« Prev 2. Nature of Regeneration. Next »

§ 2. Nature of Regeneration.

By a consent almost universal the word regeneration is now used to designate, not the whole work of sanctification, nor the first stages of that work comprehended in conversion, much less justification or any mere external change of state, but the instantaneous change from spiritual death to spiritual life. Regeneration, therefore, is a spiritual resurrection; the beginning of a new life. Sometimes the word expresses the act of God. God regenerates. Sometimes it designates the subjective effect of his act. The sinner is regenerated. He becomes a new creature. He is born again. And this is his regeneration. These two applications of the word are so allied as not to produce confusion. The nature of regeneration is not explained in the Bible further than the account therein given of its author, God, in the exercise of the exceeding greatness of his power; its subject, the whole soul; and its effects, spiritual life, and all consequent holy acts 6and states. Its metaphysical nature is left a mystery. It is not the province of either philosophy or theology to solve that mystery. It is, however, the duty of the theologian to examine the various theories concerning the nature of this saving change, and to reject all such as are inconsistent with the Word of God.

Not a change in the Substance of the Soul.

Regeneration does not consist in any change in the substance of the soul. The only advocate of the opposite doctrine among Protestant theologians was Flacius Illyricus, so called from the place of his birth. He was one of the most prominent Lutheran theologians in what is called the second Reformation in Germany. He did great service in the cause of truth in resisting the synergism of Melancthon, and the concessions which that eminent but yielding reformer was disposed to make to the papists. He contributed some of the most important works of the age in which he lived to the vindication of the Protestant faith. His “Catalogus Testiam Veritatis,” designed to prove that the doctrine of the Reformation had had their witnesses in all ages; his “Clavis Scripturæ Sacræ;” and especially the great historical work, “The Magdeburg Centuries” (in thirteen volumes, folio), of which he was the originator and principal author, attest his learning, talents, and untiring industry. His fervent and uncompromising spirit involved him in many difficulties and sorrows. He died worn out by suffering and labour, says his biographer; one of those men of faith of whom the world was not worthy. Always extreme in his opinions, he held that original sin was a corruption of the substance of the soul, and regeneration such a change of that substance as to restore its normal purity. All his friends who had sided with him in his controversy with the Synergists and the supporters of the Leipzig Interim, forsook him now, and he stood alone. In the “Form of Concord,” adopted to settle all the controversies of the period, these peculiar views of Flacius were condemned as a virtual revival of the Manichæan heresy. It was urged that if the substance of the soul be sinful, God, by whom each individual soul is created, must be the author of sin; and that Christ who, in assuming our nature, became consubstantial with us, must be a partaker of sin. No Christian Church has assumed the responsibility of the doctrine of Flacius, or held that regeneration involves a change of the essence of the soul.

7

Regeneration does not consist in an Act of the Soul.

Regeneration does not consist in any act or acts of the soul. The word here, of course, is to be understood not as including conversion, much less the whole work of sanctification, but in its restricted sense for the commencement of spiritual life. The opposite view, which makes regeneration, even in its narrowest sense, an act of the soul, has been held by very different classes of theologians. It is, of course, involved in the Pelagian doctrine which denies moral character to everything except acts of the will. If “all sin is sinning,” and “all love loving,” then every moral change in man must be a change from one form of voluntary activity to another. As the later Remonstrants held the principle in question they made regeneration to consist in the sinner’s own act in turning unto God. The influence exerted on him was one which he could yield to or resist. If he yielded, it was a voluntary decision, and in that decision his regeneration, or the beginning of his religious life, consisted.

Dr. Emmons’s View.

Dr. Emmons, holding that all sin and holiness consist in acts, which acts, whether sinful or holy, are immediately created by God, makes regeneration to consist in God’s giving rise to the commencement of a series of holy acts. In his discourse on Regeneration, the first proposition which he undertakes to establish is, “that the Spirit of God, in regeneration, produces nothing but love.” This is maintained in opposition to those who say that the Spirit produces a new nature, principle, disposition, or taste. “Those in the state of nature,” he says, “stand in no need of having any new power, or faculty, or principle of action produced in them, in order to their becoming holy. They are just as capable of loving as of hating God. . . . This is true of all sinners, who are as much moral agents, and the proper subjects of moral government, before as after regeneration. Whenever, therefore, the divine Spirit renews, regenerates, or sanctifies them, He has no occasion of producing anything in their minds besides love.”44Sermon 51, Works, edit. Boston, 1842, vol. v. p. 112. “The love which the Spirit of God produces in regeneration is the love of benevolence, and not the love of complacence.”55Ibid. p. 114. “Though there is no natural or necessary connection between the first exercise of love and all future exercises of grace yet there is a constituted connection, which renders future exercises 8of grace as certain, as if they flowed from a new nature, or holy principle, as many suppose.”66Sermon 51, Works, edit. Boston, 1842, vol. v. p. 116. His first inference from the doctrine of his sermon is, “If the Spirit of God produces nothing but love in regeneration, then there is no ground for the distinction which is often made between regeneration, conversion, and sanctification. They are, in nature and kind, precisely the same frdits of the Spirit. In regeneration, He produces holy exercises; in conversion, He produces holy exercises; and in sanctification, He produces holy exercises.”77Ibid. p. 116. Secondly, “If the Spirit of God in regeneration produces nothing but love, then men are no more passive in regeneration than in conversion or sanctification. Those who hold that the divine Spirit in regeneration produces something prior to love as the foundation of it, that is, a new nature, or new principle of holiness, maintain that men are passive in regeneration, but active in conversion and sanctification. . . . But if what has been said in this discourse be true, there is no new nature, or principle of action, produced in regeneration, but only love, which is activity itself.”88Ibid. pp. 117, 118.

Professor Finney’s Doctrine.

