word of God,’ or ‘a word of the Lord,’ or ‘a message from the Lord,’ are phrases which frequently occur in the Jewish scriptures, and always refer to the immediate communication made by some messenger and addressed to some particular occasion. It did not mean what was before written or spoken, but what was spoken at that particular time, and by that particular person. For example, ‘a word of God came to Nathan;’ ‘a word of God came to John in the wilderness.’ Some particular message is always intended, implying a command with promises or with threatenings accompanying. Now this is the word which as glad tidings, says Peter, has been announced to you. This is now the will of God that we should obey him whom he has commissioned.

If it were necessary to establish this by proofs and arguments, it were easy to adduce many. But I shall only add, as a very strong evidence of the justice of this discrimination, the following fact:–Multitudes who received the Jewish scriptures as containing revelations from God–the former communications and messages of God, are, by the penmen of the New Testament, said to receive the word of God only when they obeyed the gospel. Acts iv. 31. ‘They spoke the word of God with boldness;’ ‘the word of God increased in Jerusalem.’ viii. 14. ‘They heard that Samaria had received the word of God.‘ xiii. 44. ‘The whole city came to hear the word of God.‘ 46. ‘It was necessary that the word of God should have been first spoken to you Jews.

The same remarks apply to the phrase ‘the word,‘ without any discriminating epithet, such as ‘the word which God sent to Israel’–by John. ‘Labor in the word and teaching.’ ‘If any one obey not the word.‘ ‘They received the word with all readiness of mind.’ And so in every passage in the Epistles where there is no peculiar direction given to it from accompanying explanations.

Having so far traced the exact import of the phrase ‘the word of God,‘ and ‘the word,‘ in the apostolic writings, I proceed to notice the various epithets which are used to designate the peculiar character of the word of God, or the gospel.

It is called ‘the word of reconciliation; the word of life; the word of his favor; the word of faith; the word of truth; the word of righteousness; the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.’ Such are the titles and descriptive epithets by which the word of God is commended to us by its author. It is the word which reconciles man to the divine character, will, and government. It is the word through which life is communicated to man, and by which he comes into the enjoyment of life. It is the word of faith, the subject matter of the christian’s belief, and the means by which we have confidence in God. It is the word of truth, or the truth emphatically, which delivers us from error and darkness, and imparts to the mind certainty in things unseen and future relative to the divine purposes. It is the word of righteousness by which we are accounted righteous in the sight of God, and by which alone we are qualified to live righteously. It is the implanted word, the word established by the Apostles in the world, which is able to save the soul. In a word, it is the word of God’s grace, or favor, by which alone we do enjoy the favor of God here, and are prepared to enjoy it forever.

The attributes of this word are strikingly displayed in the apostolic writings. It is called the living word, the sword of the Spirit. In one period Paul gives us a full description of it. Heb. iv. 12. ‘The word of God is living and effectual, and more cutting than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the parting of both soul and spirit, and of the joints also and marrows, and is a discerner of the desires and purposes of the heart?’

By it we are said to be purified, sanctified, begotten again, enlightened, saved. Nothing is so much extolled; no instrument so powerful, energetic, and effectual; so well adapted to its end, as the word of God. Every great moral change in man is ascribed to it; and it is uniformly presented to us as the great instrument of God’s almighty power. It is the voice of the Almighty. By his voice all his great works have been accomplished. God commanded light to shine out of darkness, and the only instrument which he is said to have employed in the original creation was his word. In the new creation he has not changed his plan, or employed a new instrument. Of his own will he has impregnated us by the word of truth, and has made his word the very principle of renovation. Hearing is imparted to man by his word; for faith comes by hearing, and hearing itself comes by the word of God.

To hear many of the moderns, who profess to preach the word, talk of it as they do, and represent it as a dead and inefficient letter, is enough to provoke the meekness of a Moses, or to awaken the indignation of a Paul. The voice of God spoke the universe into being from the womb of nothing. The same voice recreates the soul of man, and the same voice will awaken the dead at the last day. His voice, heard or read, is equally adapted to the ends proposed. Some look for another call, a more powerful call than the written gospel presents. They talk of an inward call, of hearing the voice of God in their souls. But what greater power can the voice of God in the soul have, or what greater power can this inward call have, than the outward call, or the voice of God, echoed by the Apostles? God’s voice is only heard now in the gospel. The gospel is now the only word of God, or will of God–the only proclamation and command addressed to the human race. ‘Tis in this word of God his Spirit operates upon men, and not out of it. Were the Spirit to lay it aside, and adopt any other instrument, it would be the greatest disparagement of the word of God, ‘which is the wisdom and power of God,’ ‘the word of life,’ and able ‘to save the soul;’ it would be to dishonor that word as men do who prefer other means for converting men to the gospel of Christ.

