IV. OBJECTION: THEY ARE DEAD
At this point, Newton raises the principle objection: According to Scripture, the human being without the operation of the Spirit is spiritually dead and thus utter unable in an of his own effort to respond with faith & obedience (Ephesians 2:1-3):
to exhort an unregenerate sinner to repent or believe, must be as vain and fruitless as to call a dead person out of his grave.
John Newton, Richard Cecil, The Works of the John Newton, vol. 1 (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 176. To this Newton gives four responses:
A. If God tell us to call them, we must.
To this it may be answered, That we might cheerfully and confidently undertake even to call the dead out of their graves, if we had the command and promise of God to warrant the attempt; for then we might expect his power would accompany our word.
Ibid. Newton presses this point by referencing Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezk. 37). God commanded Ezekiel to prophesy to a valley filed with dry bones:
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. 9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.Ezekiel 37:7–10 (ESV)
And, thus, if God commands us to speak, we do not not need to worry ourselves about the outcome.
B. The effect is not from the preacher but from the Spirit
Preaching does not save. Rather, the Spirit using the words of the preacher does:
none of the means of grace by which he ordinarily works, can produce a real change in the heart, unless they are accompanied with the efficacious power of his Spirit
Id., at p. 177.
C. The argument proves too much
Even when it comes to the redeemed, nothing can be done rightly without the power of the Spirit. Repentance from sin — even for a redeemed believer — is a supernatural work:
There is no power below that power that raised Christ from the dead, and that made the world, that can break the heart of a sinner or turn the heart of a sinner. Thou art as well able to melt adamant, as to melt thine own heart; to turn a flint into flesh, as to turn thine own heart to the Lord; to raise the dead and to make a world, as to repent. Repentance is a flower that grows not in nature’s garden. ‘Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil,’ Jer. 13:23. Repentance is a gift that comes down from above
Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 1 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1866), 31. As Newton explains:
in each of these cases, we press them to acts for which they have no inherent power of their own; and, unless the Lord the Spirit is pleased to apply the word to their hearts, we do but speak into the air; and our endeavours can have no more effect in these instances, than if we were to say to a dead body, “Arise, and walk:” for an exertion of Divine power is no less necessary to the healing of a wounded conscience, than to the breaking of a hard heart; and only he who has begun the good work of grace, is able either to revive or to maintain it.
John Newton, Richard Cecil, The Works of the John Newton, vol. 1 (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 178.
D. We are speaking to men, not machines
That a man cannot do everything does not mean he can do nothing:
Though sinners are destitute of spiritual life, they are not therefore mere machines. They have a power to do many things, which they may be called upon to exert. They are capable of considering their ways: they know they are mortal; and ….
John Newton, Richard Cecil, The Works of the John Newton, vol. 1 (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 178. It is right to implore them to do what they can do:
though the Lord only can give them true faith and evangelical repentance, there seems no impropriety to invite them, upon the ground of the Gospel promises, to seek to him who is exalted to bestow these blessings, and who is able to do that for them which they cannot do for themselves;
John Newton, Richard Cecil, The Works of the John Newton, vol. 1 (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 179.
Newton gives two bits of advice at the end. First, have a plan to preach through all of Scripture. If we follow and preach what is in the text, then we will have the proper portions and manners of preaching:
We need not wish to be more consistent than the inspired writers, nor be afraid of speaking as they have spoken before us. We
Finally, our preaching must be done in love, seeking the life of those to whom we preach:
Your soul will go forth with your words; and while your bowels yearn over poor sinners, you will not hesitate a moment, whether you ought to warn them of their danger or not.
Id. at p. 180.