Regeneration


by William G. T. Shedd

 

In Westminster Shorter Catechism QQ. 30–31 the application of redemption is attributed to a particular work of God denominated effectual calling: “The Spirit applies to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.” This effectual calling is defined to be “the work of God’s Spirit, whereby convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing [Westminster Larger Catechism 67 adds: powerfully determining’] our wills, he does persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ freely offered to us in the gospel.” According to this definition the effectual call produces (a) conviction of conscience, (b) illumination of the understanding, (c) renovation of the will, and (d) faith in Christ’s atonement. Everything in redemption runs back, ultimately, to God: “His divine power has given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Pet. 1:3).
But such effects in the soul as conviction, illumination, renovation, and faith imply a great change within it. These are fruits and evidences of that spiritual transformation which in Scripture is denominated “new birth,” “new creation,” “resurrection from the dead,” “death to sin and life to righteousness,” “passage from darkness to light.” Consequently, effectual calling includes and implies regeneration. Hence it is said in Westminster Confession 13.1 that “they who are effectually called and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them, are farther sanctified.” In Westminster Confession 10.2 effectual calling is made to include regeneration, because man is said to be “altogether passive, until he is enabled to answer the call.”1
Various Uses of the Term Regeneration
The term regeneration has been used in a wide and in a restricted sense. It may signify the whole process of salvation, including the preparatory work of conviction and the concluding work of sanctification. Or it may denote only the imparting of spiritual life in the new birth, excluding the preparatory and concluding processes. The Romish church regards regeneration as comprehending everything in the transition from a state of condemnation on earth to a state of salvation in heaven and confounds justification with sanctification. The Lutheran doctrine, stated in the apology for the Augsburg Confession and in the Formula of Concord, employs regeneration in the wide meaning, but distinguishes carefully between justification and sanctification. In the Reformed church, the term regeneration was also employed in the wide signification. Like the Lutheran, while carefully distinguishing between justification and sanctification, the Reformed theologian brought under the term regeneration everything that pertains to the development as well as to the origination of the new spiritual life. Regeneration thus included not only the new birth, but all that issues from it. It comprised the converting acts of faith and repentance and also the whole struggle with indwelling sin in progressive sanctification. Thus Calvin (3.3.9) remarks: “I apprehend repentance (poenitentiam) to be regeneration (regenerationem), the end of which is the restoration of the divine image within us. In this regeneration, we are restored by the grace of Christ to the righteousness of God from which we fell in Adam. And this restoration is not accomplished in a single moment or day or year; but by continual, even tardy, advances the Lord destroys the carnal corruptions of his elect.” Here, regeneration is employed to denote not merely the instantaneous act of imparting life to the spiritually dead, but also the processes of conversion and sanctification that result from it. (See supplement 6.3.1.)
This wide use of the term passed into English theology. The divines of the seventeenth century very generally do not distinguish between regeneration and conversion, but employ the two as synonyms. Owen does this continually (On the Spirit 3.5), and Charnock likewise (Attributes, Practical Atheism). The Westminster Creed does not use the term regeneration. Instead of it, it employs the term vocation or effectual calling. This comprises the entire work of the Holy Spirit in the application of redemption. Under it belongs everything pertaining to the process of salvation, from the first step of conviction of sin to the act of saving faith in Jesus Christ (cf. Fisher, On the Catechism, 31–32).
The wide and somewhat vague use of the term regeneration was suggested by a few scriptural texts. The apostle gives the injunction: “Put off the old man,” “put on the new man,” and “be renewed (ananeousthai)2 in the spirit of your minds” (Eph. 4:22–25). He exhorts Christians to “be transformed by the renewing (anakainōsei)3 of their mind” (Rom. 12:2). In 2 Cor. 4:16 he says that the “inward man is renewed (anakainountai)4 day by day.” In these instances, as the use of ananeoō5 and anakainoō6 instead of gennaō7 shows, the notion of molding or forming, rather than that of regenerating, is in St. Paul’s mind. He is addressing those in whom the principle of the new life has been implanted—who have been born again—and now urges them to the exercise and nurture of the new life. Similarly, the prophet Ezekiel (18:31), addressing the house of Israel, the church of God, says: “Make you a new heart and a new spirit.” Here, the return from backsliding and the reformation and culture of the spiritual life, not the actual regeneration of the soul, are what is demanded. Neither of these two texts refers to regeneration in the restricted signification of the term. God does not, in either of them, command man to quicken himself, to create life from the dead, to command the light to shine out of darkness, to call things that be not as though they were (2 Cor. 4:6; Rom. 4:17). In them both he exhorts regenerate but backsliding man, as he does the church at Ephesus, to “repent and do the first works” (Rev. 2:5). In the New Testament the renewing of regeneration is denoted by ktizein,8 gennaō,9 zōopoiein;10 and that of sanctification by ananeousthai11 (Eph. 4:23), anakainountai12 (2 Cor. 4:16), and anakainōsis13 (Rom. 12:2). (See supplement 6.3.2.)
But this wide use of the term regeneration led to confusion of ideas and views. As there are two distinct words in the language, regeneration and conversion, there are also two distinct notions denoted by them. Consequently, there arose gradually a stricter use of the term regeneration and its discrimination from conversion. Turretin (15.4.13) defines two kinds of conversion, as the term was employed in his day. The first is “habitual” or “passive” conversion. It is the production of a habit or disposition in the soul: “Habitual or passive conversion occurs through the infusion of supernatural habits by the Holy Spirit.”14 The second kind is “actual” or “active” conversion. It is the acting out in faith and repentance of this implanted habit or disposition: “Actual or active conversion occurs through the exercise of those good habits in which the acts of faith and repentance are both granted by God and called forth from man.”15 After thus defining, Turretin remarks that the first kind of conversion is better denominated “regeneration” because it has reference to that new birth by which man is renewed in the image of his maker; and the second kind of conversion is better denominated “conversion” because it includes the operation and agency of man himself. De Moor on Marck (23.2), after distinguishing between conversio activa and passiva, says that the latter is synonymous with vocation.
We shall adopt this distinction between regeneration and conversion. Regeneration, accordingly, is an act; conversion is an activity or a process. Regeneration is the origination of life; conversion is the evolution and manifestation of life. Regeneration is wholly an act of God; conversion is wholly an activity of man. Regeneration is a cause; conversion is an effect. Regeneration is instantaneous; conversion is continuous.
The doctrine of regeneration was taught by Christ to Nicodemus: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:3, 6); “the sons of God are born not of the will of man, but of God” (1:13). It had previously been taught in the Old Testament: “I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of your flesh and will give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek. 11:19); “a new heart will I give you” (36:26); “I will put my law in their inward parts and write it in their hearts” (Jer. 31:33). The vision of dry bones (Ezek. 37) taught the doctrine symbolically. Moses taught the doctrine in Deut. 30:6: “The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your seed to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (cf. Ps. 51:10).
Characteristics of Regeneration
Respecting regeneration, the following characteristics are to be noted. First, regeneration is solely the work of God. The terms employed in Scripture prove this: “creating anew” (Eph. 4:24), “fathering” (James 1:18), “quickening” (John 5:21; Eph. 2:5), “calling out of darkness into light” (1 Pet. 2:9), “commanding the light to shine out of darkness” (2 Cor. 4:6), “alive from the dead” (Rom. 6:13), “new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17), “born again” (John 3:3–7), “God’s workmanship” (Eph. 2:10). These terms denote a work of omnipotent power. The origination of life is impossible to the creature. He can receive life; he can nurture life; and he can use and exert life. But he cannot create life.
Second, regeneration as the creative and life-giving act of God produces an effect on the human understanding. It is illumination: “enlightening the mind” (Westminster Larger Catechism 67); “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6; 1 Cor. 2:12–13); “the eyes of your understanding being enlightened” (Eph. 1:18; Phil. 1:9; Col. 3:10; 1 John 4:7; 5:20; 17:3; Ps. 19:7–8; 43:3–4). The distinguishing peculiarity of the knowledge produced by regeneration is that it is experimental. By this is meant that the cognition is that of immediate consciousness. This is the highest and clearest form of cognition. When, for example, the truth that God is merciful is stated in language, the natural man understands the language grammatically and logically, but nothing more. He has no accompanying consciousness of God’s mercy. In common phrase, he does not feel that God is merciful. But a knowledge that is destitute of inward consciousness is an inferior species. It is a blind man’s knowledge of color. The blind man understands the phraseology by which the color is described. It conveys logical and self-consistent notions to his understanding, but it is unattended with sensation. Such a knowledge of color is inadequate, in reality is ignorance, compared with that of a man possessed of vision. It is the knowledge of a sensuous object without any sensation. It is quasi knowledge, such as Christ refers to when he says of the natural man: “Seeing he sees not; and hearing he hears not.”
Illumination or instruction by the Holy Spirit implies then the production of an experimental consciousness of religious truth. In this respect, it differs from human teaching. This is alluded to in John 6:63: “The words I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life,” that is, they are spiritual life. Vital and conscious knowledge of religious truth is the effect of the operation of the Holy Spirit in the human understanding. One man can teach religious truth by grammatical propositions to another, but he cannot illumine his mind in respect to it. He can tell a man that God is holy, is love, that sin is hateful and virtue is lovely; but he cannot impart the consciousness that God is holy, that God is love, that sin is hateful, that virtue is lovely. The production of an experience upon such subjects is the prerogative of God.
Hence all the unexperimental knowledge of the natural man upon religious subjects is denominated “ignorance” in Scripture. Said Christ to the Jews, “You neither know me nor my Father” (John 8:19); to his disciples he said, “It is given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 13:11); “this is life eternal to know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3); “no man knows the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him” (Matt. 11:27). The books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are filled with the praise of a kind of knowledge which they represent sinful man to be destitute of and which is the gift of God. Christ the great high priest “has compassion upon the ignorant” (Heb. 5:2). Scoffers are “willingly ignorant” (2 Pet. 3:5). Unbelieving Jews were “ignorant of God’s righteousness” (Rom. 10:3). Before regeneration, men fashion themselves “according to their lusts in ignorance” (1 Pet. 1:14). The sinful condition of the pagan world is called a “time of ignorance” which God in his forbearance temporarily overlooked” (Acts 17:30). Sin is often denominated folly. The psalmist mourning over the remainders of sin exclaims: “So foolish was I, and ignorant” (Ps. 73:32).