But let me ask, and seriously ask these inward called saints, who have heard some other voice of God than the word of God, What did that voice say? Any thing different from that which is written? If so, how did you judge it? To what standard did you refer it? If it said any thing to you different from what is written, you dare not hearken to it: for the written gospel, Jesus declared, will judge you at the last day. If it said nothing different from the written gospel, it must have repeated the same, and what was the meaning of repeating it? Does the word of God derive power from a mere repetition of it; or must God, like men, use frequent repetitions to supply the lack of power? Can the voice of God have more power in one language than another–at one time than another–in one place than in another? You cannot answer, Yes. What do you mean by an inward call? If there be a word spoken it must be what is written or what is not written. And you must see that either hypothesis issues in that which is inadmissible–in that which is absurd.

Do you mean, with Andrew Fuller, that the Spirit which first gives you life, quickens you without the word? Then I ask you two questions: First, Does it use any means? If you say, No: then you contradict universal analogy as well as the oracle of God: for the Spirit was to speak of Christ in doing its work. If you say it uses any means to quicken you, then those means are the principle of life. But then I ask, Have you not, in supposing life infused without the gospel by any other means, deprived the gospel of its character as the word of life–as the living word–as living, and powerful, and effectual–as the incorruptible seed?

But if you have heard a voice simply telling you, by name, that you are welcome, remember, I pray you, that that particular call or invitation to you destroys the veracity of God, and makes what is written of no value whatever. For if the general invitation is insincere, if it cannot be relied on, if there must be a particular assurance that you are welcome, that assurance given to you, implies that, without it, you had no assurance before; which would be directly to impeach the veracity of God; yes, his promise, though signed by his name and sealed by his hand. The special call, then, is either a lie or it makes the general call a lie. This is where your system ends. And let him who has an ear to hear hearken.

The voice of God, and the only voice of God which you will hear till he calls you home, is his written gospel. This is now the only word of God, the only command and the only promise addressed to all men; proclaimed by his authority to every creature. The gospel is the power of God to salvation, to every one who obeys it. ‘Tis in it the Spirit of God exhibits his energy, and he who thinks that the Spirit operates in any other way than clothed in the word of God in convincing and converting the world, feeds upon a fancy of his own, or of some other distempered mind.

I have never yet heard a person attentive to the apostolic writings, never heard a student and practitioner of them, complain of any want of power or energy in them. I have seen and felt their power to be that of the Spirit which endited them, an omnipotent moral instrument in his hand exactly adapted to man. Not physically omnipotent, as in creating something out of nothing; but so morally omnipotent that he who regards them not, could not be persuaded though angels, and spirits, and the dead revived, did appear and speak to them in a language never before heard. It is a mistake, a gross mistake, in my judgment, of the means necessary to restore man–a mistake of the nature of the government of God over man, of the actual condition of man, to imagine that any other than moral means, than the well attested developement of the love of God in the mission and sacrifice of his Son, is necessary to renew the heart of man, to reconcile him to God, and to prepare him for the enjoyment of the friendship and favor of God forever. But this only by the way. They who talk of a resistible and irresistible voice of God–who talk of a gospel grace common and special, have found a new Bible and a new gospel which I have not seen, nor read, and of course do not understand. The book, commonly called the New Testament, (rather the sacred writings of the Apostles and Evangelists of Jesus Christ,) is that from which I have derived my views of christianity, and to which alone I subscribe as the infallible arbiter of all questions touching the word of God, and the salvation of Jesus Christ. The voice of God has, in it, bid me welcome, and my ability to come I find in the welcome which he has given. ‘The Spirit and the church say, Come: every one who hears, says, Come; and Jesus says, Let him who is thirsty, come; and WHOSOEVER will, let him come and take of the water of life freely.’ In this WHATSOEVER, I have found every letter of my name, and have had as special a welcome as if Gabriel had paid me a visit from heaven” (PG. 124-128).

