by Louis Berkhof
A. THE SCRIPTURAL TERMS FOR REGENERATION AND THEIR IMPLICATIONS.
1. THE TERMS THAT COME INTO CONSIDERATION. The Greek word for “regeneration” (palingenesia) is found only in Matt. 19:28 and Titus 3:5; and only in the last named passage does it refer to the beginning of the new life in the individual Christian. The idea of this beginning is more commonly expressed by the verb gennao (with anothen in John 3:3), or its compositum anagennao. These words mean either to beget, to beget again, or to bear or give birth, John 1:13; 3:3,4,5,6,7,8; I Pet. 1:23; I John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1,4,18. In one passage, namely, Jas. 1:18, the word apokueo, to bear or bring forth, is employed. Furthermore, the thought of the production of a new life is expressed by the word ktizo, to create, Eph. 2:10, and the product of this creation is called a kaine ktisis (a new creature), II Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15, or a kainos anthropos (a new man), Eph. 4:24. Finally, the term suzoopoieo, to make alive with, to quicken with, is also used in a couple of passages, Eph. 2:5; Col. 2:13.
2. THE IMPLICATIONS OF THESE TERMS. These terms carry with them several important implications, to which attention should be directed. (a) Regeneration is a creative work of God, and is therefore a work in which man is purely passive, and in which there is no place for human co-operation. This is a very important point, since it stresses the fact that salvation is wholly of God. (b) The creative work of God produces a new life, in virtue of which man, made alive with Christ, shares the resurrection life, and can be called a new creature, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them,” Eph. 2:10. (c) Two elements must be distinguished in regeneration, namely, generation or the begetting of the new life, and bearing or bringing forth, by which the new life is brought forth out of its hidden depths. Generation implants the principle of the new life in the soul, and the new birth causes this principle to begin to assert itself in action. This distinction is of great importance for a proper understanding of regeneration.
B. THE USE OF THE TERM “REGENERATION” IN THEOLOGY.
1. IN THE EARLY CHURCH AND IN ROMAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGY. In the mind of the early Church the term “regeneration” did not stand for a sharply defined concept. It was used to denote a change closely connected with the washing away of sins, and no clear distinction was made between regeneration and justification. As identified with baptismal grace, the former was understood especially as a designation of the remission of sin, though the idea of a certain moral renovation was not excluded. Even Augustine did not draw a sharp line here, but did distinguish between regeneration and conversion. To him regeneration included, in addition to the remission of sin, only an initial change of the heart, followed by conversion later on. He conceived of it as a strictly monergistic work of God, in which the human subject cannot cooperate, and which man cannot resist. For Pelagius, of course, “regeneration” did not mean the birth of a new nature, but the forgiveness of sins in baptism, the illumination of the mind by the truth, and the stimulation of the will by divine promises. The confusion of regeneration and justification, already apparent in Augustine, became even more pronounced in Scholasticism. In fact, justification became the more prominent concept of the two, was thought of as including regeneration, and was conceived of as an act in which God and man co-operate. Justification, according to the common representation, included the infusion of grace, that is, the birth of a new creature or regeneration, and the forgiveness of sin and the removal of the guilt attaching to it. There was a difference of opinion, however, as to which of these two elements is the logical prius. According to Thomas Aquinas the infusion of grace is first, and the forgiveness of sins is, at least in a certain sense, based on this; but according to Duns Scotus the forgiveness of sin is first, and is basic to the infusion of grace. Both elements are effected by baptism ex opere operato. The opinion of Thomas Aquinas gained the upper hand in the Church. Up to the present time there is a certain confusion of regeneration and justification in the Roman Catholic Church, which is, no doubt, largely due to the fact that justification is not conceived as a forensic act, but as an act or process of renewal. In it man is not declared but made just. Says Wilmers in his Handbook of the Christian Religion: “As justification is a spiritual renewal and regeneration, it follows that sin is really destroyed by it, and not, as the Reformers maintained, merely covered, or no longer imputed.”
