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§ 46. Regeneration and Conversion.

These are the terms descriptive of the state of one who has really entered into the new kingdom of grace. Both are used in the Holy Scriptures, sometimes in a wider, at others in a narrower sense, and often interchangeably. In the former case they describe the entire state of acceptance of the pardoned sinner, with all the moral powers which are now at his command, and embrace, therefore, in them justification and sanctification; in the latter case, in which indeed they do not directly exclude one another, but yet are also not exactly identical, they describe simply the internal change which has taken place in the entire condition of man, without including the power to lead a holy life. The two conceptions may be distinguished thus, that by regeneration is understood only the actual presence of the new spiritual life, as it is effected in man by the operation of the Holy Spirit; by conversion, the conditions also which must be performed on the part of man in order that he may attain such a spiritual life. [1] As thus the two expressions diverge in a certain sense, they may also be considered separately.


I. “REGENERATION is the act of grace by which the Holy Spirit gives the sinner saving faith, that, his sins being pardoned, he may become a son of God and an heir of eternal life.

[2] HOLL. (876): i.e., that work by which God overcomes the spiritual blindness of the natural man, and his spiritual inability to believe in the gracious plan of salvation, and creates in him the power of exercising faith. [3] There takes place, therefore, in the regeneration of man, a change [4] which consists in this, that, instead of the former blindness in spiritual things, there is spiritual knowledge; in place of unbelief there is faith, so that this entirely altered spiritual condition of man is represented figuratively by the term, a new birth, and the regenerate man as a new creature. [5]

As regeneration is conditioned by the conduct of man in regard to the influence exerted upon him, it will take place at once, or gradually, as man’s resistance is greater or less. The former takes place with children, in whom there is no other resistance than that which dwells in every natural man, which, however, is overcome by the Holy Ghost, operating in Baptism; the latter occurs with all adults, in the case of whom resistance only gradually disappears. [6]

But the operation of the Holy Spirit is always, however, efficacious, in such a sense that on God’s part all the energies which are needed to enable man to believe and lead a spiritual life are readily and altogether sufficiently offered to him; but this grace is not compulsory, therefore not irresistible, for its acceptance depends on the free will of man. [7] Therefore regeneration is likewise on the part of God indeed perfect, since He endeavors to effect regeneration perfectly on man, and to transform him into an entirely new creature; on the side of man, however, only more or less perfect as he permits this grace of the Holy Spirit to be entirely or only partially efficacious in him. [8]

It depends, too, upon the fidelity of man, whether he will persevere in the new condition of regeneration or not, and thus regeneration is also amissible; but, at the same time, it is recoverable by the grace of God, for the way of return to the state of regeneration, so long as life lasts, is open to him who has fallen from grace. [9]


II. CONVERSION. — There is no other way of attaining to faith and a spiritual life than by God’s turning man from sin to Himself, and “conversion is thus the act by which the Holy Spirit is said to convert the sinner, and the sinner is said to be converted.” (HOLL. 852). [10]

Conversion, then, is to be called a work of God, so far as this change cannot at all be produced without the agency of divine grace. So far, however, as this change cannot occur without an internal movement in man, which is conditioned by his own will, conversion in another point of view can be regarded as proceeding from man. Conversion is accordingly distinguished as transitive and intransitive. [11] In the latter sense it is identical with repentance, a movement of the mind excited by the converting and regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, by which the sinner detests with unaffected sorrow his sins recognized from the divine Law, and at the same time lays hold by true faith of the satisfaction and merit of the Mediator Christ and the mercy of God obtained thereby and promised in the Gospel, and applies it to himself that, having freely obtained the pardon of his sins, he may be eternally saved.” (HOLL. 1141.)

The acts preceding conversion are more particularly the following:

1. The unconverted and unregenerate man being from his birth under the dominion of sin and his sinful propensities, manifesting themselves boldly in actual sins, the first act of grace aims to divert him from this state of sin, and, with this end in view, to beget in him real pain for past sins, and a desire to be freed from the dominion which sin has exercised over him, viz., contrition (“a serious and holy sorrow of heart, leading the sinner to hate the sins made known to him by the Law of God.”) [12]

2. The second act of divine grace is this, that it drives man, alarmed on account of his sins, to take refuge in the merit of Christ, which covers his sins and is accounted as his merit; [13] so that conversion, which commences in contrition, is finished in faith. The former is produced by the preaching of the Law, the latter by the preaching of the Gospel. [14]

From what has been said, it follows that conversion, like regeneration, 461does not take place at once, but is brought about by repeated acts of one and the same grace. [15] This grace is variously designated, as it produces the beginning or the progress of conversion, and as it is efficacious with or without human cooperation. [16] In the beginning of conversion man is thus altogether passive; [17] in the further progress of it, however, in so far active as the powers produced by grace must in it be operative. [18] But as these powers are called forth by grace, and man can do nothing at all by his natural powers, conversion is therefore to be considered as produced by grace alone. [19] It is equally true of conversion as of regeneration, that it is indeed efficacious, but not irresistible; of both it is true that the impulsive internal cause is the mercy of God, the impulsive external or meritorious cause is Christ’s merit.

[1] HOLL. alone deviates from this distinction, who first treats of conversion, then of regeneration, and so separates them that the form of conversion strictly taken consists in the excitation of contrition, the form of regeneration in the donation of faith. (856): “As it is one act of applying grace by which God produces contrition, and another act of grace by which He imparts in the contrite sinner a confidence that relies on Christ’s merit; so the former act of grace is called conversion (taken in the strictest sense), and the latter act is called regeneration. Contrition is the effect of converting grace, faith is the effect of regenerating grace. Penitence, taken in a wide sense, is the effect of both acts of grace, viz., conversion and regeneration conspiring to accomplish one end.” In this way, doubtless, the one idea is clearly distinguished from the other; but nevertheless HOLL. is not able, in its further discussion, to retain this distinction, and is compelled to connect faith with conversion. Most of the other divines pursue the order of our text, and desire, in treating the two aspects separately, rather to bring out two phases of one and the same conception than to keep them altogether apart from each other. Ordinarily this alone is given as the difference: “The two differ: (1) in regard to the subjects; regeneration pertains to adults and children; conversion properly to adults, as children cannot properly be said to be converted; (2) in regard to the means: regeneration is effected by the Word and Sacraments; conversion by the Word alone.”

