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§ 3. The Evangelical Doctrine.

In the Lutheran Symbols the doctrine of Regeneration, which is made to include conversion, is thus stated: “Conversio hominis talis est immutatio, per operationem Spiritus Sancti, in hominis intellectu, voluntate et corde, qua homo (operatione videlicet Spiritus Sancti) potest oblatam gratiam apprehendere.6262Form of Concord, II. 83.

Hominis autem nondum renati intellectus et voluntas tantum sunt subjectum convertendum, sunt enim hominis spiritualiter mortui intellectus et voluntas, in quo homine Spiritus Sanctus conversionem et renovationem operatur, ad quod opus hominis convertendi voluntas nihil confert, sed patitur, ut Deus in ipsa operetur, donec regeneretur. Postea vero in aliis sequentibus bonis operibus Spiritui Sancto cooperatur, ea faciens, quæ Deo grata sunt.6363Ibid. 91.

Sicut igitur homo, qui corporaliter mortuus est, seipsum propriis viribus præparare aut accommodare non potest, ut vitam externam recipiat: ita homo spiritualiter in peccatis mortuus, seipsum propriis viribus ad consequendam spiritualem et cœlestem justitiam et vitam præparare, applicare, aut vertere non potest, nisi per Filium Dei a morte peccati liberetur et vivificetur.6464Ibid. 71.

Rejicimus errorem eorum qui fingunt, Deum in conversione et regeneratione hominis substantiam et essentiam veteris Adami, et 30præcipue animam rationalem penitus abolere, novamque anima essentiam ex nihilo, in illa conversione et regeneratione creare.6565Ibid. 14; Hase, Libri Symbolici, 3d edit. Leipzig, 1836, pp. 679, 681, 658, 581.

With these statements the doctrines taught in the Symbols and by the theologians of the Reformed churches, perfectly agree. It is sufficient to quote the standards of our own Church. The “Westminster Confession” says, “Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man being altogether averse from that which is good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.” “When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, He freeth him from his natural bondage under sin, and by his grace alone enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good.” “All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds, spiritually and savingly, to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his Almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.” “This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until being quickened and renewed by the Holy Ghost, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.”6666IX. 3, 4; x. 1, 2.

The Larger Catechism6767Question 67. says, “What is effectual calling? Effectual calling is the work of God’s almighty power and grace, whereby (out of his free and especial love to his elect, and from nothing in them moving Him thereunto) He doth in his accepted time invite and draw them to Jesus Christ by his Word and Spirit; savingly enlightening their minds, renewing and powerfully determining their wills, so as they (although in themselves dead in sin) are hereby made willing and able, freely to answer his call, and to accept and embrace the grace offered and conveyed therein.”

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Exposition of the Doctrine.

According to the common doctrine of Protestants, i.e., of Lutherans and Reformed, as appears from the above quotations —

Regeneration an Act of God.

1. Regeneration is an act of God. It is not simply referred to Him as its giver, and, in that sense, its author, as He is the giver of faith and of repentance. It is not an act which, by argument and persuasion, or by moral power, He induces the sinner to perform. But it is an act of which He is the agent. It is God who regenerates. The soul is regenerated. In this sense the soul is passive in regeneration, which (subjectively considered) is a change wrought in us, and not an act performed by us.

Regeneration an Act of God’s Power.

2. Regeneration is not only an act of God, but also an act of his almighty power. Agreeably to the express declarations of the Scriptures, it is so presented in the Symbols of the Protestant churches. If an act of omnipotence, it is certainly efficacious, for nothing can resist almighty power. The Lutherans indeed deny this. But the more orthodox of them mean simply that the sinner can keep himself aloof from the means through which, or, rather, in connection with which it pleases God to exercise his power. He can absent himself from the preaching of the Word, and the use of the sacraments. Or he may voluntarily place himself in such an inward posture of resistance as determines God not to exert his power in his regeneration. The assertion that regeneration is an act of God’s omnipotence, is, and is intended to be, a denial that it is an act of moral suasion. It is an affirmation that it is “physical” in the old sense of that word, as opposed to moral; and that it is immediate, as opposed to mediate, or through or by the truth. When either in Scripture or in theological writings, the word regeneration is taken in a wide sense as including conversion or the voluntary turning of the soul to God, then indeed it is said to be by the Word. The restoration of sight to the blind by the command of Christ, was an act of omnipotence. It was immediate. Nothing in the way of instrumentary or secondary coöperating influence intervened between the divine volition and the effect. But all exercises of the restored faculty were through and by the light. And without light sight is impossible. Raising Lazarus from the dead was an act of omnipotence. Nothing intervened between the volition and the effect. The act of quickening was the act of God. In that matter Lazarus was passive. But in all the acts of the restored vitality, he was active and free. According to the evangelical 32system it is in this sense that regeneration is the act of God’s almighty power. Nothing intervenes between his volition that the soul, spiritually dead, should live, and the desired effect. But in all that belongs to the consciousness; all that precedes or follows the imparting of this new life, the soul is active and is influenced by the truth acting according to the laws of our mental constitution.

