This great work God is bringing about in man by certain means, viz: his word and sacrament. And for the purpose of these means being brought near to every man, He has instituted the office of ministry. The word by which God teaches us his will, is contained in the holy scriptures, in which the writings of the Prophets and Apostles have been preserved and transmitted to us.
598. Up to this, we have only been considering the remedies and provisions, God had made for the purpose of raising again the human race that had fallen into sin. It now remains for us to see, whether God is applying these remedies with or without certain means. This is necessary for the purpose of preventing such as might be inclined to refuse the regular employment of these means, to expect the benefit of these provisions, without any means whatsoever, or to turn to such means as God does not employ at all, and thus, in both ways, deprive themselves of the benefits of divine mercy.
599. In order shortly to sum up this matter, we say: God works faith and strengthens it. He works and strengthens faith either in adults or in children. In the first this comes to pass by the teaching of the word in the latter by the sacrament, of baptism. This latter sacrament is also conducive to the strengthening and augmenting of that faith, which the adults derive from the word.
600. Concerning the word we have to inquire,
A. In which way God does not teach us, and
B. In which way He teaches us.
601. A. God does not teach us
a. Without, certain means. Such are revelations, visions, and the like. — It is true that, in the Old testament dispensation, God has occasionally instructed men without the employment of any means. Thus he spake face to face, for instance to Abraham, Genes. 20, 3; to Moses, Exod. 33, 1; from his mercy seat, as he promised Exod. 25, 22: “There I will meet with thee from above the mercy seat” etc.; through the ephod of the highpriest, 1. Samuel. 23, 9 ff.; in shape of a man. Genes. 28, 2ff.; by visions and dreams. Genes. 28, 12. 13; Jerem. 1, 11. 13. etc.
602. But it is to be remembered that God is not now any more speaking to us in diverse manners, Hebr. 1, 1; that with regard to matters of faith and salvation God never taught his people by extraordinary revelations, but that for this purpose He has ordained the office of ministry, which was exercised by Prophets, priests, and the holy scriptures. We are therefore not entitled to expect God to teach us without any means whatsoever.
603. Nor does God teach us by the light of nature, in such a way, as if this instruction did comprise every thing that is necessary for us to know. For,
i. All we know by ourselves, is utter darkness, blindness and ignorance; Ephes. 4, 18: “the gentiles, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart;” 1. Cor. 1, 21: “In the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God.”
ii. Every knowledge concerning the things of God is to be derived but from revelation; John. 1,18:, “No man hath seen God at any time: the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the father lie had declared him;” Matth. 11, 27: “No man knoweth the son but the father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.”
iii. Human wisdom is at enmity with divine knowledge; Rom. 8, 7: “the carnal mind is enmity against God;” 1 Cor. 5, 14: “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them.” — It was for this reason the virgin Mary could not comprehend, how she was to bring forth a son, as she had never known a man, Luk. 1, 34; that Nicodemus could not understand the doctrine of regeneration, John. 3, 4. 9; that the Apostles could not discern the prophecies with reference to the sufferings of Christ, Luk. 18, 34; Matth. 16, 22; that Thomas could not believe that the Lord had risen from the dead, John. 20; 59. Now if the natural light of man is contrary to the divine mysteries, it follows, that God does not intend us to be taught by, the light of nature.
604. Nor does God teach us by the holy angels. For they have not been ordained to the office of ministry. On the contrary, God has forewarned us to take care not to be deceived by such as take upon them the name of an angel, 2 Cor. 41, 14: “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light; Galat. 1, 8: “though… an angel from heaven preach any other Gospel unto you then that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed;” Coloss. 2, 18: “let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels., intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind.” — Such instances we meet with plentifully among the papists, the baptists and other sects, which have ever boasted a great deal upon having been taught by angels, or have allowed themselves to be deceived by pretended appearances of angels.