[2] BR. (532): “Regeneration is an action of God, by which He endows man, destitute of spiritual strength, but not obstinately resisting, out of His mere grace for Christ’s sake, by means of the 462Word and Baptism, on the part of the intellect and the will, with spiritual powers to believe in Christ, and thus to commence a spiritual life; or, He produces these in him in order that he may attain justification, renovation, and eternal salvation.” This is regeneration in the stricter sense, as it is set forth in Ga. 2:20; John 1:13; 1 John 5:1. From this, regeneration in the more comprehensive sense is distinguished.” QUEN. (III, 477): “It is taken in the wide sense for the restitution of the spiritual life in general; and in this way regeneration comprehends under it, also, justification and the renovation which follows it, in which sense the FORM. CONC. (III, 19) also uses it. It is taken strictly for remission of sins or justification, in Gal. 3:11, in which sense the FORM. CONC. states it to be very frequently used in the AP. CONF.; or for renovation, as it shows it to be frequently used by Luther.” FORM. CONC. (Sol. Dec., III, 19 and following): “The term regeneration is sometimes taken as embracing both the remission of sins and the subsequent renovation which the holy Sprit produces in those who are justified by faith; and it sometimes signifies nothing more than the remission of sins, and adoption as sons of God. In this last sense the word is very frequently used in the AP. CONF.; for instance, when it is said, justification is regeneration. But Paul, too, uses these terms with discrimination (Tit. 3:5). Moreover, the term vivification is sometimes so used as to denote remission of sins. For when a human being is justified by faith, that is in fact a regeneration, because he becomes from a son of wrath a son of God, and in this way is transferred from death to life. Hence, likewise, regeneration is often used for sanctification and renovation (which are subsequent to justification).”

[3] Therefore QUEN. (III, 482): “The point from which it proceeds generically is the death of sin, not taken in its entirety (ολικως), as it introduces, in addition to a privation of powers of believing, likewise a deficiency of strength for holy living, together with the dominion and guilt of sin; but taken partially (μερικως), so far as it affirms the want of the power of savingly knowing and embracing the justifying object. In particular, on the side of the intellect, the starting-point is the great blindness and multiform debility in regard to the saving knowledge of the saving object, Eph. 5:8; John 1:5; 1 Cor. 2:14. On the part of the will, the like incapacity of embracing savingly the good offered in the Gospel, Rom. 8:7. Its goal is, generally speaking, a spiritual life, not viewed in its totality, as including, besides the attainment of the powers of believing, immunity from the dominion and guilt of sin; but taken partially, so far as it denotes the supernatural powers imparted for the 463exercise of faith. In particular on the part of the intellect, it is both a spiritual capacity of the mind savingly to know the object which brings salvation, 2 Cor. 4:6, and then an actual saving knowledge of it; on the part of the will, a confident reclining of the heart on the known good, Rom. 6:11.” HOLL. remarks further (881): “We discuss now principally the regeneration of the intellect and will of adult sinners; the regeneration of the intellect of children is somewhat more difficult of comprehension. But we do not doubt that the intellect of infants in regeneration is imbued with a saving knowledge of God by the Holy Spirit in Baptism, and their will is endowed with confidence in Christ. We agree here with the views of CHMN. in Ex. c. Trid.: ‘Although we do not sufficiently understand, and cannot explain, what the action and operation of the Holy Spirit is in infants who are baptized; yet that it exists and is effected through the Word of God, is certain. We call that action and operation of the Holy Spirit in infants faith, and assert that infants believe. For the means or organ, by which the kingdom of God offered in the Word and Sacraments is received, the Scripture calls faith, and it says that believers receive the kingdom of God. And indeed (Mark 10:15) Christ affirms that adults receive the kingdom of heaven as infants receive it.’ The form of regeneration consists, according to this, ‘in the gift of spiritual life; that is, in the bestowment of the power of believing, and of saving faith; or, in the illumination of our mind, and the production of confidence in our heart;’ or, as it is otherwise expressed, ‘in the gift itself of faith.’”

[4] But this spiritual change is not a substantial one (for there is not another substance of intellect and will introduced by regeneration, the pre-existing natural substance having been destroyed), but an accidental one (introducing new qualities into the intellect and will of man, not merely enlightening and exciting the preexisting). QUEN. (III, 484): “As in the resurrection of the body the flesh, numerically the same which we have borne, shall be reproduced, furnished, however, with different properties; so, in regeneration, the same natural substance of our body remains, the properties only being changed. Regeneration does not destroy nature, but perfects and directs it; it does not change it so that it ceases to be nature. The antithesis is (a) that of the Fanatics, who assert that by regeneration the substance of the former body is destroyed, and, the same soul remaining, a new body is given differing essentially from the former; (b) that of the Flacians, who assert that God, in regeneration and conversion, so creates a new heart and a new man, that the substance and essence of the old Adam, 464and particularly the rational soul, is entirely destroyed, and a new essence of soul is created from nothing.”

[5] QUEN. (III, 485): “’A new man’ and ‘new creature,’ 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15, on account of the new spiritual strength imparted in regeneration and renovation, by which the image of God is repaired, consisting in the knowledge of God, Col. 3:10, in righteousness and true holiness, Eph. 4:24.” Expressions of similar import are, quickening, Eph. 2:5; raising again, Eph. 2:6. But it is to be noticed particularly that all these expressions are used only figuratively, to which fact special attention is called in opposition to the Mystics. Thus, by HOLL. (890): “Literally speaking, neither Christ is born in us, nor is there a new man in us, nor by the gift of regeneration is there flesh produced of our flesh.”

