Posted at Reformation Scotland:

Not even the Word of God will convert souls unless the Holy Spirit blesses it. Does this mean that preaching is pointless? Absolutely not, says Samuel Rutherford. Interacting with writers in his own time, Rutherford concludes emphatically that preaching the Word is necessary for people to be converted. As seen in the following updated and abridged excerpt, Rutherford is clear on the one hand that the Word is only an instrument, and also on the other hand that it is a real instrument. The Word — read and especially preached — is God’s chosen method of winning souls to Himself.


The Word preached is the instrument of the Holy Spirit in our conversion, not the author of it, or its “efficient cause.”

The Word (written or preached) is a created thing, not the formal object of our faith. It is not the objectum quod [the object which] but the objectum quo [the object by which], the intervening means or medium of our faith. The Word, like all instruments, must be elevated above its nature, to bring about more than a “letter” impression of Christ believed in.

The writing, speaking, and conveying of Christ to the soul in the preached Word may be human and by the letter, but the thing signified by the Word, Christ, is divinely supernatural, and the way of it being conveyed to the soul, in regard of the higher operation of the Spirit (above the actings and motions of the letter), is divine, heavenly, supernatural.

The action of the Holy Ghost, in begetting faith, is “immediate.” The Word only prepares and informs the external man, but the Spirit cometh after, and, in another action, distinct from the Word, infuses faith. Then the Spirit of regeneration is not said to work with the Word, but there is a more common operation of God, which begets literal knowledge, or some higher illumination. Also, the Spirit works with the Word, so as in one and the same act, the Spirit opens the heart to hear and receive what is carried along in the letter of the Word, and so the Spirit works mediately, not immediately.

In the infusion of the new heart, and the habit of the grace of God, we are merely passively acted on, and put forth no cooperation with God, any more than a dead person cooperates to bring itself to life (Eph. 2:1–2), or the withered ground cooperates to receive the rain (Isa. 44:3–4). Though the Word goes before the Spirit’s work, and the Word may be preached during the time while the Spirit is working, yet the act of infusing the new heart is a real action by God, received by us by no subordinate activity of the mind, or act of the will. In this formal act of infusion, what the Word does, other than by way of disposing or preparing, I must profess my ignorance, although it is certainly true that “faith cometh by hearing,” and, in the very meantime whilst Peter was still speaking, “the Holy Ghost fell on them which heard the Word” (Acts 10:44).

Then if we take conversion in the sense of the humbling self-despairing of a sinner and all preparatory acts, going before the infused life of Christ, and in the first operations flowing from this infused life, the Word is an instrument of conversion. But I cannot see how it is an active or moral instrument when the soul is undergoing the Lord’s act of infusion of the life of Christ, unless you call it a passive instrument, because it does not persuade the soul to receive the new life, nor is the soul, being merely passive, an apprehending, knowing, choosing, or consenting faculty. This is an act of omnipotency, the Lord pouring in a new heart. The Word is the instrument as far as the Spirit works in us the same habit of new life, and the same Spirit of grace and supplication that is promised in the Word (Isa. 44:3–4; Zech. 12:10; Eze. 36:26–27), and the same Spirit that the Scripture says Christ purchased by His merits (John 1:16–18; John 12:32; Rev. 1:5; Heb. 10:19–22).

So we conclude that the Word preached is the means which instrumentally concurs with the Spirit for the begetting of faith. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:14–17). It is clear that he is speaking of the external Word because in v. 14–16 he is speaking of the word that a sent preacher carries, also called the glad tidings that messengers on the mountains bring (v.15), and a “report” which they all hear even if they do not all believe (v.16).


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