Regeneration in the Subjective Sense of the Word not an Act.

3. Regeneration, subjectively considered, or viewed as an effect or change wrought in the soul, is not an act. It is not a new purpose created by God (if that language be intelligible), or formed by the sinner under his influence. Nor is it any conscious exercise of any kind. It is something which lies lower than consciousness.

Not a Change of Substance.

4. It is not, however, according to the Church doctrine, any change in the substance of the soul. This is rejected universally as Manicheism, and as inconsistent with the nature of sin and holiness. It is, indeed, often assumed that there is nothing in the soul but its substance and its acts; and, therefore, if regeneration be not a change in the acts, it must be a change of the substance of the soul. This assumption, however, is not only arbitrary, but it is also opposed to the intimate convictions of all men. That is, of all men in their normal state, when not speculating or theorizing. That such is the common judgment of men has already been proved under the heads of original righteousness and original sin. Every one recognizes, in the first place, that such constitutional principles as parental love, the social affections, a sense of justice, pity, etc., are immanent states of the soul which can be resolved neither into its essence nor acts. So also acquired habits are similar permanent and immanent states which are not acts, much less modifications or changes of the essence. The same is true of dispositions, amiable and unamiable. The refinement of taste and feeling due to education and culture, is not a change in the essence of the mind. It cannot reasonably be denied that a state of mind produced by culture, may be produced by the volition of God. What is true in every other department of our inner life, is true of our moral and religious nature. Besides those acts and states which reveal themselves in the consciousness, there are abiding states, dispositions, principles, or habits, as they are indifferently called, which constitute 33character and give it stability, and are the proximate determining cause why our voluntary exercises and conscious states are what they are. This is what the Bible calls the heart, which has the same relation to all our acts that the nature of a tree, as good or bad, has to the character of its fruit. A good tree is known to be good if its fruit be good. But the goodness of the fruit does not constitute or determine the goodness of the tree, but the reverse. In like manner, it is not good acts which make the man good; the goodness of the man determines the character of his acts.

It is a New Life.

5. While denying that regeneration is a change either in the essence or acts of the soul, evangelical Christians declare it to be, in the language of Scripture, “a quickening,” a ζωοποιεῖν, a communication of a new principle of life. It is hard, perhaps impossible, to define what life is. Yet every man is familiar with its manifestations. He sees and knows the difference between death and life, between a dead and living plant or animal. And, therefore, when the Bible tells us that in regeneration God imparts a new form of life to the soul, the language is as intelligible as human language can be in relation to such a subject. We know that when a man is dead as to the body he neither sees, feels, nor acts. The objects adapted to impress the senses of the living make no impression upon him. They awaken no corresponding feeling, and they call forth no activity. The dead are insensible and powerless. When the Scriptures declare that men are spiritually dead they do not deny to them physical, intellectual, social, or moral life. They admit that the objects of sense, the truths of reason, our social relations and moral obligations, are more or less adequately apprehended; these do not fail to awaken feeling and to excite to action. But there is a higher class of objects than these, what the Bible calls “The things of God, “The things of the Spirit,” “The things pertaining to salvation.” These things, although intellectually apprehended as presented to our cognitive faculties, are not spiritually discerned by the unrenewed man. A beautiful object in nature or art may be duly apprehended as an object of vision by an uncultivated man, who has no perception of its æsthetic excellence, and no corresponding feeling of delight in its contemplation. So it is with the unrenewed man. He may have an intellectual knowledge of the facts and doctrines of the Bible, but no spiritual discernment of their excellence, and no delight in them. The same 34Christ, as portrayed in the Scriptures, is to one man without form or comeliness that we should desire Him; to another He is the chief among ten thousand and the one altogether lovely; “God manifest in the flesh,” whom it is impossible not to adore, love, and obey.