[6] HOLL. (885): “The regeneration of infants is instantaneous, but the ordinary regeneration of adults is successive. In infants, as there is not an earnest and obstinate resistance, the grace of the Holy Spirit accompanying Baptism breaks and restrains their natural resistance that it may not impede regeneration; wherefore, their regeneration takes place instantaneously. In the regeneration of adults there are many difficulties to be removed by care, and illumination and instruction extended over a long time are to be afforded from the divine Word, until a full faith is enkindled in the mind.”

QUEN. (III, 483): “Regeneration is successive, not always instantaneous, but gradual and increasing; and although the quickening takes place in the moment in which faith is produced in us, and Christ, the true sun of righteousness, arises in our hearts, yet the spiritual life displays itself in successive acts.” BR. (530): “Nor is there any contradiction to this in the name, regeneration, whose force and signification are to be estimated from the analogy of generation, which takes place, indeed, in an instant; for that comparison must not be extended too far . . . . Those who say that regeneration is instantaneous, seem to understand by it either justification or the conferring of the beginning of faith as to the first holy thought and pious desire.”

[7] HOLL. (885): “Regeneration is the action of the Holy Spirit, efficacious and sufficient to produce faith, but it is not irresistible (Acts 18:5, 6).” QUEN. (III, 483): “The regenerating grace of God is always efficacious in itself, although it does not always proceed to the second act, on account of the resistance of the subject to be regenerated. Its efficacy is limited and mediated, exerting itself through the mediation of the Word and Sacrament; 465not physical, such as exists in medicine, but hyperphysical, illustrated, however, in the Scriptures by physical actions, illumination, generation, the sowing of seed, irrigation,” etc.

[8] QUEN. (III, 483): “Regeneration on the part of God regenerating is perfect, and so does not admit of a greater and less any more than carnal generation; on the part of men receiving, it is imperfect (because sinners imperfectly receive the influence of the Holy Spirit), because moral evil is always near them, Rom. 7:23; because sin still dwells in them, verses 17, 18; and because faith can grow and increase in them.”

[9] HOLL. (886): “The grace of regeneration is lost when sins subversive of conscience are deliberately committed (1 Tim. 1:19). But regeneration lost may be recovered by the penitent (Gal. 4:19). Men regenerate, aided by the preserving grace of God, should be carefully on their guard, lest, by the malicious repetition of sin, they do injury to conscience; but if, nevertheless, they are overcome by the machinations of the devil, the enticements of the world, and the suggestions of the flesh, and fall three or four times, or oftener, into mortal sin, they need not at all doubt of the converting and regenerating grace of God. (Examples in Ex. 4:24; 32; Numb. 20:12; 12:1, 2; 2 Sam. 11:4, 15; 24:1; comp. 1 Chron. 21:8.)”

[10] QUEN. (III, 500): “Conversion is the action of the applying grace of the Holy Spirit, whereby, together with the Father and Son, of absolutely pure grace, founded in the merit of Christ, through the preaching of the Word, He transfers the adult spiritually dead from his state of sin to a state of faith, successively as to the preparatory acts, but in an instant as to the ultimate act, by a divine and supernatural but resistible power, so that, repenting, he may obtain by faith the remission of his sins, and partake of eternal salvation.” Conversion may here be considered in a broader or narrower sense.

QUEN. (III, 489): “Conversion is used either in a wide sense as embracing not only transfer from a state of sin to one of faith, but likewise justification and renovation, and the continuation of this new state in its entire extent, Acts 26:20.” Thus the FORM. CONC. (Sol. Dec., II, 70): “This is most certain, that in true conversion a change, renovation, and movement ought to take place in the intellect, in the will and heart of man, that the mind of man may clearly recognize his sins, may fear the anger of God, may turn himself from sin, may recognize and appropriate the promise of grace in Christ, may be occupied with devout thoughts, may form good purposes, and may display diligence in moral improvement 466and strive against the flesh;” to which, however, HOLL. remarks (854): “Many divines abstain from this more extended sense of conversion, since from it error and confusion may easily enter into incautious minds, for in this way distinct acts of grace are united under one term; or, in a narrow sense, as distinguished from justification and renovation, and this is its usage in this place.”

HOLL. (854) distinguishes still further: “Conversion taken in a special sense, as the act of grace by which the Holy Spirit excites in the sinner sincere grief for his sins, by the word of the Law, and enkindles true faith in Christ by the word of the Gospel, that he may obtain remission of sins and eternal salvation;” and (in accordance with what was said under the head of Regeneration, note 1), “Conversion in the most special sense, as the act of grace by which the Holy Spirit restrains, subdues, and breaks the will and heart of the sinner in the midst of his sins, that he may detest his sins with grief of mind and thus be prepared for receiving faith in Christ.”

[11] BR. (533): “The word conversion is taken in a double sense in the Scriptures, inasmuch as at one time God is said to convert man, and at another man is said to convert himself, although as to the thing itself the action is one and the same.” The first is called “transitive conversion, because it does not terminate in God who is the agent, but passes from Him to another subject, to wit, to the sinner,” and is distinguished as “active, so far as it proceeds from God, and as passive, so far as it is received by man, Jer. 31:18.” HOLL. (853). The other is called intransitive conversion. BR. (534): “Although the acts by which the sinner is said to convert himself depend for their efficacy upon the Holy Spirit, yet because they are the acts of the intellect and will, and do not pass from the potencies whose acts they are into another subject, but are terminated in the potencies themselves, in this respect they are classified with immanent or intransitive acts.” HOLL. (854): “Conversion (intransitive) is the goal and effect of transitive conversion, and is the penitence by which the sinner is said to convert himself by means of the strength imparted by converting grace, and passively received. In regard to intransitive conversion, Acts 3:19. For which reason the sinner, repenting, converts himself not by his native, but by imparted powers.” HOLL. remarks, finally (853): “As we are here employed in unfolding the acts of divine grace applying salvation, it easily appears that we are not designedly taking into consideration the intransitive conversion, or the repentance of the sinner.”