2. BY THE REFORMERS AND IN THE PROTESTANT CHURCHES. Luther did not entirely escape the confusion of regeneration with justification. Moreover, he spoke of regeneration or the new birth in a rather broad sense. Calvin also used the term in a very comprehensive sense as a designation of the whole process by which man is renewed, including, besides the divine act which originates the new life, also conversion (repentance and faith) and sanctification.[Inst. III. 3,9.] Several seventeenth century authors fail to distinguish between regeneration and conversion, and use the two terms interchangeably, treating of what we now call regeneration under vocation or effectual calling. The Canons of Dort also use the two words synonymously,[III and IV. 11,12.] and the Belgic Confession seems to speak of regeneration in an even wider sense.[Art. XXIV.] This comprehensive use of the term “regeneration” often led to confusion and to the disregard of very necessary distinctions. For instance, while regeneration and conversion were identified, regeneration was yet declared to be monergistic, in spite of the fact that in conversion man certainly co-operates. The distinction between regeneration and justification had already become clearer, but it gradually became necessary and customary also to employ the term “regeneration” in a more restricted sense. Turretin defines two kinds of conversion: first, a “habitual” or passive conversion, the production of a disposition or habit of the soul, which, he remarks, might better be called “regeneration”; and, secondly, an “actual” or “active” conversion, in which this implanted habit or disposition becomes active in faith and repentance. In present day Reformed theology the word “regeneration” is generally used in a more restricted sense, as a designation of that divine act by which the sinner is endowed with new spiritual life, and by which the principle of that new life is first called into action. So conceived, it includes both the “begetting again” and the “new birth,” in which the new life becomes manifest. In strict harmony, however, with the literal meaning of the word “regeneration” the term is sometimes employed in an even more limited sense, to denote simply the implanting of the new life in the soul, apart from the first manifestations of this life. In modern liberal theology the term “regeneration’ acquired a different meaning. Schleiermacher distinguished two aspects of regeneration, namely, conversion and justification, and held that in regeneration “a new religious consciousness is produced in the believer by the common Christian spirit of the community, and new life, or ‘sanctification,’ is prepared for.” (Pfleiderer.) That “Christian spirit of the community” is the result of an influx of the divine life, through Christ, into the Church, and is called “the Holy Spirit” by Schleiermacher. The Modern view is well stated in these words of Youtz: “Modern interpretation inclines to return to the symbolical use of the conception of Regeneration. Our ethical realities deal with transformed characters. Regeneration expresses thus a radical, vital, ethical change, rather than an absolutely new metaphysical beginning. Regeneration is a vital step in the natural development of the spiritual life, a radical readjustment to the moral processes of life.”[A Dictionary of Religion and Ethics, Art. Regeneration.] Students of the Psychology of Religion generally fail to distinguish between regeneration and conversion. They regard it as a process in which man’s attitude to life changes from the autocentric to the heterocentric. It finds its explanation primarily in the sub-conscious life, and does not necessarily involve anything supernatural. James says: “To be converted, to be regenerated, to receive grace, to experience religion, to gain an assurance, are so many phrases which denote the process, gradual or sudden, by which a self hitherto divided, and consciously wrong, inferior and unhappy, becomes unified and consciously right, superior and happy, in consequence of its firmer hold upon religious realities.”[Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 189.] According to Clark, “Students have agreed in discerning three distinct steps in conversion: (1) A period of ‘storm and stress,’ or sense of sin, or feeling of inward disharmony, known to theology as ‘conviction of sin’ and designated by James as ‘soul sickness.’ (2) An emotional crisis which marks a turning point. (3) A succeeding relaxation attended by a sense of peace, rest, inner harmony, acceptance with God, and not infrequently motor and sensory reflexes of various sorts.”[The Psychology of Religious Awakening, p. 38.]
C. THE ESSENTIAL NATURE OF REGENERATION.
Relative to the nature of regeneration there are several misconceptions which should be avoided. It may be well to mention these first, before stating the positive qualifications of this re-creative work of God.
1. MISCONCEPTIONS. (a) Regeneration is not a change in the substance of human nature, as was taught by the Manichæans and in the days of the Reformation by Flacius Illyricus, who conceived of original sin as a substance, to be replaced by another substance in regeneration. No new physical seed or germ is implanted in man; neither is there any addition to, or subtraction from, the faculties of the soul. (b) Neither is it simply a change in one or more of the faculties of the soul, as, for instance, of the emotional life (feeling or heart), by removing the aversion to divine things, as some evangelicals conceive of it; or of the intellect, by illuminating the mind that is darkened by sin, as the Rationalists regard it. It affects the heart, understood in the Scriptural sense of the word, that is, as the central and all-controlling organ of the soul, out of which are the issues of life. This means that it affects human nature as a whole. (c) Nor is it a complete or perfect change of the whole nature of man, or of any part of it, so that it is no more capable of sin, as was taught by the extreme Anabaptists and by some other fanatical sects. This does not mean that it does not in principle affect the entire nature of man, but only that it does not constitute the whole change that is wrought in man by the operation of the Holy Spirit. It does not comprise conversion and sanctification.