Professor Finney, in his “Lectures on Systematic Theology, teaches: (1.) That satisfaction, happiness, blessedness, is the only absolute good; that virtue is only relatively good, i.e., good as tending to produce happiness. (2.) That all virtue lies in the intention to promote the happiness of being, that is, of universal being. There is no virtue in emotion, feeling, or any state of the sensibility, for these are involuntary. Love to God even is not complacency in his excellence, but “willing him good.” (3.) All sin is selfishness, or the choice of our own happiness in preference to the good of universal being. (4.) Every moral agent is always “as sinful or holy as with their knowledge they can be.” (5.) “As the moral law is the law of nature, it is absurd to suppose that entire obedience to it should not be the unalterable condition of salvation.”99Lectures on Systematic Theology, by Charles G. Finney, edit. Oberlin, Boston, and New York, 1846, p. 364. (6.) Regeneration is an “instantaneous” change “from entire sinfulness to entire holiness.”1010Ibid. p. 500. It is a simple change of purpose.

The system of Professor Finney is a remarkable product of relentless logic. It is valuable as a warning. It shows to what 9extremes the human mind may be carried when abandoned to its own guidance. He begins with certain axioms, or, as he calls them, truths of the reason, and from these he draws conclusions which are indeed logical deductions, but which shock the moral sense, and prove nothing but that his premises are false. His fundamental principle is that ability limits obligation. Free will is defined to be “the power of choosing, or refusing to choose, in compliance with moral obligation in every instance.”1111Lectures on Systematic Theology, by Charles G. Finney, edit. Oberlin, Boston, and New York, 1846, p. 26. “Consciousness of the affirmation of ability to comply with any requisition, is a necessary condition of the affirmation of obligation to comply with that requisition.”1212Ibid. p. 33. “To talk of inability to obey moral law, is to talk sheer nonsense.”1313Ibid. p. 4.

But it is acknowledged that man’s ability is confined to acts of the will, therefore moral character can be predicated only of such acts. The acts of the will are either choices or volitions. “By choice is intended the selection or choice of an end. By volition is intended the executive efforts of the will to secure the end intended.”1414Ibid. p. 44. We are responsible, therefore, only for our choices in the selection of an ultimate end. “It is generally agreed that moral obligation respects strictly only the ultimate intention or choice of an end for its own sake.”1515Ibid. p. 26. “I have said that moral obligation respects the ultimate intention only. I am now prepared to say, still further, that this is a first truth of reason.”1616Ibid. p. 36. “Right can be predicated only of good-will, and wrong only of selfishness. . . . It is right for him [for a man] to intend the highest good of being as an end. If he honestly does this, he cannot, doing this, mistake his duty, for in doing this he really performs the whole of duty.”1717Ibid. p. 149. “Moral character belongs solely to the ultimate intention of the mind, or to choice, as distinguished from volition.”1818Ibid. p. 157.

The end to be chosen is “the highest good of being.” “Good may be natural or moral. Natural good is synonymous with valuable. Moral good is synonymous with virtue.”1919Ibid. p. 45. Moral good is only a relative good. It does meet a demand of our being, and therefore produces satisfaction. This satisfaction is the ultimate good of being.”2020Ibid. p. 48. “I come now to state the point upon which issue is taken, to wit: That enjoyment, blessedness, or mental satisfaction, is the only ultimate good.”2121Ibid. p. 120. “Of what value 10is the true, the right, the just, etc., aside from the pleasure as mental satisfaction resulting from them to sentient existences.”2222Lectures on Systematic Theology, by Charles G. Finney, edit. Oberlin, Boston, and New York, 1846, p. 122.

It follows from these principles that men perform their whole duty, and are perfect, if they intend the happiness of being in general. There is no morality in emotions, sentiments, or feelings. These are involuntary states of the sensibility, and are in themselves neither good nor bad. “If any outward action or state of the feeling exists, in opposition to the intention or choice of the mind, it cannot by any possibility have moral character. Whatever is beyond the control of a moral agent, he cannot be responsible for.”2323Ibid. p. 164. “Love may, and often does exist, as every one knows, in the form of a mere feeling or emotion. . . . This emotion or feeling, as we are all aware, is purely an involuntary state of mind. Because it is a phenomenon of the sensibility, and of course a passive state of mind, it has in itself no moral character.”2424Ibid. p. 213. Gratitude, “as a mere feeling or phenomenon of the sensibility, . . . has no moral character.”2525Ibid. p. 278. The same is said of benevolence, compassion, mercy, conscientiousness, etc. The doctrine is, “No state of the sensibility, . . . has any moral character in itself.”2626Ibid. p. 521. The love which has moral excellence, and which is the fulfilling of the law, is not a feeling of complacency, but “good-will,” willing the good or happiness of its object. Should a man, therefore, under the impulse of a benevolent feeling, or a sense of duty, perform a right act, he would sin as really as if, under the impulse of malice or cupidity, he should perform a bad act. The illustration is, that to pay a debt from a sense of justice, is as wicked as to steal a horse from acquisitiveness. A man “may be prevented [from committing commercial injustice] by a constitutional or phrenological conscientiousness or sense of justice. But this is only a feeling of the sensibility, and if restrained only by this, he is just as absolutely selfish as if he had stolen a horse in obedience to acquisitiveness.”2727Ibid. p. 317, 318. “If the selfish man were to preach the gospel, it would be only because upon the whole it was most pleasing or gratifying to himself, and not at all for the sake of the good of being as an end. If he should become a pirate, it would be exactly for the same reason. . . . Whichever course he takes, he takes it for precisely the same reason; and with the same degree of light it must involve the same degree of guilt.”2828Ibid. p. p. 355. To feed the poor from a feeling of 11benevolence, and to murder a parent from a feeling of malice, involve the same degree of guilt! Such a sacrifice to logic was never made by any man before. But still more wonderful, if possible, is the declaration that a man may “feel deeply malicious and revengeful feelings toward God. But sin does not consist in these feelings, nor necessarily imply them.”2929Lectures on Systematic Theology, by Charles G. Finney, edit. Oberlin, Boston, and New York, 1846, p. 296.