About Scott J Shifferd

Minister, church of Christ in Jacksonville, FL. Husband and father of four. Email: ScottJon82[at]yahoo.com
This entry was posted in Biblical Teaching, Christ, Christianity, Church, Church of Christ, churches of Christ, False Teaching, Gospel, Holy Spirit, Ministry, Preaching, Salvation, Scriptures and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

44 Responses to Holy Spirit, Word Only – True Beliefs of the Restoration Movement

  1. Phil says:

    “I am not denying the indwelling of the Spirit, but the work of the Spirit is not completely from out of the hearts of believers.” And I have never said that the work of the Spirit is only from the Spirit within the believer. But there are those who are illiterate and reading-challenged who cannot understand what they read. These people still have the ability to commune with God, something I’m sure you deny. You have never stated what the purpose of the indwelling Spirit is within the believer. You have never answered my question of whether you have ever had personal experience of God. Your silence speaks volumes. I’m guessing that you have not experienced the presence of God within your heart. If you have I’d like to hear about that experience. All of your posts point to the need for reading the words in scripture for that experience to occur.

    “Lastly, the comment from before stands. The only thing that you clearly believe different from me is that you think you are guided by a spirit outside of God’s Word.” Yes, but I am guided by God’s Spirit outside the text, not “a spirit” as you suggest. I used the subject of “forgiveness” but again you missed it. Do you think that one must first read about the need to forgive (in the Bible) in order to experience forgiveness from God’s Spirit within them? If your answer is yes then you and I will never find any common ground on the purpose of the Bible.

    You have twisted my words as much as you say I have twisted yours. How many instances can I point to? Too many to list.

    I’d love to hear input from other on this board.


  2. Phil says:

    Maybe you can explain what this means to you: “…and that the Word is more than ink and paper”


  3. Phil says:

    Scott, you don’t make it clear what you believe. You state that the Spirit communicates through the scriptures and imply that this is the “only” way He communicates with believers. I said that the scriptures do not teach that God uses the scriptures as His only communication to believers and then you backtrack and say. “Only? Who said “only”?

    I’ve never ignored the scriptures and made them less than they were intended to be. However, I do see the scriptures as that which help awaken one to God’s Spirit within them, which leads to personal relationship with God in which God interacts with the believer. If that’s mysticism then I’m guilty.

    What revelation have I ever implied that the Spirit gave me that is against what the bible teaches? I’ve never said that the Spirit gives me any revelation, however much of what the bible teaches is already written in or hearts and even you quoted the verses that say such.

    Your reliance upon the written text is obviously more than mine and most other Christians and leads to legalism. I’ve never stated that I’m into mysticism and you have never stated that you’re into legalism. So where does this leave us.

    Your religion leaves you absent of anything metaphysical and my relationship with God is based upon scriptural and metaphysical principles which you cannot prove wrong by anything that is written in the NT. In fact the NT endorses and encourages the metaphysical aspects of NT Christianity , no matter how much you deny it.


    • Why then do you say that you receive no other revelation from the Spirit than what is in the Bible and yet you claim that the Spirit guides you outside of the scriptures? You claim that the Spirit works within your fleshly body, and then you assert that He works metaphysically, which means outside the physical. From outside of what physical body does He work? Is it not yours? If you were filled with the Spirit, would you wrangle quenching the Spirit and His revelation from your words? For if the words of the Spirit were your words, these would come from your mouth and your messages. Yet, you claim the Spirit communicates outside of words, but you cannot show where the Spirit of Christ has revealed your assertions about the Spirit. Still, you try to communicate the guidance of the Spirit with your own words claiming that the Spirit guides without words.

      Whether you like it or not, the Spirit intercedes for Christians, but not necessarily from within the Christian. The Spirit does not have to personally deify one’s body from within to work metaphysically. The Spirit sanctifies and justifies through the washing in Jesus’ name (1 Cor. 6:11), but not without the Word. The Spirit gives believers new life, rebirth, and regeneration, but not without the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:3). Whether you like it or not, the Spirit works through His words in the Scriptures, spoken, or written on the heart. This is not legalism to believe in Christ, to listen to His Spirit’s revelation, and love Him obeying His commands.


      • Phil says:

        “Why then do you say that you receive no other revelation from the Spirit than what is in the Bible and yet you claim that the Spirit guides you outside of the scriptures?” You are totally missing the point. It does not require the involvement of the heart to follow the scriptures. You seem to see the NT as a set of instructions that we are to live by, yet do not see the transcendent values that the Spirit reveals beyond the written text. The bible may say to forgive but true forgiveness happens at a much deeper level than just doing it because the bible says it’s commanded. I have experienced forgiveness at the spiritual level and it was not the command in the bible that invoked it. Why can’t you get this basic truth? Everything to which you ascribe is about the bible creating the idea that these things (such as forgiveness) can’t happen without first reading it in scripture.

        I tried to use the analogy of “love” but apparently it missed you. What do you know about love that you learned from a book? Love is not about reading and following commands and instructions. It’s about becoming involved with it personally. Yet you suggest that we must read about God in the Bible to know about Him? And that you cannot have an personal experience of God beyond what is written? Seriously?