[12] HOLL. (868): “The starting-point is sin, both actual sins, so far as, after they are committed, they remain morally as if ratified or not retracted; and habitual, so far as they not only imply the want of that habitual perfection which ought to exist, but likewise the propensity to all the evils which are the fountain and cause of actual sins.” BR. (539): “That actual sins may be abolished by conversion, it is necessary first, that they should be retracted by the sinner, and that they be recognized by the intellect, not only with the speculative judgment that they are truly sins, but likewise with the practical, that efforts are to be made for the abolition of sins, and circumspection employed in regard to the mode and means by which they may be abolished; on the side of the will, efficacious dissatisfaction with sins, or a detestation of them united with grief, is required.” (543): “Conversion tends to abolish habitual sins by the same acts by which it tends to abolish actual sins; yet in such a way, that they should be abolished or expelled not only morally, but physically2323[BR. explains physically: “So far as conditions of absence or habits are expelled from their subjects.”] and really — if not thoroughly, yet relatively and as to their dominion.”

QUEN. (III, 492) more exactly: “The starting-point in general is the state of sin, Eph. 2:1, sq., and this viewed not in its totality, as it includes also the guilt and dominion of sin, but taken partially, in so far as it expresses a deficiency of strength to return to God by repentance, united with obstinate depravity.” GRH. (VI, 252): “Contrition embraces (1) the true knowledge of sin; (2) the sense of the divine anger against sins; (3) anguish and fear of conscience; (4) true humiliation before God; (5) frank confession of sin; (6) the serious hatred and detestation of sin. It is, however, to be observed in this place: (1) although true contrition is required in all true and saving repentance, yet there are grades of contrition, as the terrors and anguish are not equal in all, but in some they are greater and in others less; (2) the promise of the remission of sins does not depend upon the dignity and quantity of our contrition, but alone upon the merit of Christ . . . . (3) the knowledge of sin never becomes so perfect that it embraces specifically the knowledge of all sins.”

[13] BR. (541): “It is necessary, moreover, that the mind should aim at the abolition of actual sins, both with respect to the offense against God and the obligation of sinners to make satisfaction to God, which indeed can be effected solely by faith in Christ, the Mediator, and in His merit and satisfaction for our sins; and, when faith lays hold of this, the mind turns to God, 468who, although offended with our sins, yet embraces us in His love and grace, and is now fully reconciled by the satisfaction of Christ. The end to be accomplished is faith in Christ, by which the sinner is reconciled to God, who is offended by his sins.” HOLL. (869): “The proximate end is contrition; the remote, faith in Christ.” In addition, the observation (871): “Contrition is not the positive or causal means of enkindling faith, but is only the privative means, by which the incapacity of the subject and the obstacles which otherwise would impede the enkindling of faith are removed. Therefore faith in Christ is the remote end of conversion, because the Holy Spirit, producing contrition by the Law, proposes to prepare the heart for the excitation in it of saving faith by the Gospel. When I call it remote, I do not wish that any one should suppose that faith is to be far removed or separated from contrition, for contrition in the discourses of Christ is united with faith by the closest tie, (Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38; 2 Cor. 7:10); but thereby it is only indicated that the light of faith arises not through conversion, by means of the Law, but from another quarter, through regeneration by means of the Gospel. (1 Pet. 1:23; James 1:18.)”

[14] AP. CONF. (V, 28): “We maintain that repentance consists of two parts, viz., contrition and faith.” GRH. (VI, 234): “The number of leading divisions of the heavenly doctrine, by the ministry of which the Holy Spirit proclaims true and saving repentance and produces it in the hearts of men, is the same as the number of essential parts of repentance. There are now two general classes of heavenly doctrine by which the Holy Spirit preaches and produces repentance, viz., the Law and the Gospel. Therefore there are two essential parts of repentance. The connection of the major premise is plain, because each of these two doctrines produces its peculiar and proper effect in converting man; these two effects, although different from each other, nevertheless concur harmoniously to the production of the one common end of repentance. The Law produces pain, by manifesting the atrocity of sin and the anger of God against it, and accusing man on account of his transgression. The Gospel offers to terrified and contrite man Christ, the Mediator, who died on the altar of the cross for our sins.”

The AP. CONF. adds further (V, 28): “If any one desire to add a third (part), namely, fruits worthy of repentance, that is, a change of the whole life and conduct for the better, we will not oppose;” and MEL. (Loc. c. Th., II, 4): “The parts are contrition and faith. New obedience ought necessarily then to follow; if any one desire to call this a third part, I have no objection.” From 469the time of GRH. (VI, 425) it was more explicitly stated: “That, properly and accurately speaking, good works do not constitute a part of repentance.” HOLL. (1147): “New obedience is not a part but an effect of repentance.” But (1148): “New obedience inseparably follow repentance, and cannot be severed from it even in the case of the dying.” With reference to the Roman Catholic distinction between contrition and attrition, the AP. CONF. (V, 29) says: “From contrition we exclude those idle and endless disputes, as to when we grieve over our sins from love to God and when from fear of punishment.”