Moral excellence is not an object of love. To say that we are bound to love God because He is good, is said to be “most nonsensical. What is it to love God? Why, as is agreed, it is not to exercise a mere emotion of complacency in Him. It is to will something to Him.”3030Ibid. p. 64. “Should it be said that God’s holiness is the foundation of our obligation to love Him, I ask in what sense it can be so? What is the nature or form of that love, which his virtue lays us under an obligation to exercise? It cannot be a mere emotion of complacency, for emotions being involuntary states of mind and mere phenomena of the sensibility, are without the pale of legislation and morality.”3131Ibid. p. 91. “We are under infinite obligation to love God, and to will his good with all our power, because of the intrinsic value of his well-being, whether He is holy or sinful. Upon condition that He is holy, we are under obligation to will his actual blessedness, but certainly we are under obligation to will it with no more than all our heart, and soul, and mind, and strength. But this we are required to do because of the intrinsic value of his blessedness, whatever his character might be.”3232Ibid. p. 99. Surely such a system is a ὑπόδειγμα τῆς ἀπειθείας.

Dr. Taylor’s View.

The system of Dr. Taylor of New Haven agrees with that of Professor Finney in making free agency include plenary power; in limiting responsibility and moral character to voluntary acts, in regarding happiness as the chief good; and in making regeneration to consist in a change of purpose. The two systems differ, however, essentially as to the ground of moral obligation or nature of virtue; and as to the nature of that change of purpose in which regeneration consists. Professor Finney adopts the common eudæmonistic theory which makes the happiness of being, i.e. of the universe, the chief good; and therefore makes virtue consist in the governing purpose to promote that happiness, and all sin in the purpose to seek our own happiness, instead of the happiness 12of being; consequently, regeneration is a change of that purpose; that is, it is a change from selfishness to benevolence.

Dr. Taylor, on the other hand, recognized the fact that as the desire of happiness is a constituent element of our nature, or law of our being, it must be innocent, and therefore is not to be confounded with selfishness. He hence inferred that this desire of happiness is rightfully the controlling principle of action in all sentient and rational creatures. Sin consists in seeking happiness in the creature; holiness in seeking happiness in God; regeneration is the purpose or decision of a sinner to seek his happiness in God and not in the world. This change of purpose, he sometimes calls a “change of heart,” sometimes “giving the heart to God,” sometimes “loving God.” As regeneration is the choice of God as our chief good, it is an intelligent, voluntary act of the soul, and therefore must take place according to the established laws of mental action. It supposes the preliminary acts of consideration, appreciation, and comparison. The sinner contemplates God as a source of happiness, estimates his suitableness to the necessities of his nature, compares Him with other objects of choice, and decides to choose God as his portion. Sometimes the word regeneration is used in a comprehensive sense, including the whole process of consideration and decision; sometimes in a restricted sense, for the decision itself.

Such being the nature of regeneration, it is of course brought about through the influence of the truth. The Bible reveals the nature of God, and his capacity and willingness to make his creatures happy; it exhibits all the motives which should determine the soul to take God for its portion. As regeneration is a rational and voluntary act, it is inconceivable that it should take place except in view of rational considerations. The Spirit’s influence in this process is not denied. The fact is admitted that all the considerations which ought to determine the sinner to make choice of God, will remain without saving effect, unless the Spirit renders them effectual.

These views are presented at length in the “Christian Spectator” (a quarterly review) for 1829. On the nature of the change in question, Dr. Taylor says: “Regeneration, considered as a moral change of which man is the subject — giving God the heart — making a new heart — loving God supremely, etc., are terms and phrases which, in popular use, denote a complex act. . . . These words, in all ordinary speech and writing, are used to denote one act, and yet this one act includes a process of mental 13acts, consisting of the perception and comparison of motives, the estimate of their relative worth, and the choice or willing of the external action.” “When we speak of the means of regeneralion, we shall use the word regeneration in a more limited import than its ordinary popular import; and shall confine it, chiefly for the sake of convenient phraseology, to the act of the will or heart, in distinction from other mental acts connected with it; or to that act of the will or heart which consists in a preference of God to every other object; or to that disposition of the heart, or governing affection or purpose of the man, which consecrates him to the service and glory of God.”3333Christian Spectator, vol. i. New Haven, 1829, pp. 16-19.

“Self-love or desire of happiness, is the primary cause or reason of all acts of preference or choice which fix supremely on any object. In every moral being who forms a moral character, there must be a first moral act of preference or choice. This must respect some one object, God or mammon, as the chief good, or as an object of supreme affection. Now whence comes such a choice or preference? Not from a previous choice or preference of the same object, for we speak of the first choice of the object. The answer which human consciousness gives, is, that the being constituted with a capacity for happiness desires to be happy; and knowing that he is capable of deriving happiness from different objects, considers from which the greatest happiness may be derived, and as in this respect he judges or estimates their relative value, so he chooses or prefers the one or the other as his chief good. While this must be the process by which a moral being forms his first moral preference, substantially the same process is indispensable to a change of this preference. The change involves the preference of a new object as the chief good; a preference which the former preference has no tendency to produce, but a direct tendency to prevent; a preference, therefore, not resulting from, or in any way occasioned by a previous preference of any given object, but resulting from those acts of considering and comparing the sources of happiness, which are dictated by the desire of happiness or self-love.”3434Ibid. p. 21.

Regeneration being a change of purpose, the mode in which it is produced is thus explained. “If man without divine grace is a moral agent, then he is qualified so to consider, compare, and estimate the objects of choice as means of happiness, and capable also of such constitutional excitement in view of the good and evil set before him, as might result in his giving his heart to God, 14without grace. . . . The act of giving God the heart must take place in perfect accordance with the laws of moral agency and of voluntary action. If the interposing grace violate these laws, the effect cannot be moral action; and it must violate these laws, if it dispense with the class of mental acts now under consideration. Whatever, therefore, be the influence which secures a change of heart in the sinner, the change itself is a moral change, and implies the exercise of all the powers and capacities of the moral agent, which in the nature of things are essential to a moral act.”3535Christian Spectator, 1829, p. 223. On a previous page it had been said, “The Scriptures authorize us to assert, generally, that the mode of divine influence is consistent with the moral nature of this change as a voluntary act of man; and, also, that it is through the truth, and implies attention to truth on the part of man.”3636Ibid. p. 17. “Cannot,” Dr. Taylor asks, “He who formed the mind of man, reach it with an influence of his Spirit, which shall accord with all the laws of voluntary and moral action? Because motives, without a divine interposition, will not secure this moral change in sinful man, and because they have no positive efficiency in its production, must God in producing it dispense with motives altogether? Must the appropriate connections between motives and acts of will, or between the exercise of affections and the perception of their objects, be dissolved, and have no place? Must God, if by his grace He brings sinners to give Him their heart in holy love, accomplish the change in such a manner that they shall have no prior perception or view of the object of their love; and know not what or whom they love, or wherefore they love Him, rather than their former idols? Does a consistent theology thus limit the Holy One, and oblige Him to accomplish the veriest impossibilities, in transforming the moral character of sinful man?”3737Ibid. p. 433. This may be a correct account of the process of conversion, with which this system confounds regeneration. Conversion is indeed a voluntary turning of the soul from sin to God. From the nature of the case it is produced proximately by appropriate motives, or it would be neither rational nor holy. But this proves nothing as to the nature of regeneration. The most accurate analysis of the laws of vision can throw no light on the way in which Christ opened the eyes of the blind.

