The Puritans on Regeneration

by Dr. Joel Beeke and Mark Jones

The following is Chapter 29 of  A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life by Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones

[The] new birth is necessary in every part of the soul…. Because there was an universal depravation by the fall, regeneration must answer it in its extensiveness in every faculty. Otherwise it is not the birth of the man, but of one part only. — STEPHEN CHARNOCK1 

The Reformation supplanted the whole Roman Catholic sacramental system through which it was held that grace was dispensed to the faithful. Since the primary effect that Rome attributed to baptism was regeneration, Protestants who rejected baptismal regeneration had to explain how else one could be regenerated.2 The necessity of the new birth, or regeneration, was acknowledged by all. The Reformed view was well expressed by Thomas Watson (c. 1620–1686), who said, “It is not baptism which makes a Christian; many are no better than baptized heathens. The essential part of religion lies in the new creature.”3 Being regenerate is more important than being religious. Watson recognized that unless we become new creatures, our religious duties will not be accepted.4 While affirming with Rome that we must be born again, Watson denied that inward regeneration of the heart was effected by the outward washing of the body with water, in the sacrament of baptism.

The Puritans developed a robust theology of regeneration that emphasized the sovereignty of God and dissented strongly from the notion of baptismal regeneration. Personal regeneration serves as the foundation of their entire practical theology. Without regeneration, their practical and experimental exhortations would have made no sense. Like all of their theology, regeneration had a christological focus and was deemed never to happen apart from the sinner’s union with Christ. Thus, closely connected to the doctrine of regeneration were not just particular saving benefits such as justification, adoption, and sanctification, but also union with Jesus Christ as the sum of them all. This chapter will consider the doctrine of regeneration, and the next chapter will focus on the relationship between union with Christ, justification, and regeneration.

Effectual Calling and Regeneration

The Puritan theology of regeneration completed the Reformed conception of what it means to be a Christian. Along the way, the Puritans sought to distinguish various aspects of regeneration, including the initial quickening of the sinner, previously dead in trespasses and sins; his conversion to God, including faith and repentance; and subsequently, the daily renewing of his life in the process of sanctification.5 The Reformers used the term “regeneration” in all these senses, not just in its narrowest sense of being identified only as the moment of new birth when a sinner is transferred from self-made darkness into God’s marvelous light.6 It should be noted that for the Reformers and the Puritans, regeneration in its widest sense was understood at every point as a process or ongoing work of God, not a single event in the believer’s experience.7 The Puritans did not believe in or expect merely “sudden” conversions, much less any experience of the Spirit that raised the believer to a state of sinless perfection in this life.

The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) presents the doctrine of regeneration first, as the effectual calling of the elect (8.8; 10.1) and the regeneration of elect infants who die in infancy (10.3); second, as the Spirit’s work of sanctification in those who are effectually called and regenerated (13.1), increasing their faith (14.1, 3), moving them to repentance unto life (15.1, 2), and enabling them to do good works (16.3) and to persevere to the end in the state of grace and be save

d(17.1, 2); and in this life, leading believers to assurance of grace and salvation (18). Regeneration further extends to death, when “the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens” (32.1), and to the last day, when Christ shall raise “the bodies of the just, by his Spirit, unto honor,” and make them conformable to His own (32.3). The Westminster Confession of Faith speaks of calling, quickening, regeneration, renewing, enabling, bearing the fruits of lively faith, assurance, enlargement in peace and joy, restoration, being made perfect in holiness, and the resurrection of the body, all of which are works of regeneration attributed to God, wrought upon the elect, for Christ’s sake.

Earlier, the Belgic Confession of Faith (1561) had introduced the concept of regeneration in article 24, “Man’s Sanctification and Good Works,” after the discussion of justification in articles 22 and 23.8 The Heidelberg Catechism affirms the necessity of regeneration (Q. 8), connecting it to Christ’s resurrection (Q. 45) and to being washed with the blood and Spirit of Christ, as signified in baptism (Q. 69–70), but like the Belgic Confession, locates the full discussion of it after justification by faith in the third part of the Catechism (“Of Thankfulness”), as the source of the good works Christians must do (Q. 86–91). The Canons of Dort use the terms “calling,” “conversion,” and “regeneration” interchangeably, stressing regeneration in its narrowest sense as the initial work of saving grace in the soul (head 3–4, articles 3, 4, 10, 11, 12, 16, 17). Similarly, Scottish theologian Robert Rollock (1555–1599), who produced A Treatise of Our Effectual Calling,9 describes regeneration as “the beginning of our glorification, and the beginning of a new creature.”10 Louis Berkhof offers a plausible explanation as to why the term “calling” was so commonly used. “The extensive use in Post-Reformation times of the term‘calling’ rather than ‘regeneration,’ to designate the beginning of the work of grace in the life of sinners, was due to a desire to stress the close connection between the Word of God and the operation of His grace.”11

Exactly when a firm, technical distinction between effectual calling and regeneration was made is difficult to ascertain, but it seems to have solidified by the mid-to-late seventeenth century. Early evidence of the distinction between regeneration and effectual calling can be found in William Ames’s (1576–1633) posthumously published A Sketch of the Christian’s Catechism (1635).12 David Dickson (c. 1583–1662) treated regeneration separately and explained how it was related to calling. He indicated that regeneration is “one in effect with effectual calling.”13 We see something similar in Francis Turretin (1623–1687). Working from the distinction between the visible and the invisible church, Turretin taught a “twofold calling,” external and internal.14 In explaining internal or effectual calling, he distinguishes between habitual (passive) and actual (active) conversion and says that in the order of nature, the habitual conversion precedes the actual. “A thing ought to exist before it can work.” So, regeneration or habitual conversion precedes actual conversion (acts of faith). This“habitual or passive conversion,” he says, “is more properly called regeneration.”15

Though Turretin did not treat regeneration separately in his Institutes, he clearly saw it as a distinct work. Dickson said regeneration was “one in effect with effectual calling,” that is, both effect renewal of the heart of man, and Samuel Willard(1640–1707) said it was the “first special work wrought by the Spirit” in his exposition on effectual calling.16 Yet many Puritans gave regeneration much more attention.17 Stephen Charnock (1628–1680) published several essays on regeneration, and both John Owen (1616–1683) and Thomas Goodwin (1600–1680) focus on the doctrine in their treatises on the Holy Spirit. Herman Witsius (1636–1708) gave it a separate treatment in his Oeconomia Foederum Dei cum hominibus (Economy of the Covenants of God with Men, 1677). Peter van Mastricht (1630–1706) also developed it in hisTheoretico-Practica Theologia (Theology: theoretical and practical, 1699).18 By the end of the seventeenth century, the doctrine of effectual calling was firmly established as a separate theological topic.