The later divines discuss more particularly the two parts of conversion, contrition and faith, under the head of penitence as intransitive conversion, which generally follows the doctrine of the Sacraments. As the contents are similar and the difference only this, that transitive conversion is considered the operation of God, repentance, that is, intransitive conversion, as the movement inwardly taking place in man as the consequence of this operation, we therefore unite both articles into one. The Symbolical Books, likewise, and the earlier divines, treat of this subject only as one topic, viz., under the head of repentance. Contrition is defined by the later divines as “the first act of repentance by which the sinner, struck by the lightning of the Law, aroused by the sense of divine anger on account of the sins that he has committed, is sorry after a godly sort, is thoroughly alarmed, and earnestly detests his sins. Ps. 51:4; Jer. 3:13; Ps. 6:1; 38: 1, 3, 4, 6.” Faith, as “the second penitential act, by which the sinner, rendered contrite by the wounds of his conscience, seeks a remedy from the wounds of Jesus Christ, exhibited in the Gospel, confidently appropriating them to himself as an individual (QUEN., III, 581).” As “the requisites of true contrition” are cited (HOLL., 1152): “antecedently, the knowledge of sin, not only theoretical but likewise practical; formally, an efficacious displeasure or hatred of sin, united with serious grief on account of it.” The “marks of true contrition” are (1155), “1, internal: (a) the renunciation of the evil purpose and the omission of the intended sin; (b) a legal and pedagogic desire for a most approved physician or a most beneficent and powerful deliverer, Acts 2:37; 2, external, (probable, but not infallible): which are discovered (a) in the mouth of the sinner (the confession of sin of the entire Church, which takes place ordinarily in public prayers, and also extraordinarily in public calamities, or of a private person who confesses his sins before God (Ps. 51:5, called by Luther the confession of faith), before the Church (Josh. 7:19, formerly called εξομολογησις), 470before a minister of the Church (Matt. 3:6), before a neighbor (James 5:16, the confession of love); (b) in the face and external appearance (tears, sackcloth, the sprinkling of ashes, smiting of the breast and thigh, rending of garments, lying upon the earth); (c) in outward works (fasting and satisfaction, which is rendered to our injured neighbor or to the Church offended by a public scandal).” Concerning Confession it is said: “The private confession of sins before a priest to obtain forgiveness has no sure divine warrant, neither is the enumeration of all and each of the transgressions, with the circumstances modifying or aggravating them, and the communication of them to the ears of a priest, necessary or possible (QUEN., III, 601).” In regard to satisfaction, however, which the Catholics define as prayer, fasting, and alms, and of which they say that they are a payment of punishment still to a large extent due, although the guilt has already been pardoned, this is applicable: “After remission of sin no punishment, strictly speaking, pertains to the converted and justified; but sometimes there remains a paternal chastisement and remedial affliction.” Upon both comp. AP. CONF., Art. VI, concerning Confession and Satisfaction.

[The term “auricular,” as applied to confession, is used in two senses. As a confession made orally, and received by the ear of the confessor, it is applicable to Lutheran confession. But as the term is ordinarily used for the compulsory enumeration of details by the Romish Church, our Lutheran theologians most emphatically repudiate it. “It would, manifestly be a logomachy, were it to be asserted that the kind of confession here understood is not auricular. In the conferences at Augsburg in 1530, an agreement had so far been reached that the controversy on this point might have been regarded as ended (see Coelestine’s History, § III, p 55). But it is well known that the Council of Trent silently receded from the concessions previously made by the Catholic theologians, prescribed the necessity of the confession of all sins (even of thoughts), and declared it godless to deny the possibility of the complete confession of all sins, or to name it spiritual tyranny. It is clear that, in this sense, the Lutherans could not admit of auricular confession. They allowed, indeed, a confession of sins entering into details, and gave this the preference above a merely general or summary confession; yet for this they applied no constraint, but left it to the conscience of everyone, whether he should confess individual sins to his pastor, or be satisfied with the general declaration that he was a sinner, and desired forgiveness.” See “Apology,” ut supra, Augusti’s Christliche Archaelogie, III, 93 sq.]


[15] CHMN. (Loc. Th., I, 199): “Conversion or renovation is not a change that is accomplished and perfected always in a single moment in all its parts, but it has its beginnings and its advances, through which, in great weakness, it is perfected. It is not, therefore, to be understood that I am to wait, with a secure and indolent will, until renovation or conversion have been accomplished, according to the stages already described, by the influence of the Holy Spirit, or without any movement on my part. Nor can it be shown with mathematical accuracy where the liberated will begin to act.”

[16] BR. (563): “That divine operation by which conversion is produced in man by the Law and the Gospel is usually called grace.” This one and the same grace is usually distinguished as prevenient, operating, and co-operating, though even here the distinctions are not always uniform. BR. (563). “By prevenient grace is understood the divine inspiration of the first holy thought and godly desire. This grace is called prevenient, because it is prior to our deliberate consent, or because in this way the will of the person to be converted is anticipated. Operating grace is that which directly follows the commencement of conversion and has reference to its continuance; by which it comes to pass that man by an effort, although weak, inclines to Christ, the Mediator, and the promises of gratuitous pardon for Christ’s sake, and resists doubts. According to others, indeed, operating grace is referred to the commencement of conversion, and coincides with prevenient and exciting grace as to the effect, and is called operating because without us and without our free consent it operates in us. Co-operating grace is that operation which aids and strengthens or corroborates the intellect already in some measure assenting to the divine promises, and the will trusting in Christ, and so operates with the will, which concurs by the yet weak powers before received. By others, again, the co-operating grace of God is described as that by which God concurs with man already converted, in preserving the powers conferred upon him, increasing them, and assisting so that his faith may not fail” (in which case co-operating grace is more applicable to sanctification). QUEN. (III, 494) and others divine into “assisting grace, which acts exterior to man, and indwelling grace, which enters the heart of man and, changing it spiritually, inhabits it.” To the former belong “incipient or prevenient grace, exciting grace, operating grace, and perfecting grace,” of which the first three operate as preparatory acts, but by the latter the act of real conversion is accomplished; indwelling grace occurs only after conversion, in sanctification. “The grace of God acts before conversion, in it, and after it. The 472first is called prevenient, preparative, and exciting; the second, operating and completing, in the first sense; the last, co-operating, assisting, and completing, in the second sense. But grace, effecting and completing conversion by means of the Word, produces (1) the knowledge of sin, which is the first stage of conversion; (2) compunction of heart, that there may be detestation of sins committed and grief on their account; (3) the act of faith itself and confidence in Christ, viz., belief in Christ and the embracing of His merit by true faith; which act of faith is immediately followed by a transfer from a state of wrath to one of grace, which is the final act of conversion, and takes place instantaneously, as it cannot be that a man should be in a state of wrath and of grace, under death and in life, at the same time (497).”