Remarks.

It is plain that these views of regeneration are mere philosophical theories. Dr. Emmons assumes that such is the dependence 15of a creature upon the creator, that it cannot act. No creature can be a cause. There is no efficiency in second causes. Then, of course the first cause must produce all effects. God creates everything, even volitions. In the soul there are only acts or exercises. Regeneration, therefore, is an act or volition created by God; or, it is the name given to the commencement of a new series of exercises which are holy instead of sinful.

Professor Finney assumes that plenary ability is essential to moral agency; that a man, so far as his internal life is concerned, has power only over his choices and volitions; all, therefore, for which he is responsible, all that constitutes moral character, must fall under the category of choice, the selection of an ultimate end. Assuming, moreover, that happiness is the only absolute good, all sin consists in the undue pursuit of our own happiness, and all virtue in benevolence or the purpose to seek the happiness of being. Regeneration, therefore, consists in the change of the purpose to seek our own happiness, for the purpose to seek as our ultimate end the happiness of the universe.

Dr. Taylor, agreeing with Professor Finney on the nature of free agency, and in the doctrine that happiness is the chief good, holds with him that all sin and holiness consist in voluntary action. But assuming that self-love, as distinguished from selfishness, is the motive in all rational moral action, he makes regeneration to consist in the choice of God as the source of our own happiness.

All these speculations are outside of the Bible. They have no authority or value which they do not derive from their inherent truth, and any man is at liberty to dispute them, if they do not commend themselves to his own reason and conscience. But besides thc purely philosophical character of these views, it would be easy to show, not only that they have no valid ground on which to rest, but also that they are inconsistent with the teachings of Scripture and with genuine Christian experience. This will be attempted when the Scriptural account of regeneration comes to be considered.

Regeneration not a change in any one Faculty of the Soul.

Regeneration does not consist in a change in any one of the faculties of the soul, whether the sensibility, or the will, or the intellect. According to some theologians, the feelings, or heart, in the restricted sense of that word, is the exclusive seat of original sin. Hereditary corruption, in other words, is made to consist 16in the aversion of the heart from divine things, and a preference for the things of the world. The end to be accomplished in regeneration, therefore, is simply to correct this aversion. The understanding, it is urged, so far as moral and religious truth is concerned, apprehends aright and appreciates what is loved; and in like manner, in the same sphere, we believe what we apprehend as right and good. If, therefore, the feelings are made what they ought to be, all the other operations of the mind, or inner man, will be right. This theory is founded in part upon a mistaken view of the meaning of the word “heart” as used in the Scriptures. In a multitude of cases, and in all cases where regeneration is spoken of, it means the whole soul; that is, it includes the intellect, will, and the conscience as well as the affections. Hence the Bible speaks of the eyes, of the thoughts, of the purposes, of the devices, as well as of the feelings or affections of the heart. In Scriptural language, therefore, a “new heart” does not mean simply a new state of feeling, but a radical change in the state of the whole soul or interior man. Besides, this theory overlooks what the Bible constantly assumes: the unity of our inward life. The Scriptures do not contemplate the intellect, the will, and the affections, as independent, separable elements of a composite whole. These faculties are only different forms of activity in one and the same subsistence. No exercise of the affections can occur without an exercise of the intellect, and, if the object be moral or religious, without including a correspondent exercise of our moral nature.

Regeneration not merely Illumination.

Another and antagonistic theory equally one-sided, is that the intellect only is in fault, and that regeneration resolves itself into illumination. This view is far more plausible than the preceding. The Bible makes eternal life to consist in knowledge; sinfulness is blindness, or darkness; the transition from a state of sin to a state of holiness is a translation from darkness into light; men are said to be renewed unto knowledge. i.e., knowledge is the effect of regeneration, conversion is said to be effected by the revelation of Christ; the rejection of Him as the Son of God and Saviour of men is referred to the fact that the eyes of those who believe not are blinded by the god of this world. These Scriptural representations prove much. They prove that knowledge is essential to all holy exercises; that truth as the object of knowledge, is of vital importance, and that error 17is always evil and often fatal; and that the effect of regeneration, so far as they reveal themselves in our consciousness, consist largely in the spiritual apprehension or discernment of divine things. These representations also prove that in the order of nature, knowledge, or spiritual discernment, is antecedent and causative relatively to all holy exercises of the feelings or affections. It is the spiritual apprehension of the truth that awakens love, faith, and delight; and not love that produces spiritual discernment. It was the vision Paul had of the divine glory of Christ that made him instantly and forever his worshipper and servant. The Scriptures, however, do not teach that regeneration consists exclusively in illumination, or that the cognitive faculties are exclusively the subject of the renewing power of the Spirit. It is the soul as such that is spiritually dead; and it is to the soul that a new principle of life controlling all its exercises, whether of the intellect, the sensibility, the conscience, or the will is imparted.

Not a Change of the Higher, as distinguished from the Lower Powers of the Soul.