        “Whether you like it or not, the Spirit intercedes for Christians, but not necessarily from within the Christian.” Where in the bible do you come up with this? The Spirit of Christ resides within the heart of the believer and yet you claim nothing spiritual comes from within?
        2 Corinthians 1:22
        Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.
        2 Corinthians 3:3
        Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.
        Galatians 4:6
        And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.

        BTW, I think you need to look at the definition of the word, “metaphysical.” It has to do with that which is transcendent, not “outside the physical” in the sense that you suggested.


        • You really haven’t consider any from the previous comment. I was speaking your definition of metaphysical, because all you speak of the mystical guidance of a spirit within. Again, you prejudge and twist words. I am not denying the indwelling of the Spirit, but the work of the Spirit is not completely from out of the hearts of believers. You missed this. You evidently presume things. For instance, that the Spirit intercedes from your heart, but rather the Spirit told me that He searches the heart and intercedes, but does not specify from where His intercession comes (Rom. 8:26-27). Yet, Christ also intercedes for us at the right hand of God (Rom. 8:34).

          I write about the virtues of the New Testament, and you act as though I am following some list of laws. I write about loving God from the hearts and keeping His commands, and you tell me that I miss that love comes the heart. You are just wrangling in foolish talk.

          Lastly, the comment from before stands. The only thing that you clearly believe different from me is that you think you are guided by a spirit outside of God’s Word. By God’s Word, I mean that which is written on the heart, spoken, or recorded in the Apostolic text.


  4. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

    “‘I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken it and performed it,’ says the LORD.” (Ezek. 37:14).

    “David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd; they shall also walk in My judgments and observe My statutes, and do them. David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd; they shall also walk in My judgments and observe My statutes, and do them. Then they shall dwell in the land that I have given to Jacob My servant, where your fathers dwelt; and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their children’s children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever. Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people. The nations also will know that I, the LORD, sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.” (Ezek. 37:24-28).


  5. Phil says:

    “God does work directly upon us by the scriptures.”

    Show me one verse that states that God works “ONLY” through the scriptures. Just one.

    I have shown you many verses that state God works directly on the heart. It’s not even a question. If you had experienced the presence of God in your heart you would not be trying to convince anyone that God works “ONLY” through the text. The fact that God’s words are spirit and life does not give those words supernatural ability to to give you holy understanding.


    • Only? Who said “only”?


      • Phil says:

        What is it, Scott? Does God work directly on the heart of man through His Spirit within that person? You have made it clear that you do not believe God does this, but “only” works through the written biblical text.


        • You judge me with prejudice. You don’t know what I believe. You do not understand what the Spirit says of Himself through the scriptures.

          You ignore that the Spirit speaks through the scriptures revealing the Word (Eph. 3:3-5, etc.), and that the Word is more than ink and paper (2 Cor. 3). The Word came in the flesh (John 1:14). The Gospel saves (Rom. 1:16, 1 Cor. 15:1-4). Christ’s words are SPIRIT AND LIFE (John 6:63)! These are to be written on the heart (Jer. 31:31-34, Heb. 8:7ff)! The Word is the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17)! We must set our minds on the Spirit or we have no life (Rom. 8:5-6)! We are to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 3:16ff, 5:18).

          You don’t see this. You claim that the Spirit gives you revelation outside of the Word, who is Jesus Christ. IS NOT JESUS THE WORD?! Can you know Jesus’ words outside of His words given to us by His Apostles and prophets (John 16:7-13)?!



  6. Phil says:

    Do you believe that God interacts directly with believers? You quotes verses that say He does work directly in the believer, yet you seem to suggest that He does not. If one has never read a bible can God work on his heart?


    • They can know that God exists in their hearts by observing Creation and by the natural law written on the heart (Rom. 1:18ff, 2:14-15).

      God does work directly upon us by the scriptures. The scriptures are simply not written text, but contain the only source of Christ’s words, which are spirit and life.

      What is the mission of the Holy Spirit? What are spiritual gifts for as listed in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11? Who had spiritual gifts? What is prophecy? How long did these gifts last?


  7. Phil says:

    “My reading is objective and honest, and so are those united together in His Church. How can you know the Truth of Jesus’ words unless are honest?

    Scott, who doesn’t believe that their reading isn’t objective and honest?? Seriously, who isn’t honest? And how do you know those who are united in His Church are objective and honest? You can only know about yourself.

    This is just rhetoric.


  8. Phil says:

    I worry that you may have the same affliction that the Jews had when Jesus addressed them:

    John 5:38-40
    38 nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39 You study[a] the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.


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