The Necessity of the Use of Means in the Spirit's Work of Monergistic Regeneration
There are a few wise guys who are venting their theological frustrations in the ethersphere by misrepresenting the Reformed community on a rather broad scale. This is particularly true with regard to our teaching on the necessity of the use of means (preaching) in the Spirit's work of regeneration. Anyone who has spent any time on Monergism.com will know that for years we have gathered historical and contemporary essays from a wide array of Reformed Scholars and pastors from various denominations on the necessity of preaching the gospel to the lost so that the Spirit might quicken hearers through the Word. The Spirit quickens us, creating belief in the gospel, and cries 'Abba Father' in us, giving witness to the truth and excellency of the Word of Christ. Michael Horton affirms, with us, that while regeneration is necessary for faith, but that this life is brought forth. not in a void, but through the Word:
"...God alone is the cause of the New Birth, but he calls women and men to himself through the weakness of preaching. Nowhere in Scripture do we find a pattern of evangelism or revival in which individuals respond to the gospel by simply being â€œzappedâ€ by the Spirit. They are always responding to the preached Word. It may be one-on-one, or in an assembly, but it is the Word proclaimed that gives life to those spiritually dead. Furthermore, even after they are converted, believers do not grow in their walk, deepen in their Christian experience, or learn new truths by the direct activity of the Spirit apart from Godâ€™s ordained means... God has determined to bring that Good News through specific means, and to involve us in this drama... Paul picks up on this language in Romans 10, making the preached Word essential for the Spiritâ€™s work of regeneration: â€œHow, then, can they call on the one in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, â€˜How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!â€™â€(Rom. 10:14-15).
Some of the allegations that we do not believe this are simply preposterous so it is needful to make a few clarifying statements to silence some of the crazy misrepresentations out there. I have seen numerous posts which erroneously claim that the broad Reformed community (who embrace monergistic regeneration) does not believe in means (preaching) to bring about regeneration.
I believe it would be very easy to broadly show that Reformed theologians both now and in history vigorously affirm the necessity of the use of means (preaching, prayer) in regeneration. That the church casts forth the seed of the gospel but that the Holy Spirit germinates that seed, so to speak, in order to bring forth life through the Word. That the gospel (the Word) is necessary but not sufficient to save, apart from the Holy Spirit. Paul says, "...we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction."(1 Thess 1:4, 5)
While it is true that the Spirit does not regenerate apart from the gospel, but it is also true that the gospel is not effectual in the natural man's heart apart from regeneration (John 6:63,65; 1 John 5:1) Spurgeon said: "Faith in the living God and his Son Jesus Christ is always the result of the new birth, and can never exist except in the regenerate. Whoever has faith is a saved man." - C.H. Spurgeon from His sermon "Faith and Regeneration"
We affirm that as the gospel is cast indiscriminately to the unbelieving world, if it is to be believed, the Holy Spirit must open spiritually blind eyes, unplug deaf uncircumcised ears, disarm the hostility of our rebellious hearts, quicken and illumine that Spiritual things may be understood. That without the Spirit, spiritual truths are not grasped, loved and believed in. Unspiritual men do not believe or understand spiritual truths. 1 Cor 2:12 says, "We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us." Jesus Christ and the gospel are what has been freely given us, and this text states emphatically that we have been given the Spirit THAT WE MIGHT UNDERSTAND. Then the text, as if not clear enough, says, "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment: "For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?"But we have the mind of Christ." 1 Cor 2:14-16) As you can clearly see from the Text, we need the mind of Christ first in order to judge and understand spiritual truths. Without it, the Text says, it will not be understood. Spiritual truths are spiritually discerned. To say that we can come to Christ apart from the Holy Spirit is to give credit to unspiritual man for something that is directly contrary to his very nature.
In ordinary circumstances, the gospel must be heard and believed in (see Romans 10), (those dying in infancy or with disabilities excluded) but the other side of the coin is critical as well: no one believes the gospel apart from regeneration. Word and Spirit go together. God tells the Israelites that if they do not obey His Word their crops will fail. "You will sow but not reap", He says, which shows the necessity of the blessing of the Spirit for there to be any growth, no matter how much seed we cast. To deny this is a plain denial of the need for grace. Grace is not merely an exterior persuasion but The Spirit does a work of grace in us to change our hardened heart, and unites us to Christ through faith that we may be justified. He makes our heart of stone into a heart of flesh that we may obey. We don't first obey in order to make our heart soft. That makes no sense and reverses the course of God's redemptive work. God commands us to believe the gospel. The seed of the gospel lies dormant in our heart until the Spirit gives life through it. The fallow ground of our heart must be plowed up for it to receive the seed of the gospel.