[17] BR. (564): “It is properly said that man is merely passive in the commencement of conversion.” QUEN. (III, 508) presents the thought more fully thus: “Conversion is taken either in a wide sense, so that it includes also the preparatory acts, and thus man is passive in reference to each act or degree; or in a narrow sense, for the transfer from a state of wrath to one of grace, which is instantaneous by means of the gift of saving faith, and in which undoubtedly God alone works, man being subjected to this divine action as a passive object.” This statement naturally flows from the doctrine of the state of corruption (compare § 28, Note 8, sq., and FORM. CONC., Sol. Dec., II, 7), and thus an answer is furnished to the question,, “In what way does the will of man act in his conversion?”

HUTT., who very thoroughly discusses this question in his Loc. Com., makes this preliminary remark (p. 281): “Occasion for this question is given by the fact that, in the conversion of an unregenerated man, the change cannot take place unless good actions concur and spiritual exercises intervene, such as struggling with the flesh, contending with unbelief, assent to the divine Word, and such like. It has been therefore asked, and is to-day asked, whether these exercises, or even any part of them, can be attributed to the power of human ability. But that this question may be rightly answered, it must first be observed, in general, that the conversion of man to God is not always one and the same thing, but may be of two distinct kinds, according to the two distinct subjects who are converted. Some of those who are to be converted are altogether beyond the limits of the Church, commonly known as infidels, and such are all they who live without any connection with the Church; others, however, live in the midst of the assembly of the called, and were brought into connection with the 473Church by Baptism, and were at one time regenerate, but afterwards fell from the grace of regeneration through sins committed against their conscience. Hence it happens that the conversion of unregenerate unbelievers is one thing, and the conversion of those once regenerated, but now fallen, is another. And there is a great difference between these two kinds of conversion; inasmuch as he who has hitherto been standing in the covenant of divine grace, or, it may be, has yielded to the temptation of the devil and fallen from the grace of God, yet in some measure has received and possessed the first-fruits of the Holy Spirit;, very widely differs from him who for the first time is called and admitted to faith in Christ and the grace of the covenant. The latter are changed from unregenerate to regenerate, from unbelievers to believers. But the condition of the lapsed in the Church is such that, although, seduced by the devil, they have become subject to divine wrath and eternal damnation, nevertheless they have not yet altogether fallen from the covenant itself and from the right of adoption of the sons of God, so far as God is concerned; nor do they absolutely fall away from that, unless they persevere to the end in sin. Their conversion, then, is nothing else than a return to the use or complete fruition of pristine grace, and this by serious repentance. Beside these two forms of conversion, mention is made, in the schools of the divines, of a third kind also, which is called the repentance or conversion of the standing, i.e., of those who are regenerate, but who, on account of the adhering infirmities and failings of sin and the flesh, are from time to time, as it were, revived through repentance; so that their conversion is nothing else than a perpetual mortification of the flesh and a daily struggle between the flesh and the Spirit . . . . And concerning the two last-mentioned kinds, namely, the conversion of the lapsed and of the standing, there is here no controversy or discussion whatever . . . . The only question here in dispute is, What can an unbelieving man, hitherto unregenerate, do, by his own strength, in his original conversion? To which we reply, that man can do absolutely nothing, not even the very least thing, towards beginning or effecting his conversion; and that the beginning, the progress, and, in short the whole development of his conversion, is to be ascribed altogether and alone to the operation of the Holy Spirit.” . . . Then he continues; “Various difficulties and many questions arise in regard to this purer doctrine of our churches; and, unless these be clearly explained, a very abundant harvest of manifold and very grave errors may arise.”

“For it is asked (1) Whether, since the Fall, all the powers have been so broken, or rather extinguished, in spiritual matters, that not the 474least capability (ικανοτης), aptitude, or capacity has remained? In regard to this question a very sharp controversy arose among certain divines, some interdicting the words ‘aptitude’ and ‘capacity’ in this connection, and others admitting them; neither party, perhaps, being very dexterous in their explanation. For this strife is easily settled, if we will only reflect that these terms can be taken in a double sense, viz., an active and a passive: an active sense, if by aptitude and capacity you understand such an efficient (ενεργητικη) faculty, as can enable man to apprehend the grace of conversion offered in the preached Word; a passive sense, on the other hand, if man be described as a susceptible (παθητικος) subject, that is able to receive conversion, or fitted for conversion, which passive capacity or aptitude cannot be predicated of a block or a stone. And in this latter sense our sainted Luther ascribes capacity to man, i.e., as having susceptible capacity (δυναμις παθητικη) . . . . As to this passive capacity, however, there is here no controversy, but only concerning the active capacity, which we so totally deny to unregenerated man, that we do not assign to it even that trifling amount which some are pleased to suggest. But it is inquired (2) Since the will of unregenerate man can do nothing, not even the very least, towards his conversion, what is his attitude, then, in conversion? This question is answered differently by different persons. (a) Some assert that he is merely and purely passive; thus Luther was not horrified at this phrase, for he wrote (Comm. on Psalms): ‘It is an error, that the free will has any activity in a good work, when we speak of an internal work; for to wish, to believe, to hope, to love, are movements, drawings, and leadings of the divine Word, and a continued purifying and renovation of the mind, and though this passion be not always equally intense, yet it is always a passion [a being wrought upon].’ . . . (b) There are others who answer this question, that man in conversion is like a block. This opinion seems very harsh and horrid to many, especially to the patrons of Synergism. But this way of speaking, properly understood, has no inconvenience whatever. For, although man differs greatly from a block, both as to the faculty by which he acts in choosing among things external and subject to reason, and from the fact that conversion cannot take place with a block or a stone as it can with man, however corrupt; yet, nevertheless, if that δυναμις, power, or faculty be considered, by which conversion can be begun and completed, there certainly is in this respect no difference whatever between man and a block, for man can do nothing more by his own powers towards his conversion than a block, but is as clay in the hands of the potter . . . . Why? Because in this 475respect the condition of a block is even better than that of man; for, as it lacks the power of willing, so it is also destitute of sin and wickedness, which cling to the unregenerate man.” . . . But even the very fact, that man in conversion is only purely passive, is of itself a work of grace; for naturally man resists it. CAL. (X, 15): “Unregenerate man has, indeed, a passive power, and so a certain aptitude, which you should, however, more correctly call a power of non-resistance, or an obediential power, with respect to his conversion; nevertheless, the Holy Spirit must produce even this non-resistance in us, since the nature of man, on account of congenital depraved concupiscence, is in itself hostile to the Holy Spirit, and is not able to refrain from resisting.”

