Many believers see God in His sovereignty and by His Spirit causing unbelievers to repent and then to believe. In other words, these believe that God controls unbelievers to obey the Gospel before believing. What do the Scriptures have to say about this? The following essay is timeless answering this question concisely.
This is Barton W. Stone’s work, “On the Operation of the Spirit”.
The Bible plainly teaches that the whole work of regeneration and salvation from sin, is the work of the Spirit: Eph. ii: 10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, unto good works;” Phil. i: 6, “Being confident of this very thing, that he who hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ;” Phil. iii: 5, 6, etc., “For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” John iii: 5, etc. From these and many similar texts it is plain, that God begins, carries on, perfects the whole work. It is a work infinitely beyond the power of man, who can not make one hair white or black–who is unable to change his nature as the Ethiopian his skin, or the Leopard his spots.
It is also plain that God begins, carries on, and perfects this work by means of his word. Is. i: 18, “Of his own will begat he us by the word of truth;” 1 Pet. 1: 18, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God;” Rom. i: 16; John xvii: 17; 2 Cor. vii: 1; 2 Tim. iii: 16, 17, etc.
It is equally plain that God does this whole work in us by means of the word believed by us, and not in unbelief. Rom. i: 16, “The Gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth;” 1 Thes. ii: 11, “The word of God which effectually also worketh in you that believe;” Heb. iv: 2, “For unto us was the Gospel preached, as well as unto them–but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.”
We have been frequently charged with denying the operations of the Spirit. I do not recollect of having ever known one among us that did deny them; yet some may have given cause for the charge, by using expressions which seemed to lean too far that way. But I think the very reason why we have been thus charged, is because we have continually asserted, and do yet firmly believe, that the Bible gives us no grounds to expect these operations while we abide in unbelief. To assert the contrary, we think dangerous.
Some appear to make the Scriptures every thing in regeneration; and others make them nothing. These opinions seem to be extremes from the truth. Suppose God should extend his arm from heaven, and hand the Bible to me a poor sinner, and thus address me: “Take this book–in it are all things necessary for you to know, believe and do–by this book convert, regenerate, quicken, and save yourself; never expect any other help, aid or assistance from me.” On this plan I should think it folly and presumption to pray to God for his spirit, or for any thing–I should despair of salvation and eternal life.
Again; suppose God should hand me, a poor sinner, the Bible, and should thus speak: “Take this book–in it are all things necessary for you to know, believe and do–but you can neither know, believe nor do them, till I, in my sovereign time and way, give my Holy Spirit to enlighten and renew your minds. On this plan I should think it folly to attempt to know, believe or do. To act consistently would be to lie inactive, and wait for that sovereign time, if that time should ever come.
That which I think to be the truth, is this: Suppose God, having handed me the Bible, should thus speak: “Take this book–in it are all things necessary for you to know, believe, and do–believe them as the truths of Heaven, and come to me and ask, and I will give you the Holy Spirit, and every promise of the New Testament.” On this plan I should be encouraged to activity in every duty, in the confident expectation of help and salvation.