J. Early Arceneaux
The question is not, “Does the Holy Spirit operate in converting the sinner,” but, “How does He operate?” No one who professes to believe the Bible denies that the Holy Spirit exerts His power in the conviction and conversion of sinners. We have often been accused of making such a denial. Those who make this charge misrepresent us. Jesus said, “He [the Spirit]…will convict the world in respect of sin…” (John 16:8 ASV). We believe what He said. He also said, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word” (John 17:20, Emph. JEA). John says, “…but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31). We affirm and teach that the Holy Spirit works through and by means of the word of God, and nobody denies what we affirm; what we teach is not called in question.
Others teach that the Holy Spirit operates immediately—without means or instrument—upon the heart of the sinner. Or, as some say, He performs an operation in addition to the influence exerted through the word of God. This we deny. It is their position that is questioned, not ours.
The Spirit convicts men of sin. Now faith is conviction (Heb. 11:1 ASV). The same word is used here as a noun, the verb form of which is translated “convict” in John 16:8. But faith comes by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17). The Holy Spirit convicts or produces faith through the word. He cannot convict a man without the word unless He convicts him twice. The same man cannot be convicted through the word and without the word at the same time. Both cannot be true. We affirm that what the Bible says on the very point at issue is true.
In John 14 through 16, Jesus said many things about the Spirit. He would “send” the Spirit to the apostles. They would receive Him. He would “come” to them, “testify,” remind them of all Jesus had said, teach them all things, and guide them into all truth. In these chapters, there is just one thing that the Spirit would do to sinners—He would convict them.
Jesus later commissioned the apostles to “preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15), to “teach” (Matt. 28:19); but not to begin until they received power from on high (Luke 24:49) and this power was received by them in Jerusalem on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came to them (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4). They spoke as the Spirit gave them utterance. Their words were the words of the Holy Spirit. The ideas conveyed to enlighten the hearers were the ideas of the Holy Spirit. The motives which moved the hearers to act were brought to their hearts in the words of the Holy Spirit.
Peter preached on that occasion. He quoted scripture, stated facts, made arguments and drew a logical conclusion. His hearers were convinced that Jesus was the Christ, and that they had murdered the Son of God. Do you not think that they were convicted of sin?
Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? (Acts 2:36-37).
Peter preached. They heard, and were convicted when they heard by what they heard. But what did the Spirit have to do with it? Everything. Peter had preached the gospel with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven (1 Pet. 1:12). Men believed through his words, as Jesus had said they would (John 17:20). Faith had come by hearing. But faith is conviction. They were convicted. But the Spirit was to convict. When the word of God produces faith, the Holy Spirit convicts a sinner, and He works now in exactly the same way, and by the same means that He did on Pentecost.
Jesus promised to send the Spirit to the apostles to guide them into all truth and to convict and convert sinners. He commissioned the apostles to teach and to baptize, and to teach the baptized to observe all things which He required of them (Matt. 28:19-20). How did the Spirit do the work? What did He do? You can see the answer in concrete form. Look at your New Testament. That is what the Spirit did. It is the truth into which He guided the apostles. It is “their words” through which men believe and are led to repent of their sins, to confess their faith in Him and to be baptized into Him. It also contains what they taught the baptized to observe. It is the commission carried out. But they carried out the commission under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit did what Jesus said He would do through—by means of—the words of inspired men. Those words were first spoken. When sinners heard the word, they believed. That word was put in writing that we may believe (John 20:31). The gospel was preached. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16-17). Paul, in writing, says, “I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you…” (1 Cor. 15:1).
Let us suppose now that the Holy Spirit decides to convert a sinner and make a Christian of him without using “the written word of God,” and that He does so convert a man. Will that newly-made Christian believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God? Certainly. How did he become a believer? Was the thought put into his mind without words? How? Suppose the man had been in a heathen land, and that he had not been under the influence of the “written word.” He was converted without it. After conversion, how could he say, “I believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” if he had never heard those words? No one since Pentecost has ever said those words who had not heard or been taught them. We all know such a convert cannot be found. If you say, “The Holy Spirit spoke the words to the man, I reply, “That would not be a direct operation of the Spirit. That would be using words as means of conversion.” That is the way the Holy Spirit always converts men, and was the way men were converted on Pentecost before the New Testament was written down.
“No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up in the last day” (John 6:44). This is a favorite proof text of the doctrine of direct spiritual influence upon the sinner. But look at the next verse: “It is written in the prophets, And they shall all be taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.” No man can come except God draw him. But all shall be taught. Everyone who hears and learns comes. God draws men by teaching them. He does not draw them without teaching. This passage says so. Not one single person is drawn by the Father or comes to Christ who has not been taught, who has not heard and learned. This is Christ’s denial of direct operation. That ought to settle the matter.