Luther said: I say that man, before he is renewed into the new creation of the Spirit's kingdom, does and endeavors nothing to prepare himself for that new creation and kingdom, and when he is re-created has does and endeavors nothing towards his perseverance in that kingdom; but the Spirit alone works both blessings in us, regenerating us, and preserving us when regenerate, without ourselves..." (Bondage of the Will pg. 268)
Likewise, Jonathan Edwards sums this up beautifully:
"The word of God is no proper cause of this effect: it does not operate by any natural force in it. The word of God is only made use of to convey to the mind the subject matter of this saving instruction: and this indeed it doth convey to us by natural force or influence. It conveys to our minds these and those doctrines; it is the cause of the notion of them in our heads, but not of the sense of the divine excellency of them in our hearts. Indeed a person cannot have spiritual light without the word. But that does not argue, that the word properly causes that light. The mind cannot see the excellency of any doctrine, unless that doctrine be first in the mind; but the seeing of the excellency of the doctrine may be immediately from the Spirit of God; though the conveying of the doctrine or proposition itself may be by the word. So that the notions that are the subject matter of this light, are conveyed to the mind by the word of God; but that due sense of the heart, wherein this light formally consists, is immediately by the Spirit of God. As for instance, that notion that there is a Christ, and that Christ is holy and gracious, is conveyed to the mind by the word of God: but the sense of the excellency of Christ by reason of that holiness and grace, is nevertheless immediately the work of the Holy Spirit."From "A Divine and Supernatural Light"
Sometime a few years back I wrote the following personal confession to show that there is a concurrence of work from the Trinity and the church who preaches the gospel in bringing His elect to Himself. God uses the weakness of preaching to bring forth life. We see an example of this when God commanded Ezekiel to preach to a valley of dry bones. His preaching was used by God to put flesh and life back on those bones. Our job is similar. We cast forth the word, which is used by the Holy Spirit to but flesh on dead bones. Here is the previous theological statement I promised:
Our union with Christ has its roots in divine election, its basis in the redemptive work of Christ, and its actual establishment with God's people by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. All of God's elect will be regenerated by the Holy Spirit during their life, at a time of God's choosing. This regeneration is a spiritual resurrection given to sinners who are spiritually dead. It infallibly results in faith, repentance and obedience. This regeneration is accomplished by the irresistible power of the Holy Spirit (Jn.6:37,44; Eph.2:4-5; Ps.110:3).
Regeneration, Repentance and Faith:
How does faith and repentance take place since the natural man is incapable of creating a right thought, generating a right affection, or originating a right volition (Rom. 3:11, 8:7; John 3:3, 6)?
When spoken in the power of the Holy Spirit, the word of God has the power to graciously open people's eyes, unplug their uncircumcised ears, change the disposition of their hearts, draw them to faith, and save them (James 1:18, 1 Peter 1:23, 25). The word of God does not work "ex opere operato," rather, it is the work of the Holy Spirit sovereignly dispensing grace (John 3:8), quickening the heart through the word to bring forth life. So the written word is not the material of the spiritual new birth, but rather its means or medium. "The word is not the begetting principle itself, but only that by which it works: the vehicle of the mysterious germinating power" [ALFORD]. It is because the Spirit of God accompanies it that the word carries in it the germ of life. The life is in God, yet it is communicated to us through the word.
The gospel declares that repentance and faith (commands of God) are themselves God's working in us both to will and to do (2 Tim 2:25, Eph 2:5, 8) and not something that the sinner himself contributes towards the price of His salvation. Repentance and faith can only be exercised by a soul after, and in immediate consequence of, its regeneration by the Holy Spirit (1 John 5:1; Acts 16:14b; Acts 13:48; John 10:24-26; Ezekiel 36:26-27; John 6:37; John 1:13; 1 Cor. 4:7; 1 Cor. 15:10; Jas. 1:17; John 3:27). God regenerates, and we, in the exercise of the new gracious ability given, repent. God disarms the opposition of the human heart, subduing the hostility of the carnal mind, and with irresistible power (John 6:37), draws His chosen ones to Christ. The gospel confesses "We love him because He first loved us." Whereas before we had no desire for God, God's regenerating grace gives us desire, willingness and delight in His person and commands. Faith and works are the evidence of new birth, not the cause of it.
Related Essays on the Relation of Word and Spirit in Conversion
Receiving Christ by Michael Horton (Excerpt from In the Face of God)
Explains the Relationship of Spirit, Word and Preaching
The Nature, Causes and Means of Regeneration by John Owen - clearly shows that the word of God is the means, medium and instrument used by the Holy Spirit to quicken souls, when preached by men. Yet regeneration precedes man's ability to hear and believe.
Faith and Regeneration by C.H. Spurgeon
A Divine and Supernatural Light, Immediately Imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God by Jonathan Edwards
On the Two Great Instruments in the Conversion of Sinners by Thomas Reade, 1837
The Holy Spirit In the Ministry of the Word by Pastor Bob Burridge
But Spiritual Discernment is Wholly Lost Until we are Regenerated by John Calvin
The Lord Opened Her Heart Texts: Acts 15:36-16:15; Jeremiah 31:1-14; 23-34 by Dr. Kim Riddlebarger
Biblical Regeneration and Affectional Theology by John Hendryx