St. Paul explains the difference between the knowledge of the natural man and that of the regenerate in 1 Cor. 2:14: “The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him.” “There is a wide difference,” says Owen (Holy Spirit 3.3), “between the mind’s receiving doctrines notionally and its receiving the things taught in them really. The first, a natural man can do. It is done by all who, by the use of outward means, do know the doctrine of Scripture in distinction from human ignorance and error. Hence men unregenerate are said ‘to know the way of righteousness’ (2 Pet. 2:21).” This true and real reception of divine truth, according to Owen, denotes (a) an apprehension that these “spiritual things” agree with the divine attributes and express them; the doctrine of gratuitous justification, for example, when received by the regenerate mind is perceived to accord with all the attributes of God and thus to be a manifestation of the glory of God; and (b) an apprehension that the particular “spiritual thing” is suited to the end proposed; the death of Christ, for example, is adapted in every way to meet the demands of God’s holy nature and of man’s sinful nature. It is not “foolishness,” but wisdom, or an adaptation of means to ends and is so perceived and understood by the spiritual man, but not by the natural. That there is this power of illuminating the understanding is proved by the fact that good men pray that it may be exercised: “Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law” (Ps. 119:34); “teach me your statutes” (119:68).
Third, regeneration with respect to the human will is “renewal.” Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 67 describes one part of effectual calling as the “renewing and powerfully determining” of the will. Biblical texts that prove this are the following: “I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of their flesh and will give them a heart of flesh” (Ezek. 11:19; 36:26–27); “renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10); “may the God of peace make you perfect to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight” (Heb. 13:21); “it is not of him that wills, but of God that show mercy” (Rom. 9:16); “God works in you to will” (Phil. 2:13); “your people shall be willing in the day of your power” (Ps. 110:3); “the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God” (2 Thess. 3:5). Those texts, also, which describe regeneration as a “quickening” prove that the will is renewed.
Recurring to the distinction which we have made between “inclination” and “volition” or “choice,” regeneration is to be defined as the origination of a new inclination by the Holy Spirit, not as the exertion of a new volition or making a new choice by the sinner.16 Keeping this distinction in mind, we say that in regeneration God inclines man to holiness and disinclines him to sin. This change of the disposition of the will is attributable solely to the Holy Spirit. The sinner discovers, on making the attempt, that he is unable to reverse his determination to self and the creature. He cannot start a contrary disposition of his will. He is unable to incline himself to God as the chief end of his existence. He can choose the antecedents or preparatives to inclining, but cannot incline. By a volition he can read his Bible. This is a preparative or antecedent to supreme love of God, but it is not supreme love and cannot produce it. By volitions he can listen to preaching and can refrain from vicious actions. These also are preparatives or antecedents to a holy inclination of the will, but are not this inclination itself and cannot produce it. It is a fact of consciousness that while the sinner can put forth single volitions or particular choices that are favorable to a new voluntary disposition because they evince the need of it, he cannot begin the new disposition itself. He cannot incline himself by any volition whatsoever. “The will,” says Edwards (Will 3.4), “in the time of a leading act or inclination that is opposite to the command of God, is not able to exert itself to the contrary. The sinful inclination is unable to change itself; and for this plain reason that it is unable to incline to change itself.” To employ a phrase of Edwards, the unregenerate is “unable to be willing” in the direction of holiness. The reason and ground of this inability has been explained in anthropology. The inability is voluntary in the sense that it is the consequence of an act of self-determination, and this act was the sin in Adam by which the human will became sinfully inclined.
By the operation of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, the man is enabled to incline to holiness instead of sin. In the scriptural phraseology, he is “made willing” (Ps. 110:3). God “works in him to will” (Phil. 2:13). In the phraseology of Westminster Larger Catechism 67, he is “powerfully determined.” By renewing the sinful and self-enslaved will, the Holy Spirit empowers it to self-determine or incline to God as the chief good and the supreme end. This new self-determination expels and takes the place of the old sinful self-determination. From this new self-determination or inclination or disposition or principle, holy volitions or choices proceed, and from the holy choices, holy actions.
That God the Spirit possesses the power to originate an inclination to holiness in the human will is proved by the biblical representations. David frequently asks God to exert this power: “Incline my heart unto your testimonies” (Ps. 119:36); “make me to go in the path of your commandments” (119:35); “turn away my eyes from beholding vanity” (119:37); “create in me a clean heart” (51:10); “open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth your praise” (51:15); “we are the clay, and you our potter” (Isa. 64:8); “the Lord opened the heart of Lydia, that she attended to the things which were spoken by Paul” (Acts 16:14). The assurance of Christ that the Holy Spirit shall be given to everyone that asks implies the power of the Spirit to incline the human will.
While the operation of the Holy Spirit upon the human will is inexplicable (John 3:8), yet certain particulars are clear. (a) The influence of the Spirit is distinguishable from that of the truth, from that of man upon man, and from that of any instrument or means whatever. His energy acts directly upon the human soul itself. It is the influence of spirit upon a spirit, of one of the trinitarian persons upon a human person. Neither the truth nor a fellowman can thus operate directly upon the essence of the soul itself. It is in this respect that theologians have defined the influence of the Holy Spirit upon the human will to be “physical.”17 The physis18 or essence of the Holy Spirit operates upon the physis19 of the human spirit. In regeneration, there is immediate contact between God and man. Spiritual essence touches spiritual essence. Yet there is no mingling or confusion of substance. God and man are two distinct and different beings, yet in regeneration they approach closer to each other than they do either in creation or providence. This fact is supported by the metaphors which describe the intimacy of the union between the believer and Christ. The one is the head, and the other is a member of the same body. Christ is the very life of the regenerate soul. In two instances the church is called “Christ”: “To your seed, which is Christ” (Gal. 3:16; 1 Cor. 12:12). Christ is “formed in the believer” (Gal. 4:19). It is also supported by the biblical statements respecting the working of the Holy Spirit in the soul: “The Spirit makes intercession” (Rom. 8:26–27). The operation of the Spirit is so intimate that his working cannot in consciousness be distinguished from that of the soul itself. The believer is a “temple” of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). That the influence of the Holy Spirit is directly upon the human spirit and is independent even of the word itself is further proved by the fact that it is exerted in the case of infants without any employment of the truth. John the Baptist was “filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15).20 (b) By reason of this peculiarity in the operation of the Holy Spirit, it does not force the human will. It is purely spiritual agency exerted upon a spiritual being. If matter could operate by contact and directly upon mind, the consequence would be compulsion. The two things are heterogeneous. But when God operates directly upon man, the two beings are homogeneous. It is a Scholastic maxim that “whatever is received, is received after the manner of the recipient.”21 Sensuous organs alone are adapted to receive sensuous impressions from objects of sense; the immaterial spirit alone is adapted to receive an impression from the eternal Spirit. Man’s body cannot experience spiritual influences, and his soul cannot be affected by matter. (c) The operation of the Holy Spirit is in the will; that of the truth, and of man upon man, is on the will. The more interior an influence is the farther is it from being compulsory. It is better able to work in accordance with the nature and constitution of that within which it works. If it were operating ab extra,22 it would be more apt to work across or against the constitutional structure: “It is a characteristic of God to move the will, especially by inclining it from within”23 (Aquinas, Summa 1.105.4). (See supplement 6.3.3.)
Fourth, man is passive in regeneration. He cannot actively originate spiritual life. His relation to regeneration is that of a recipient. This is a part of the meaning of “passivity” in this connection. In that particular instant when the divine and holy life is implanted, the soul of man contributes no energy of efficiency of any kind. Being dead in sin, it cannot produce life to righteousness. A corpse cannot originate animal life. Lazarus was passive at that punctum temporis24 when his body was reanimated. The same is true of the soul of man in respect to regeneration. But since regeneration is instantaneous, the sinner’s passivity is instantaneous also. Man is passive only for a moment, during the twinkling of an eye. God’s regenerating act is like the sounding of the last trumpet. The resurrection of dead bodies is instantaneous, and the regeneration of dead souls is so likewise. The doctrine that the sinner is passive in regeneration does not imply that the passivity extends over a great length or even any length of time in his existence. On the contrary, it is only a punctum temporis25 in his history. Up to that point of time, he is active: active in enmity to God. After that point of time he is active: active in submission to God. The carnal mind is enmity; the spiritual mind is love. Enmity and love are activities of the soul. Between the carnal mind and the spiritual mind, there is nothing but the instant of regeneration. In this instant when the new life is imparted, the activity is solely that of God the Holy Spirit.
Fifth, man cannot cooperate in regeneration. This follows logically from the fact that he is passive in regeneration. A dead man cannot assist in his own resurrection. It also follows from the fact that cooperation implies some agreement between the parties. God and the sinner must harmonize before they can work together. Two forces cannot cooperate unless they are coordinate and coincident forces. But up to the instant of regeneration, man is hostile to God: “The carnal mind is enmity toward God” (Rom. 8:7). Enmity cannot cooperate with love. (See supplement 6.3.4.)
Upon the Semipelagian, the Tridentine, and the Arminian theory of depravity, there may be cooperation, but not upon the Augustinian and Calvinistic. According to the former theories, there are slight remainders of holiness in the natural man which, though feeble, yet afford a point of contact and an element of force in his regeneration. Calvin (3.24.13) attributes synergism to Chrysostom and also to Bernard and Lombard (2.2.6):
Lombard, in order to establish the position that the human will performs its part in regeneration, informs us that two sorts of grace are necessary. One he calls operative, by which we efficaciously will what is good; the other cooperative, which attends as auxiliary to a goodwill. This division I dislike, because, while he attributes an efficacious desire of what is good to the grace of God, he insinuates that man has of his own nature antecedent though ineffectual desires after what is good; as Bernard asserts that a goodwill is the work of God, but yet allows that man is self-impelled to desire such a goodwill. But this is very remote from the meaning of Augustine, from whom, however, Lombard claims to have borrowed this distinction.
Synergism is enunciated in the canons of the Council of Trent (6.4). Regeneration is explained as taking place by some cooperation of the human will with the divine. The will is said to be “excited and assisted” by divine grace. Similarly, Limborch (Theology 4.14.21) says that “grace is not the solitary, yet it is the primary cause of salvation; for the cooperation of free will is due to grace as a primary cause; for unless the free will had been excited (excitatum) by prevenient grace, it would not be able to cooperate with grace.” These are not the terms which the Scriptures employ. To excite and assist sinful man is not the same as to quicken and renew him. To excite the human will is to stimulate it, not to impart life. Excitement supposes some vitality which is in low tone and requires a tonic. Assistance implies that the will already has some force in the right direction which only needs to be added to. This is very different from the view presented in Ezek. 37:14: “I will put my spirit in you, and you shall live.” If there be some spiritual life in the natural man, he can cooperate in regeneration. But if he is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:11) he cannot. The truth upon this subject is well stated in Westminster Confession 10.2: “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 Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer the call and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.” According to this statement, man is passive until he is quickened, after which divine act he is actively holy.