Here the question, however, arises: How then can conversion be effected in man otherwise than against his will or without his knowledge? Both these inferences are rejected. HUTT. (Loc. Com., 284): “There have been those who asserted that the will of unregenerate man in conversion is in a hostile attitude, so that the Holy Spirit effects conversion by violent drawings, or by a kind of force, in those who are unwilling and resisting. This opinion has elements of both truth and falsehood in it. For it is true that the natural man can do nothing of himself but resist the Holy Spirit . . . . Thus it is also true, that some have been converted when they were violently raging against God. But what is hence inferred is most false, viz., that they were converted while repugnant and reluctant. For it is most certain that they in whom this resistance does not cease never are converted to God . . . . Others answer, that man in conversion not only does nothing, but is converted while unconcerned and not knowing what is being done with him. This opinion manifestly savors of Enthusiasm . . . . For, although unregenerate man cannot know of himself and of his own powers what is being done with him, yet the Holy Spirit removes this stupor and illuminates his mind, so that now he knows what is being done with him and yields his consent to the Holy Spirit.” The Word of God is designated as the means which God employs for conversion, and to the unregenerate nothing more is ascribed than the power to hear or to read this Word of God. FORM. CONC. (Sol. Dec., II, 53): “This Word of God man, while yet unregenerate, can hear with his outward ears or read . . . . Through this means or instrument, namely, the preaching and hearing of His Word, God operates, softens our hearts, and draws man, so that through the preaching of the Law he recognizes both his sins and the wrath of God, and experiences true terrors and contrition in his heart. And through the annunciation 476of, and meditation upon the Gospel . . . the little spark of faith is enkindled in his heart . . . and in this way the Holy Sprit, who does all these things, is sent into the heart.” HUTT. (Loc. Com., 285): “In every conversion, the Word of God must intervene as the organ, or, as the Fathers said, as the vehicle of the Holy Spirit. Not that new emotions are impressed upon those who are to be converted, as a seal upon wax; nor is this conversion something irrational, as when Balaam’s ass spoke, Numb. 22:28; nor is it anything violent, as when a stone is hurled; nor is it anything enthusiastical, as where the professedly inspired (who are led astray by the devil) utter oracles, or when many things take place with the possessed, without the application of the mind and will. But the beginning of every conversion is made through the ministry of the Word; to this men must give place, and they must admit the Word that is heard, if any conversion at all is to occur. Now, although, indeed, man, not yet regenerate, can hear and read the Word of God, can discuss it at length, can receive through it a kind of historical faith, not less than the devils themselves, as James testifies, 2:19; yet he cannot in any way embrace or understand the Word of salvation, since it is foolishness unto him, unless the illumination of the Holy Spirit be added — so far is he from being able in any way to accomplish the matter of his salvation of his own accord, or even to make a beginning of it. But, as the ancients said, those efforts are fruitless if they be not aided by grace; yea, they are absolutely of no account, unless they be divinely excited: but the Holy Spirit excites good emotions when by His grace He inspires godly thoughts and anticipates man by instilling the emotion of a good purpose. Hence, the beginning and the whole operation of conversion is altogether and entirely to be ascribed to the Holy Spirit alone, who, in man that hears the Word, is not idle, but moves and impels the will, so that from the very beginning of conversion it fluctuates and inclines and begins to struggle with the flesh, until from being hostile it yields assent, i.e., from being enslaved it becomes free; from being unwilling it becomes willing; so that now to will is present with man, and he delights in the Law of the Lord, not by constraint or unwillingly, but willingly, Rom. 7:18, 22; Philem. v 14.” By these statements we still do not, indeed, ascertain clearly enough, whether conversion can be effected in any person, otherwise than without his will; whether, therefore, an excuse may be framed for him who is not converted. And yet we are warranted so to interpret what has already been cited, that, according to the conception of these theologians, the Word of God, 477even where it is heard only outwardly, begets, through a gracious influence, no doubt irresistible, not indeed at once conversion itself, but still that freedom of the will which makes it possible for the individual not only to resist grace, as he heretofore always did, but now also to let it operate in him. Thus God still remains the sole, efficient cause of conversion; this proceeds, however, thenceforth, no longer against and without the will of man. Thus, at least, the later theologians express themselves. They assume a prevenient grace, which produces unavoidable good emotions in man. QUEN. (III, 513): “We grant that man, aroused at first by prevenient grace, is so affected by the preaching of the Word, that he cannot escape the presence of God, and receives an inward impulse; nevertheless it does not follow hence, nor is it true, if the first movement of prevenient grace be unavoidable, that, therefore, its issue, viz., conversion itself, is unavoidable, and that we are irresistibly converted. For, though man cannot prevent this first movement from taking place, he still had the liberty of resisting in this first movement itself, as he has also in the second and third (though not indifferently, i.e., equally, to be converted and not to be converted; for the ability of a man already influenced by prevenient grace inclines rather to the latter than to the former), and he can, through a stubborn will, impede prevenient grace, repel it, and by resisting it prevent his own conversion.” [CHMN. Loci Theol., 186: “For Saul had the Word of God, and the good Spirit of God led him. But since he interposed a contrary act of his will, the Holy Spirit departed from him, 1 Sam. 16:14. So Matt. 23:37.”]