The Necessity of Regeneration

Stephen Charnock uses John 3 to demonstrate the necessity of regeneration. Several other Puritans used John 3 to argue the same point.19 Commenting on our Lord’s words in John 3:3, 5, Charnock declares, “These words contain the foundation of all practical religion here, and happiness hereafter.”20

Charnock gives eight propositions concerning the necessity of regeneration and then offers a few additional arguments. Men are either in a state of sin or in a state of righteousness, and only regeneration can bring us into the state of righteousness.21 Regeneration is necessary on “account of the fall of man and the consequents of it.” Man is not fit for anything good and is not even willing to be so. “We have not those affections to virtue as we have to vice. Are not our lives for the most part voluntarily ridiculous?” In addition to our unwillingness to do good, we are also unable to do good. Therefore, regeneration is universally necessary, argues Charnock: “It is necessary…in all places, in all professions.”22

Charnock also proves the necessity of regeneration from the works of our triune God. He shows that man was created to have communion with God, but that there is no communion with God without regeneration.23 The Son’s incarnation and sufferings would “seem insignificant without” regeneration, that is, if men were left to lie in death because of sin. It was“not his end only to save us from wrath to come, but to save us from the procuring-cause of that wrath” by purifying us. William Whately (1583–1639) is more pointed: “If Christ should come, and die, for one man, ten thousand times; all those deaths should profit that one man nothing at all for his salvation, unless he be made a new creature.”24 The Spirit’s indwelling also manifests the necessity of regeneration. “Can he dwell in a soul that hath an unholy nature?”25

The last two propositions arguing the necessity of regeneration are short and pointed.26 The seventh proposition is a deduction from all the previous propositions. “From all this it follows that this new birth is necessary in every part of the soul.” Every faculty is corrupted and needs to be restored. “Because there was an universal depravation by the fall, regeneration must answer it in its extensiveness in every faculty. Otherwise it is not the birth of the man, but of one part only.”27 In his eighth and last proposition Charnock argues for the necessity of regeneration from “the dim eye of natural reason.”28 Natural reason has concluded (among some thinkers) that man as he is at present needs some kind of change.

This last point was a matter of controversy. Thomas Cole (1627–1697) says that none “but a regenerate Person understands the true nature of Regeneration.”29 Regeneration “is a great Mystery, and cannot be understood, till it is in some measure felt,” Cole says, adding that regeneration is not a notion but a nature.30 Cole focuses on understanding thenature of regeneration while Charnock addresses the general assent to some kind of need for regeneration, yet one wonders if Charnock has not given too much to “the dim eye of natural reason.”

Anthony Burgess (d. 1664) gave a whole sermon explaining that the natural man is utterly ignorant of regeneration, while noting that there exists a “twofold knowledge of regeneration.” One is “merely speculative, and Theoretical” while the other is “Practical and Experimental.”31 Though Nicodemus did not seem to have even the theoretical understanding of regeneration, Burgess shows that having the speculative only is insufficient and ultimately unprofitable. Cole argued that the natural man tends to compel this spiritual truth to conform to “the level of Man’s Understanding,” that is, the unbeliever perverts its supernatural necessity to fit man’s natural understanding.32

In the end, Charnock’s last proposition may not have garnered universal assent among the Puritans. However, in his“uses” he makes a clearer distinction. He ends by asserting that natural knowledge is insufficient and also how possessing spiritual knowledge (knowledge about spiritual things) may be just as deficient: “An evangelical head will be but drier fuel for eternal burning, without an evangelical impression upon the heart and the badge of a new nature.”33

Charnock offers many other reasons regeneration is necessary. Without regeneration, one cannot perform gospel duties or enjoy gospel privileges.34 This “gospel state” requires regeneration, for while on earth, we cannot please God or enjoy Him without being regenerate. The next phase that requires regeneration is the “state of glory.” “Heaven is the inheritance of the sanctified, not of the filthy,” Charnock says. After showing that no meritorious connection exists between our regenerate state and the state of glory, he says, “Justification and adoption give us right to the inheritance, but regeneration gives us a‘meetness to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light,’ Col. i. 12.”35

Charnock covers every period of redemptive history from Adam’s fall to our entrance in glory and shows that without regeneration, man must perish. Its necessity therefore demanded a careful exposition of its nature. If man really needs this supernatural work of regeneration, then its supernatural character also needs to be defended.

The Nature of Regeneration

Several aberrant views had emerged by the time Reformed theologians developed their understanding of regeneration. At the time of the Reformation, the Lutheran Flacius Illyricus (1520–1575) taught that regeneration required a physical or substantial change (much like a germ or physical seed implanted in man).36 He taught that “sin is man’s substance.”37Therefore regeneration involved a miraculous “substantial” (physical) change in man. On the opposite extreme, the Socinians (late sixteenth century) believed that the Spirit only assists us to be better.38 For them, regeneration was nothing more than moral improvement. Man can, by imbibing the divine Spirit, “create for himself the power of obeying God as far as He…requires.”39 Spiritual regeneration is not required; the person needs just to change his behavior. Man needed correct knowledge and encouragement to persevere in following Christ’s example.40

The Arminian view (one of several errors) that the Canons of Dort rejected is found in head 3–4, rejection of errors 7:

That the grace whereby we are converted to God is only a gentle advising, or (as others explain it) that this is the noblest manner of working in the conversion of man, and that this manner of working, which consists in advising, is most in harmony with man’s nature; and that there is no reason why this advising grace alone should not be sufficient to make the natural man spiritual; indeed, that God does not produce the consent of the will except through this manner of advising; and that the power of the divine working, whereby it surpasses the working of Satan, consists in this that God promises eternal, while Satan promises only temporal goods.

These various views had to be refuted in the context by a well-defined, biblically informed doctrine of regeneration.

1. Regeneration Is More Than Reformation of Manners41

This error has been historically maintained by Pelagians, and it may be the most common misconception in many modern minds. Man simply needs to change his ways, alter his behavior, be a kinder person, and be more generous. Once a man reforms his manners, then no problem exists. In the civil sphere, laws are enacted to restrain bad behavior or to constrain good behavior. Compliance with these laws is the duty of a law-abiding citizen. If regeneration were merely civil compliance, then even an enemy of the state could comply in order to advance his personal and treacherous ends. It certainly had to be more than that. Yet the Socinians maintained that regeneration consisted in a moral reformation of one’s life (in morali reformatione vitae) and not in a spiritual renovation of one’s nature (in spirituali renovatione naturae).42 Of course, regeneration does produce moral reformation, but the latter is only the effect and not the substance of regeneration.

Jesus says we must be born again because in our fallen state we are dead in trespasses and sins. Man needs to be regenerated and not merely reformed. The change must be from the inside out. The good tree produces good fruit; out of the treasure of the heart, a man brings forth good or evil (cf. Matt. 12:33–37). Whitewashing the tomb does not change the corruption that lies within. It is the heart that needs to be changed, and that fundamental, essential change is regeneration.