This new life, therefore, manifests itself in new views of God, of Christ, of sin, of holiness, of the world, of the gospel, and of the life to come; in short, of all those truths which God has revealed as necessary to salvation. This spiritual illumination is so important and so necessary and such an immediate effect of regeneration, that spiritual knowledge is not only represented in the Bible as the end of regeneration (Col. iii. 10; 1 Tim. ii. 4), but the whole of conversion (which is the effect of regeneration) is summed up in knowledge. Paul describes his conversion as consisting in Christ’s being revealed to Him (Gal. i. 16); and the Scriptures make all religion, and even eternal life, to be a form of knowledge. Paul renounced everything for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ (Phil. iii. 8), and our Lord says that the knowledge of Himself and of the Father is eternal life. (John xvii. 8). The whole process of salvation is described as a translation from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. There is no wonder, therefore, that the ancients called regeneration a φωτισμός, an illumination. If a man born blind were suddenly restored to sight, such a flood of knowledge and delight would flow in upon him, through the organ of vision, that he might well think that all living consisted in seeing. So the New Testament writers represent the change consequent on regeneration, the opening the eyes on the certainty, glory, and excellence of divine things, and especially of the revelation of God in the person of his Son, as comprehending almost everything which pertains to spiritual life. Inseparably connected with this knowledge and included in it, is faith, in all the forms and exercises in which spiritual truths are its objects. Delight in the things thus revealed is the necessary consequence of spiritual illumination; and with delight come satisfaction and peace, elevation above the world, or spiritual mindedness, and such a sense of the importance of the things not seen and eternal, that all the energies of the renewed soul are (or, it is acknowledged, they should be) devoted to securing them for ourselves and others.

This is one of the forms in which the Bible sets forth the doctrine of regeneration. It is raising the soul dead in sin to spiritual 35life. And this spiritual life unfolds or manifests itself just as any other form of life, in all the exercises appropriate to its nature.

It is a New Birth.

The same doctrine on this subject is taught in other words when regeneration is declared to be a new birth. At birth the child enters upon a new state of existence. Birth is not its own act. It is born. It comes from a state of darkness, in which the objects adapted to its nature cannot act on it or awaken its activities. As soon as it comes into the world all its faculties are awakened; it sees, feels, and hears, and gradually unfolds all its faculties as a rational and moral, as well as physical being. The Scriptures teach that it is thus in regeneration. The soul enters upon a new state. It is introduced into a new world. A whole class of objects before unknown or unappreciated are revealed to it, and exercise upon it their appropriate influence. The “things of the Spirit” become the chief objects of desire and pursuit, and all the energies of the new-born soul are directed towards the spiritual, as distinguished from the seen and temporal. This representation is in accordance with the evangelical doctrine on this subject. It is not consistent with any of the false theories of regeneration, which regard regeneration as the sinner’s own act; as a mere change of purpose; or as a gradual process of moral culture.

A New Heart.

Another mode in which this doctrine is set forth is found in those passages in which God is represented as giving his people a new heart. The heart in Scripture is that which thinks, feels, wills, and acts. It is the soul; the self. A new heart is, therefore, a new self, a new man. It implies a change of the whole character. It is a new nature. Out of the heart proceed all conscious, voluntary, moral exercises. A change of heart, therefore, is a change which precedes these exercises and determines their character. A new heart is to a man what goodness is to the tree in the parable of our Lord.

In regeneration, therefore, there is a new life communicated to the soul; the man is the subject of a new birth; he receives a new nature or new heart, and becomes a new creature. As the change is neither in the substance nor in the mere exercises of the soul, it is in those immanent dispositions, principles, tastes, or habits which underlie all conscious exercises, and determine tht character of the man and of all his acts.

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The whole Soul the Subject of this change.

6. According to the evangelical doctrine the whole soul is the subject of regeneration. It is neither the intellect to the exclusion of the feelings, nor the feelings to the exclusion of the intellect; nor is it the will alone, either in its wider or in its more limited sense, that is the subject of the change in question. This is evident, —

(1.) Because the soul is a unit, and is so recognized in Scripture. Its faculties are not so dissociated that one can be good and another bad, one saved and another lost, one active in the sphere of morals and religion and the others inactive. In every such exercise the intelligence, the feelings, the will, and the conscience, or moral consciousness, are of necessity involved.

(2.) In the description of this work all the faculties of the soul are represented as affected. The mind is illuminated, the eyes of the understanding are opened; the heart is renewed; the will is conquered, or, the man is made willing.

(3.) When Lazarus was restored to life, it was not one member of the body, or one faculty that received the vivifying influence. It was not the heart that was set in motion, the brain and lungs being restored by its action. It was the whole man that was made alive. And it is the whole soul that is regenerated.

(4.) This is further evident from the effects ascribed to regeneration. These effects are not confined to any one department of our nature. Regeneration secures right knowledge as well as right feeling; and right feeling is not the effect of right knowledge, nor is right knowledge the effect of right feeling. The two are the inseparable effects of a work which affects the whole soul.

(5.) When our Lord teaches that the tree must be made good in order that the fruit should be good, it was not any one part of the tree which must be changed, but the whole tree. In like manner it is the soul, in the centre and unity of its life, that is the subject of that life-giving power of the Holy Ghost, by which it becomes a new creature. The doctrine that regeneration is a change affecting only one of the faculties of the soul has its foundation entirely outside of the Scriptures. It is simply an inference from a particular psychological theory, and has no authority in theology.


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