It is said by some that the sinful will has the power to cease self-determination to evil, though it has not the power to self-determine or incline to good. It can stop resistance to God, though it can do nothing more. But this would involve a cessation of all action in the will, both sinful and holy action, at the instant of regeneration, and this would make the will characterless at this instant. But in anthropology (pp. 496, 502, and 584–85) we have shown that the will cannot be inactive or destitute of an inclination, either good or evil. The will must be incessantly inclined in order to be a will, as the understanding must be incessantly intelligent in order to be an understanding. Consequently, the cessation of sinful inclination must be caused by the origination of holy inclination. Sin does not first stop, and then holiness come into the place of sin; but holiness positively expels sin. Darkness does not first cease, and then light enter; but light drives out darkness. Sin goes out, as Chalmers phrases it, by “the expulsion power of a new affection.” Consequently, the regeneration of the will is the only way to stop the evil inclination of the will. Again, it is said that there is receptivity for holiness in the fallen will, though there is no energy to produce it. But receptivity is more than capacity. It is a faint desire or inclination. Hence St. Paul says that “the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him” (1 Cor. 2:14). There is repulsion, not recipiency, in the natural man. “The carnal mind (phronēma)26 is enmity against God” (Rom. 8:7). When Christ (Luke 18:42) said to the blind man “receive your sight,” there was no receptivity in the eye, no favoring condition of the organ, that facilitated the restoration of sight. The causing of vision was wholly miraculous. Simultaneously with the words receive your sight, there was the exertion of creative power upon the sightless eye, enabling it to the act of vision. (See supplement 6.3.5.)
Sixth, regeneration is a work of God in the human soul that is below consciousness. There is no internal sensation caused by it. No man was ever conscious of that instantaneous act of the Holy Spirit by which he was made a new creature in Christ Jesus. And since the work is that of God alone, there is no necessity that man should be conscious of it. This fact places the infant and the adult upon the same footing and makes infant regeneration as possible as that of adults. Infant regeneration is taught in Scripture: “He shall be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15); “suffer little children to come unto me; for of such is the kingdom of God” (18:15–16); “the promise is unto your children” (Acts 2:39); “now are your children holy” (1 Cor. 7:14). Infant regeneration is also taught symbolically (a) by infant circumcision in the Old Testament and (b) by infant baptism in the New Testament.
Seventh, regeneration is not effected by the use of means, in the strict signification of the term means. The Holy Spirit employs means in conviction, in conversion, and in sanctification, but not in regeneration. The appointed means of grace are the word, the sacraments, and prayer. None of these means are used in the instant of regeneration; first, because regeneration is instantaneous and there is not time to use them; second, because regeneration is a direct operation of the Holy Spirit upon the human spirit. It is the action of Spirit upon spirit, of a divine person upon a human person, whereby spiritual life is imparted. Nothing, therefore, of the nature of means or instruments can come between the Holy Spirit and the soul that is to be made alive. God did not employ an instrument or means when he infused physical life into the body of Adam. There were only two factors: the dust of the ground and the creative power of God which vivified that dust. Divine omnipotence and dead matter were brought into direct contact, with nothing intervening. The dust was not a means or instrument by which God originated life. So in regeneration there are only two factors: the human soul destitute of spiritual life and the Holy Spirit who quickens it. The dead soul is not an instrument by which spiritual life is originated, but the subject in which it is originated.
When Christ restored sight to the blind man, he did it by creative energy alone, without the use of means or instruments. The light of day was not a means. It contributed nothing to the result. Nor was the blind eye a means of originating vision. When Christ anointed the eyes of the blind man with clay mixed with spittle, the act was symbolical, probably; but certainly the spittle was not a means employed by him to work the miracle. In like manner, the word and truth of God, the most important of all the means of grace, is not a means of regeneration, as distinct from conviction, conversion, and sanctification. This is evident when it is remembered that it is the office of a means or instrument to excite or stimulate an already existing principle of life. Physical food is a means of physical growth; but it supposes physical vitality. If the body is dead, bread cannot be a means or instrument. Intellectual truth is a means of intellectual growth; but it supposes intellectual vitality. If the mind be idiotic, secular knowledge cannot be a means or instrument. Spiritual truth is a means of spiritual growth, in case there be spiritual vitality. But if the mind be dead to righteousness, spiritual truth cannot be a means or instrument. Truth certainly cannot be a means unless it is apprehended. But “the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).
That regeneration is not effected by the use of means will appear from considering those cases in which means are employed. First, the word and truth of God are means of conviction, because there is in the human conscience a kind of vitality that responds to the truth as convicting and condemning. The apostasy did not kill the conscience stone-dead. If it had, no fallen man could feel remorse. Adam’s fall has benumbed and stupefied the conscience, but there is still sufficient vitality left in it for it to be a distressing witness to man. Consequently, the Holy Spirit employs truth as a means of exciting and stimulating the human conscience, not of regenerating it in the strict sense of the term. The conscience is not “made alive from the dead” in the sense that the will is. It has not lost all sensibility to moral truth. It possesses some vitality that only needs to be stimulated and toned up. This is done in conviction and by the use of truth as an instrument. Second, the word and truth of God are means of conversion, because regeneration has preceded and has imparted spiritual life to the soul.27 There is now a spiritual vitality that can respond to the truth. The understanding having been enlightened by regeneration, when the particular truth that the blood of Christ cleanses from all sin is presented, it is apprehended. This truth is now spiritually understood and is no longer “foolishness” to the mind. And the will having been renewed and “powerfully determined” or inclined, this same cardinal truth is believed savingly. The doctrine of vicarious atonement thus becomes a means of faith in Christ, and faith in Christ works by sorrow for sin and love of holiness. Faith and repentance are converting acts. They are the substance of conversion and are brought about by the use of the appropriate means: by the presentation of evangelical truth to a soul in which the Holy Spirit has operated with regenerating grace. Third, the word and truth of God are means of sanctification, upon the same principle. Regeneration and conversion precede sanctification. By regeneration, spiritual life is originated; by conversion, spiritual life is put in action and manifested. Of course, then, the means of sanctification find a spiritual vitality in the soul, to which they are correlated. The Holy Spirit employs the word, sacraments, prayer, afflictions, and all the discipline of life as instruments by which he excites and induces the renewed man to struggle with indwelling sin and to endure unto the end.
But when we consider regeneration itself and look into the soul for a principle of life and power to be correlated to means or instruments of regeneration, we do not find any. The unenlightened understanding is unable to apprehend, and the unregenerate will is unable to believe. Vital force is lacking in these two principal faculties. What is needed at this point is life and force itself. Consequently, the author of spiritual life himself must operate directly, without the use of means or instruments, and outright give spiritual life and power from the dead, that is, ex nihilo. The new life is not implanted because man perceives the truth, but he perceives the truth because the new life is implanted. A man is not regenerated because he has first believed in Christ, but he believes in Christ because he has been regenerated. He is not regenerated because he first repents, but he repents because he has been regenerated.28
Eighth, regeneration is the cause of conversion. The Holy Spirit acts in regeneration, and as a consequence the human spirit acts in conversion. And as the act of regeneration is not divisible between God and man, neither is the act of conversion. The converting activity of the regenerate soul moves in two principal directions: (a) faith, which is the converting or turning of the soul to Christ as the Redeemer from sin, and (b) repentance, which is the converting or turning of the soul to God as the supreme good. Regeneration is instantaneous, conversion is continuous. Faith is gradual and unceasing, and so is repentance; but regeneration is effected completely and once for all. (See supplement 6.3.6.)
In connection with the doctrine that God is the sole author of regeneration, several particulars are to be noticed. The reason for expecting the regeneration of men is found in God’s promise to bestow regeneration, not in man’s power to produce it. In his discourse on the day of Pentecost, Peter assigns as a reason for “repenting and being baptized for the remission of sins” the fact that God “has promised remission to as many as he had called” (Acts 2:38–39). He expected to see men repent under his preaching because “God had exalted Jesus to be a prince and a Savior to give repentance” (5:31) and because “God also to the Gentiles had granted repentance unto life” (11:18). Similarly, Paul exhorts Timothy to “be gentle unto all men, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves, if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:24). The preacher should confidently expect faith and repentance to follow from his preaching, because of God’s purpose and promise to bestow regenerating grace in connection with preaching. In order to this expectation, it is not necessary that he should know who are the particular persons whom God has elected. It is enough to know that God has made an immense election, that he has formed a purpose to regenerate “a multitude which no man can number, out of all nations and kindreds and peoples and tongues” (Rev. 7:9). A second ground of hope and expectation that sinners will be regenerated is the fact that under the gospel dispensation God’s regenerating grace is being continually exerted. The Holy Spirit actually accompanies the faithful preacher of the word. The prophets “preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven” (1 Pet. 1:12). The Holy Spirit as a regenerating spirit is actually poured out among mankind. There is not a moment in which he does not regenerate many souls. Men are being born spiritually all the time, as men are being born physically all the time. A third reason for the expectation that sinners will be regenerated is the fact that God has promised to pour out the regenerating Spirit in answer to the prayers of the church. The church can obtain the Holy Spirit for the sinful world: “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse and prove me, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing” (Mal. 3:10); “if you being evil know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him” (Luke 11:13). The outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost was an answer to the prayer of the church.
Man’s Agency in Regeneration
The question here arises: What is man’s relation to regeneration? The answer is that his agency is not in regeneration itself, but in the work of conviction which is preparatory or antecedent to regeneration.
The term preparative as used by the Augustinian and Calvinist is very different from its use by the Semipelagian and Arminian. The former means by it conviction of sin, guilt, and helplessness. The latter employs it in the sense of a preparative disposition or a favoring state of heart. This is referred to in Westminster Confession 9.3: “A natural man is not able to convert himself or prepare himself thereto.” The tenth of the Thirty-nine Articles also excludes the Semipelagian “preparatives” to regeneration: “We have no power to do good works acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us that we may have a goodwill and working with us when we have that goodwill.” In Semipelagian use, a “preparative” denotes some faint desires and beginnings of holiness in the natural man upon which the Holy Spirit, according to the synergistic theory of regeneration, joins. Having this sense of the term in view, Witsius (Covenants 3.6.27) says: “Let none think it absurd that we now speak of means of regeneration, when but a little before (3.6.10, 12) we rejected all preparatives for it.” Owen, on the other hand, denies “means” and asserts “preparatives” of regeneration. Yet Owen and Witsius agree in doctrine. In the Calvinistic system, a “preparative” to regeneration or a “means” of it is anything that demonstrates man’s total lack of holy desire and his need of regeneration. It is consequently not a part of regeneration, but something prior and antecedent to it. There is a work performed in the soul previous to the instantaneous act of regeneration, as there is a work performed in the body previous to the instantaneous act of death. A man loses physical life in an instant, but he has been some time in coming to this instant. So man gains spiritual life in an instant, though he may have had days and months of a foregoing experience of conviction and sense of spiritual death. This is the ordinary divine method, except in the case of infants.