The Puritans recognized that outward reformation could proceed from natural (unregenerate) principles, such as desire for promotion or fear of punishment. Regeneration is more than “outward conformity to the law of God,”43 more than “civil practices,”44 more than theological learning, and more than high professions.45 Charnock says that “we may be outward Christians without an inward principle” because “outward reformation only…is but a new appearance, not a new creature, a change of life, not of the heart.”46 Ezekiel Hopkins (1634–1690) notes that the natural man changes either by growing tired of sins or else by changing one sin for another. Some sins drop off as a man ages because he can no longer perform them.47 This kind of change falls short of new birth. George Swinnock (c. 1627–1673) warns, “Thy Civility is a mercy, and thou art bound to bless God for it. But Oh take heed of trusting to it as a sure evidence of thy good estate.”48 They did not deny that the regenerate person must also give evidence of it by a reformed life but they also knew you could have at least

the semblance of one without the other. “Regeneration is never without reformation of life,” insisted Charnock, “but this may be without that.”49 Anthony Burgess says that one may be a “new man,” changed from his old ways, but is not a “new Creature” in Christ.50 Our Lord’s call for a new birth was more than a mere exhortation to reformation of behavior and manners. Such outward change could spring from nature and not from grace—adopting new manners is not the same as being a new creature in Christ Jesus.

2. Regeneration Is the Sovereign Work of God

Semi-Pelagians and Arminians admit that man has been impaired by sin. Man needs grace to excite the will and yet, the final hinge on which regeneration swings is man’s will. Man can resist and stifle grace; God’s purpose can be thwarted. Regeneration is therefore an act of the human will, in a cooperative effort between man and God. There were even some“synergists” among the Lutheran divines who believed that the “power which man naturally has may contribute something towards their regeneration.” The natural man can, as an act of the will, allow the Spirit of God to work in him.51 This means that regeneration is in part the cooperative act of man. The Puritans vigorously denounced cooperation or synergism in regeneration. Charnock emphatically states that the “will cannot concur in the actual infusion of a gracious principle, because it hath no spark in itself by nature, suitable to that principle which is bringing it into the soul itself.”52

The Bible makes it clear that man is not merely impaired, but dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1–3). Regeneration involves a new heart and a new spirit—the natural man, being spiritually dead, cannot produce this new birth in himself. Van Mastricht says, “If man were, either in whole or in part, the author of his own regeneration, he would enable himself to differ, contrary to the apostle’s assertion (1 Cor. 4:7).”53

Man is passive in regeneration; he is born of the Spirit (John 3:5–6), born of God, and not born of anything in man, not his blood, his flesh, or his will (John 1:13). Regeneration must be the sovereign work of God the Holy Spirit.54 There is no cooperation or synergism when it comes to regeneration. Man is not born of the Spirit and of his own will. The new birth is monergistic, not synergistic. New birth is an “effect or work of the Spirit in us” and not a “begetting of a nature or being, the same that the Spirit himself is of.”55 The Spirit of God is the “efficient” cause or the “principal, the sole author” of regeneration.56 In this work we have no part. The believer can concur with the Spirit in his sanctification, says John Flavel(1628–1691), “but in the first production of this spiritual principle he can do nothing.” Furthermore, if human nature could concur in regeneration, then “the best natures would be soonest quickened,” but we more often see the worst of men regenerated.57 In regeneration, man does not “contribute toward this work” because it is the sovereign and supernatural work of God.58 The Spirit is the “efficient principal of it.”59 In saying this, they were saying that in regeneration, divine grace reigns and human nature is passive. Grace works on nature to give it life; nature cannot and does not cooperate with grace.

3. Regeneration Is More Than Moral Suasion

Owen and others emphatically state that regeneration is more than moral suasion (persuasion).60 That is not to say that all forms of persuasion were denied, but only that regeneration required something more. The Westminster Confession states that Christ’s work of applying redemption to the elect involves “effectually persuading them by his Spirit to believe and obey” (8.8). There is also intellectual moral persuasion through the preaching of the Word as the external call. Yet that is not the entire work but only the beginning. Without the internal work changing the person, such moral suasion would be ineffectual. The outward call is made effectual only by the inward work of grace.

The necessity of such a change of the heart and will of man was passionately denied by the Saumur congruist Claude Pajon (1626–1685). In his famous fifth sermon of the parable of the wedding feast, he declared that man was “neither a stone…nor a wooden tree-trunk…. He has understanding and will-power; his understanding can judge and deliberate, his will can choose; things must be proposed to him outwardly, and that is how vocation works.”61 All that was needed was a

well-instructed mind and a will disposed to believe. The net effect of his theory was that the Spirit really did not do much more than concur with the movement of the human will and that an internal work in the heart was unnecessary.62 Warfield described Pajon’s theory in these terms: “Grace wins those to whom it is ‘congruously’ offered, that is to say, that the reason why some men are saved and some are not lies in the simple fact that God the Holy Spirit operates in his gracious suasion on some in a fashion that is carefully and infallibly adapted by him to secure their adhesion to the gospel.”63 In other words, God accommodates Himself to human beings, making the gospel agreeable to them, at least to some men, so that they can will to believe and be saved.

Pajon developed his position in reaction to the way the Puritans explained the work of grace in regeneration in terms of a“physical operation,” that is, an operation of the Spirit changing the nature of the sinner, beyond a mere change of mind. They had argued that a supernatural work was done in the interior part of the sinner (heart, will, soul, etc.).64 This great work is designated as a new heart, a new spirit, new creature, etc. (cf. Ezek. 36:25–27; Jer. 31:33). The person is not a“stock or a stone” but a man who is affected in all his inward faculties. Though he does not cooperate, he is acted on as a man. Van Mastricht writes, “Regeneration is wrought in man after he has been externally called, to whom grace has been conferred in a way of moral persuasion, and he has been invited to the reception of it.”65 Charnock defines it in these terms: “Regeneration is a mighty and powerful change, wrought in the soul by the efficacious workings of the Holy Spirit, wherein a vital principle, a new habit, the law of God, and a divine nature, are put into, and framed in the heart, enabling it to act holily and pleasingly to God, and to grow up therein to eternal glory.”66 Similarly, Turretin explains that regeneration is “the infusion of supernatural habits by the Holy Spirit.”67 In all these definitions, something happens inwardly, by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit.

Leonard Rijssen (1636–1700) asks, “Does God infuse new life by a physical action of the Spirit?” This is an important question that gets at the heart of regeneration. He answers,

Yes, against the Remonstrants and Socinians. The view of the orthodox on this question is that the movement of effectual grace is strictly speaking to be called neither physical nor ethical, but supernatural and divine, which practically includes each schesis. It is not simply physical, because the moral faculty is involved, which must be moved in accordance with its nature; nor simply ethical, because God would be acting only in an objective way and using gentle persuasion, as the Pelagians used to insist; but it is supernatural and divine, transcending all these categories.68

That said, van Mastricht does not shy away from using the phrase “physical operation” (operatio physica) in regeneration.69Arminians limited effectual calling (regeneration) to mere moral persuasion.70 Charnock recognized that if regeneration is nothing more than moral suasion, then “the most eloquent preaching were like to do most good” and the “most eloquent preaching would then most fill the gospel nets.”71 Owen therefore says that there is a “real physical work of the Spirit on souls of men in their regeneration.”72 Sinclair Ferguson explains why Owen and many of the Puritans readily used the word“physical” to denote the way God regenerated. They often pitted the word “physical” against the adjective “moral.” “Richard Hooker,” says Ferguson, “wrote that ‘Sacraments are not physical but moral instruments of salvation.’”73 This may be the background.74 We can also see that the Puritans consciously resisted the Arminian explanations, and the term “physical” (in the sense of natural, actual, or real) would serve that very purpose. The Puritans contrasted the “physical” with the “moral” in the same way, and in the same sense, that we today contrast the “real” with the “virtual.” When arguing that regeneration was more than moral suasion and was in fact a “physical operation” of the Spirit, they were consciously confronting and rejecting the Arminian notion of regeneration. In fact, however obscure the word “physical,” it perfectly conveyed the supernatural element in regeneration. Moral suasion left the sinner to do the work; nothing outside came in. A physical operation of the Spirit was His invasion of the soul from without. This insured the supernatural character of regeneration. The term also hinted at how the Spirit actually works on the soul, which brings us to the next element in understanding the nature of regeneration.

