The Living Word and Its Work
Here preaching, faith and baptism are all outwardly received and performed, and are signs of the faith and baptism of the living Word, all of which God accomplishes through His righteousness, and therefore Paul says to the Romans (10:17), 'Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.'
A true and upright preacher must have received the actual, true Word of God in his soul through much affliction. That is then referred to as the Word of God in the "depth of the soul". But what is preached is only a witness or sign of the actual. The eternal Word is neither written on paper nor on tablets but man is assured by it (the Word) by God in the depths of his soul. The eternal Word is written in a fleshly heart through the finger of God.
Saint John shows this difference when he says (I John 2:7), 'Brethren, I write no new command unto you, but an old commandment. The old commandment is the Word which you have heard from the beginning.' In this he shows that everything which is heard of men, or seen in the creation or that may be read in books, is not the living Word of God, but is a symbol, a sign or witness of the inner, eternal or living Word, an inner Witness through the outer Word, if it is diligently observed.
Just as the sign in front of an inn shows there is wine in the innkeeper's cellar, and yet the sign is not the wine, so it is in God's order; something material is a sign of the spiritual.
We believe what we have heard before we are justified; proven faith arises after we have heard, and then works powerfully towards God and all creation.
And this takes time, and does not come as swiftly as our false preachers declare, who persuade the poor people by saying, 'Believe, believe. Yes, yes. For in a little while it will be clearly shown.' Then they say, 'Yes, God can do everything through his almighty power.
The answer is yes, God is almighty and can do everything, but He will not do everything. He arranges everything by His almighty power, according to its measurement, number and weight.
Abraham heard God's word outwardly from God and believed. His faith was unproved, and yet it was reckoned to him for righteousness. He prayed and received justification through the outer Word, but this disappeared into the word of faith. Before he found God's goodness and mercy, he abandoned and turned from his wife, but he was not deserted by God. For such faith as Abraham had at the beginning is overpowered by unbelief, as the father of the diseased child told the Lord and the apostles, 'I believe, help my unbelief.'
Oh, what sorrow comes upon men before unbelief shall be separated from true belief, in justification and testing. However much man believes at the beginning, yet word and faith disappear from him completely before goodness and mercy come to him. If man is to be comforted by God, he must first be without comfort and forsaken, for God speaks thus, 'I have only left thee for a little time, but I have shown mercy to you with everlasting kindness.' (Is 54:8)
Thus it came about that God spoke to Jacob, 'I am the Lord thy God, the God of Abraham and Isaac, thy father. I will protect thee wheresoever thou goest, and never leave thee until I have fulfilled all that I promised to thee.'
O dear God, as Jacob had to come home, he was scared and very much afraid of his brother Esau. The true word and faith he had heard was sealed from him through unbelief, and he fell down before his brother and prayed for mercy. If the outward Word and faith had dwelt in him, he should have rather relied on God's promise than on his brother's favor.
The words of God are so wonderful that no one should glory but in God alone. Through God, David was a mighty king in Israel. Before he reigned, he was overwhelmed in all distresses until he proved his worth in the highest degree and was justified. When he was surrounded by Saul, he believed that he was rejected by God, and did not remember the words of faith which God spoke to him through the prophet Samuel, but said, 'I am banished from before thy countenance and thine eyes.'
It comes in this way to all the faithful and elect. The grain of corn must first die before it bears fruit. Man must first be imprisoned in disbelief before he will let himself see God and His mercy. Men must be judged and justified and crushed before they can reflect the goodness of God, and can understand His kindness. God works according to His order in His compassion for man. They can receive God's working in no other way, as the Scriptures everywhere bears witness.
Everyone must find the eternal Word for himself. It does not help even if he knows what happened to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to all the friends and chosen of God of whom the scripture speaks. It is necessary too for him to suffer ever and again the work of redemption, otherwise he is as a worldly man. Though he knows the whole Bible, it is nothing but a wonder and a delusion and of no use to him.
But if a man gives himself to God as an offering and he daily chooses God's working in his life rather than the world's pleasures; then even if he is overpowered by unbelief and hard beset by it, God does not forsake him, nor take back His promise because of unbelief.
But as long as the Word, which is heard and believed, is only received and is not justified nor proved in life, it can still only be accepted as sign or symbol, and to take it as the living Word is all idolatry, and an attack on what is true, just as if a painted likeness were to be taken to be the real thing. With this Word, the false preachers only deceive the people, pointing to the witness which is heard in the sermons and read in books and convincing the people that it is God's Word. However, the people remain unsatisfied and their lives are not improved but they are greatly misled, that is something you can see before your own eyes.
Oh, with what great and terrible suffering must the world realize that the true inner Word is the eternal and almighty power of God, the same in people as in God, and can do all things. Only after great testing in distress and difficulty through the discipline of God, as John says, will men receive the new commandment which is true for him and for you also.
Only Christ, under the holy cross, teaches this Word of God according to God's true order. The outward Word is to be preached, and man shall be warned through the outward Word to surrender themselves to the inward master and teacher so that the people are not left to continue only in the outer Word.
Otherwise you make an idol of preaching, scriptures and words. These are only pictures, signs and tools which have to disappear, continuing only as examples to the created beings, as God said to Moses.
When man gets so far as to be able to say that Christ has come in the flesh, that does not help and is not enough, but Christ also has to come into our flesh and live within us. At this point man has to confess that Christ has become flesh in him and that his flesh is ruled by the Word of the Holy Spirit. He must be purged of all worldly lust as Paul says, 'Its no longer I that lives, but Christ that lives in me, and the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.' (Gal 2:20)
Yes, that man who confesses to Christianity must assuredly praise the living Word and can honestly witness to the truth. Such preachers we want to have and expect them from God. All the others who come without this confession and only stick to the fuss of the external noise, all come without Christ since he does not live in them yet. The whole world is rather full of such preachers and fellows. May God turn it to the best and protect all wretched men from them, since they do not preach God but only their belly.
The Old Testament, as it is written according to the letter, would be not different from the new, if it were preached and heard by men of true faith. As long as it remains a testimony, listened to, read and preached, it is all called the Old Testament, commandments, laws or word, be it Moses or the prophets, the evangelists or apostles, Peter or Paul. As John reports, 'I do not write a new commandment for you, but the old one, that you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have listened to.' (I John 2:7)
On the other hand, in the New Testament is everything that we are to live by, planted in our hearts by God's Spirit which is truthful with us and with God and is called the New Testament. The new commandment or the living Word of God, whether written by Moses, the prophets or the apostles, when it lives in us, governs us and is given new purpose and force according to God's will, it is this which God desires for us and longs to have, a new man in Christ Jesus.
This, then is the meaning of the New Testament.