John the Baptist was sent to preach the law in order “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17). Conviction of sin, in this instance, was an antecedent or preparative to the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, but no part of regeneration itself. There is a grace of God that goes before regenerating grace and makes the soul ready for it. It is common or prevenient grace. Man’s work in respect to regeneration is connected with this. Moved and assisted by common or prevenient grace, the natural man is to perform the following duties in order to be convicted of sin and know his need of the new birth:
1.      Reading and hearing the divine word: “Faith comes by hearing” (Rom. 10:17); “who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 13:9); “the Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners, of driving them out of themselves and drawing them unto Christ” (Westminster Larger Catechism 155).
2.      Serious application of the mind and examination of the truth in order to understand and feel its force: “Take heed how you hear: for whosoever has to him shall be given” (Luke 8:18). Says Owen (Holy Spirit, 2), “Should men be as intent in their endeavors after knowledge in spiritual things as they are to skill in crafts, sciences, and other mysteries of secular life, it would be much otherwise with them.” The use of these means of conviction under common grace produces (a) illumination in regard to the requirements of the law and failure to meet them (this is not the spiritual illumination of the regenerate mind in 1 Cor. 2:14, but the legal illumination referred to in 2 Cor. 7:10; (b) conviction and distress of conscience;29 and (c) reformation of the outward life.
3.      Prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit both as a convicting and a regenerating spirit, which is commanded by Christ in Luke 11:9, 13: “I say unto you, Ask and it shall be given you. If you being evil know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him.” That prayer for regenerating grace is a duty and a privilege for the unregenerate man is proved (a) by the fact that the Holy Spirit is promised generally under the gospel, as a regenerating spirit: “I will take you from among the heathen and gather you out of all countries, and I will put my Spirit within you. A new heart will I give you” (Ezek. 36:24, 27); “it shall come to pass that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy. And whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be delivered” (Joel 2:28–32). This is quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost. In accordance with these Scriptures, Westminster Confession 7.3 teaches that “God promises to give unto all those who are ordained to life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.” All men are to “call upon the name of the Lord” for the gift of the Holy Spirit thus promised, because no man has the right to assert that he is of the nonelect or to affirm this of another man. As Christ’s atonement is offered indiscriminately, so the Holy Spirit is offered indiscriminately; and this warrants every man in asking for what is offered. Prayer for regenerating grace is also proved (b) By the fact that a man must obtain the gift of the Holy Spirit as a regenerating spirit before he can obtain it as a converting and sanctifying spirit. The Holy Spirit is not given as a converting and a sanctifying spirit until he has been given as a regenerating spirit. Regeneration is the very first saving work in the order, and this therefore is the very first blessing to be asked for: “Make the tree good, and his fruit good” (Matt. 12:33); “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). No man has any warrant or encouragement to pray either for conversion or for sanctification before he has prayed for regeneration. Whoever, therefore, forbids an unregenerate man to pray for regenerating grace forbids him to pray for any and all grace. In prohibiting him from asking God to create within him a clean heart, he prohibits him altogether from asking for the Holy Spirit. Prayer for regenerating grace is also proved (c) by the fact that the church is commanded to pray for the outpouring of the Spirit upon unregenerate sinners in order to their regeneration. It is not supposable that God would command the church to pray for a blessing upon sinners which sinners are forbidden to ask for themselves.
To recapitulate, then, we say that the sinner’s agency in respect to regeneration is in the antecedent work of conviction, not in the act of regeneration itself. The Holy Spirit does not ordinarily regenerate a man until he is a convicted man, until, in the use of the means of conviction under common grace, he has become conscious of his need of regenerating grace. To the person who inquires: “How am I to obtain the new birth, and what particular thing am I to do respecting it?” the answer is: “Find out that you need it and that your self-enslaved will cannot originate it. And when you have found this out, cry unto God the Holy Spirit, ‘Create in me a clean heart, and renew within me a right spirit.’ ” And this prayer must not cease until the answer comes, as Christ teaches in the parable of the widow and the unjust judge (Luke 18:1–8). When men are convicted of sin and utter helplessness, they are “a people prepared for the Lord” (1:17). A sense of guilt and danger is a “preparative” to deliverance from it. A convicted man is a fit subject for the new birth, but an unconvicted man is not. A person who denies that he is a guilty sinner before God or that sin deserves endless retribution or who has no fears of retribution is not “prepared” for the regenerating work of the Spirit. It is true that the Holy Spirit, “who is free to work with means, without means, above means, and against means” (Westminster Confession 5.2), can convict a sinner without his cooperation if he pleases. An utterly careless and thoughtless person is sometimes by the power of God the Spirit suddenly filled with remorse and terror on account of his sins. And sometimes a convicted person does his utmost to repress conviction and get rid of moral anxiety, and the divine Spirit will not permit him to succeed. But this is not to be counted upon. The sinner is commanded to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the work of conviction. “Quench not the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19) is enjoined upon him as well as upon the believer. He must endeavor to deepen, not to dissipate the sense of sin which has been produced in his conscience, or he is liable to be entirely deserted by the Spirit and left to his own will and be filled with his own devices. The sinner cannot cooperate in the work of regeneration, but he can in the work of conviction. This “preparative” of conviction does not make the sinner deserving of regeneration. God is not obliged to overcome the sinner’s self-determination to sin because the sinner knows that he cannot overcome it himself. The sinner’s helplessness does not make him meritorious of salvation, because it is self-produced; but it does make him a suitable subject for the exercise of God’s unmerited compassion in regenerating grace.
One thing is important, therefore, in giving advice to an unregenerate person, namely, to remind him of the danger of legality and self-righteousness. He must not suppose that by the use of the means of conviction—reading and hearing the word of God, avoiding all associations and practices that dissipate seriousness and quench conviction, and prayer that God would apply the truth to his conscience—he is doing a meritorious work that obliges God to the regenerating act. He must not imagine that “by doing his own part,” as it is sometimes said, he can necessitate God to do his. This would make regeneration a debt, not grace. It would make it depend upon the sinner’s action and not, as St. Paul says, upon God’s “purpose according to election” (Rom. 9:11). The sinner must not require beforehand an infallible certainty that he will be regenerated as the condition of his using the means of common grace in conviction. He must not say to the Most High: “I will do my part, provided you will do yours.” He must proceed upon a probability, remembering all the while that he merits not and has no claim to the new birth. After his best endeavors, he must look up as the leper did, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” He must do as the preacher does in regard to the regeneration of his hearers. The preacher does not say to the Lord, “I will preach your word, on condition that you will regenerate everyone to whom I preach.” But he does as Paul bade Timothy: “In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance, to the acknowledging of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25). And as the preacher has ample encouragement to preach, because of the general promise that God’s “word shall not return to him void,” so every convicted sinner has ample encouragement to look up for God’s grace in Christ for the new heart and right spirit which come only from this source and which are promised generally under the gospel dispensation. (See supplement 6.3.7.)
The language of Edwards (Pressing into the Kingdom in Works 4.392) accords with the scriptural representations:
Though God has not bound himself to anything that a person does while destitute of faith and out of Christ, there is great probability that in a way of hearkening to this counsel you will live; and that by pressing onward and persevering, you will at last, as it were by violence, take the kingdom of heaven. Those of you who have not only heard the directions given, but shall, through God’s merciful assistance, practice according to them, are those that probably will overcome.
Of the same tenor is the following from Davies (Sermons 1.50 [ed. Barnes]; cf. Owen, Works 2.272–73 [ed. Russell]):
Men say to us, “You teach us that faith is the gift of God and that we cannot believe of ourselves, why then do you exhort us to it? How can we be concerned to endeavor that which it is impossible for us to do?” I answer to this, I grant that the premises are true; and God forbid that I should so much as intimate that faith is the spontaneous growth of corrupt nature or that you can come to Christ without the Father’s drawing you; but the conclusions you draw from these premises are very erroneous. I exhort and persuade you to believe in Jesus Christ because it is while such means [as preaching the gospel] are used with sinners, and by the use of them, that it pleases God to enable them to comply or to work faith in them. I would therefore use those means which God is pleased to bless to this end. I exhort you to believe, in order to set you upon the trial [to believe]; for it is putting it to trial, and that only, which can fully convince you of your own inability to believe; and till you are convinced of this, you can never expect strength from God. I exhort you to believe, because sinful and enfeebled as you are, you are capable of using various preparatives to faith. You may attend upon prayer, preaching, and all the outward means of grace with natural seriousness; you may endeavor to get acquainted with your own helpless condition and as it were place yourself in the way of divine mercy; and though all these means cannot of themselves produce faith in you, yet it is only in the use of these means that you are to expect divine grace to work it in you; never was it yet produced in one soul while lying supine, lazy, and inactive.
The speculative difficulties connected with the doctrine of regeneration arise from the fact that men put their questions and make objections from the viewpoint and position of the unconvicted sinner. They deny that they are helpless sinners; or they deny that sin deserves endless punishment; or they deny that sin requires vicarious atonement in order to its remission. A mind that is speculatively in this state is not “prepared” for regenerating grace. These are not the antecedents of regeneration. Such opinions as these must be given up, and scriptural views must be adopted, before the Holy Spirit will create the new heart. Or even if there be no heterodoxy, yet if the orthodox truth be held in unrighteousness; if the person does not reflect upon the truth and makes no effort to know his guilt and danger, but lives on in thoughtlessness and pleasure; this state of things must be changed. By a serious application to his own case of the law of God, the person must become an anxious inquirer, as a “preparative” to regeneration. The questions about man’s relation to regeneration will give no serious trouble to any convicted man, to anyone who honestly acknowledges that he is a guilty and helpless sinner and seeks deliverance from the guilt and bondage of sin. The questions will then answer themselves.
It is objected that the prayer of the unregenerate is sinful. This proves too much, because it would preclude any action whatever by the unregenerate man. The hearing of the word by the unregenerate is sinful. But the unregenerate is not forbidden to hear, upon this ground. The thinking of the wicked, like his plowing, is sin. All the acts of the unregenerate are sinful, because none of them spring from supreme love to God, yet some of them are better preparatives for or antecedents to God’s work of regeneration than others. Attendance upon public worship is better adapted to advance a man in the knowledge of his spiritual needs than attendance upon the theater. Prayer is better adapted than prayerlessness to bring a blessing to the soul. “Behold he prays” was mentioned as a hopeful indication in the case of Saul of Tarsus. “An act,” says Owen, “may be good as to the matter of it, though sinful as to the form: for example, hearing the word by the unregenerate. And an act may be bad both as to the matter and the form: for example, pleasure seeking on the Sabbath by the unregenerate. The former act is to be preferred, rather than the latter. The former act is positively commanded of God; the latter is positively forbidden.” Westminster Confession 16.7 teaches that “works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands, yet because they do not proceed from faith are sinful and cannot please God. And yet, their neglect of them is more sinful and displeasing unto God [than their performance of them].” If the presence of sin in the soul is a reason why an unregenerate man may not pray for regenerating grace, then it is a reason why the regenerate man may not pray for sanctifying grace. A regenerate man’s prayer is mixed with sin. If, then, a person may not pray until he is regenerated, neither may he pray until he is perfectly sanctified. If the existence of sin is a reason for not praying in one case, it is in the other.
