The Living Word

Ulrich Stadler

Note: Translation made by Hugo Brinkmann by using side by side EAH 48 and Lydia Müller (Glaubenszeugnisse oberdeutscher Taufgesinnter) 212.

All things have been well ordered and fashioned by God; they are good creations of God, in which his eternal power and deity is recognized, provided one has open eyes for it [Rom. 1:20]. In the same way the Scripture and the spoken word as well are good works and creations of God, but they are not the living Word. Whoever therefore would use the Scripture according to its true worth, whoever does not want to give more to it than belongs to it and is due to it, must sharply distinguish Scripture, as well as the spoken word, from the inward Word of the heart.

The outer word is the word that Christ commands his apostles to proclaim when he says, “Preach the gospel to all creatures. He who believes and is baptized will be saved” [Mark 16:15-16]. Here, preaching, faith, and baptism are all understood and treated in an outward sense; they are tokens of the living Word [and of the inward] faith and baptism, which are all brought about by God through his [work of] justification. In the same way, Paul says to the Romans: “Faith comes from hearing what is preached, but hearing comes through the word of God” [Rom. 10:17]. An upright preacher must, through much tribulation, receive the true Word of God in the very depth of his soul. The preached word of God, on the other hand, is but a testimony or token of the true Word.

The infinite Word is written neither on paper nor on tablets, nor is it spoken or preached; rather, man is assured of it by God himself in the depth of his soul. God’s finger writes it in the heart of flesh through the Spirit [2 Cor. 3:3]. This is the distinction made by devout John when he says, “Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment which you had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard” [1 John 2:7]. By this he shows that everything one hears from men, sees in creation, or reads in books is not the living Word of God but a symbol, an image, sign, or testimony of the inward and eternal or living Word. The latter is attested by the outer word, if diligently perceived, even as the sign in front of an inn testifies that there is wine in the innkeeper’s cellar, and yet the sign is not the wine itself.

It is in keeping with God’s order that the physical always precedes the spiritual. Faith that comes from hearing precedes justification, and after this a tried and tested faith springs up that proves itself powerfully before God and before all creation. This requires time and does not happen quickly, as our scribes declare, who talk the poor people into it by telling them, “Have faith, have faith!”

Yes indeed, it will presently show itself [what will come of this]. Then they say, “Oh, God be praised, everything is possible through his almighty power.”

Answer: Yes, God is almighty and can do everything; but in his omnipotence he orders all things by measure and number and weight [Wis. of Sol. 11:20-21]. Abraham heard God’s word outwardly from God and believed; his faith was untested and yet was reckoned to him as righteousness [Rom. 4:3]. The outward word stayed with him up to his justification, yet as he endured [the work of] justification both word and faith failed him. For when Pharaoh took his wife away from him, Abraham was wholly given over to unbelief and denied his wife. Not having as yet experienced God’s goodness and mercy, he gave up hope and forsook his wife, but God did not forsake him. For such faith as Abraham had to begin with was overcome by unbelief. By the same token, the apostles [Luke 17:5] and the epileptic child’s father [Mark 9:24] said to the Lord, “I believe, help my unbelief!” Oh the pain man has to endure until unbelief is separated from true faith through trial and justification! However lofty man’s faith may be to begin with, word and faith will nonetheless totally desert him as long as he has not experienced [God’s] goodness and compassion. If man is to be comforted by God, he must first be comfortless and forsaken, for God says, “For a brief moment I forsook you, but with everlasting compassion will I have mercy on you” [Is. 54:8].

This is what happened to Jacob after God had told him, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac, your father. I will keep you wherever you go” [Gen. 28:13,15]. O God in heaven, when the time came for Jacob to journey home, how he had to tremble and stand in exceeding great fear of his brother Esau! There the word, and the faith he had through hearing the word, were totally swallowed up by unbelief; he fell down before his brother and cried for mercy. Where was then the outward word and faith? He should have relied more on God’s promise than on his brother’s favor. So marvelous are the works of God; hence nobody ought to glory except in God alone [2 Cor. 10:17].

David was a king in Israel chosen by God; [but] before he came to rule he was beset by every kind of tribulation until he was tested to the utmost and was justified. For when Saul had him surrounded [1 Sam. 23:26] and searched for him among all the thousands [of Judah, 1 Sam. 23:23], David considered himself rejected by God; he could not believe the words God had spoken to him through the prophet Samuel, and said, “I am cast away from thy presence” [Ps. 51:11].

