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The Work of Regeneration.
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.”—2 Cor. v. 17.
In our former article we contended that regeneration is a real act of God in which man is absolutely passive and unable, according to the ancient confession of the Church. Let us now reverently examine this matter more closely; not to penetrate into things too high for us, but to cut off error and to clear the consciousness.
Regeneration is not sacramentally effected by holy Baptism, relieving the sinner’s inability, offering him another opportunity to choose for or against God, as the Ethicals maintain.
Nor is it a mere rectifying of the understanding; nor a simple change of disposition and inclination, making the unwilling willing to conform to the holy will of God.
Neither is it a change of ego; nor, as many maintain, a leaving the ego undisturbed, the personality unchanged, simply putting the evil ego in the light and reflection of the righteousness of Christ.
The last two errors must be refuted and rejected as positively as the first two.
In regeneration a man does not receive another ego; i.e., our being as man is not changed nor modified, but before and after regeneration it is the same ego, the same person, the same human being. Altho sin has terribly corrupted man, his being remained intact. Nothing is lacking. All its constituent parts, that distinguish it from all other beings, are present in the sinner.
Not his being, but his nature became totally corrupt.
Nature and being are not the same. Applied to a steam-engine, being is the engine itself, with its cylinders, pipes, wheels, and screws; but its nature is the action manifest as soon as steam enters 311 the cylinder. Applied to man, being is that which makes him man, and nature that which manifests the character of his being and working.
If sin had ruined man’s being, he would be no more man, and regeneration would be impossible. But since his being, his ego, his person remained intact and the deep corruption affected only his nature, regeneration, i.e., restoration of his nature, is possible; and this restoration is effected by the new birth. Let this be firmly maintained. In regeneration we do not receive a new being, ego, or person, but our nature is reborn.
The best and most satisfactory illustration of the manner of regeneration is furnished by the curious art of grafting. The successful grafting of a budding shoot of the cultivated grape upon the wild vine results in a good tree growing upon the wild trunk. This applies to all fruit-trees and flowering plants. The cultivated can be grafted upon the wild. Left to itself, the wild will never yield anything good. The wild pear and the wild rose remain stunted and chary of fruit and blossom. But let the gardener graft a finely flavored pear upon the wild pear, or a beautiful double tea rose upon the wild rose, and the former will yield luscious fruit and the latter magnificent flowers.
This miracle of grafting has always been a wonder to thinking men. And it is a wonder. The trunk to be grafted is absolutely wild; with its wild roots it sucks the saps and forces them into its wild cells. But that little graft has the wonderful power of converting the sap and vital forces into something good, causing that wild trunk to bear noble fruit and rich flowers. It is true the wild trunk vigorously resists the reformation of its nature by its wild shoots below the graft, and if successful its wild nature will forcibly assert itself and prevent the sap from passing through the bud. But by keeping down those wild shoots the sap can be forced to the bud with excellent results. Forcing down the wild trunk, the graft will gradually reach almost to the roots, and we nearly forget that the tree was ever wild.
This clearly represents regeneration so far as this divine mystery can be represented objectively. For in regeneration something is planted in man which by nature he lacks. The fall did not merely remove him from the sphere of divine righteousness, into which regeneration brings him back, but regeneration effects a radical modification in man as man, creating a difference between him 312 and the unregenerate so great that finally it leads to direct opposites.
To say that between the regenerate and the unregenerate there is no difference is equivalent to a denial of the work of the Holy Spirit. Generally, however, no difference is noticed at first, no more than in the grafted tree. Twins lie in the same cradle; one regenerated, the other not, but we can not see the slightest difference between the two. The former may even have a worse temper than the latter. They are exactly alike. Both spring from the same wild trunk. Dissecting knife nor microscope could detect the least difference; for that which God has wrought in the favored child is wholly spiritual and invisible, discernible to God alone.
This fact must be confessed definitely and emphatically, in opposition to those who say that the seed of regeneration is material. This error occupies the same ground as the Manichean heresy in the matter of sin. The latter makes sin a microbe; and this makes the seed of regeneration a sort of perceptible germ of life and holiness. And this falsifies the truth against which, among others, Dr. Böhl has earnestly protested.
The seed of regeneration is intangible, invisible, purely spiritual. It does not create two men in one being, but before and after regeneration there is but one being, one ego, one personality. Not an old and a new man, but one man—viz., the old man before regeneration, and the new man after it—who is created after God in perfect righteousness and holiness. For that which is born of God can not sin. His seed remaineth in him. “Old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new.” (2 Cor. v. 17)
Yet the nature of the ego or personality is truly changed, and in such a way that, putting on the new nature in principle, he still continues to work through the old nature. The grafted tree is not two trees, but one. Before the grafting it was a wild rose, after it a cultivated one. Still the new nature must draw its saps through the old nature; apart from the graft, the trunk remains wild.
Hence before as well as after regeneration we lie in the midst of death, as soon as we consider ourselves outside of the divine seed. Wherefore, trying to avoid one false position, we must be careful not to run into another; trying to escape, the Siamese twinship of the old and the new man, and maintaining the unity of the ego before and after regeneration, we should not begin to teach that 313 regeneration leaves our person unchanged, that it does not affect the sinner himself, but merely translates him into the sphere of an extraneous righteousness. No: the Scripture speaks of a new creature, another birth, a being changed and renewed. And this can not be reconciled with the notion that the sinner should remain unchanged.
Regarding the question, what it is in the bud that has the potency to regenerate the wild trunk, the best-informed botanist can not discover the fiber or liquid that might have this power. He only knows that every bud has its own nature, and possesses the potency to produce another branch or tree of the same nature by its own formative power.
And this applies to the work of regeneration. In the center of our being, ego, personality rules our nature, disposition, form of being, and existence, imparting its impress, form, character, and spiritual quality to what we are and work and speak. That all-controlling center is by nature sinful and wicked. Under its fairest forms it is but unrighteous. Hence, willingly or unwillingly, we press upon our being, working, and speaking the stamp of unrighteousness. According to age and development this nature of the ego chisels out of the marble of our being an evil and sinful man, corresponding to the image contained in our nature from which it proceeds. In regeneration God performs in this controlling center of our being a wonderful act, converting this nature, this formative force into something entirely different. Consequently our being, working, and speaking are henceforth controlled by another commandment, law of life, and government; and this new formative force chisels another man in us, new and holy, a child of God, created in righteousness.
But this change is not completed at once. The tree grafted in March may remain inactive during that entire month, because, there is as yet no working in its nature. But this is sure: as soon as there is any action it will be according to the new, ingrafted nature.
And so it is here. The new, ingrafted life may lie dormant for a season, like a grain of wheat in the earth; but when it begins to work it will be according to the nature of the new life. Hence regeneration implants the life-germ of the new man, whom it contains in all his completeness, and from which it will proceed as surely as the wheat contained in the seed proceeds from it.314
In order to assist us in our representation of this mystery, the greatest theologian of the Reformed churches has presented the divine plan in regeneration in the following stages:
(1) In His own mind God conceives the new man; whom (2) He modifies according to a particular person, thus creating the new man; (3) He brings the germ of this new man into the center of our being; (4) in which center He effects the union between our ego and this germinating life; (5) in that vital germ God supports the formative power, which at His appointed time He will cause to come forth, by which our ego will manifest itself as a new man.
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