It is objected, second, that only the prayer of faith is infallibly granted. But this is no reason why a prayer that will probably be granted should not be offered. Prayer for sanctification supposes previous regeneration. This is the prayer of faith and is heard in every instance. But it does not follow that the prayer for regeneration, which God is able to answer and which he encourages convicted sinners to hope that he will answer, should not be put up, because infallible certainty is not connected with the answer. Probability of an answer is good reason for asking for regenerating grace. The fact that the prayer of the unregenerate does not deserve an answer does not prove that God will not answer it. The prayer of the regenerate does not deserve an answer on the ground of merit.
The first reason why prayer for sanctification is infallibly certain to be granted, while that for regeneration is not, is that God has bound himself by a promise in the former case, but not in the latter. The former is connected with a covenant; the latter is not. God has promised to sanctify every believer without exception who asks for sanctification; but he has not promised to regenerate every convicted sinner without exception who asks for regeneration. Regeneration is according to the purpose of God in election; and election does not depend upon any act of the creature, be it prayer or any other act. Consequently, the convicted sinner’s prayer cannot infallibly secure regeneration, as the believer’s prayer can sanctification. Whenever regenerating grace is implored, the sovereignty of God in its bestowment must be recognized. The words of St. Paul apply here: “If God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25). The words of the prophets also: “Let every man cry mightily unto God; who can tell if God will turn and repent, that we perish not?” (Jon. 3:9); “rend your heart, and turn unto the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful. Who knows if he will return and repent and leave a blessing behind him?” (Joel 2:13–14). The words of the leper must always be a part of the prayer for regenerating grace: “If you will, you can make me clean” (Mark 1:40). When it is said that “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved” (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:13), the prayer of the convicted may be meant, and the general fact is that it will be answered.30 Or the prayer of the regenerate for sanctification may be meant. Whosoever shall believingly and penitently call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
A second reason why the answer to prayer for regeneration is optional and sovereign, while that for sanctification is not, is that in the latter instance it is a means to the end, while in the former it is not. The prayer for sanctification is a part of the process of sanctification, but the prayer for regeneration is not a part of regeneration. Prayer as a divinely appointed means infallibly secures its end; but prayer as an appointed antecedent and not a means is accompanied with probability, not absolute certainty.
Because God has not bound himself by a covenant to hear the prayer of every convicted sinner without exception, it by no means follows that he does not hear such a prayer and that it is useless for such a person to pray. He has heard the cry of multitudes of this class. It is his general rule under the gospel economy to hear this cry. The highest probability of success, therefore, attends the prayer of an anxious and convicted person for regenerating grace. And this is ample encouragement for him to call upon the merciful and mighty God for what he needs, namely, a heart of flesh in place of the stony heart. It is not true that God never granted the prayer of an unregenerate man. Such men in peril have called upon God to spare their lives and have been heard. This is taught in Ps. 107:10–14. Convicted men, from a sense of danger and the fear of the wrath to come, have prayed for the salvation of their souls from perdition, and God has saved them. In such cases, God has granted the petition, not because it was a holy one or because it merited to be granted, but because the blessing was needed and because of his mercy to sinners in Christ. Calvin (3.20.15) mentions the prayers of Jotham (Judg. 9:20) and of Samson (16:28) as instances in which “the Lord complied with some prayers, which, nevertheless, did not arise from a calm or well-regulated heart. Whence it appears that prayers not conformable to the rules of the divine word are nevertheless efficacious.”
But in addition to the fact that the prayer of a convicted sinner may have an effect upon God and be answered favorably, it also has an effect on the person himself and prepares for the regenerating act of God. No man can study the divine word and receive legal illumination from it without having some sense of danger awakened and giving utterance to it in prayer. Even if the prayer be only the cry of fear and is not accompanied with filial trust and humble submission, it is of use. The prayer, by its very defects, prepares for the new birth by showing the person his need of it. The person in distress asks for a new heart. The answer does not come immediately. The heart is displeased, is perhaps made more bitter and rebellious. By this experience, the Holy Spirit discloses to the unregenerate man more and more of the enmity of the carnal mind and the impotence of the self-enslaved will. This goes toward preparing him for the instantaneous act of regeneration.
“It is,” says Owen (Holy Spirit 4.3), “in no way inconsistent that faith should be required previously unto the receiving of the Spirit as a spirit of sanctification; though it be not so as he is the author of regeneration.” And the reason he assigns is that in the instance of sanctification prayer is a means; while in the instance of regeneration prayer is not a means but a preparative. He discusses the point in the following manner:
May a person who is yet unregenerate pray for the Spirit of regeneration to effect that work in him? For whereas as such he is promised only to the elect, such a person not knowing his election seems to have no foundation to make such a request upon. Answer: (1) Election is no qualification on our part which we may consider and plead in our supplications, but is only the secret purpose on the part of God of what himself will do and is known to us only by its effects. (2) Persons convinced of sin and a state of sin may and ought to pray that God, by the effectual communications of his Spirit unto them, would deliver them from that condition. This is one way whereby we “flee from the wrath to come.” (3) The especial object of their supplications herein is sovereign grace, goodness, and mercy as disclosed in and by Jesus Christ. Such persons cannot indeed plead any especial promise as made unto them. But they may plead for the grace and mercy declared in the promises as indefinitely proposed unto sinners. It may be that they can proceed no further in their expectations but unto that of the prophet, “Who knows if God will come and give a blessing?” (Joel 2:14). Yet is this a sufficient ground and encouragement to keep them waiting at the throne of grace. So Paul, after he had received his vision from heaven, continued in great distress of mind praying until he received the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:9, 17). (4) Persons under such convictions have really sometimes the seeds of regeneration communicated unto them, and then as they ought to so they will continue in their supplications for the increase and manifestation of it.31
When our Lord (John 14:17) asserts that “the world cannot receive the Holy Spirit because it sees him not neither knows him,” the reference is to the Holy Spirit as the spirit of sanctification. Christ is speaking of him as the “Comforter” who augments and strengthens already existing spiritual life. But if the “world,” that is, the unregenerate, are incapable of receiving the Holy Spirit in his regenerating office, they cannot be regenerated.
There is the highest encouragement in the word of God to pray for the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit. It is a duty enjoined upon all men without exception, like that of hearing the word: “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him” (Luke 11:14); “you, Lord, are plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon you” (Ps. 86:5); “the Lord is nigh to all them that call upon him” (145:18); “the Lord is rich unto all that call upon him” (Rom. 10:12); “seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near” (Isa. 55:6); “I will that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands without wrath and doubting” (1 Tim. 2:8); “behold he prays” (Acts 9:11); “you that hear prayer, unto you shall all flesh come” (Ps. 65:2). These and other similar texts relate to spiritual gifts. They invite and command men universally and indiscriminately to ask God for the Holy Spirit in any of his operations, as the first and best of his gifts: “Prayer, being one special part of religious worship, is required by God of all men” (Westminster Confession 21.3).32
While regeneration is a sovereign act of God according to election, it is an encouraging fact both for the sinner and the preacher of the word that God’s regenerating grace is commonly bestowed where the preparatory work is performed. This is the rule under the gospel dispensation. He who reads and meditates upon the word of God is ordinarily enlightened by the Holy Spirit, perhaps in the very act of reading or hearing or meditating: “While Peter yet spoke these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them which heard the word” (Acts 10:44). He who asks for regenerating grace may be regenerated perhaps in the act of praying. God has appointed certain human acts whereby to make ready the heart of man for the divine act. Without attentive reading and hearing of the word and prayer, the soul is not a fit subject for regenerating grace. By “fitness” is not meant holiness or even the faintest desire for holiness, but a conviction of guilt and danger, a sense of sin and utter impotence to everything spiritually good. Such an experience as this “breaks up the fallow ground,” to employ the scriptural metaphor (Jer. 4:3; Hos. 10:12). When the Holy Spirit finds this preparation, then he usually intervenes with his quickening agency. The effect of prevenient grace in conviction is commonly followed by special grace in regeneration; the fact of the outward call is a reason both for the sinner and the minister of the word for expecting the inward call. Yet regeneration, after all the preparation that has been made by conviction and legal illumination, depends upon the sovereign will of God: “The wind blows where it lists, so is everyone that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). Regeneration rests upon God’s election and not upon man’s preparative acts, upon special grace and not upon common grace.
It follows, consequently, that the unregenerate man should be extremely careful how he deals with common grace. If he suppresses conviction of sin and thus nullifies common grace, then God may withdraw all grace. This was the case with some of the Jews: “For they, being [willingly] ignorant of God’s righteousness and going about to establish their own righteousness, did not submit themselves to the righteousness of God. And because of unbelief were broken off” (Rom. 10:3; 11:20). The same is true of some nominal Christians. God has sovereignty and liberty in respect to regenerating grace. When a person has stifled conviction, God sometimes leaves him to his self-will forever. Yet observation shows that the Holy Spirit suffers long and is very patient and forbearing with convicted men, that he does not hastily leave them, even when they disobey his admonitions, but continues to strive with them and finally brings them to faith and repentance. (See supplement 6.3.8.)
Upon this general fact in the economy of redemption—that the right use of common grace is followed by regenerating grace—both the sinner and the preacher should act. In this respect, both are like other men. The farmer has no stronger motive than that of probable success for sowing grain; the merchant, for sending out ships; the manufacturer, for erecting factories. Salvation is in the highest degree probable for any person who earnestly and diligently uses common grace and the means of common grace. It is to be confidently expected that a convicted man will be made a new man in Christ Jesus. Every lost man ought to be thankful for such an encouraging probability. But to insist beforehand upon infallible certainty—and especially a certainty that is to depend upon his own action—is both folly and sin. It is folly to suppose that so weak and fickle a faculty as the human will can make anything an infallible certainty. And it is sin to attempt to divide the glory of regenerating the human soul between the Holy Spirit and the soul itself. (See supplement 6.3.9.)
Third, it is objected that to pray for regeneration is to delay faith and repentance. The sinner is commanded immediately to believe on Christ and turn from his sin with godly sorrow; but praying for regeneration is dallying with the use of means. It is an excuse for procrastination. To this it is to be replied: That prayer for regeneration is a prayer that God the Holy Spirit would work instantaneously upon the heart and would immediately renew and incline the will. There would be force in this objection if the sinner were taught that there are means of regeneration and were exhorted to supplicate God to regenerate him at some future time through his own use of these means. But he who truly prays for regenerating grace despairs of all agency in the use of means and precludes all procrastination by entreating an immediate and instantaneous act on the part of God by which he shall, this very instant, be delivered from the death and bondage of sin and be brought into the life and liberty of the gospel. He implores “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, to shine in his heart, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). He asks the Son of God, “who quickens whom he will” (John 5:21), to enliven his spirit now “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). Consequently, prayer for regenerating grace is an evidence that the convicted person has come to know that the word, sacraments, and prayer—all the means of grace—are inadequate to reanimate the soul and make it alive to righteousness. It is not until he has discovered that legal conviction, legal illumination, resolutions to reform, external reformation, reading and hearing the word, and prayer itself cannot change the heart that he leaves all these behind him and begs God immediately and instantaneously to do this needed work in his soul. The prayer for regenerating grace is, in truth, the most energetic and pressing act that the sinner can perform. It is the farthest removed of any from procrastination. It is an immediate act on the part of the sinner, and it entreats God to do an instantaneous work within him.