There is another view of the subject, which falls under this head of what may be called partial regeneration. it is founded on trichotomy, or the assumption of three elements in the constitution of man, namely, the body, the soul, and the spirit (the σῶμα, ψυχή, and πνεῦμα); the first material, the second animal, the third spiritual. To the second, i.e., to the soul or ψυχή, are referred what man has in common with the lower animals; life, sensibility, will, and understanding; to the spirit what is peculiar to us as rational, moral, and religious beings, namely, conscience and reason. This third element, the πνεῦμα, or reason, is often called divine; sometimes in a literal, and sometimes in a figurative sense. In either case, according to the theory under consideration, it is not the seat of sin, and is uncorrupted by the fall. It remains, although clouded and perverted by the disorder in the lower departments of our nature, the point of contact and connection between man and God. This at least is one view of the matter. According to another view, neither the body nor the soul (neither σῶμα nor ψυχή), has any moral character. The seat of the moral and divine life is exclusively the πνεῦμα or spirit. This is said to be paralyzed by the fall. It is figuratively dead insusceptible of impression from divine things. There are as many theories of the nature of regeneration among the advocates 18of this threefold division in the constitution of man, as there are systems of anthropology. The idea common to all, or to a majority of them, is that regeneration consists in restoring the πνεῦμα or spirit to its normal controlling influence over the whole man. According to some, this is a natural process in which an animal man, i.e., a man governed by the ψυχή, comes to be reasonable, or pneumatic, i.e., governed by the πνεῦμα or higher powers of his nature. According to others, it is a supernatural effect due to the action of the divine (Πνεῦμα) Spirit upon the human πνεῦμα or spirit. In either case, however, the πνεῦματικός, or Spiritual man, is not one in whom the Holy Spirit dwells as a principle of a new, spiritual life; but one who is governed by his own πνεῦμα or spirit. According to others again, the πνεῦμα or reason in man is God, the God-consciousness, the Logos, and regeneration is the gradually acquired ascendency of this divine element of our nature.

In reference to these views of regeneration it is sufficient to remark, (1.) That the threefold division of our nature on which they are founded is antiscriptural, as we have already attempted to prove. (2.) Admitting that there is a foundation for such a distinction, it is not of the kind assumed in these theories. The soul and spirit are not distinct substances or essences, one of which may be holy and the other unholy, or negative. This is inconsistent with the unity of our interior life which the Scriptures constantly assume. (3.) It subverts the Scriptural dostrine of regeneration and sanctification to make the governing principle in the renewed to be their own πνεῦμα or spirit, and not the Holy Spirit.

Modern Speculative Views on this Subject.

The modern speculative philosophy has introduced such a radical change in the views entertained of the nature of God, of his relation to the world, of the nature of man and of his relation to God, of the person and work of Christ, and of the application of his redemption to the salvation of men, that all the old, and, it may be safely said, Scriptural forms of these doctrines have been superseded, and others introduced which are unintelligible except in the light of that philosophy, and which to a great extent reduce the truths of the Bible to the form of philosophical dogmas. We cease to hear of the Holy Ghost as the third person of the Trinity, applying to men the redemption purchased by Christ; of regeneration by his almighty power, or of 19his dwelling in the hearts of believers. The forms of this new theology are very diversified. They are all perhaps comprehended under three classes: first, those which are avowedly pantheistic, although claiming to be Christian; secondly, those which are Theistic but do not admit the doctrine of the Trinity; and thirdly, those which endeavour to bring theology as a philosophy into the forms of Christian doctrine. In all, however, the anthropology, christology, soteriology, and ecclesiology advocated, are so changed as to render it impossible to retain in their exhibition the terms and formulas with which the Church from the beginning has been familiar. Regeneration, justification, and sanctification are almost antiquated terms; and what remains of the truths those terms were used to express, is merged into the one idea of the development of a new divine life in the soul. As to anthropology, these modern speculative, or as they often call themselves, and are called by others, mystic, theologians teach, (1.) That there is no dualism in man between soul and body. There is but one life. The body is the soul projecting itself externally. Without a body there is no soul. (2.) That there is no real dualism between God and man. The identity between God and man is the last result of modern speculation; and it is the fundamental idea of Christianity.

Soul and Body one.

As to the former of these points, Schleiermacher3838Dialektik, sect. 290-295; Works, Berlin, 1839, 3d div. vol. iv. part 2. pp. 245-255. says, “There are not a spiritual and a corporeal world, a corporeal and spiritual existence of man. Such representations lead to nothing but the dead mechanism of a preëstablished harmony. Body and spirit are actual only in and with each other, so that corporeal and spiritual action can only be relatively distinguished.” The Late President Rauch3939Psychology, New York, 1840, pp. 169, 173. says, “A dualism which admits of two principles for one being, offers many difficulties, and the greatest is, that it cannot tell how the principles can be united in a third. A river may originate in two fountains, but a science cannot, and much less individual life.” “It would be wrong to say that man consists of two essentially different substances, of earth and the soul; but he is soul only, and cannot be anything else. This soul, however, unfolds itself externally in the life of the body, and internally in the life of the mind.” So Olshausen4040Commentary, 1 Cor. xv. 20. teaches that the soul has no subsistence but in the body. Dr. J. W. Nevin4141Mystical Presence, edit Philadelphia, 1846, p. 171. 20says, “We have no right to think of the body in any way as a form of existence of and by itself, into which the soul as another form of such existence is thrust in a mechanical way. Both form one life. The soul to be complete, to develop itself at all as a soul, must externalize itself, throw itself out in space; and this externalization is the body.”

God and Man one.

