THE ROLE OF THE GOSPEL IN SALVATION
That the work of the Holy Spirit PRECEDES our believing is unequivocally established by 2 Thessalonians 2:13—”God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” Note that “sanctification of the Spirit” comes before and makes possible “belief of the truth.” What then is the “sanctification of the Spirit”? We answer, THE NEW BIRTH. In Scripture “sanctification” ALWAYS means “separation,” separation from something and unto something or someone.” [A.W. Pink]
First there is a “NEW CREATION” (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:10), and then the “NEW CREATURE” is stirred into exercise. Faith and all other graces are wrought in us by the Spirit through the instrumentality of Word, but not so with the principle of life and grace from which these graces proceed.
In His work of “quickening,” by which we mean the impartation of spiritual life to the soul, the Spirit acts immediately from WITHIN, and not by applying something from WITHOUT. Quickening is a direct operation of the Spirit WITHOUT THE USE OF ANY INSTRUMENT: the WORD IS USED BY HIM AFTERWARDS to call into exercise the life then communicated.
Regeneration is a direct operation of the Holy Spirit upon the human spirit. It is the action of Spirit upon spirit, of a Divine Person upon a human person, whereby spiritual life is imparted. Nothing, therefore, of the nature of means or instruments can come between the Holy Spirit and the soul that is made alive. God did not employ an instrument or means when He infused physical life into the body of Adam. There were only two factors: the dust of the ground and the creative power of God which vivified that dust. The Divine omnipotence and dead matter were brought into direct contact, with nothing interposing. The dust was not a means or instrument by which God originated life. So in regeneration there are only two factors: the human soul destitute of spiritual life, and the Holy Spirit who quickens it.
The word and truth of God, the most important of all the means of grace, is not a means of regeneration, as distinct from conviction, conversion and sanctification. This is evident when we remember that it is the office of a means or instrument, to excite or stimulate an already existing principle of life. Physical food is a means of physical growth, but it SUPPOSES physical vitality, if the body is dead, bread cannot be a means or instrument. Intellectual truth is a means of intellectual growth, but it supposes intellectual vitality. If the mind be idiotic, secular knowledge cannot be a means or instrument. Spiritual truth is a means of spiritual growth, in case there be spiritual vitality. But if the mind be dead to righteousness, spiritual truth cannot be a means or instrument.
“The unenlightened understanding is unable to apprehend, and the unregenerate will is unable to believe. Vital force is lacking in these two principal factors. What is needed at this point is life and force itself. Consequently, the Author of spiritual life Himself must operate directly, without the use of means or instruments; and OUTRIGHT give spiritual life and power from the dead: that is, ex nihilo. The new life is not imparted because man perceives the truth, but he perceives the truth because the new life is imparted. A man is not regenerated because he has first believed in Christ, but he believes in Christ because he has been regenerated.” (W. T. Shedd, Presbyterian, 1889)
“Fallen man is not regenerated by any instinct, choice, or exertion of his own; he does not by any personal endeavor contribute anything towards being born again; nor does he cooperate in the least degree with the efficient cause: instead, every inclination of his heart, every exercise of his will, is in direct opposition thereto.
The new birth is not brought about by the power and influence of others. No sinner is ever born again as the result of the persuasions and endeavors of preachers or Christian workers. However pious and wise they are, and however earnestly and strenuously they exert themselves to bring others to holiness, they do in no degree produce the effect. “If all the angels and saints in Heaven and all the godly on earth should join their wills and endeavors and unitedly exert all their powers to regenerate one sinner, they could not effect it; yea, they could do nothing toward it. It is an effect INFINITELY beyond the reach of finite wisdom and power!” [S. Hopkins].
“In regeneration one of God’s elect is the subject, and the Spirit of God is the sole agent. The subject of the new birth is wholly passive: he does not act, but is acted upon. The sovereign work of the Spirit in the soul precedes all holy exercises of heart—such as sorrow for sin, faith in Christ, love toward God. This great change is wrought in spite of all the opposition of the natural heart against God: “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy” (Rom. 9:16). This great change is not a gradual and protracted process, but is instantaneous: in an instant of time the favored subject of it passes from death unto life.” [A.W. Pink]
Now here’s the kicker – the ‘Gospel’ itself actually saves no one but brings to light the life and immortality which the regenerated soul has been made a partaker of. A spiritually dead soul CANNOT hear the gospel and be saved! But the Holy Spirit sovereignly regenerates the dead soul without any external means! And THEN the gospel is brought to this soul which has been made alive to reveal what has happened to it.
Read these two verses very prayerfully and meditate on them –
“Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel!” [2Tim 1:9,10]
Notice the ‘order’ Beloved, “Who hath saved us, and called us . . .” God first sovereignly saves us by the operation of the Holy Spirit and THEN calls us through the Gospel! In other words God does not call and save but He saves and then calls! Sovereign regeneration FIRST and then conversion through the Gospel!
And notice again WHAT the role of the gospel is in salvation – “it BRINGS TO LIGHT life and immortality” through the gospel! When Scripture says – “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” [1Pet 1:23] it is not speaking of the ‘spoken Word’ which the preacher preaches, but the Eternal Word – even the glorious second person of the Godhead!
“His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns; and He had a name written, that no man knew, but He Himself. And He was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and His Hame is called The Word of God.” [Rev 19:12,13]