Most of us know that God uses preachers to bring the gospel to the lost (Rom 10:14). It’s equally true that the preacher is not the one who deserves credit when someone comes to saving faith in Christ (cf. Acts 16:14). In Reformed theology, we say that ordinarily God effectually calls the elect by the preaching of the gospel. Abraham Kuyper explained this well in his book The Work of the Holy Spirit. Specifically, in chapter 28, Kuyper discussed “The Coming of the Called.” Kuyper said that sometimes a preacher will learn that a sermon he preached some time ago was the means God used to convert a person:
…Frequently he did not even know that person; much less his spiritual condition. And yet, without knowing it, his thoughts were guided and his word was prepared in such a way by the Holy Ghost; perhaps he looked at the man in such a manner that his word, in connection with the Spirit’s inward operation, became to him the real and concrete Word of God. We hear it often said: “That was directly preached at me.” And so it was. It should be understood, however, that it was not the minister who preached at you, for he did not even think of you; but it was the Holy Spirit Himself. It was He who thought of you. It was He who had it all prepared for you. It was He Himself who wrought in you.
The ministers of the Word should therefore be exceedingly careful not in the least to boast of the conversions that occur under their ministry. When after days of failure the fisherman draws his net full of fishes, is this cause for the net to boast itself? Did it not come up empty again and again; and then was it not nearly torn asunder by the multitude of fishes?
To say that this proves the efficiency of the preacher is against the Scripture. There may be two ministers, the one well grounded in doctrine, the other but lightly furnished; and yet the former has no conversions in his church, while the latter is being richly blessed. In this the Lord God is and remains the Sovereign Lord. He passes by the heavily armed champions in Saul’s army, and David, with scarcely any weapons at all, slays the giant Goliath. All that a preacher has to do is to consider how, in obedience to his Lord, he may minister the Word, leaving results with the Lord. And when the Lord God gives him conversions, and Satan whispers, “What an excellent preacher you are, that it was given you to convert so many men!” then he is to say, “Get thee behind me, Satan,” giving the glory to the Holy Spirit alone.
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002