As to the second point, or the oneness of God and man, as the soul externalizes itself in the body, “dividing itself only that its unity may become thus the more free and intensely complete,”4242Mystical Presence, edit. Philadelphia, 1846, p. 172. so God externalizes Himself in the world. Schleiermacher says, it is in vain to attempt to conceive of God as existing either before or out of the world. They may be distinguished in thought, but are only “zwei Werthe fur dieselbe Forderung, two values of the same postulate.” According to this philosophy, it is just as true, “No world, no God,” as “No body, no soul.” “The world,4343Mercersburg Review, 1850, vol. ii. p. 550. in its lower view, is not simply the outward theatre or stage on which man is to act his part as a candidate for heaven. In the midst of all its different forms of existence, it is pervaded throughout with the power of a single life, which comes ultimately to its full sense and force only in the human person.” The world, therefore, is pervaded by “the power of a single life;” the highest form of that life (on earth) is man. What is that life? What is that pervading principle which reveals itself in such manifold forms of existence, and culminates in man? It is, of course, God. Man, therefore, as Schleiermacher says, is “the existence-form” of God on earth.4444Dorner’s Christologie, 1st edit., Stuttgart, 1839, p. 488. Ullmann4545“Charakter des Christenthums,” Studien und Kritiken, 1845, erstes Heft, p. 59. See also a translation of this article at the beginning of The Mystical Presence, by J. W. Nevin, D. D. Philadelphia, 1846. says that the German mystics in the Middle Ages taught “the oneness of Deity and humanity.” The results reached by the mystics under the guidance of feeling, he says, modern philosophy has reached by speculation. This doctrine of the essential oneness of God and man, the speculative theologians adopt as the fundamental idea of Christianity. To work out that idea in a manner compatible with Theism and the Gospel, is the problem which those theologians have attempted to solve. These attempts have resulted, in some cases, in avowed Christian Pantheism, as it is called; in others, 21in forms of doctrine so nearly pantheistic as to be hardly distinguished from Pantheism itself; and in all, in a radical modification, not only of the theology of the Church as expressed in her received standards, but also of the Scriptural form of Christian doctrines, if not of their essence. This is seen to be true in the anthropology of this system, which destroys the essential difference between the creator and his creatures, between God and man.

The christology of this modern theology has already been presented in its essential features. There is no dualism in Christ as between soul and body. The two are one life. Neither is there any dualism between divinity and humanity in Him. The divine and human in his person are one life. In being the ideal or perfect man, He is the true God. The deification which humanity reached in Christ, is not a supernatural act on the part of God; it is reached by a process of natural development in his people, i.e., the Church.

Soteriology of these Philosophers.

The soteriology of this system is simple. The soul projects itself in the body. They are one life, but the body may be too much for the soul. The development of this one life in its twofold form, inward and outward, may not be symmetrical. So humanity as a generic life, a form of the life of God, as projected externally in the world from Adam onward, has not developed itself aright. If left unaided it would not reach the goal, or unfold itself as divine. A new start, therefore, must be given to it, a new commencement made. This is done by a supernatural intervention resulting in the production of the person of Christ. In Him divinity assumes the fashion of a man, — the existence-form of man, — God becomes man, and man is God. This renewed entrance, so to speak, of God into the world, this special form of divine-human life, is Christianity, which is constantly declared to be “a life,” “the life of Christ,” “a new theanthropic life.” Men become Christians by being partakers of this life. They become partakers of this life by union with the Church and reception of the sacraments. The incarnation of God is continued in the Church; and this new principle of “divine-human life” descends from Christ to the members of his Church, as naturally and as much by a process of organic development, as humanity, derived from Adam, unfolded itself in his descendants. Christ, therefore, saves us, not so much by what He did, as by what He is. 22He made no satisfaction to the divine justice; no expiation for sin; no fulfilling of the law. There is, therefore, really no justification, no real pardon even, in the ordinary sense of the word. There is a healing of the soul, and with that healing the removal of the evils incident to disease. Those who become partakers of this new principle of life, which is truly human and truly divine, become one with Christ. All the merit, righteousness, excellence, and power, inherent in this “divine-human life” of course belong to those who partake of that life. This righteousness, excellence, etc., are our own. They are subjective in us, and form our character, just as the nature derived from Adam was ours, with all its corruptions and infirmities.

If asked what is regeneration according to this system, the proper answer would probably be, that it is an obsolete term. There is no room for the thing usually signified by the word, and no reason for retaining the word itself. Regeneration is a work of the Holy Spirit. But this system in its integrity does not acknowledge the Holy Spirit as a distinct person or agent. And those who are constrained to make the acknowledgment of his personality, are evidently embarrassed by the admission. What the Scriptures and the Church attribute to the Spirit working with the freedom of a personal agent, when and where he sees fit, this system attributes to the “theanthropic-life” of Christ, working as a new force, according to the natural laws of development.4646Mystical Presence, edit. Philadelphia, 1846, pp. 225-229.

The impression made upon the readers of the modern theologians of this school, is that made by any other form of philosophical disquisition. It has not, and from its nature it cannot have anything more than human authority. This system may be adopted as a matter of opinion, but it cannot be an object of faith. And therefore it cannot support the hopes of a soul conscious of guilt. In turning from such writings to the Word of God, the transition these theologians would have us believe, is from gnw/sij to pi,stij; but to the consciousness of the Christian, it is like the transition from the confusion of tongues at Babel, where no man understood his fellow, to the symphonious utterance of those “who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”

Doctrine of Ebrard.

