3. Some implications of this answer to the question of how God may be known.
(a) The confidence which we should have in the Word of God.
Referring to the intellectual struggles with atheism which plagued Robert Bruce of Edinburgh, Thomas Halyburton and John Duncan, the editor of the Reformation Heritage Books edition of Halyburton’s Memoirs comments that the problems of these highly gifted men “were not resolved by their intellectual brilliance but by the blazing light of the truth of the gospel conveyed persuasively to the mind and heart by the illumination of the Holy Spirit”.
Halyburton underlines the unique place of the Word read and preached in bringing sinners to the knowledge of God, as illustrated in his own experience: “The means He made use of were not such as man’s wisdom would or could suggest, prescribe or approve of. He did not choose the enticing words of man’s wisdom or eloquence – human eloquence. It was no way suitable to the majesty, truth and sincerity of God to make a choice of that mean art whereby the affections of weak men are inveigled and their judgements biased, and led blindfolded in a subjection to those passions which they should govern. He made no choice of artificial reasonings – the other eye of human wisdom. It did not become the majesty of God to dispute men into their duty or a compliance with His will. . . . God . . . made choice of the foolishness of preaching; that is, a plain declaration of His mind and will in His Name, in the demonstration of the Spirit and power, and not in the enticing words of man’s wisdom, by persons commissioned for that effect by Him.”
The Word is the great instrument to be used in all our personal dealings. We may be unable to argue people out of their unbelief, their rebelliousness, their depression, their sorrow, or whatever it may be, but in the Word of God we have an instrument which we can be confident the Lord Himself can use. We should not be ashamed to use it in our representations even to men of the world in public or national life. It is our function to speak the truth and leave it to the Lord to make that truth effective in His own gracious and sovereign way. What people are needing to hear is, “Thus saith the Lord”. That Word, when accompanied by the Spirit’s power, still has all the effect it ever had. That is what will turn individuals and churches and nations around.
(b) Encouragement to persevere with the biblical function and method of preaching.
Because it is the Word of God which is the basis of faith and the means whereby God enlightens sinners in the knowledge of Himself, preaching aims at leaving the hearers with an understanding and impression of the truth which is under consideration. The preacher is an expositor of the Word and his aim is that the text should be meaningful and living in the mind of the hearer and that the truth itself be brought to bear upon him. That is where the authority and the God-revealing power lie. The text is not the launching-pad for presenting our own ideas. The aim of the sermon is that, by the end, the text with which it began will, with the Lord’s blessing, mean something to the hearer.
As a preacher and teacher of preachers, Halyburton expresses the view that “one reason why the gospel is so unsuccessful in this day is because the simplicity of preaching is neglected. A due application of Scripture is the best preaching; for confirming what is remarkable, that though God may make use of the words of men in instructing into the meaning of it, yet it is the very Scripture word whereby He ordinarily conveys the comfort or advantage of whatever sort; it is this tool of God’s own framing that works the effect.” “And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Cor 2:3-5).
(c) The importance of being much in the Word and often seeking that God would manifest Himself to us there.
On his deathbed Halyburton expressed his fear “that a rational sort of religion is coming in among us: I mean by it a religion that consists in a bare attendance on outward duties and ordinances, without the power of godliness; and thence people shall fall into a way of serving God which is mere Deism, having no relation to Christ Jesus and the Spirit of God”. The advice which he sent to his students from his deathbed is applicable to all the Lord’s people: “Rest not short of saving acquaintance with the power of divine truth and experimental knowledge of the mystery of God and of Christ, diligently using all means that the Word of God may dwell in you richly. . . . But rest not, for the Lord’s sake, and for your own souls’ sake, in the bare fruits of your own studies, but seek to be taught of God, that you may at once grow in grace and in the knowledge of God. . . . The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Whoever fears God, God will teach the secret of His covenant.”
It was by the Word, says Halyburton, “that He let in upon my soul that glorious discovery of His being, attributes, purposes, and His whole will in reference to my salvation by Jesus Christ. . . . Hereby He conveyed into my soul sweet and satisfying evidence as to His being – satisfying, consistent and some way God-becoming notions of His nature.” We need what Halyburton describes as such “receiving of the Word of God as is attended with that reverence, submission of soul, resignation of will and subjection of conscience, which is due to God”.
1. The first section of this paper, presented at the 1999 Theological Conference, looked at the question of how God may be known, as Halyburton wrestled with it in his own spiritual experience. The second section considered the answer to which he was led by his study of the Bible and his own experience of the power of the truth. This brief article, giving some implications of the answer, concludes the paper.