And HOLL. (873): “When man lies dead in sins, lives along securely, never thinking about his conversion, God, most merciful, comes to him anticipatingly, and by means of the Word, either heard or read or retained in his mind, thereupon excites good emotions in his mind which the divines call unavoidable, because he cannot evade their presence and perception; which also, in a certain way, can be called irresistible, as to their origin and their perception, because the sinner is in no way able to oppose himself to the excitation of them by the Word, or to his own perception of them, but can only withhold his acquiescence in them. ‘The first emotions,’ says J. Musaeus, ‘can be called irresistible, so far as they precede our thinking, so that it is not in our power to prevent them from arising; although, after they have arisen, they can be resisted, so as not to take root, and they can be hindered or altogether suffocated.’”

[18] FORM. CONC. (Sol. Dec., II, 65): “It follows, as soon as the Holy Spirit, through the Word and Sacraments, has begun 478His work of regeneration and renovation in us, that we then can and should truly co-operate through the power of the Holy Spirit, although much infirmity is joined therewith. But this fact, that we co-operate, does not arise from our carnal and natural powers, but from those new powers and gifts which the Holy Spirit begins in us in conversion.” CHMN. (Loc. Theol., I, 199): “No one can show the mathematical point, in which the liberated will begins to act. When prevenient grace, i.e., the first beginnings of faith and conversion, are given to man, at once there begins the struggle of the flesh and the Spirit, and it is manifest that this struggle cannot occur without the movement of our will. For the Holy Spirit struggled in Moses against his flesh, while yet living, far other wise than Michael contended with the devil for the dead body of Moses. Thus at first the desire is very obscure, the assent very languid, the obedience very feeble; and these gifts should increase. They increase in us, however, not as a block of wood is carried along by a violent impulse, or as the lilies grow without having to labor or care; but by effort, struggling, seeking, praying, knocking, and this not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, Luke 19:13; Matt. 25:26; 2 Tim. 1:6. This is, then, the import of what has been taught concerning prevenient, preparatory, and operating grace, that not our part is the first in conversion, but that God anticipates us with the Word and the divine afflatus, moving and impelling the will. But, after this emotion of the will, divinely occasioned, the human will is not purely passive, but, moved and assisted by the Holy Spirit, does not resist, but assents, and becomes a co-worker (συνεργος) with God.” [CHMN. continues: “Augustine has presented an excellent example in his own conversion, in which we see a living answer to this question, how amidst the hidden sparks and feeble beginnings of prevenient grace, the will is not inactive, but the strife between the flesh and the Spirit begins. For questions of this character should be decided from individual cases; they are best known, not from idle disputations, nor from the examples of others, but from personal experience, as perceived in the serious exercises of our own repentance. But as many live, without any exercise of faith or prayer, they collect many inexplicable things.” The passages cited from Augustine are those of his “Confessions,” that give the history of his conversion. “I quote these words of Augustine, because from this example the matter can be better understood than from many arguments.”]2424[*See a translation of the entire argument of Chemnitz in Evangelical Review (Gettysburg) for 1867. Vol. xviii. 536 sqq.]


[19] QUEN. (III, 498): “The conversion of man is the action of divine grace alone operating, and is accomplished by the same infinite power by which God creates anything from nothing and raises from the dead; and it is, moreover, effected through the means of the Word, which has that supernatural and divine power inherent in it, and which it exerts in the conversion of man, Eph. 1:17, 19; Phil. 2:13; John 15:4, 5; Col. 1:12, 13; 2:12, 13.” The question, “Whether conversion, once begun in man by the power of the Holy Spirit, afterwards is perfected and preserved by the powers of human nature alone?” is answered in the negative. HUTT. (Loc. Com., 286): “For, neither by this operation of the Holy Spirit is corrupt nature so restored, as to have it in its power to change itself for the better, or to no longer need the aid of the Holy Spirit, but be able to stand in grace by its own power, and to persevere unto the end. But all these things, no less than the beginning of conversion, are to be ascribed to the Holy Spirit, who works in us not only to will, but also to do, and who consummates and perfects the good that He begins in us, and by His own power guards and preserves the regenerate unto the end, Phil. 1:6; 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:5; 5:10.” And the statement is firmly maintained that the causes of our conversion are only two, HUTT. (Loc. Com., 284): “Again, the theologians differ widely in their views, some holding that there are only two, viz., the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, and others three, adding to those already mentioned also a third, namely, the will of man.; which divergence has occasioned great commotions in the Church of God. This strife, however, it seems could be readily controlled and quieted, if we would accurately distinguish between the two kinds of men who are to be converted, and so also of conversion itself . . . . For the question is either concerning the original conversion, which is that of the ungodly, or unbelievers and those never regenerated, or concerning the second conversion, which is the daily repentance of believers and of the regenerate. If the question be concerning original conversion, surely neither more nor less causes of conversion can or ought to be assigned than two, so that those who here add a third, and insist upon the will of man, are partakers of the synergistic error . . . . Whence, if an unbelieving man who has never been regenerate is to be converted, we assert that only two causes concur, but vastly differing in kind: the one truly efficient, which is solely and alone the Holy Spirit; the other the organic or instrumental cause, which is the Word of God preached and heard, as also the right use of the Sacraments.” CAL. (X, 16): “Our orthodox theory 480is stated in the FORM. CONC., mainly in opposition to the Synergists; . . . to whom are to be added also PH. MELANCHTHON, as also, later, the Helmstadt divines; . . . although there is a difference between the old and new Synergists, that the latter ascribe the beginning of conversion to the natural powers, and its progress and completion to the supernatural grace of the Holy Spirit; while the former invert the matter, ascribing the beginning to the Holy Spirit, and the completion to the natural powers.

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