Of the writers who belong to the general class of “speculative” theologians, some adhere much more nearly to the Scriptures 23than others. Dr. J. H. A. Ebrard, of Erlangen, has already been repeatedly referred to as addicted to the Reformed faith; and where he consciously departs from it, he considers himself as only carrying out its legitimate principles. His “Dogmatik” has, in fact, a far more Scriptural character than most of the modern German systems. In Ebrard, as in others, we find a compromise attempted between the Church doctrine of regeneration, and the modern theory of the incarnation of God in the race of man. Not only is a distinction made between repentance, conversion, and regeneration; but also true repentance and genuine conversion are made to precede regeneration. The two former take place in the sphere of the consciousness. In all the states and exercises connected with repentance and conversion, the soul is active and coöperative; and the only influence exercised by God or his Spirit, is mediate and moral. It is not until the sinner has obeyed the command to repent, to believe in Christ, and to return unto God, that God gives the soul that divine something which makes it a new creature, and effects its living organic union with Christ. In this latter process the soul is simply passive. God is the only agent. What is said to be communicated to the soul is Christ; the person of Christ; the life of Christ; his substance, or a new substance. A distinction, however, is made between essence and substance. Ebrard insists4747Dogmatik, edit. Königsberg, 1852, vol. ii. p. 320. that the most hidden, substantial germ of our being is born again in regeneration — not merely changed, but new-born. Nevertheless, he says that the “essentia animæ humanæ” is not changed, and assents to the statement by Bucan, “Renovatio fit non quoad essentiam ut deliravit Illyricus, sed quoad qualitates inhærentes.” What he asserts,4848Ibid. p. 300. frequently elsewhere, is, “That Christ, real and substantial, is born in us. But he adds that the words “real and substantial” are used to guard against the assumption that regeneration consists simply in some inward exercise, or transient state of the consciousness. It is, as he truly teaches, much more; something lower than the consciousness; a change in the state of the soul, which determines the acts and exercises which reveal themselves in the consciousness, and manifest themselves in the life. He finds his doctrine of regeneration, not in what Calvin and some few of the Reformed theologians taught under that head, but in what they teach of the Lord’s Supper, and of the mystical union. Calvin4949Institutio, IV. xvii. 5, edit. Berlin, 1834, vol. ii. p. 403. says, “Sunt qui manducare Christi carnem, et 26sanguinem ejus bibere, uno verbo definiunt, nihil esse aliud, quam in Christum ipsum credere. Sed mihi expressius quiddam ac sublimius videtur voluisse docere Christus . . . . nempe vera sui participatione nos vivificari. . . .Quemadmodum enim non aspectus sed esus panis corpori alimentum sufficit, ita vere ac penitus participem Christi animam fieri convenit, ut ipsius virtute in vitam spiritualem vegetetur.” “We have here certainly,” says Ebrard,5050Dogmatik, vol. ii. p. 310. “the doctrine of a secret, mystical communication of Christ’s substance to the substantial centre in man (the ‘anima’), which develops itself on the one hand in the physical, and on the other, in the noetic life.” These writers are correct in denying that regeneration is a mere change in the purposes, or feelings, or conscious states of any kind in man; and also in affirming that it involves the communication of a new and abiding principle of life to the soul. But they depart from Scripture and from the faith of the Church universal in substituting “the theanthropic nature of Christ,” “his divine-human life,” “generic humanity healed and exalted to the power of a divine life” (i.e., deified), for the Holy Ghost. This substitution is made avowedly in obedience to modern science, to the new philosophy which has discovered a true anthropology and revealed “the real oneness of God and man.” As already remarked, it is assumed that this communication of the “theanthropic nature of Christ” carried with it his merits as well as his blessedness and power. All we have of Christ, we have within us. And if we can discover little of God, and little God-like in our souls, so much the worse. It is all we have to expect, until our inner life is further developed. The Christ within (as some of the Friends also teach), is, according to this system, all the Christ we have. Ebrard, therefore, in one view identifies regeneration and justification. “Regeneration,” he says,5151Ibid. p. 315. “as the act of Christ, is the cause (‘causa efficiens’) of justification; He communicates his life to us, and awakens a new life in us. This is justification, an inward subjective change, which involves merit as well as holiness. This confounding the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, with the judicial, objective act of justification, belongs to the system. At least it is only on the ground of this infused life that we are pronounced righteous in the sight of God. What we receive is “the real divine-human life of Christ,” and “whatever there may be of merit, virtue, efficacy or moral value it any way, in the mediatorial work of Christ, it 25is all lodged in the life, by the power of which alone this work has been accomplished, and in the presence of which only it can have either reality or stability. The imagination that the merits of Christ’s life may be sundered from his life itself, and conveyed over to his people under this abstract form, on the ground of a merely outward legal constitution, is unscriptural and contrary to all reason at the same time.”5252Mystical Presence, by J. W. Nevin, D. D., Philadelphia, 1846, p. 191. Regeneration consisting in the communicating the life of Christ, his substance, to the soul, and this divine-human life comprehending all the merit, virtue, or efficacy belonging to Christ and his work, — regeneration involves justification, of which it is the ground and the cause.

Doctrine of Delitzsch.

Delitzsch devotes one division of his “Biblical Psychology” to the subject of regeneration. He begins the discussion with a discourse on Christ’s person. “When we wish to consider the new spiritual life of the redeemed man, we proceed from the divine human archetype, the person of the Redeemer.”5353A System of Biblical Psychology, by Franz Delitzsch, D. D., translated by R. R. Wallis, Ph. D.; Edinburgh, 1867, p. 381. Man was, as to his spirit and soul, originally constituted in the image of God; the spirit was the image “of His triune nature and the latter [the soul] of His sevenfold ‘doxa.’” Man was free to conform his life to the spirit, or divine principle within him, or to allow the control of his life to be assumed by the soul. Utter ruin was the consequence of the fall. This could be corrected and man redeemed only by “a new beginning of similar creative intensity.”5454Ibid. p. 382. This new beginning was effected in the incarnation. The Son of God became man, not by assuming our nature, in the ordinary sense of those words, but by ceasing to be almighty, omniscient, and omnipresent, and contracting Himself to the limits of humanity. It was a human life into which He thus entered; a life including a spirit, soul, and body. There is no dualism in Christ’s person, as between the corporeal and spiritual, or between the human and divine. It is the divine nature in the form of humanity, or this divine-human nature, which is purely and simply, though perfectly, human, which is communicated to the people of God in their regeneration. To this fellowship in the life of Christ, faith is indispensable, and therefore Ebrard says, infants cannot be the subjects of regeneration, while Delitzsch, a Lutheran, maintains that infants are capable of exercising faith, and 26therefore are capable of being regenerated. What is received from Christ, or that of which his people are made partakers, is “the Spirit, the soul, the body of Christ.”5555A System of Biblical Psychology, by Franz Delitzsch, D. D., translated by R. R. Wallis, Ph. D.; Edinburgh, 1867, p. 398. The new man, or second Adam, was made a “life-giving spirit,” and gradually subdues the old man, or our Adamic nature, and brings the whole man (πνεῦμα, ψυχή, and σῶμα), spirit, soul, and body, up to the standard of the life of Christ, in whom the divine and human are merged into one, or rather appear in their original oneness.

The communication of the theanthropic life to the soul is an act of the divine Spirit in which we have neither agency nor consciousness. Delitzsch infers from what our Lord said to Nicodemus, John iii. that “The operation of the Spirit of regeneration is, therefore, (1.) A free one, withdrawn from the power of human volition, of human special agency. (2.) A mysterious one, lying beyond human consciousness, and only to be recognized by its effects.”5656Ibid. p. 402. “It is peculiar to all God’s creative agencies, that the creature which is thereby brought into existence, or in which this or that is brought into existence, has no consciousness of what is occurring.”5757Ibid. p. 403.