4. Regeneration Works with and without Means on the Person

Anthony Burgess observed, “The work and Grace of Regeneration, is rather felt and perceived by him that hath it, than that which can be expressed, or made known to a man’s self or others, it being a wonderful hidden, and secret life.”75 It is a mysterious work, but one that a person can perceive. Wilhelmus à Brakel (1635–1711) recognized that even though the person cannot comprehend the manner in which it was accomplished, the Spirit nonetheless immediately touched his soul. Alexander Comrie (1706–1774) also maintained that regeneration was immediate.76

It is probable that when the Puritans utilized the term “physical” in their description of the Spirit’s activity of regeneration, they were highlighting the Spirit’s immediate work on the sinner.77 That is, there is a direct contact between God and the soul of a sinner. If the seat of regeneration is the soul, then the contact between the soul and Spirit is immediate, that is, without means. So we read in Thomas Cole that the regeneration of elect infants dying in infancy “is the sole immediate act of the Spirit of God, without the Word; it is indeed according to the Word, and pursuant to the Covenant and Promise made to Abraham.78 In this special case, he insisted upon the efficient and immediate work of the Spirit. In the case of “elect infants,” one can easily see why it has to be immediate. Owen, however, does not limit the immediate work of the Spirit to elect infants but describes the entire work of regeneration as “the internal immediate efficiency of grace.”79

There was also emphasis, however, on the instrumental means God used to regenerate the sinner. Ezekiel Hopkins declares that the Word of God is “the seminal virtue or means” of regeneration.80 Charnock produced a whole discourse on this, “A Discourse of the Word, the Instrument of Regeneration.”81 Cole would affirm the same and say that the Word of God is the “instrumental cause” of regeneration.82

Whately made a further distinction. He says that the Spirit is the efficient cause; the Word is the instrumental, and holiness is the material cause of regeneration.83 He explains all of this more fully. “The holy Ghost himself…doth convey and insinuate himself into the man, whom he will beget again to a new life…. And yet the Spirit of God, that could work of himself, and without means, pleaseth not so to do in this great work: but of his own free-will makes choice for himself, of a fit and blessed instrument for that purpose; even the law of God, the whole doctrine of the Scriptures.”84 Like most Reformers and Puritans, he believed that the Lord more often uses (“more often, more usually, more ordinarily”) the Word preached than the Word read.85 Because that is the case, we should greatly value the preaching of God’s Word and labor to sit under it. “Oh therefore how careful should people be both to get and to live under the preaching of God’s Word! This is the wind that must make dry bones live: This is the voice of a trump, that must make the dead come out of the grave. How mean [insignificant], impotent, contemptible, men may esteem it, yet God hath appointed no other means to convey supernatural life, but after this manner.”86 That means the Spirit must be present with the Word. Without Him, the preaching of the Word would be ineffectual. John Owen recognized that the bare preaching of the Word without the Spirit could do nothing. “The word itself, under a bare proposal to the minds of men, will not so effect them.” The “ministration of the Spirit” is required because the Spirit is the “fountain of all illumination.”87

Though the Puritans would be quite clear in maintaining the truth that God alone is the “prime efficient cause of regeneration,”88 yet they also maintained that God ordinarily used the Word of God as His instrument. As noted above, Cole says that God immediately regenerates elect infants, but in adults, He uses the Word as His instrument—God regenerates adults “not without the Word, but by the Word as the instrumental Cause.”89 They were emphatic: the Word is required; that is the ordinary and appointed way. Yet, we must also observe Turretin’s distinction. He says, “The Spirit works immediately upon us, not so much before or after the word as together with it.”90 Though the Word is instrumental, the Spirit is still ultimately the efficient and immediate cause of regeneration.

Arthur Dent’s popular work The Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven presents this point tersely and clearly. Philagathus asks,“Cannot a man attain unto regeneration and the new birth without the word and the Spirit?” Theologus responds, “No verily:

for they are the instruments and means whereby God doth work it.”91 That short dialogue perfectly conveys the Puritans’ understanding of the work of the Spirit with the Word in regeneration.

5. Regeneration Renews the Whole Man

God does not merely speak to us or offer terms of life through the preaching of the gospel. God really and effectually renews the mind to understand the gospel, renews the heart to believe it, and renews the will to desire and respond to God. This work of God is not manipulation but regeneration. As a result of regeneration, the person can finally believe. Francis Burmann (1632–1679) says, “The first act of regeneration and the first movement of the new man is faith.”92 If the will has been affected, then the will must act. As the Word is preached, the man is enabled to believe—the will is set free to believe. God does not coax a person to “make a decision,” but instead He supernaturally quickens a person and works in his will by giving him “a new propensity towards spiritual good.”93 He also illumines the mind and stirs the affections. The Puritans spent much time explaining exactly what happens inside the person even though they all acknowledged that the workings of God were mysterious.

Puritan definitions of regeneration will help us to better understand this internal work, and Charnock’s definition is as good as they come. He says that regeneration “is a universal change of the whole man. It is a new creature, not only a new power or new faculty. This…extends to every part…. [It] is as large in renewing as sin was in defacing.”94 In agreement, Swinnock says that the subject of God’s renewal is “the whole man.”95 But the “proper seat of grace” is the soul, which in turn influences every faculty of the soul.96 He does not lean toward one faculty over another. That, however, was not universally believed.

Some, like Thomas Cole, will say that it “appears most in the Will,” or that it “usually appears first in the Will.”97 Van Mastricht concurs and argues for its impact on the will. But he also notes that some in the Reformed tradition (e.g., John Cameron) “allow indeed a physical operation upon the will, but that only by the medium of the understanding, which God in regeneration so powerfully enlightens and convinces that the will cannot but follow its last practical dictate.”98 John Owen seems to be sympathetic to John Cameron’s (c. 1579–1625) view. In explaining the faculties of the soul on which regeneration works, Owen says, “The leading, conducting faculty of the soul is the mind or understanding.”99 This leading faculty is not replaced but renewed, which enables us “to know God savingly.”100 Then the Spirit works on the will. The will is so acted upon immediately by the Spirit that its inclination is determined. The will is not left “remaining undetermined,” but the Spirit determines it “in and unto the acts of faith and obedience.” The Spirit does not leave men to “the undetermined liberty of their wills.” At the same time, He does this “without the least impeachment of its liberty or freedom.”101

So there were differences among the Puritans as to which faculty of the soul is first impacted. Regardless of these differences, they all believed that the whole soul is regenerated. How they describe the effects on each respective faculty is the same; they simply differ as to the order. Since regeneration involves the whole soul, that means each renewed believer’s mind, will, emotions, affections, etc. have been changed. Mere mental assent is insufficient, and mere outward compliance to God’s law without the affections panting after God also falls short of regeneration—all the faculties of the soul are affected (however we might prioritize them). For that reason, the Puritans could appeal to the believer to honor the Lord in every aspect of his life. The whole man was regenerated, and the whole man must subject itself to the Savior.

6. Regeneration Is Irresistible

Pelagians, Socinians, and many Arminians believe that regeneration can be resisted. Though Reformed writers did not necessarily like the word irresistible in this context, they found it nonetheless helpful. Turretin says that the “expressions‘resistibility’ and ‘irresistibility’ of grace are both barbarous and little adapted to unfold what is sought…we are compelled to use them ad hominem that we may draw off the mask from our adversaries.”102 Van Mastricht pointed out that moral

suasion may be resisted, but not regeneration.103 Nonetheless, Owen emphatically states that the Spirit’s work on sinners is “infallible, victorious, irresistible, or always efficacious.”104 Anthony Burgess agreed with the orthodox, who declared that regeneration is “irresistibly wrought in us by an insuperable efficacy of God’s spirit.”105

What does the Bible say to all this? Paul’s rhetorical question perfectly conveys the truth: “For who hath resisted [God’s] will?” (Rom. 9:19). The answer is no one! The force of the excuse in Romans 9 would have been completely lost had Paul answered, “Nay but, O man, thou canst always resist God’s will; thou hast the final say.” Paul never would have dreamed of saying such a thing, for he shared the conviction of King Nebuchadnezzar: “The most High…doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” (Dan. 4:34–35). The new birth therefore is irresistible because it is God’s will acting upon us: “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:18).

In Acts 7:51, Stephen says, “Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost.” This verse does not teach that regeneration can be resisted. Rather, the external call of the gospel and the common operations of the Spirit that do not issue in regeneration can be resisted (WCF, 10.4). External calls of the gospel are always resisted; the natural man cannot, will not, and does not comply with the demands of the gospel. Such is the natural response of sinful man. When the regenerating Spirit draws sinners to Christ, however, He first makes them willing to come by renewing their wills and determining them to that which is good (WCF, 10.1).

Van Mastricht cites other Scripture texts to confirm the irresistibility of regeneration. He argues, “If anyone could at his pleasure resist the divine agency in regeneration, then all could, and so it might be the case that not one would be regenerated, and thus the whole glorious design of redemption might be frustrated.”106 God’s purposes cannot be thwarted.

This irresistible work does no violence to the will. John Owen says, “The will, in the first act of conversion…acts not but as it is acted, moves not but as it is moved; and therefore is passive therein.” What this means is that a mighty gracious“secret act” “is antecedent unto its own acting.”107 That is, grace acted on the will before the will acted and set the will free to do according to its inclination. The will has been determined or given a new propensity—a new principle. Irresistible grace therefore does not compel the will or debase the nature of man. Regeneration does not destroy but perfects human nature; “it implies a change of state, and a change of nature.”108 Its irresistible work therefore frees the will—“infallibly determining it in its free acts.”109

The Puritans believed that the Spirit was omnipotent and that the spiritually dead sinner needed an omnipotent, physical operation of the Spirit immediately performed upon him. Nothing less could surmount the defiance of an incorrigibly wicked will. For them, the irresistibility of the Spirit’s work flowed alike from the necessity of the new birth, from the helplessness of man lying dead in trespasses and sin, and from the sovereign nature of God.

7. Regeneration Cannot Be Undone

Can a man undo this work of regeneration? Pelagians argued that one could, on account of their doctrine of free will. Man’s will “can either divest itself of grace received or receive it at pleasure (with whom, in this point at least, the Lutherans agree, as they hold that one truly regenerate may totally fall from grace).”110 Since in this view regeneration is nothing more than moral suasion, what a person may be persuaded of today can change drastically tomorrow. If we can be talked into the kingdom, we may just as easily be talked out of it.

The Puritans taught otherwise. John Flavel says that the new life of regeneration is “no transient, vanishing thing, but a fixed, permanent principle, which abides in the soul for ever.” Furthermore, “grace cannot be separated from the soul: when all forsake us, this will not leave us.”111

The apostle John says that the seed of God remains in those who are born of God (1 John 3:9). Furthermore, Jesus says that a second birth is required to enter the kingdom of heaven. He makes an absolute distinction between the two births:

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). The verse implies that the move is only one way, from flesh to spirit and not from spirit to flesh.

Van Mastricht explains the new life produced in us by regeneration can never be lost. “The Reformed hold that it can never be wholly lost, but this they suppose to depend not upon the power of the regenerate, but upon God’s immutable decree of election, and His almighty upholding power.”112 God preserves what He begins.113 Regeneration is not an inherent power but a work that God sustains in us because all the acts of the new creature and the continuance of the regenerate are of God.114 Charnock reasons, “Why did he take pains to write the law anew in the heart, if he would suffer it to be dashed out again?… It is not reasonable to think that God should be at so much cost, only to restore man to Adam’s mutable condition, whereby to incur a greater condemnation.”115

8. Regeneration Is Only for the Elect

There are some who broadly define regeneration as to make it universal, says van Mastricht. That is, they hold that everyone has been given the ability to perform good deeds, including those things necessary for salvation. Van Mastricht notes the Papists teach that “sufficient grace is given to every man whereby he can be saved.”116 Many tend to believe that every person can be regenerated if he chooses to believe. No doctrine of election applies to them. For this reason Reformed theologians such as John Cotton (1585–1652) were compelled to say that the first cause of our “Spiritual life, is the holy and gracious will of God” (citing James 1:18). In particular, Cotton says it is from “God’s will in the Covenant, that begets a child of God.”117 Regeneration therefore is limited to those whom God has appointed to eternal life, namely, the elect.

From a human standpoint, we must regard everyone as possible candidates for salvation and eternal life until they die. For that reason, we proclaim the gospel to all, indiscriminately. Yet, theologically, we know that only the elect are regenerated. Peter writes his epistle to persons “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:2) and begins with praise to God the Father, “which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope” (v. 3), and so draws a straight line from election to regeneration.

Thomas Cole says that the subjects of regeneration are “The Elect, only the Elect, and all the Elect.”118 Swinnock says,“Those whose names are registered in heaven, their natures are regenerated on earth.”119 Van Mastricht also restricts regeneration to the elect.120 This is not a debate among the Puritans. They all agreed with Ezekiel Hopkins when he said that whom God “predestined, them he regenerated.”121 The external call must be extended to all, but only the elect will be“effectually called,” that is, regenerated and so enabled to respond to the preaching of the gospel with understanding, faith, and repentance.

Regeneration and Baptism

How did the Puritans’ understanding of regeneration relate to baptism? A few were credobaptists, but most were paedobaptists who sought to define their position over against the Roman Catholic view on the one hand, and the “bare sign” position on the other. Without getting into all the complexities and controversies, a few things still need to be said.122

Charnock says regeneration is not the same as an “external baptism” because baptism “confers not grace, but engageth to it: outward water cannot convey inward life. How can water, a material thing, work upon the soul in a physical manner?”123 He is insistent that one cannot assume that baptism infallibly effects regeneration.124 “Baptism is a means of conveying this grace [of regeneration],” he says, but only “when the Spirit is pleased to operate with it.” The Westminster Confession of Faith says that baptism is ordained “for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church” and a sign and seal “of his ingrafting into Christ,” and “of regeneration” (28.1). Even though “the efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered,…the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto” (28.6). But Charnock is not

comfortable with those who teach that regeneration “is conferred in baptism upon the elect” because he cannot fathom how spiritual life can remain dormant until conversion.125 John Owen, not wanting to jump into this debate, suggests that in this context regeneration means no more than that a person who was baptized as an infant ends up professing faith as an adult. Admittedly, baptism can be the means of regeneration, but baptism by itself followed by a profession of faith is not regeneration—that is, just because a person was baptized and subsequently made a profession of faith does not mean the person himself was regenerated.126

Ezekiel Hopkins did not believe in baptismal regeneration in the truest sense of the words. He, however, believed in a“baptismal regeneration of infants” that is “external and ecclesiastical.” They are not internally regenerated or cleansed by the Spirit, but only “externally sanctified” by the sacrament.127 By so defining his terms, he was able to retain the language of baptismal regeneration while emptying it of its natural meaning. In this way, what he maintained in The Nature and Necessity of Regeneration took a different twist in The Doctrine of the Two Sacraments. Does not this explanation weaken his whole doctrine of “regeneration”?

We have already encountered complex issues related to this topic, and much more could be said. However, this short survey should be sufficient to show that the Puritans unanimously rejected the Roman Catholic doctrine of baptismal regeneration but had slightly different nuances among themselves as to exactly how baptism and regeneration related to each other. Further discussion of the matter lies outside the scope of this chapter.128 

Signs of Regeneration

Much can be said regarding the signs or “marks” of regeneration. In fact, the Puritans expended much energy on this topic because they wanted to be eminently practical. Teaching the necessity of regeneration without explaining what it actually looks like in real life would be useless. Though we cannot develop this topic as fully as we would like, a few things need to be considered.

Puritans often spent time pointing out false signs of regeneration. We have already noted one example in our survey of the nature of regeneration. Other false signs include formal professions of faith in Christ not validated by works: “In works they may deny Christ, while in words they do acknowledge him.” As to moral reformation, a person can be a new creature“upon old grounds.” Others profess Christ out of “temporal fears” and out of their love for “outward mercies.” Another false sign is a change in life that is founded on “confused principles of the mind”—that is, a mixture of things spiritual and carnal.129

Ezekiel Hopkins gives several “Signs of the Truth of Grace.” The first one is that the person is “willing to search and examine himself, whether he be gracious or not.” The hypocrite hates the light, much like a thief hates being exposed, but the regenerate says with David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts” (Ps. 139:23). The second sign is genuine love for the saints of God (1 John 3:14). The truly gracious man loves them because they are godly, and he loves them all. Another sign is “universal Respect and Obedience unto all God’s Commandments.” Though we do not perfectly obey, we “restlessly aspire” to do so. “Universal” means to live, not only according to some, but all the commandments of God.130

The last example Hopkins gives is that the believer does not commit sin (1 John 3:9–10). What does that mean? It means“he doth not sin in that malignant manner, in which the children of the Devil do: he doth not make a trade of sin, nor live in the constant and allowed practice of it.” The regenerate man opposes all sin: “Is there no lust, that your eye spares, nor that your heart pities?”131

On this point, Thomas Cole goes a little further, taking it in the absolute sense and saying that the regenerate believercannot sin, that is, not as he did before: “He that is a new creature may sin, but not as a new creature.” He means by this that the regenerate “cannot go on in sin; ’tis against his Nature; he may be surprised into an act of sin, but the new Nature will quickly recover itself, and cast out that sin by Repentance.”132 When a regenerate does sin, he would not—the

antipathy exists because “sin is not so connatural to a Regenerate Person.”133 Cole is concerned to underscore the living power of the regenerate believer’s antipathy to sin. This inherent principle of opposition to sin is a sure sign of regeneration. Charnock says that “no creature can easily act against a rooted habit.” He says that it is “impossible for the new creature to sin by the influence of habit.”134

Of course, the true child of God would want to know all these things. Perhaps Hopkins’s main point on this issue is correct—that is, the one who is a new creature in Christ wants his life to be examined. Concern to know our spiritual state is thesine qua non of regeneration. Regarding these signs, Hopkins gave four broad signs while Cole gave six. Many more “signs” could be listed, but the reader begins to understand the importance of these lists. After giving the signs, the Puritans used them to exhort believers to live up to what they have become in Christ.135 Cole challenges his reader to remember that he is “more given to contemplation than practice.”136 It is not enough to know we are born again; we must also live as children of God, forsaking the world, crucifying our old nature, and walking in a new and holy life.



1. Stephen Charnock, “The Necessity of Regeneration,” in The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock (1845; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1985), 3:26–27.

2. See the Decree Concerning Original Sin from the Council of Trent, session 5.

3. Thomas Watson, A Plea for the Godly (Pittsburgh: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1993), 287.

4. Watson, A Plea for the Godly, 288.

5. In addition there is the regeneration of creation itself, a topic beyond the scope of this chapter.

6. Cf. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1938), 466; Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 3:581; John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 3.3.9. Here is an example from the citation: “Therefore, in a word, I interpret repentance as regeneration, whose sole end is to restore in us the image of God that had been disfigured and all but obliterated through Adam’s transgression.”

7. Even more remote from the thought of orthodox Puritanism is the modern evangelical heresy that one can “accept Christ” and claim to be “born again” and expect to go to heaven while living an unsanctified life.

8. Berkhof believes the Belgic Confession uses the term broadly.

9. Robert Rollock, Select Works of Robert Rollock (Edinburgh: Wodrow Society, 1849), 1:29–288.

10. Rollock, Treatise of Our Effectual Calling, in Select Works, 1:244–45.

11. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 470.

12. William Ames, A Sketch of the Christian’s Catechism, trans. Todd M. Rester, Classic Reformed Theology (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2008), 108, 148–153.

13. David Dickson, Therapeutica Sacra… (Edinburgh: Printed by Evan Tyler, 1664), 10.

14. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R, 1992),

15. Turretin, Institutes,

16. Samuel Willard, A Compleat Body of Divinity (Boston: B. Green and S. Kneeland for B. Eliot and D. Henchman, 1726), 441.

17. Thomas Cole said that regeneration was “of a larger Extent and Signification than Justification and Sanctification; ’tis initially all that belongs to a state of Grace.” A Discourse of Regeneration (London: for Thomas Cockerill, 1692), 9.

18. The portion on regeneration was translated into English in 1769 by an unknown author and republished in 2002; Peter van Mastricht, A Treatise on Regeneration (Morgan, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria, 2002). Van Mastricht’s entire, massive multivolume work, which Jonathan Edwards deemed to be the best theological books ever written, is currently being translated into English by Todd Rester and edited by Joel R. Beeke and Nelson Kloosterman under the auspices of the Dutch Reformed Translation Society and will be published by Reformation Heritage Books.

19. E.g., Ezekiel Hopkins, The Nature and Necessity of Regeneration; Or, the New Birth, in The Works of Ezekiel Hopkins (Morgan, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria, 1997), 2:221–98; Cole, A Discourse of Regeneration, 1.

20. Charnock, “The Necessity of Regeneration,” in Works, 3:7.

21. George Swinnock would say, “There must be a change from Nature to Grace, before there can be a change from Grace to Glory.” The Door of Salvation Opened by the Key of Regeneration (London, 1660), 9.

22. Charnock, “The Necessity of Regeneration,” in Works, 3:16–22.

23. With this William Whately would also agree, “Yea, as possible is it, that God should cease to be God, as that any man, not made anew according to the image of God, should be received into the blessed vision, possession, fruition of God…that there should bee any communion betwixt God and man…, so long as man remaineth in the estate of his corrupted nature, not being created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness.” The New Birth (London, 1622), 4–5.

24. Whately, The New Birth, 13.

25. Charnock, “The Necessity of Regeneration,” in Works, 3:22–26.

26. Charnock, “The Necessity of Regeneration,” in Works, 3:26–27.

27. Charnock, “The Necessity of Regeneration,” in Works, 3:26–27.

28. Charnock, “The Necessity of Regeneration,” in Works, 3:27.

29. Cole, A Discourse of Regeneration, 8.

30. Cole, A Discourse of Regeneration, 2.

31. Anthony Burgess, Spiritual Refining: or A Treatise of Grace and Assurance (London: A. Miller for Thomas Underhill, 1652), 211.

32. Cole, A Discourse of Regeneration, 4–5.

33. Charnock, “The Necessity of Regeneration,” in Works, 3:59.

34. Charnock, “The Necessity of Regeneration,” in Works, 3:28–48.

35. Charnock, “The Necessity of Regeneration,” in Works, 3:48–51.

36. Cf. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 467.

37. “Flacius, Illyricus, Matthias,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation, ed. Hans J. Hillerbrand (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 2:110–11. Also see the entry for Flacius in the Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature. It seems he wanted to show the true fallen nature of man against what he perceived Melanchthon and his followers were espousing. Nonetheless, Flacius was charged with Manichaeanism, and his novel view was subsequently refuted by Reformed divines, e.g. Charnock, Works, 3:91: “Some thought that the substance of Adam’s soul was corrupted when he sinned, therefore suppose the substance of his soul to be altered when he is renewed.” Anthony Burgess also answers this question in Spiritual Refining, 258.

38. Thomas Rees, trans., The Racovian Catechism (London: Longman, et al., 1818), 331.

39. Rees, Racovian Catechism, 326.

40. Cf. “Socinus and Socinianism,” in New Dictionary of Theology, ed. Sinclair B. Ferguson and David F. Wright (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1988), 649.

41. Many of these major points have been drawn from van Mastricht’s work on regeneration.

42. John Owen, Pneumatologia, or, A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit, in The Works of John Owen, D.D., ed. William H. Goold (repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), 3:219.

43. David Clarkson, “The New Creature,” in The Works of David Clarkson (repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1988), 2:9.

44. Swinnock, The Door of Salvation Opened, 61.

45. Swinnock offers ten “sandy foundations” in The Door of Salvation Opened, 60–107.

46. Charnock, “The Necessity of Regeneration,” in Works, 3:59–60.

47. Hopkins, The Nature and Necessity of Regeneration, in Works, 2:225–26.

48. Swinnock, The Door of Salvation Opened, 65.

49. Charnock, “The Necessity of Regeneration,” in Works, 3:59.

50. Burgess, Spiritual Refining, 278.

51. Van Mastricht, A Treatise on Regeneration, 34–35.

52. Stephen Charnock, “A Discourse on the Efficient of Regeneration,” in The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock (1845; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1985), 3:207.

53. Van Mastricht, A Treatise on Regeneration, 36.

54. Thomas Goodwin, The Work of the Holy Ghost in Our Salvation, in The Works of Thomas Goodwin, ed. Thomas Smith (1861–1866; repr., Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006), 6:47–49.

55. Goodwin, The Work of the Holy Ghost, in Works, 6:158.

56. Whately, The New Birth, 15.

57. John Flavel, The Method of Grace, in The Works of the Rev. Mr. John Flavel (1820; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1997), 2:96–98.

58. Flavel, The Method of Grace, in Works, 2:92.

59. Swinnock, The Door of Salvation Opened, 10.

60. Owen, Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit, in Works, 3:301ff.; Charnock, “A Discourse on the Efficient of Regeneration,” in Works, 3:238–39.

61. Cited in Émile G. Léonard, A History of Protestantism, trans. Joyce M. H. Reid (London: Thomas Nelson, 1965), 2:393.

62. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 3:532.

63. Benjamin B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1942), 91. Warfield believed Pajonism was a “debased form” (92) of Amyraldianism, while Brian Armstrong believed it was not “representative of Amyraldian thought.” See Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy: Protestant Scholasticism and Humanism in Seventeenth-Century France (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969), xix–xx. The prevailing opinion seems to be in favor of Warfield’s interpretation. On Pajonism, see George Park Fisher, History of Christian Doctrine (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1902),346–47; J. A. Dorner, History of Protestant Theology, trans. George Robson and Sophia Taylor (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1871), 2:28–29; for short summaries, John Macpherson, Christian Dogmatics (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1898), 271; John Anderson, Precious Truth (Pittsburgh: Ecclesiastical and Literary Press of Zadok Cramer, 1806), 261.

64. Charnock notes the disputes over the nature of regeneration. The debates centered on this very question we are developing: “whether it be quality, or a spiritual substance; whether, if a quality, it be a habit or a power, or whether it be the Holy Ghost personally” (“A Discourse on the Nature of Regeneration,” in Works, 3:86–87).

65. Van Mastricht, A Treatise on Regeneration, 39.

66. Charnock, “A Discourse on the Nature of Regeneration,” in Works, 3:87–88.

67. Turretin, Institutes, 15.4.13.

68. Leonard Rijssen, Francisci Turretini Compendium Theologiae… (Amsterdam, 1695), 13, 18, cited in Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics: Set Out and Illustrated from the Sources, trans. G. T. Thomson (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1950), 522. The word schesis means the nature of a thing, the habit of a body. For example, βίου σχέσις is translated in classical Greek as “the way of life.”

69. Van Mastricht, A Treatise on Regeneration, 39–40; Theoretio-Practica Theologia (Utrecht: Thomas Appels, 1699), 6.3.25–26.

70. Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (Grand Rapids: Sovereign Grace Publishers, n.d.), 155.

71. Charnock, “A Discourse on the Efficient of Regeneration,” in Works, 3:238.

72. Owen, Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit, in Works, 3:307 (emphasis in the original).

73. Sinclair Ferguson, John Owen on the Christian Life (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1987), 42–43.

74. It is also evident in van Mastricht when he asks, “Is the action of God which regenerates a man moral or physical?” (A Treatise on Regeneration, 37).

75. Burgess, Spiritual Refining, 225.

76. Herman Bavinck, Saved by Grace: The Holy Spirit’s Work in Calling and Regeneration, trans. Nelson D. Kloosterman and J. Mark Beach (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2008), 52–53.

77. Owen combines the two: “There is not only a moral but a physical immediate operation of the Spirit…in their regeneration.” Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit, in Works, 3:316.

78. Cole, A Discourse of Regeneration, 68.

79. Owen, Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit, in Works, 3:330. He also mentions that the Holy Spirit works “immediately and effectually upon the will,” in Works, 3:334; cf. 3:317.

80. Hopkins, The Nature and Necessity of Regeneration, in Works, 2:245.

81. Stephen Charnock, “A Discourse of the Word, the Instrument of Regeneration,” in The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock (1845; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1985), 3:307–35.

82. Cole, A Discourse of Regeneration, 49; Whately, The New Birth, 17; Isaac Ambrose, The Compleat Works (London, 1674), 12; Hopkins, Works, 3:245.

83. Whately, The New Birth, 22.

84. Whately, The New Birth, 16–17.

85. Whately, The New Birth, 17–18. John Cotton lists the Word of God as the second “cause” of new life and argues that God “ordinarily” uses “a word of Promise” preached while insisting that He does not give life through “the words of the Law.” Christ the Fountaine of Life (London, 1651), 95–96.

86. Burgess, Spiritual Refining, 207.

87. Owen, Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit, in Works, 3:235–36. Turretin’s words are helpful here: “But whatever may be its efficacy, still it is not sufficient without the immediate operation of the Spirit” (Institutes, 15.4.23).

88. Charnock, “A Discourse on the Efficient of Regeneration,” in Works, 3:169.

89. Cole, A Discourse of Regeneration, 69.

90. Turretin, Institutes, 15.4.51.

91. Arthur Dent, The Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven; Wherein Every Man May Clearly See Whether He Shall Be Saved or Damned (1599; repr., Morgan, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria, 1994), 19.

92. Francis Burmann, Synopsis Theologiae (Amsterdam, 1699), 6, 4, 1 (Primus regenerationis actus, primusque novi hominis motus est fides…), cited in Heppe and Bizer, Reformed Dogmatics, 526.

93. Van Mastricht, A Treatise on Regeneration, 40.

94. Charnock, “A Discourse on the Nature of Regeneration,” in Works, 3:95.

95. Swinnock, The Door of Salvation Opened, 22.

96. Charnock, “A Discourse on the Nature of Regeneration,” in Works, 3:96; cf. Swinnock, The Door of Salvation Opened, 24. Whately also says it pertains to the whole man and focuses on the “principal faculties” of understanding, conscience, and will, The New Birth, 69. Isaac Ambrose says all the “powers of the soul” and lists a few more (e.g., memory and affections), see The Doctrine of Regeneration, in Compleat Works, 5–11.

97. Cole, A Discourse of Regeneration (London, 1689), 12.

98. Van Mastricht, A Treatise on Regeneration, 40.

99. Owen, Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit, in Works, 3:330. Kelly Kapic shows that Owen was more of a practical voluntarist. Communion with God: The Divine and the Human in the Theology of John Owen (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 50–53.

100. Owen, Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit, in Works, 3:331. He lists the mind first in the list on pp. 318–19; also, on p. 334 he makes it clear that the renovation in the sinner is first of all rational.

101. Owen, Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit, in Works, 3:333–34.

102. Turretin, Institutes, 15.6.3.

103. Van Mastricht, A Treatise on Regeneration, 43–46.

104. Owen, Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit, in Works, 3:317, 324, 336.

105. Burgess, Spiritual Refining, 226. Charnock says it is “insuperably victorious…. The power of the Spirit is sweet and irresistible” (“A Discourse on the Efficient of Regeneration,” in Works, 3:288).

106. Van Mastricht, A Treatise on Regeneration, 43–44.

107. Owen, Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit, in Works, 3:319–20.

108. Cole, A Discourse of Regeneration, 14.

109. Owen, Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit, in Works, 3:324. Cf. Charnock, “A Discourse on the Efficient of Regeneration,” in Works, 3:286–87.

110. Van Mastricht, A Treatise on Regeneration, 47.

111. Flavel, The Method of Grace, in Works, 2:91.

112. Van Mastricht, A Treatise on Regeneration, 47.

113. Charnock, “A Discourse on the Efficient of Regeneration,” in Works, 3:292–93.

114. Charnock, “A Discourse on the Efficient of Regeneration,” in Works, 3:252–53.

115. Charnock, “A Discourse on the Efficient of Regeneration,” in Works, 3:253.

116. Van Mastricht, A Treatise of Regeneration, 49.

117. Cotton, Christ the Fountaine of Life, 92–93.

118. Cole, A Discourse of Regeneration, 33.

119. Swinnock, The Door of Salvation Opened, 53.

120. Van Mastricht, A Treatise of Regeneration, 50.

121. Hopkins, The Nature and Necessity of Regeneration, in Works, 2:230.

122. For an overview of the debates in England over this issue, see E. Brooks Holifield, The Covenant Sealed: The Development of Puritan Sacramental Theology in Old and New England, 1570–1720 (1974; repr., Eugene, Ore: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2002), 75–108.

123. Charnock, “A Discourse on the Nature of Regeneration,” in Works, 3:93.

124. Cf. Burgess, Spiritual Refining, 277–78.

125. Charnock, “A Discourse on the Nature of Regeneration,” in Works, 3:93–94. Men like Gisbertus Voetius (1589–1676) maintained this view; see Bavinck, Saved by Grace, 84ff.

126. Owen, Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit, in Works, 3:216.

127. Hopkins, “The Doctrine of the Two Sacraments,” in Works, 3:324.

128. See chapter 45 for more on the Puritan view of paedobaptism.

129. Burgess, Spiritual Refining, 277ff.

130. Hopkins, The Nature and Necessity of Regeneration, in Works, 2:277–85.

131. Hopkins, The Nature and Necessity of Regeneration, in Works, 2:285–91.

132. Cole, A Discourse of Regeneration, 120–21.

133. Cole, A Discourse of Regeneration, 121–22.

134. Charnock, “A Discourse on the Nature of Regeneration,” in Works, 3:117–18.

135. Ezekiel Hopkins, “Discourses Concerning Sin,” in The Works of Ezekiel Hopkins (Morgan, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria, 1997), 2:29–98.

136. Cole, A Discourse of Regeneration, 156.

Chapter 29 of  A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life by Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones

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