In this manner, prayer for the instantaneous gift of regenerating grace harmonizes with the gospel call to immediate faith and repentance. Faith and repentance naturally and necessarily result from regeneration. Whoever is regenerated will believe and repent.33 To pray therefore for instantaneous regeneration is, virtually, to pray for instantaneous faith and repentance, and vice versa. He who prays “help my unbelief; take away the stony heart, and give the heart of flesh” prays that God would “renew and powerfully determine the will,” which is the definition of regeneration. At the same time, prayer for regenerating grace must not be substituted for the act of faith and repentance. The direction is “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is the biblical answer to the question: What must I do to be saved? But when the convicted person discovers that the act of faith is hindered and prevented by the blindness of his understanding and the bondage of his will to sin and asks if he may implore the “enlightening and quickening energy of the Holy Spirit to persuade and enable him to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered in the gospel” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. 31), he is to be answered in the affirmative. In imploring the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, he is “striving to enter in at the strait gate”; he is endeavoring to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. The act of faith in the blood of Christ, in its own nature, is simple and easy: “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). But considered in reference to the pride and self-righteousness of the natural heart, faith is impossible without regeneration. Hence the frequent statement in Calvinistic creeds that man needs to be persuaded and enabled to this act.34 (See supplement 6.3.10.)
S U P P L E M E N T S
6.3.1 (see p. 762). The two uses of “regeneration,” in a wide and narrow sense, by the Reformers and seventeenth-century divines are different from those in the patristic church, which grew out of the patristic view of the sacraments. Augustine, for example, employs the term to denote both the apparently and professedly regenerate and the really such. The former are members of the visible church, but not of the invisible; the latter belong to the invisible church also. The former may therefore fall away, the latter may not. He remarks as follows in Perseverance 21: “Of two [professedly] pious (piis) men, why to one should be given perseverance unto the end and to the other it should not be given is an unsearchable judgment of God. Yet to believers it ought to be a most certain fact that the former is of the predestinated, the latter is not. ‘For if they had been of us,’ says one of the predestinated who had drunk this secret from the breast of the Lord, ‘certainly they would have continued with us.’ ” Again, in Rebuke and Grace 18, he says: “It is greatly to be wondered at that to some of his own children, whom he has regenerated in Christ and to whom he has given faith, hope, and love, God does not give perseverance also, when to the children of another [i.e., of Satan] he forgives their wickedness and by the bestowal of his grace makes them his own children. Moreover, it is not less marvelous that some of the children of his friends, that is, of regenerated and good believers, departing this life as infants without baptism, although he certainly might provide the grace of this layer [of baptism] if he so willed, he yet alienates from his kingdom into which he introduces their parents; and some children of his enemies he causes to come into the hands of Christians and by means of this laver introduces into the kingdom from which their parents are aliens. Of both of which things we may exclaim, How unsearchable are the judgments of God.”
From the above extracts it will be seen that Augustine held (1) that baptism is indispensable to regeneration, (2) that there are some nonelect dying infants, and (3) that some whom he calls “regenerate” may not persevere. On the first point he differs from Calvin; on the second he agrees with him; on the third he seemingly differs, but not really, because he employs “regeneration” in two senses, while Calvin employs it only to denote the really renewed. By the “regenerate” who are not elected and do not persevere, Augustine means those adults who have been baptized and are members of the visible church, but not of the invisible. In his day baptism was denominated “regeneration.” By the “regenerate” who are elected and persevere he means those adults who are members of the invisible church as well as the visible. Employing the term in this double sense, Augustine, unlike Calvin and the Reformed creeds, holds to a genuine “regeneration” that springs from election and predestination and to a spurious “regeneration” that does not. The omission to notice the two uses of the word has led to the assertion by most Roman Catholic and some Protestant writers that Augustine’s doctrine of election and predestination differs from that of Calvin. Both alike affirm that the truly regenerate are predestinated to perseverance and never fall away: “Let it not disturb us that to some of his [professed] children God does not give this perseverance. But this is far from being so, however, in the case of those who are predestinated and called according to the promise. For the former, while they live piously [i.e., reputably in church communion] are [popularly] called the children of God; but because they are afterward to live wickedly [i.e., inconsistently with church communion] and to die in wickedness, the foreknowledge of God does not call them God’s children” (Rebuke and Grace 20). “Some of the children of perdition, who have not received the gift of perseverance to the end, begin [apparently] to live in the faith that works by love and live for some time faithfully and righteously and afterward fall away and are not taken from this life before this happens to them. Unless this had happened to some, men would not have that wholesome fear [of falling] by which the sin of presumption and self-security is kept down” (Rebuke and Grace 40; cf. 9, 11–12, 14, 16). Augustine maintains that all of the elect and predestinated are the subjects of true and spiritual regeneration and never fall away: “Says St. Paul, ‘We know that God works all things for good to them that are called according to his purpose; because those whom he foreknew he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son. Moreover, whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified.’ Of these no one perishes, because all are elected. And they are elected because they were called according to the purpose: the purpose, however, of God, not their own” (Rebuke and Grace 14).
Owen (Saints’ Perseverance, preface), after abundant citations from Augustine’s treatises Predestination and Perseverance of the Saints in proof that he held that the elect and predestinated will infallibly persevere, remarks that “there are in Augustine and those that agreed with him sundry expressions commonly urged by the adversaries of the doctrine of the saints’ perseverance, which grant that many who were ‘saints,’ ‘believing’ and ‘regenerate,’ fall away and perish forever. The reader will find them gathered to his hand in Vossius, Grotius, and Goodwin. The seeming contradiction in Augustine and his followers—Prosper, Hilary, and Fulgentius—will easily admit a reconciliation if they are allowed to be interpreters of their own meaning. What weight in those days was laid upon participation in the sacramental symbols of grace and what expressions are commonly used concerning those who had obtained that privilege is known to all. Hence all baptized persons continuing in the profession of the faith and communion of the church they called, counted, and esteemed regenerate and justified and spoke so of them; such as these they affirm might fall away into everlasting destruction; yet what their judgment was concerning their present state, even when they termed them ‘regenerate’ and ‘believers,’ in respect to the sacraments and a visible profession of faith, Augustine clearly delivers his thoughts, especially in his treatise on Rebuke and Grace. ‘They were not,’ says he, chap. 20, ‘children, even when they were in the profession and name of children. Not because they deliberately simulated righteousness, but because they did not continue in it.’ This righteousness he esteemed not to be merely feigned and hypocritical, but rather such as might truly entitle them to the state and condition of the children of God in the sense above expressed. These are the persons which Augustine and those of the same judgment with him do grant may fall away; such, namely, as upon account of their baptismal entrance into the church, their [outwardly] pious and devout lives, their profession of the faith of the gospel, they called and accounted ‘regenerate’ believers, whom yet they tell you, upon a thorough search into the nature and causes of holiness, grace, and walking with God, would be found not to be truly and really in that state and condition in which they were esteemed to be; of which they thought this a sufficient proof, that they did not persevere; which evinces that their judgment was that all who are truly, really, and in the sight of God believers, engrafted into Christ, and adopted into his family should certainly persevere.”
The necessity of baptism by the church, in order to salvation, is the principal point of difference between Augustine and Calvin and explains the sacramentarianism, together with the double sense of regeneration, which are found in the system of the former but not in that of the latter. The following passages express it: “Take the case of any infant you please. If he is already in Christ, why is he baptized? If, however, he is baptized that he may be with Christ, it certainly follows that he who is not baptized is not with Christ; and because he is not ‘with’ Christ he is ‘against’ Christ” (Forgiveness and Baptism 1.55). Augustine did not hold the Romish doctrine that the mere application of water in the name of the Trinity regenerates the soul. His view of regeneration was spiritual; that it is the effect only of the direct operation of the Holy Spirit. But he believed that God has inseparably connected the gift of the Spirit to regenerate with the ordinance of baptism administered to infants within his church. “From the infant newly born to the old man bent with age, as there is none shut out from baptism, so there is none in baptism who does not die to sin. But [baptized] infants die only to original sin; those who are older [when baptized] die also to all the sins which their evil lives have added to the sin which they inherited from Adam” (Enchiridion 43). “As in a certain manner the sacrament of Christ’s body is Christ’s body and the sacrament of Christ’s blood is Christ’s blood, in the same manner the sacrament of faith is faith. Now, believing is nothing else than having faith; and accordingly, when, on behalf of an infant as yet incapable of exercising faith, the answer is given [by his sponsor] that he believes, this answer means that he has faith because of the sacrament of faith and that he converts to God because of the sacrament of conversion. Therefore an infant, although he is not yet a believer in the sense of having that faith which includes the consenting will of those who exercise it, nevertheless becomes a believer through the sacrament of faith” (Letter 98.9–10 to Boniface, a.d. 408). “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be damned. Now who is unaware that in the case of infants being baptized is to believe, and not being baptized is not to believe” (Forgiveness and Baptism 1.40). Augustine, in these passages, defines a sacrament as “that which has some point of real resemblance to the thing of which it is a sacrament.” It is a symbol or sign resembling the thing signified. The sponsors answer that “the infant believes,” has “some point of resemblance” to actual faith, and this is the “sacrament of faith.” His answer, also, that the infant “turns to God,” Augustine calls “the sacrament of conversion.” In thus making baptism and the promises of the sponsors the indispensable condition of the regeneration of the infant by the Holy Spirit, Augustine prepared for the materialistic view of grace formulated at Trent. His own highly spiritual conception of the Holy Spirit’s agency in regeneration as immediate and irresistible would logically exclude such a necessary dependence on an outward sign and ceremony. Calvin, a thousand years later, saw the inconsistency of the two things and modified Augustinianism by making salvation depend, as Augustine did, upon the new birth, but not by making, as Augustine did, the new birth to depend upon the baptism of the church. Baptism he held to be the appointed sign and seal of regeneration and is to be administered whenever it is possible because of the divine command; but when impossible its omission does not preclude regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Augustine’s view leads to the position that salvation outside of the visible church is impossible; Calvin’s view makes salvation outside of it a possibility.