Various as are the modifications of this doctrine as presented by different writers of this general school, regeneration is by all of them understood to be the communication of the life of Christ to the soul. By the life of Christ is meant his manhood, his human nature, which was at the same time divine, and therefore is theanthropic. It may be called human, and it may be called divine, for although being one, one life, it is truly divine by being perfectly human. We are all partakers of humanity as polluted and degraded by the apostasy of Adam. Christ, or rather, the Eternal Son of God, assumed human nature, in that He became man, and being God, humanity in Him was filled with the treasures of wisdom and knowledge and grace and power; of that humanity we must partake in order to have any part in the salvation of Christ. The communication of this life to us, which is our regeneration, is through the Church, which is his body, because animated by his human life. As we derive our deteriorated humanity by descent from Adam, we are made partakers of this renovated, divine humanity by union with the Church, in which Christ as a man, and God-man, lives and dwells. And as the 27communication of humanity as it existed in fallen Adam to his descendants is by a natural process of organic development; so the communication of the renovated humanity as it exists in Christ, to his people, and through the world, is also a natural process. It supposes no special interference or intervention on the part of God, any more than any other organic development in the vegetable or animal world. The only thing supernatural about it is the starting point in Christ.

Doctrine of the Latin Church.

In the later Latin Church the word regeneration is used as synonymous with justification, and is taken in a wide sense as including everything involved in the translation of the soul from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. In regeneration the sinner becomes a child of God. It is made therefore, to include, (1.) The removal of the “reatus” or guilt of sin. (2.) The cleansing away of inherent moral corruption. (3.) The “infusion of new habits of grace;” and (4.) Adoption, or recognition of the renewed as sons of God. The Council of Trent says,5858Sessio. VI. cap. 7.Justificatio . . . non est sola peccatorum remissio, sed et sanctificatio, et renovatio interioris hominis per voluntariam susceptionem gratiæ, et donorum, unde homo ex injusto fit justus, et ex inimico amicus, ut sit heres secundum spem vitæ æternæ.” The instrumental cause of justification in this sense, is declared to be “sacramentum baptismi, quod est sacramentum fidei, sine qua nulli umquam contigit justificatio.” As to the effect of baptism, it is taught5959Ibid. v. 5. that it takes away not only guilt, but everything of the nature of sin, and communicates a new life. “Si quis per Jesu Christi Domini gratiam; quæ in baptismate confertur, reatum originalis peccati remitti negat, aut etiam asserit, non tolli totum id, quod veram, et propriam peccati rationem habet; sed illud dicit tantum radi, aut non imputari: anathema sit. In renatis enim nihil odit Deus, quia nihil est damnationis iis qui vere consepulti sunt cum Christo per baptisma in mortem: qui non secundum carnem ambulant, sed veterem hominem exuentes, et novum, qui secundum Deum creatus est, induentes, innocentes, immaculati, puri, innoxii, ac Deo dilecti effecti sunt, heredes quidem Dei, coheredes autem Christi, ita ut nihil prorsus eos ab ingressu cœli remoretur.6060Streitwolf, Libri Symbolici, Göttingen, 1846, pp. 24, 25, 28.

28

Regeneration, therefore, as effected in baptism, is the removal of the guilt and pollution of sin, the infusion of new habits of grace, and introduction into the family of God. It is in baptism that all the benefits of the redemption of Christ are conveyed to the soul, and this is its regeneration or birth into the kingdom of God.

Doctrine of the Church of England.

1. There has always been a class of theologians in the English Church who hold the theology of the Church of Rome in its leading characteristics. They accept, therefore, the definition of regeneration, or justification, as they call it, as given by the Council of Trent, and quoted above.

2. Others make a distinction between conversion and regeneration. The latter is that grace which attends baptism, and as that sacrament without sacrilege cannot be repeated, so regeneration can be experienced only once. Conversion is “a change of heart and life from sin to holiness.” “To the heathen and infidel conversion is absolutely and always necessary to salvation.” To the baptized Christian conversion is not always necessary. “Some persons have confused conversion with regeneration, and have taught that all men, the baptized, and therefore in fact regenerate, must be regenerated afterwards, or they cannot be saved. Now this is in many ways false: for regeneration, which the Lord Jesus Christ himself has connected with holy baptism, cannot be repeated: moreover, not all men (though indeed most men do) fall into such sin after baptism, that conversion, or as they term it, regeneration, is necessary to their salvation; and if a regeneration were necessary to them, it could only be obtained through repetition of baptism, which were an act of sacrilege.” “They who object to the expression baptismal regeneration, by regeneration mean, for the most part, the first influx of irresistible and indefectible grace; grace that cannot be repelled by its subject, and which must issue in its final salvation. Now, of such grace our Church knows nothing, and of course, therefore, means not by regeneration at baptism, the first influx of such grace. That the sins, original and actual, of the faithful recipient of baptism, are washed away, she doth indeed believe; and also that grace is given to him by the immediate agency of the Holy Spirit; yet so that the conscience thus cleansed may be again defiled, and that the baptized person may, and often does, by his own fault, fall again into sin, in which if he die he shall 29without doubt perish everlastingly; his condemnation not being avoided, but rather increased, by his baptismal privilege.”6161A Church Dictionary, by Walter Farquhar Hook, D. D., Vicar of Leeds, article, “Conversion”; 6th edit., Philadelphia, 1854.

3. A third form of doctrine on this subject, held by some divines of this church, is that regeneration properly expresses an external change of relation, and not an internal change of the state of the soul and of its relation to God. As a proselyte was regenerated when he professed himself a Jew, so any one initiated into the visible Church is thereby regenerated. This is held to be entirely different from spiritual renovation. Regeneration, in this outward sense, is admitted to be by baptism; renovation is by the Spirit.

4. A large class of English theologians have ever remained faithful to the evangelical doctrine on this subject, in accordance with the views of the Reformers in their Church, who were in full sympathy both in doctrine and in ecclesiastical and Christian fellowship with other Protestant churches.


« Prev 2. Nature of Regeneration. Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |