The Use of Means in Regeneration

One of the great benefits of the Internet is that nothing stays hidden within a single community very long. When false statements are made and bandied about, the likelihood of them being exposed for what they are is much more likely than when there was no Internet and teachers could speak to their flock in a closed bubble community.

This week I ran into this meme online posted by someone who obviously did not think very highly of Calvinism.

It says Calvinism [teaches that] "how shall they believe if they have not been regenerated" while Christianity teaches "How they shall believe if they have not heard?"

The man who posted this meme made it quite easy for his followers to disprove a strawmen version of "Calvinism" since it gives the very misleading impression that people who embrace a Calvinist view of God's sovereign grace don't believe in the necessity of preaching the gospel. Talk about false dichotomies. I have yet to meet any classical Calvinists who think people can be saved without hearing someone preach the gospel to them. But I have, upon occasion, heard some Arminians teach that many of those who never hear the gospel in their lifetime will still have an opportunity to repent after they die. No, the fact is that Reformed believers are adamant for the need to preach the gospel to every creature, or they won't be saved. The problem with the meme is that it sees this as a stark either/or choice. Either you are teaching 1) that you must be regenerated to be saved or 2) you are teaching that someone must hear the gospel and respond to it to be saved. But you can't be teaching both. That is a false dichotomy The Bible teaches that it is both:

"...since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God." - 1 Peter 1:23-25

It is very easy to broadly show that Reformed theologians both now and historically have vigorously affirmed the necessity of the use of means (preaching, prayer) in regeneration. That the church casts forth the seed of the gospel but that the Holy Spirit germinates that seed, so to speak, in order to bring forth life through the Word. Through the ages, Reformed Christians have taught that the gospel (the Word) is necessary but not the sufficient cause of salvation, that is,

"no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' apart from the Holy Spirit." (1 Cor 12:3)

Likewise Paul says,

"...we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction."(1 Thess 1:4, 5)

While it is true that the Spirit does not regenerate apart from the gospel, but it is also true that the gospel is not effectual in the natural man's heart apart from regeneration (John 6:63,65; 1 John 5:1)

Michael Horton (a contemporary Reformed theologian) affirms that while regeneration is necessary for faith, but that this life is brought forth. not in a void, but through the Word:

"...God alone is the cause of the New Birth, but he calls women and men to himself through the weakness of preaching. Nowhere in Scripture do we find a pattern of evangelism or revival in which individuals respond to the gospel by simply being "zapped" by the Spirit. They are always responding to the preached Word. It may be one-on-one, or in an assembly, but it is the Word proclaimed that gives life to those spiritually dead. Furthermore, even after they are converted, believers do not grow in their walk, deepen in their Christian experience, or learn new truths by the direct activity of the Spirit apart from God's ordained means... God has determined to bring that Good News through specific means, and to involve us in this drama... Paul picks up on this language in Romans 10, making the preached Word essential for the Spirit's work of regeneration: "How, then, can they call on the one in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Rom. 10:14-15).

We affirm that as the gospel is cast indiscriminately to the unbelieving world, but if it is to be believed, the Holy Spirit must open spiritually blind eyes, unplug deaf uncircumcised ears, disarm the hostility of our rebellious hearts, quicken and illumine that Spiritual things may be understood. That without the Spirit, men are hostile so spiritual truths are not grasped, loved and believed in. Unspiritual men do not believe or understand spiritual truths. 1 Cor 2:12 Paul declares,

"We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us."

Jesus Christ and the gospel are what has been freely given us, and this text states emphatically that we have been given the Spirit THAT WE MIGHT UNDERSTAND. Then the text, as if not clear enough, says,

"The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment: "For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?"But we have the mind of Christ." 1 Cor 2:14-16)

As you can clearly see from the Text, we need the mind of Christ first in order to judge and understand spiritual truths. Without it, the Text says, it will not be understood. Spiritual truths are spiritually discerned. To say that we can come to Christ apart from the Holy Spirit is to give credit to unspiritual man for something that is directly contrary to his very nature.

Jonathan Edwards sums this up beautifully:

"The word of God is no proper cause of this effect: it does not operate by any natural force in it. The word of God is only made use of to convey to the mind the subject matter of this saving instruction: and this indeed it doth convey to us by natural force or influence. It conveys to our minds these and those doctrines; it is the cause of the notion of them in our heads, but not of the sense of the divine excellency of them in our hearts. Indeed a person cannot have spiritual light without the word. But that does not argue, that the word properly causes that light. The mind cannot see the excellency of any doctrine, unless that doctrine be first in the mind; but the seeing of the excellency of the doctrine may be immediately from the Spirit of God; though the conveying of the doctrine or proposition itself may be by the word. So that the notions that are the subject matter of this light, are conveyed to the mind by the word of God; but that due sense of the heart, wherein this light formally consists, is immediately by the Spirit of God. As for instance, that notion that there is a Christ, and that Christ is holy and gracious, is conveyed to the mind by the word of God: but the sense of the excellency of Christ by reason of that holiness and grace, is nevertheless immediately the work of the Holy Spirit."

So given these false charges against Calvinism, this brings up the legitimate question to those making the charge - whether they think a person can savingly come to Christ, in their own native power, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit (see John 6:63, 65,37). If the Holy Spirit is necessary then why all these unnecessary theatrics?


Related Essays

The Preaching of the Gospel and the Work of the Holy Spirit by John Hendryx
Receiving Christ by Michael Horton (Excerpt from In the Face of God)
The Nature, Causes and Means of Regeneration by John Owen
Faith and Regeneration by C.H. Spurgeon
A Divine and Supernatural Light, Immediately Imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God

Mon, 04/09/2018 - 19:09 -- john_hendryx

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