This is the lot of all the devout and elect. The grain [of wheat] must first die in everyone before it brings forth fruit [John 12:24]; a man must be consigned to unbelief before God shows forth his mercy [Rom. 11:32]. He must first be ground down and made righteous; [only] then is he able to recognize and grasp the loving kindness of God – for God’s work on man follows a pattern – only then will he also feel it, if he is at all aware of God’s working. To all this the Scripture bears witness. Everyone must experience the infinite Word within himself. It does not help a man to know how it went with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and with all the friends and chosen ones of God of whom the Scripture speaks. What matters is that he himself enters the number [of those who are written in the Book of Life, Rev. 7:4] and that he suffers the work of justification in his own person, otherwise he remains a worldling. Though he may know the whole Bible, [his knowledge] is yet nothing but a feat of wizardry and a delusion and of no use to him or to others.

If, however, a man yields himself to God as a sacrifice, renounces the world and daily opens himself to God’s working, though unbelief may overwhelm him and swallow him up, yet God will not forsake him, for unbelief will not invalidate God’s faith and promise. While the word one hears, believes, and accepts has not been proved and justified, it must still be called a witness or symbol of the living Word and is related to the real thing merely as a painted likeness is to the person itself. With this outer word the preachers mislead the poor people; they point only to the witness, which is preached, heard, and read in books, and they persuade the people that this is God’s Word, and all this leaves the people forever dissatisfied, and nothing is improved by such preaching, as may be plainly seen. Oh, what a great, irreparable harm the world has to suffer before it becomes aware of the terrible deception.

The true, inner Word is an eternal and almighty power of God, of like nature in man and God [Eph. 4:24], and can accomplish all things. It comes to man after God’s discipline has tried and tested him through manifold afflictions. John calls this “the new commandment, which is the truth, in him and in you” [1 John 2:8]. This Word of God teaches alone Christ and the blessed cross. According to God’s right order, this inner Word is preceded by the outer word. Through the outer word the preacher should challenge people to surrender and listen to the inward teacher. They should not be allowed to remain stuck on the outer word, otherwise sermons, writings, and words are made into idols. These are but images, tokens, and tools and must vanish so that man is left without creaturely images, in accordance with God’s word to Moses [Exod. 20:4; Deut. 5:8]. When a man reaches that point, he can confess that Christ has come into the flesh [1 John 4:2], yet not as the world does, which also confesses Christ to have come into the flesh, namely in Mary. This, however, does not help and is not enough, for Christ must come into our own flesh as well. It is true: the Word has become flesh and dwells among us [John 1:14]. This is where a man must be able to confess that the Word has become flesh in him and that his flesh is ruled by the Holy Spirit in the Word, all worldly desires having been renounced. In this sense Paul can say: “Now, not I live, but Christ lives in me” [Gal. 2:20] and “The world is crucified to me; I am dead to the world” [Gal. 6:14]. Truly if a man can confess Christ like this, he may well boast of the living Word and can rightly witness to the truth.

Such are the preachers we want to have and want to look for from God. All others who come without such a confession, however, and just go on clamoring with outward noise – all those come without Christ, for he does not yet live in them, as is plain for all the world to see; they are nothing but thieves and murderers [John 10:8]. Of such preachers and fellows the whole world is now over-full; may God turn everything to good and protect all the wretched people from them, for their preaching is not from God but only for the benefit of their bellies [Rom. 16:18; Phil. 3:19].

The Old Testament, taken according to the [written] letter, is no different from the New, for, just as it is with the New Testament, its message amounts to a picture [of the true Word] in terms of created things. Since it remains a testimony, to be heard, read, and preached, it is all called the Old Testament; it refers to commandments, laws, or sayings whether they come from Moses or the prophets, the evangelists or the apostles Peter or Paul. As John says, “I am writing you no new commandment, but the old commandment which you had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have hears” [1 John 2:7]. The New Testament, on the other hand, is everything by which we live; it is implanted in our hearts by the Spirit of God [James 2:21]; it is truly within us and with God. It is all called the New Testament, the New Commandment, or living Word of God, whether written by Moses, the prophets or apostles, if it lives and rules in us and renews us in mind and spirit [Eph. 4:23], in accordance with God’s will. This is what God desires for us and wants us to be: a new man in Christ Jesus [2 Cor. 5:17]. This is then called the New Testament.