605. Neither is God intending us to be taught by certain traditions, which have professedly been transmitted to the church from one teacher to the other, ever since the time of apostles; — but of which circumstance nothing is to be found in the word of God. For
i. Nobody is able to prove that God has ever led us to look to such traditions; we have therefore nor right to rest upon them our hope for salvation.
ii. Even if such a tradition was produced, we have no infallible means whatsoever of deciding, whether the same be really derived from the apostles, or whether it be the production of false teachers.
iii. Besides which, the holy scriptures are so perfect, that we do not stand in need of the teaching of any other book. For we are told, that the scripture is able to make us wise unto salvation, 2 Timot. 3, 15: that it is able to make us perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works, v. 1, 17; it leads us to “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing we might have faith by his name,” John. 20, 21. Which sufficiently proves, that we do not stand in need of any tradition whatsoever.
606. iv. The traditions are uncertain and liable to be falsified. Thus in the churches of the Thessalonians the report had been spread in the name of Paul “that the day of Christ is at hand.” This report the apostle contradicts, 2 Thess. 2, 1. ff. warning his readers for the” spreading of such traditions, in the following words: “We beseech you brethren, that ye be not so soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by the spirit, nor by word, nor by letter, as from us, as that the day of Christ was at hand; let no man deceive you by any means.” — And on Peter’s once asking the Lord Jesus what sort of death John was to suffer, his frowardness was punished in the following words:,If I will that he tarry, till I come, what is that to thee? then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die,” John. 21, 22. ff. In this instance we find, that the sayings of the Lord Jesus had been perverted by the apostles, almost immediately after they had been uttered by him; how much more was this possible with the traditions, which, in the course of so many centuries, had to be carried about by so many teachers, hearers, believers, schismatics etc.? The foundation therefore upon which tradition rests, is by no means of so secure a nature, for us with implicit faith to rest our salvation upon it.
607. B. The manner in which God teaches mankind, is of a twofold description; he teaches them by means of men and by His word, which the Prophets and Apostles have reduced to writing. With regard to the first, we know that God has employed men for this purpose, in time of old. Thus did Moses teach the people of Israel; as did also the Prophets, who had been partly called to this office without any outward means, partly brought up for this purpose, at the school of the prophets, 2 Kings. 2, 3. 5; 4, 38. ff. Under the New testament dispensation God sent His Son, to be a prophet, who was to be obeyed, Deutr. 18, 15; Matth. 17, 5. After his resurrection Christ gave to his people, Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers, Ephes. 4, 11; of whom he says: “he that heareth you heareth me: and he that despiseth you, despiseth me,” Luk. 10, 16. He commanded them also to go and to teach all nations, Matth. 28,19. 20; and to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations, Luk. 24, 27. To this office the Apostles have subsequently ordained other men, as Timothy, Titus, and the latter again others, that by them the Gospel might be preached everywhere, Titus 1, 5. 6. Such they have done in accordance with the divine will and providence. St. Paul accordingly writes to the ministers of the church at Ephesus, whom he had ordained to minister in the same, as follows: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the holy Ghost has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood,” Acts. 20, 28. — But of the office of the ministry we shall have occasion to speak in a subsequent chapter.
608. The holy scriptures, or the written word of God have ever since they have been written, been employed by God as a means whereby to teach men. For it was for this purpose that God caused His word to be committed to writing by Moses, that not “every man might do as it pleased good to him”, Deutro. 4, 2; 12, 32. In the like manner the prophet Isaiah was commanded to bind the people down to the written word “to the law and the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them,” chapt. 8, 20. — The Lord Jesus also has pointed out to us the scriptures, John. 5, 39: Search the scriptures; they are they which testify of me;” Luk. 16, 29: “They (the rich man’s brothers) have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” — In the same way St. Paul by his example leads us to the scripture; for we read that he said “none other things than those which the Prophets and Moses did say, should come to pass,” Acts. 26, 22; as also by diligent exhortations, 2 Timot. 3, 15. 16. “From a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished to every good work.” To which is to be added what he says Rom. 15, 4: “Whatsoever things were written aforetime, Were written four our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”
609. From all this it is evident, that God teaches men and calls them to his kingdom by means of men, whom He choses to employ for this purpose. It is the duty of these minister to preach the word of God and to teach in accordance with the same, so that they do not deviate from it, neither to the right nor to the left, but, According to the command, Matth. 28, 20: “teach them to observe all things whensoever I (Christ) have commanded you.”