Grace and the Means of Grace; or, What Use is Preaching to Robots?
If men are just puppets or robots, then why waste one’s life preaching the Gospel of God to them? The Arminian poses this question to the Reformed. We answer: just because people are spiritually dead does not mean they are not human. Man did not lose his humanity when he exited the Garden of Eden in spiritual death (Gen 3). His mind, heart, and will were compromised (1 Cor 2:14). Sin was now man’s prime influencer (Rom 6:6), and man is fully given to sin (Gen 6:5; Jer 17:9; Jn 3:19; Rom 3:23). Thus, it is a straw man argument to project upon the Reformed view that we believe men are puppets or robots.
The Arminian is unable to see that God’s grace, which is God’s sovereign works for the benefit of His beloved elect, is conferred by means of grace. Simply put, God uses means when He works His holy will (Eph 1:11; 3:11). In the exercise of His will, God employs a cause to produce an effect. This is true in the natural world and the supernatural realm. For example, a farmer plants a seed and it returns to him one hundred seeds. God increased the farmer’s seed, but he does not know how God did it. The farmer was diligent to use wise means, and he was rewarded. In the same way, the Gospel preacher sows the Word (cause) and God’s grace manifests faith in the elect, redeemed soul that is now regenerate (Jn 3:1–8; Eph 2:5; Col 2:13; 1 Pet 1:3).
God creates ex nihilo, meaning “something from nothing.” God also creates using means, that is, “something from something else.” In regeneration, the Spirit of God is the wisdom, power, and will to make God’s chosen one alive in Christ (Eph 2:5). God does it (Is 26:12), and God gets all the glory for doing it (Ps 115:1).
God gives the grace of salvation to His chosen people as a gift (Eph 2:8–9). This is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5; Eph 2:5; Col 2:13), who is Himself the gift of God (Lk 11:13; Acts 2:38; 10:45). The Spirit of Christ could immediately do His work, and it would be done. Instead, it is God’s good pleasure to mediate one’s conversion by means of grace.
The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, has human preachers, as the means to the end — the conversion and ongoing sustenance of souls. The preacher, like the farmer, is a seed planter. The spiritual seed is the Word of God (Mt 13:1–23; 1 Pet 1:23). It is the seed of regeneration, from which faith is the fruit (Rom 10:17). When the Living Word is implanted by the indwelling Spirit (Jas 1:21), it not only gives the life of God to the soul (Jn 6:63), but it sustains the spiritual life of the soul, forever (Mt 24:35; Heb 13:5).
God wills and works from within the preacher (Phil 2:13), whose love for God’s Word is transferred to others by means of the Gospel preached in Word, sacrament, and discipline (1 Cor 1:23; 2:2, 4). In other words, the marks of the true church are means of grace, used by God to confer grace unto salvation (Titus 3:5).
A preacher cannot be an instrument of God’s grace unless God’s grace has made him to be an adequate servant (2 Cor 3:5–6). That would be as foolish as a person claiming to be a Christian, by way of his own decision, over and against the decision of God (Jn 1:12–13; Rom 11:5). Hence, we must emphasize the Spirit-filled preacher, with God’s wisdom and power being demonstrated by the Spirit (1 Cor 1:24; 2:4).
The demonstration of the Spirit is evident by the manifestation of the Word of Christ, being proclaimed in truth (Rom 10:17; 1 Cor 2:4). Biblical and church history is rich with men of God, diligent in their studies (Ezra 7:10) and in their labors to minister the Word of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18–20). History proves the truth of God’s Word, not returning empty, once it has been planted in good soil, which is the soul of the elect, redeemed saint (Is 55:11).
The Bible is filled with admonitions. The imperative to do what God requires is a failed operation for men, apart from God’s grace (Jn 15:5). Again, God uses means. When God employs the preacher, it is a constrained means of grace (1 Cor 9:16; 2 Cor 5:14). When He opens the ears and the heart to receive the Word of life, He also uses means (Acts 16:14).
Preachers foolishly tempt God, that is, put God to the test, when they neglect to use the means by which hearers receive salvation (2 Cor 11:3–4). The means for the Spirit’s work in the heart is the Word of God (Jn 17:17). Will a man of God tempt God to save people apart from the means God has chosen to use? Preachers of prosperity, philosophy, psychology, and human potential must examine themselves.
Repentance and faith are a grace and a gift granted by God (Acts 5:31; 11:18; Phil 1:29). These are conveyed and conferred by means of biblical admonition, preached with light and heat, “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Mt 3:2; 4:17; Mk 1:15),” and, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved (Acts 16:31).” When the admonition is proclaimed, grace is embedded in the command itself, resulting in the effectual calling of those predestined to adoption as sons (Rom 8:30; Eph 1:4–5).
The preacher who understands this principle — grace in the means of grace — will earnestly and diligently perform his labor of love as unto the Lord (1 Thess 1:3; Rev 14:13). He will put no confidence in his fleshly ability (Phil 3:3). He is no salesman. He is no showman. He is no politician. He is a man of God, filled with the Spirit of God, proclaiming the Word of admonition, which is the seed of life, reaching the ear and the soul (Is 61:1; Lk 4:18; Rom 1:9; 15:19; 1 Cor 2:4; 1 Pet 1:12; 4:6).
The gracious Word, having moved from preacher to hearer causes one to say, “He made me preach, and woe to me if I do not preach (1 Cor 9:16)!” It causes the hearer to say, “I was deaf, but now I can hear. He has caused me to have ears to hear.” This, of course, is only a beginning. Salvation does not end with regeneration, it has only just begun for the converted sinner.
Grace grows the Christian with the knowledge of Christ, the knowledge of the truth (2 Pet 3:18). The Spirit of this grace is producing spiritual fruit that remains (Jn 15:16; Gal 5:22–23). The means God uses continues to be the Gospel preached and taught. The fruit has all the more seed of the Word in it. Each spring, we are fresh out of a season of dormancy and stunted growth (Amos 8:11). Having persevered, again, a season of vibrant grace is upon us. For this reason, we give all glory to God for His grace and His choice to use the appointed means of grace (preachers of the Word), for both our conversion and Christian life. Glory to God, alone!
Spokane Valley, Washington
May 14, 2022