Ordinary Means of Grace – The Spirit’s Effect

We have seen that the outward and ordinary means of grace work in tandem with the inward graces of faith and repentance. But how are these two connected? This connection is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Westminster Larger Catechism #155 asks:

How is the word made effectual to salvation?

The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners; of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ; of conforming them to his image, and subduing them to his will; of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions; of building them up in grace, and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.

The Holy Spirit uses the ordinary means of God’s Word to effect the inward graces in our lives. The Larger Catechism helps explain a little bit about how this happens.

The Word of God is used by the Holy Spirit to effect salvation. God has revealed himself most clearly to us through the Word. It is through the Word that we are able to come to a knowledge of who God is and what God has done for us. It is in the Word that Christ is revealed to be the Redeemer of God’s People. The Word reveals God to us. We can understand why this is the case when we consider that man is, by nature, spiritually dead in his sins and trespasses (Eph 2:1). This means that man will not, and in fact cannot, seek out God. Paul quoting Ps 14 declares, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Rom 3:10b -11). But God seeks after man. God is at work in man converting to and convincing of the Gospel. This conversion and convincing comes through the Spirit’s work in the reading and hearing of God’s Word.

In Acts 8:27-39 we have the story of the Ethiopian eunuch. He is riding back to Ethiopia in his chariot and reading the scroll of Isaiah. God sends Philip to explain this written word to the Ethiopian. Both the reading and the hearing of God’s Word results in the convincing and converting of the Ethiopian in the faith. In Acts 17:11-12, the Berean listened to Paul’s explanation of the Gospel. Then they “examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). They read and heard the Word of God, and the result is that many of them believed.

The catechism makes the case that the “reading, but especially the preaching of the word” is an “effectual means.” Why does it highlight especially the preaching? Romans 10:15-17 gives Paul explanation of the message of salvation. In this he explains the manner in which that message is communicated. Primarily, that message comes through hearing. “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without some preaching?” (v. 14). In summary, Paul declares, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (v. 17). “Especially” the preaching of the Word is effectual. This doesn’t mean it is the only way. The Reformed Heinrich Bullinger was largely converted through a personal study of the Scriptures and the reading of Reformed theology. But generally salvation comes through the preaching of the Word.

This emphasis on the preached word is practically displayed in our regular Lord’s Day worship. In the center of a Roman Catholic sanctuary, you will find an altar. The pulpit where the Word is read or preached will be off to the side. In the center of our sanctuary, you will find a pulpit. The Word is central to our worship. The greatest amount of time in our worship service is dedicated to the preaching of the Word. We have a table for the Lord’s Supper. It is up front, but below the pulpit. The administration of the sacrament is under the Word of God. The preached Word is central, because it is the primary means through which God effects salvation.

The Word is central because it is with that Word that God “enlightens, convinces, and humbles sinners.” We become aware of our sin and our need for redemption through the Word. We are “driven to Christ” in the Word. Calvin describes the Law as a mirror that reveals our bespotted face and compels us to wash ourselves. For the Christian, the Word is also a guide which reveals to us how we are to “conform to the image of Christ.” We are strengthened by the preaching of the Word to withstand temptation and corruption. We are pushed toward holiness and comfort because of the salvation secured for us by Christ. All of these benefits are revealed to and effected in us through the Spirit’s use of the Scriptures in our hearts, minds, and wills.