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§ 1. Usage of the Word.

The subjective change wrought in the soul by the grace of God, is variously designated in Scripture. It is called a new birth, a resurrection, a new life, a new creature, a renewing of the mind, a dying to sin and living to righteousness, a translation from darkness to light, etc. In theological language, it is called regeneration, renovation, conversion. These terms are often used interchangeably. They are also used sometimes for the whole process of spiritual renovation or restoration of the image of God, and sometimes for a particular stage of that process. Thus Calvin gives the term its widest scope: “Uno verbo pœnitentiam interpretor regenerationem, cujus non alius est scopus nisi ut imago Dei, quæ per Adæ transgressionem fœdata et tantum non obliterata fuerat, in nobis reformetur. . . . Atque hæc quidem instauratio non uno momento, vel die, vel anno impletur, sed per continuos, imo etiam lentos interdum profectus abolet Deus in electis suis carnis corruptelas.11Institutio, lib. III. cap. iii. 9, edit. Berlin, 1834, vol. i. p. 389.

With the theologians of the seventeenth century conversion and regeneration were synonymous terms. In the acts of the Synod of Dort, we find such expressions as “Status conversionis aut regenerationis,” and “effecta ad conversionem sive regenerationem prævia.” John Owen, in his work on the Holy Spirit, follows the same usage. The fifth chapter of the third book of that work is entitled “The nature of regeneration,” and one of the heads under this is, “Conversion not wrought by moral suasion only.” “If the Holy Spirit,” he says, “acts no otherwise on men in regeneration or conversion,” then so and so follows. Turrettin, as we have seen, distinguishes between what he calls “conversio 4habitualis” and “conversio actualis.” “Conversio habitualia seu passiva, fit per habituum supernaturalium infusionem a Spiritu Sancto. Actualis vero seu activa per bonorum istorum exercitium. . . . Per illam homo renovatur et convertitur a Deo. Per istam homo a Deo renovatus et convertus convertit se ad Deum, et actus agit. Illa melius regeneratio dicitur, quia se habet ad modum novæ nativitatis, qua homo reformatur ad imaginem Creatoris sui. Ista vero conversio, quia includit hominis ipsius operationem.22Locus xv. quæs. iv. 13, edit. Edinburgh, 1847, vol. ii. p. 460. This is clear and accurate. As these two things are distinct they should be designated by different terms. Great confusion arises from this ambiguity of terms. The questions whether man is active or passive in regeneration and whether regeneration is effected by the mediate or immediate influence of the Spirit must be answered in one way if regeneration includes conversion, and in another if it be taken in its restricted sense. In the Bible, the distinction is generally preserved; μετάνοια, repentance, change of mind, turning to God, i.e., conversion, is what man is called upon to do; ἀναγέννησις, regeneration, is the act of God. God regenerates; the soul is regenerated. In the Romish Church justification is making subjectively just, i.e., free from sin and inwardly holy. So is regeneration. So is sanctification. These terms, therefore, in the theology of that church are constantly interchanged.

Even by the Lutherans, in the “Apology for the Augsburg Confession,” regeneration is made to include justification. That is, it is made to include the whole process by which the sinner is transferred from a state of sin and condemnation into a state of salvation. In the “Form of Concord” it is said, “Vocabulum regenerationis interdum in eo sensu accipitur, ut simul et remissionem peccatorum (quæ duntaxat propter Christam contingit) et subsequentem renovationem complectatur, quam Spiritus Sanctus in illis, qui per fidem justificati sunt, operatur, quandoque etiam solam remissionem peceatorum, et adoptionem in filios Dei significat. Et in hoc posteriore usu sæpe multumque id vocabulam in Apologia Confessionis ponitur. Verbi gratia, cum dicitur: Justificatio est regeneratio. . . . Quin etiam vivificationis vocabulum interdum ita accipitur, ut remissionem peccatorum notet. Cum enim homo per fidem (quam quidem solus Spiritus Sanctus operatur) justificatur, id ipsum revera est quædam regeneratio, quia ex filio iræ fit filius Dei, et hoc modo e morte in vitam transfertur. . . . Deinde etiam regeneratio sæpe pro sanctificatione 5et renovatione (quæ fidei justificationem sequitur) usurpatur. In qua significatione D. Lutherus hac voce, tum in libro de ecelesia et conciliis, tum alibi etiam, multum usus est.33III. 19, 20, 21; Hase, Libri Symbolici, 3d edit. p. 686.

As this lax use of terms was unavoidably attended with great confusion, the “Form of Concord” itself, and the later Lutheran theologians were more precise. They made especially a sharp distinction between justification and anything signifying a subjective change in the sinner.

In the early Church regeneration often expressed, not any inward moral change, but an external change of state or relation. Among the Jews when a heathen became a proselyte to their religion, he was said to be born again. The change of his status from without to within the theocracy, was called regeneration. This usage in a measure passed over to the Christian Church. When a man became a member of the Church he was said to be born anew; and baptism, which was the rite of initiation, was called regeneration. This use of the word has not yet entirely passed away. A distinction is still sometimes made between regeneration and spiritual renovation. The one is external, the other internal. Some of the advocates of baptismal regeneration make this distinction, and interpret the language of the formulas of the Church of England in accordance with it. The regeneration effected in baptism, in their view, is not any spiritual change in the state of the soul, but simply a birth into the visible Church.


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