The following extracts from Augustine are of the same tenor with those above cited: “If infants were hurt by no malady of original sin, how is it that they are carried to the physician Christ for the express purpose of receiving the sacrament of eternal salvation by the pious anxiety of those who run to him? Why rather is it not said to them by the church: Take hence these innocents; ‘they that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick’; Christ ‘came not to call the righteous but the sinners’? There never has been heard, there never is heard, there never will be heard in the church such a fiction concerning Christ” (Forgiveness and Baptism 1.23). “Our Lord himself, wishing to remove from the minds of wrong believers that vague and indefinite middle condition which some would attribute to unbaptized infants, as if by reason of innocence they were included in eternal life and yet because of their unbaptized state were not with Christ in his kingdom, uttered that definite sentence of his which shuts their mouths: ‘He that is not with me is against me’ ” (Forgiveness and Baptism 1.55).
6.3.2 (see p. 763). Edwards (Works 1.141) explains the exhortations “make you a new heart” and “be renewed in the spirit of your minds” as referring to the sanctification of believers: “It is objected that the apostle sometimes exhorts those to whom he writes to ‘put off the old man’ and ‘put on the new man’ and to ‘be renewed in the spirit of their minds,’ as exhorting them to seek conversion. I answer that the meaning is manifestly only this: that they should mortify the remains of corruption or of the old man and turn more and more from sin unto God. Then he exhorts the Ephesians to be ‘renewed in the spirit of their mind’ (Eph. 4:22–23), whom yet he had before in the same epistle abundantly represented as savingly renewed already.”
6.3.3 (see p. 768). Owen (Holy Spirit 3.5) describes the total operation of the Holy Spirit in adult regeneration as twofold: (1) moral suasion and (2) internal physical operation: “The Holy Spirit in the regeneration or conversion of all that are adult does make use of motives, arguments, reasons, and considerations proposed unto the mind by the preaching and reading of the word, which are adapted to influence the will and affections. There are none ordinarily converted who are not able to give some account by what considerations they were prevailed upon thereunto. But the whole of the work of the Holy Spirit in our conversion does not consist of this moral suasion. There is also a real physical work, whereby he infuses a gracious principle of spiritual life into all that are effectually converted and really regenerated and without which there is no deliverance from the state of sin and death. That the entire operation of the Holy Spirit in conversion does not consist in the presentation of motives and arguments, the ensuing reasons do sufficiently evince: (1) If the Holy Spirit works no otherwise on men in their regeneration or conversion but by proposing and urging upon them reasons, arguments, and motives, then after his whole work, and notwithstanding it, the will of man remains absolutely indifferent whether it will admit them or not, or whether it will convert itself unto God in view of them or not. For the whole of this work consists in proposing objects unto the will, with respect to which it is left undetermined whether it will choose and close with them or not. And this is what some plead for. For they say that in all men, at least all to whom the gospel is preached, there is such grace present with them that they are able to comply with the word if they please and so to believe, repent, or do any act of obedience unto God. And if they will, they can refuse and continue in sin. This view ascribes the glory of our regeneration to an act of our own will and not to the grace of God. It also leaves it absolutely uncertain, notwithstanding the purpose of God and the purchase of Christ, whether anyone in the world will be converted. And, finally, it is contrary to many express testimonies of Scripture wherein actual conversion to God is ascribed to his internal operation: ‘God works in us to will and to do’ (Phil. 2:13). The act therefore itself of willing in our conversion is of God’s operation; and although we ourselves will, yet it is he who causes us to will by working in us to will. (2) Moral persuasion, however advanced or improved and supposed to be effectual, yet confers no new supernatural strength unto the soul. For when the Spirit of God works by reasons, motives, arguments, and objective considerations and no otherwise, he is able only to excite and draw out the strength which we have, delivering the mind and affections from prejudices and other moral impediments; real aid and internal spiritual strength neither is nor can be conferred thereby. And he who will acknowledge that there is any such internal spiritual strength communicated unto us must also acknowledge that there is another work of the Spirit of God in us and upon us than can be effected by these persuasions.” Owen fortifies his positions by extracts from Augustine’s antipelagian writings, in which this same distinction is made in opposition to the views of Coelestius and Pelagius, who resolved the whole work of the Spirit into moral suasion.35 He also cites from the Semipelagian fathers and Schoolmen, who indeed ascribed more to the inward operation of the Spirit than did the Pelagians, but when it came to the question whether the determination of the will to holiness in conversion is wholly or only partly the effect of divine grace, affirmed the latter.
6.3.4 (see p. 768). The agency of God and man in regeneration is different from that in sanctification. In the first instance there is the creative and enlivening energy of the Holy Spirit in the human spirit. In such agency there is no division of the work between the divine and the human. Man does not cooperate with God in it. The entire quickening and creating anew is the act of God alone. The proper phraseology for it is actuating, enabling, and inclining. In the second instance, that of sanctification, there is a union of the divine with the human energy and a division of the work between the two. The now regenerate will cooperates with the Holy Spirit. It “works out its salvation with fear and trembling, because God works also within it to will and to do” (Phil. 2:12–13). The proper phraseology for this is helping, assisting, and stimulating. When the Holy Spirit actuates and inclines the human will, he does the whole. But when he helps, excites, and assists it, he does a part. In actuating, enabling, and inclining, the parties are not coordinate, each working on its own basis and contributing a divine and a human factor to the common result, but one is subordinate and the other controlling. In regeneration God moves upon the human soul prior, in the order of nature, and the soul then moves in conversion (not regeneration) as a consequence. The agency of each, in this instance, is total and undivided, not partial and shared with the other. God quickens, actuates, enables, and inclines the human will without the will’s assisting or helping in this because as ungenerate it sinfully resists; and the will, as the effect of this divine agency, converts, in the acts of faith and repentance, without God’s sharing in this converting activity. As man does not participate and share in the regenerating and inclining of the will, so God does not participate and share in the believing and repenting of the will. God is the sole author of regeneration, and man is the sole actor in conversion, namely, in faith and repentance. Thus there is no cooperation between the divine and the human in either regeneration or conversion. God alone regenerates as the cause. There are not two causes of regeneration, one divine and one human. Man alone converts, that is, believes and repents as the effect of regeneration. There are not two faiths and repentances—one in God and the other in man. But in sanctification the case is different. Here the growth and increase of the principle of holiness is an effect of the union and cooperation of the agency of the Holy Spirit with that of the regenerate will.
The neglect to distinguish between creating anew, enabling, actuating, and inclining the human will and helping, assisting, and stimulating it has led to much error. Synergism in regeneration results from overlooking this distinction. What is true of sanctification alone is transferred to regeneration.
6.3.5 (see p. 770). If the affections, as in the elder Calvinism, are regarded as modes of the inclination of the will, we may speak also of the expulsive power of a new inclination. The regeneration of the will is the origination de novo36 of a new inclination to God as the ultimate end, and this expels the old inclination, inherited from Adam, to self and the creature. This expulsion, however, leaves some remainders of the old inclination, which act like the old inclination in every respect, excepting their degree. They have the same spontaneousness and self-motion, only less strength. They do not wholly dominate the man as the old inclination, or “old Adam” as St. Paul calls it, did. And they grow weaker, as the “old Adam” does not in the unregenerate. The regenerate man dies more and more to sin and lives more and more to holiness. The “new man” or new inclination is the stronger man within the house and has bound the “strong man” who still remains in it and keeps up a conflict that is severe and exhausting, but is a losing battle and a defeat in the end.
Now it is to be observed that in this process of progressive sanctification there is the freedom of self-determination, but not of optional choice. These remainders of original sin or of sinful inclination are a self-motion that antagonizes the self-motion of the new inclination. One self-determination is opposed to another. The two are “the flesh, which lusts against the spirit, and are contrary the one to the other, so that you cannot do the things that you would” (Gal. 5:17). These remainders of sinful self-determination cannot be removed by a power to the contrary inherent in themselves, but must be expelled by the superior energy of the new inclination to holiness. Sin must be driven out by holiness, not convert itself into holiness. This would be the casting out of Satan by Satan, which our Lord asserts to be a contradiction and impossibility. There is no evolution of holiness out of sin or transmutation of sin into holiness by the exercise of a power of contrary choice.
6.3.6 (see p. 772). Since regeneration precedes conversion in the order of nature, not of time, it precedes justification in the same order, because faith precedes justification, and faith is one of the acts of conversion. An unbeliever is not justified: “A man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the law” (Rom. 4:28). But it does not follow from this that regeneration is the cause or ground of justification, as Dorner asserts in objection to this statement (Christian Doctrine 4.206). One thing may be antecedent to another, and yet not the cause of it: post hoc, non ergo propter hoc.37 The cause or ground of justification is wholly objective, namely, the sacrifice and satisfaction of Christ. Nothing subjective (and both faith and repentance are subjective acts) enters into the cause or ground of justification. A sinner is not justified, that is, pardoned and accepted as righteous, because he is regenerated. The divine life implanted in regeneration cannot satisfy justice for sin nor merit eternal life for the sinner, both of which are requisite in order to justification. But the sinner cannot appropriate Christ’s objective satisfaction but by the act of faith in it, and he cannot exercise this faith if the Holy Spirit does not incline and enable him to it. And this inclining and enabling is one consequence of the new birth and new life in the soul: “Whosoever believes is born of God” (1 John 5:1).
6.3.7 (see p. 776). Howe (Redeemer’s Tears) thus speaks of the sinner’s agency in respect to regeneration: “Here, perhaps, sinners will inquire, Is there anything, then, to be done by us, whereupon the grace of God may be expected certainly to follow? To which I answer: (1) That it is certain that nothing can be done by us to deserve it or for the merit of which we may expect it to follow. It were not grace if we had obliged or brought it under bonds to us by our deserts. (2) What if nothing can be done by us, upon which it may be certainly expected to follow? Is a certainty of perishing better than a high probability of being saved? (3) Such as live under the gospel have reason to apprehend it highly probable that they may obtain that grace which is necessary to their salvation, if they be not wanting to themselves. (4) For there is generally afforded to such that which is wont to be called common grace. Now, though this grace is not yet certainly saving, yet it tends to that which is so. And none have cause to despair but that, being duly improved and complied with, it may end in it. Let the consciences of men living under the gospel testify in the case. Appeal, sinner, to your own conscience: have you never felt anything of conviction by the word of God? Had you never any thought injected of turning to God, of reforming your life, of making your peace with God? Have no desires ever been raised in you, no fears? Have you never had any tastes and relishes of pleasure (Heb. 6:4–5) in the things of God? Whence have these come? What! from yourself, who is not sufficient to think anything as of yourself, i.e., any good or right thought. All must be from that good Spirit that has been striving with you and might still have been so unto a blessed issue for your soul, if you had not neglected and disobeyed it.
