“Raccoon” John Smith: Relying More on the Word Than the Holy Ghost

"Raccoon" John Smith: Relying More on the Word Than the Holy Ghost

When “Raccoon” John Smith (1784-1868) began preaching, he was part of the Baptist church. As a result, he was heavily influenced by Calvinism. This led him to believe that no one could be converted except by a direct operation of the Holy Spirit on his/her heart. Without this kind of direct operation of the Spirit, no one could be saved.

At this time, his wife – who was “unconverted” when they married – developed an interest in religion. She asked him the meaning of a certain passage of Scripture; however, he would not answer her question. It was not because he did not have an answer or because he did not want her to know the answer. There was another reason behind his refusal to answer her Bible question:

“His wife, who was unconverted at the time of her marriage, soon became deeply concerned on the subject of religion. He was, of course, much interested in the progress of her experience; but he reverently and hopefully left her alone with her God. The young husband, who, in any other trouble, would have succored her, even at the sacrifice of his life, abandoned her in this, the most solemn and perplexing of her trials; for no obtrusive human agency, he thought, must interfere with the work of the Spirit. She asked him one day, what was the meaning of a certain text; and he was too considerate to give her any explanation at the time, fearing that, in the simplicity of her unregenerate heart, she might improperly take comfort from it, and rely more on the Word than on the Holy Ghost” (Life of Elder John Smith, p. 59).

Under the influence of Calvinism, Smith believed that the Spirit had to operate on her heart in order for her to be able to understand and believe the will of God. Incredibly, he – believing the Calvinistic theory of the direct operation of the Holy Spirit in salvation – thought that explaining the Bible to her could actually hinder her salvation.

This serves as an illustration to show just how backwards one can become in his thinking when he accepts the false teachings of men. Any religious theory that leads one to conclude that it is better to not explain the Scriptures to someone who sincerely desires to know them is a false theory. Notice the following passages:

And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).

At the end of a section of verses dealing with the need for Christians to “put on the full armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11-17), Paul described “the sword of the Spirit,” indicating that “the word of God” is the instrument used by the Spirit to carry out His work.

For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For, ‘All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord endures forever.’ And this is the word which was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:23-25).

The seed by which we are “born again” is the word of God – that which is preached to those who are in need of salvation. Of course, this does not mean that the Holy Spirit is unconnected with this; but as we noticed in the previous verse, the Holy Spirit’s work is done through the instrumentality of the word (cf. Ephesians 6:17).

It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:14).

How does God call us to Him? It is done “through the gospel.” Some will try to make the case that God draws us to Him through the Holy Spirit apart from the word by citing Jesus’ statement: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…” (John 6:44). Yet as we can see from the next verse, God draws us through what is “taught” (John 6:45), calling us “through [the] gospel” (2 Thessalonians 2:14).

For ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!’ However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:13-17).

This passage clearly shows that the Holy Spirit is not going to operate on someone’s heart or lead them to salvation apart from the word. Those who would obtain a saving faith first need to hear the word, which they would need to hear from one who would teach them – another person, not the Holy Spirit directly. As Paul explained, faith comes as a result of hearing the word, not by the Holy Spirit performing some direct operation on someone’s heart.

Error is dangerous. It can cause people to ignore or fail to teach the gospel that is “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16). Rather than hoping for some direct sign or message from the Holy Spirit to lead one to salvation, we need to look into the word that the Holy Spirit has revealed.

If we want to be saved, we need to see what the gospel teaches, believe it, and obey it. If we want others to be saved, we need to point them to the gospel so they can know what God would have them to do.

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