“And do not go about to excuse yourself by saying that all others have done so too, at one time or another; and if that therefore be the rule and measure, that they that content against the strivings and motions of God’s Spirit must be finally deserted and given up to perish, who then can be saved? Think not of pleading so for your neglecting and despising the grace and spirit of God. It is true that herein the great God shows his sovereignty; when all that enjoy the same advantages for salvation deserve by their slighting them to be forsaken alike, he gives instances and makes examples of just severity and of the victorious power of grace, as seems him good. But our present design is not to justify your condemnation, but to procure your salvation; and therefore to admonish and instruct you, that though you are not sure, because some others that have slighted and despised the grace and Spirit of God are, notwithstanding, conquered and saved thereby, it shall therefore fare as well with you, yet you have reason to be confident and hopeful it will be well and happy for you, if now you despise and slight them not.”
6.3.8 (see p. 781). In saying that if the unregenerate “suppresses conviction of sin and nullifies common grace, then God may withdraw all grace,” conditional preterition does not logically follow. God may do this, but it is not infallibly certain that he will. He is sovereign to do as he pleases. He does not invariably condition his preterition upon the sinner’s action, invariably refusing regenerating grace to all who nullify common grace and invariably bestowing it upon all who according to the Arminian view do not nullify it. God does not pass by one of two persons in the bestowment of saving grace because of original sin or of actual transgression (Rom. 9:11) or of foreseen perseverance in sin or of foreseen resistance of common grace, for these are all of them characteristic of both persons alike and would be a reason for passing by both of them. Westminster Larger Catechism 68 declares that the nonelect “may be and often are outwardly called by the ministry of the word and have some common operations of the Spirit and for their willful neglect and contempt of the grace offered to them, being justly left in their unbelief, do never come to Jesus Christ.” This is a statement of the possibility and probability, not of the decreed certainty in the case. As the right use of common grace makes it probable but not infallibly certain that saving grace will follow (see pp. 776–77), so the abuse of common grace makes it probable but not infallibly certain that saving grace will not follow. The catechism says that the nonelect “may be and often are justly left because of their neglect of common grace”; but it does not say that they are always and invariably left because of this neglect. If it did, it would teach conditional preterition.
6.3.9 (see p. 781). Respecting the encouragement which the sinner has to seek salvation because of the probability, in distinction from the infallible certainty, that the right use of common grace will be followed by saving grace, Howe (Blessedness of the Righteous, chap. 17) thus remarks: “Why should you imagine so sad an issue as that after your utmost endeavors grace should be withheld and leave you to perish, because God has not bound himself by promise to you. What promise have the ravens to be heard when they cry? Experience tells the world that God’s unpromised mercies freely flow everywhere. The whole earth is full of his goodness. God promises sinners, indefinitely, pardon and eternal life, for the sake of Christ, on condition that they believe on him. He gives of his good pleasure that grace whereby he draws any to Christ, without promise directly made to them. His discovery of his purpose to give such grace, indefinitely, amounts not to a promise claimable by any; for if it be said to be an absolute promise to particular persons, who are they? whose duty is it to believe it made to him? God [in common grace] binds himself to do what he promises [namely, to save on condition of faith]; but has he anywhere bound himself to do no more? Did he promise you your being, or that you should live to this day? Did he promise you the bread that sustains you or the daily comforts of your life? Yea, what is nearer the present purpose, did he promise you a station under the gospel or that you should ever hear the name of Christ? If ever his Spirit have in any degree moved upon your heart and inclined you at all seriously to consider your eternal concernments, did he beforehand make you any promise of that? A promise would give you a full certainty of the issue, if it were absolute and unconditional; if conditional, as soon as you perform the condition. But can you act upon no lower rate than a foregoing certainty, a preassurance of the event? My friend, consider a little, that it is hope, built with those that are rational upon rational probability, with some oftentimes without hope at all, which is the great engine that moves the world, that keeps all sorts of men in action. Does the husbandman foreknow when he plows and sows that the crop will answer his cost and pains? Do you foreknow when you eat, it shall refresh you? when you take physic, that it shall recover your health and save your life? The Lord knows that in these cases men can be confident and active enough without a promise of infallible success. Will you not, upon the probability and hope you have before you, do as much for your soul?”
6.3.10 (see p. 782). Ursinus (Christian Religion Q. 74) thus replies to the objection that infants should not be baptized because belief is the requisite to baptism and infants cannot believe: “We deny the proposition which denies that infants do believe; for infants of believers regenerated by the Holy Spirit have an inclination to believe, or do believe by inclination; for faith is in infants potentially and by disposition, albeit faith be not in them actually as in those who are of age and understanding. And as unregenerate infants who are without the church have no actual impiety and wickedness, but an inclination only to wickedness, so godly infants who are in the church have not actual piety and godliness, but an inclination only to godliness; not by nature, indeed, but by the grace of the covenant. Infants have the Holy Spirit and are regenerated by him, as John was filled with the Holy Spirit when as yet he was in the womb; and it was said to Jeremiah, ‘Before you came out of the womb I sanctified you.’ If infants have the Holy Spirit, then, doubtless, he works in them regeneration, good inclinations, new motions, and all other things which are necessary unto salvation; as Peter says, ‘Who can forbid water from them who have received the Holy Spirit as well as we?’ Wherefore Christ numbered little children among believers: ‘He who offends one of these little ones which believe in me.’ Wherefore infants do not profane baptism, as the Anabaptists slander us.”
In answer to the objection that if infants are to be baptized they should also partake of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, Ursinus Q. 74 replies: “Unto baptism, regeneration by the Holy Spirit and faith or an inclination to faith and repentance suffices; but in the supper conditions are added and required which hinder the use thereof to be granted unto infants. For in Scripture it is required (1) that they who use the sign show forth the death of the Lord and (2) that they try themselves whether they have faith and repentance or no. And seeing the age of infants cannot do these things, it is manifest that infants are for good cause excluded from the supper but not from baptism.”

 

 

 

1 1.      WS: In the older theological treatises, regeneration commonly does not constitute a separate topic, but is discussed under vocation.
2 2.      ἀνανεοῦσθαι
3 3.      ἀνακαινώσει
4 4.      ἀνακαινοῦνται = is renewed
5 5.      ἀνανεόω = to renew
6 6.      ἀνακαινόω = to renew
7 7.      γεννάω = to give birth to
8 8.      κτίζειν = to create
9 9.      γεννάω = to give birth to. Shedd has gennan (γεννάν), which is probably a typo for gennaō (γεννάω), judging by the present context.
10 10.      ζῳοποιείν = to make alive
11 11.      ἀνανεοῦσθαι = to be renewed
12 12.      ἀνακαινοῦνται = to be made new
13 13.      ἀνακαίνωσις = renewal
14 14.      Conversio habitualis seu passiva fit per habituum supernaturalium infusionem a Spiritu Sancto.
15 15.      Conversio actualis seu activa fit per bonorum istorum habituum exercitium, quo actus fidei et poenitentae, et dantur a deo, et homine eliciuntur.
16 16.      WS: Edwards denominates it the origination of a new “principle”: “By a principle I mean that foundation which is laid for any particular kind of exercise of the faculties of the soul. A new holy disposition of heart is not a new faculty of will, but a foundation laid for a new kind of exercise of the faculty of will” (Affections 3.1). Similarly, Owen remarks: “As the principle of holiness has the nature of a habit, so also has it the properties thereof. And the first property of a habit is that it inclines and disposes the subject wherein it is unto acts of its own kind” (On the Spirit 4.1).
17 17.      WS: Owen, Works 2.357–58 (ed. Russell).
18 18.      φύσις = essence
19 19.      φύσις = essence
20 20.      WS: Meyer in loco explains eti (ἔτι) literally: “Still from his mother’s womb.” After birth, he was still the subject of the Holy Spirit’s influences as he was before it.
21 21.      Quicquid recipitur, recipitur in modum recipientis.
22 22.      from the outside
23 23.      Proprium est dei movere voluntatem, maxime interius eam inclinando.
24 24.      point of time
25 25.      point of time
26 26.      φρόνημα
27 27.      WS: In the case of an adult, the precedence of regeneration to conversion is of order and nature only, not of time. Regeneration immediately exhibits its fruit in the converting acts of faith and repentance. In the case of infant regeneration, there is an interval of time between regeneration and conversion.
28 28.      WS: The words in James 1:18 are sometimes quoted to prove that the truth is a means of regeneration: “Of his own will, he gave us birth with the word of truth.” The original is boulētheis apekyēsen hēmas logō alētheias (βουληθεὶς ἀπεκύησεν ἡμᾶς λόγῳ ἀληθείας); Revised Version: “According to his purpose, he brought us forth by the word of truth.” Apokyein (ἀποκυεῖν = to bring forth) denotes the maternal, not the paternal act; as יָלַד (yālad) primarily does in Ps. 2:7: “I have begotten you.” And logos alētheias (λόγος ἀληθείας = word of truth) means the gospel, as in Eph. 1:13: “After that you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation”; and in Col. 1:5: “Whereof you heard before, in the word of the truth of the gospel, which is come unto you as it is in all the world.” The teaching, then, of St. James in this text is that “in accordance with the divine purpose man is born a child of God, under the gospel dispensation.” There is a similar statement in 1 Pet. 1:23: “Being born again (anagegennēmenoi, ἀναγεγεννημένοι) not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God.” The “word of God,” here, is not the “incorruptible seed” itself from which the birth proceeds. The Holy Spirit is this. But it is the sphere within which the birth takes place. It denotes the gospel dispensation, like the “word of truth” in James 1:18. Christians are born again of incorruptible seed, namely, of the Holy Spirit, under the Christian dispensation. The Revised Version rendering of this verse is “having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God.”
29 29.      WS: On legal and evangelical humiliation, see Edwards, Affections 3 in Works 3.137–38; Howe, Blessedness of the Righteous, chap. 17; Owen, Works 2.309–10 (ed. Russell).
30 30.      WS: Cf. “if I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me” and “my word shall not return unto me void.” These texts do not mean that every single individual shall be saved, but describe the general and common effect of the gospel.
31 31.      WS: See Bunyan’s account of his own experience in Grace Abounding; Edwards, Manner of Seeking Salvation in Works 4.386–87; Pressing into the Kingdom in Works 4.381–82.
32 32.      WS: See the admirable remarks of Calvin entitled “Prayer the Principal Exercise of Faith” in 3.20.1–17.
33 33.      WS: The regenerate child, youth, and man believes and repents immediately. The regenerate infant believes and repents when his faculties will admit the exercise and manifestation of faith and repentance. In this latter instance, regeneration is potential or latent faith and repentance.
34 34.      WS: Westminster Confession 7.3; 8.8; 9.4; 10.1; 14.1; Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 32; Q. 59; Q. 67; Q. 72.
35 35.      As noted by Benjamin Warfield in Perfectionism, the same comment would apply to the theology of Charles Finney.
36 36.      anew
37 37.      after this, yet not therefore on account of this