2. POSITIVE CHARACTERISTICS OF REGENERATION. The following positive assertions may be made respecting regeneration:
a. Regeneration consists in the implanting of the principle of the new spiritual life in man, in a radical change of the governing disposition of the soul, which, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, gives birth to a life that moves in a Godward direction. In principle this change affects the whole man: the intellect, I Cor. 2:14,15; II Cor. 4:6; Eph. 1:18; Col. 3:10; the will, Ps. 110:3; Phil. 2:13; II Thess. 3:5; Heb. 13:21; and the feelings or emotions, Ps. 42:1,2; Matt. 5:4; I Pet. 1:8.
b. It is an instantaneous change of man’s nature, affecting at once the whole man, intellectually, emotionally, and morally. The assertion that regeneration is an instantaneous change implies two things: (1) that it is not a work that is gradually prepared in the soul, as the Roman Catholics and all Semi-Pelagians teach; there is no intermediate stage between life and death; one either lives or is dead; and (2) that it is not a gradual process like sanctification. It is true that some Reformed authors have occasionally used the term “regeneration” as including even sanctification, but that was in the days when the ordo salutis was not as fully developed as it is to-day.
c. It is in its most limited sense a change that occurs in the sub-conscious life. It is a secret and inscrutable work of God that is never directly perceived by man. The change may take place without man’s being conscious of it momentarily, though this is not the case when regeneration and conversion coincide; and even later on he can perceive it only in its effects. This explains the fact that a Christian may, on the one hand, struggle for a long time with doubts and uncertainties, and can yet, on the other hand, gradually overcome these and rise to the heights of assurance.
3. DEFINITION OF REGENERATION. From what was said in the preceding respecting the present use of the word “regeneration,” it follows that regeneration may be defined in two ways. In the strictest sense of the word we may say: Regeneration is that act of God by which the principle of the new life is implanted in man, and the governing disposition of the soul is made holy. But in order to include the idea of the new birth as well as that of the “begetting again,” it will be necessary to complement the definition with the following words: . . . “and the first holy exercise of this new disposition is secured.”
D. EFFECTUAL CALLING IN RELATION TO EXTERNAL CALLING AND REGENERATION.
1. ITS INSEPARABLE CONNECTION WITH EXTERNAL CALLING. The calling of God may be said to be one, and the distinction between an external and an internal or effectual calling merely calls attention to the fact that this one calling has two aspects. This does not mean that these two aspects are always united and always go together. We do not aver with the Lutherans that “the inner call is always concurrent with the hearing of the word.”[Valentine, Chr. Theol. II, pp. 197 f.] It does mean, however, that where the inner call comes to adults, it is mediated by the preaching of the Word. It is the same Word that is heard in the external call, and that is made effective in the heart in the internal calling. Through the powerful application of the Holy Spirit the external call passes right into the internal.[Bavinck, Roeping en Wedergeboorte, p. 215.] But while this calling is closely connected with the external call and forms a unit with it, there are certain points of difference: (a) It is a calling by the Word, savingly applied by the operation of the Holy Spirit, I Cor. 1:23,24; I Pet. 2:9; (b) it is a powerful calling, that is, a calling that is effectual unto salvation, Acts 13:48; I Cor. 1:23,24; and (c) it is without repentance, that is, it is a call that is not subject to change and that is never withdrawn, Rom. 11:29.
2. CHARACTERISTICS OF THE INTERNAL CALL. The following characteristics should be noted:
a. It works by moral suasion plus the powerful operation of the Holy Spirit. The question arises, whether in this calling (as distinguished from regeneration) the Word of God works in a creative way, or by moral suasion. Now there is no doubt about it that the Word of God is sometimes said to work in a creative manner, Gen. 1:3; Ps. 33:6,9; 147:15; Rom. 4:17 (though this may be interpreted differently). But these passages refer to the word of God’s power, to His authoritative command, and not to the word of preaching with which we are concerned here. The Spirit of God operates through the preaching of the Word only in a morally persuasive way, making its persuasions effective, so that man listens to the voice of his God. This follows from the very nature of the Word, which addresses itself to the understanding and the will.[Bavinck, Roeping en Wedergeboorte, pp. 217,219,221.] It should be borne in mind, however, that this moral suasion does not yet constitute the whole of the internal call; there must be in addition to this a powerful operation of the Holy Spirit, applying the Word to the heart.
b. It operates in the conscious life of man. This point is most intimately connected with the preceding. If the word of preaching does not operate creatively, but only in a moral and persuasive way, it follows that it can work only in the conscious life of man. It addresses the understanding, which the Spirit endows with spiritual insight into the truth, and through the understanding influences the will effectively, so that the sinner turns to God. The internal calling necessarily issues in conversion, that is, in a conscious turning away from sin in the direction of holiness.
c. It is teleological. Internal calling is of a teleological character, that is, it calls man to a certain end: to the great goal to which the Holy Spirit is leading the elect, and, consequently also to the intermediate stages on the way to this final destiny. It is a calling to the fellowship of Jesus Christ, I Cor. 1:9; to inherit blessing, I Pet. 3:9; to liberty, Gal. 5:13; to peace, I Cor. 7:15; to holiness, I Thess. 4:7; to one hope, Eph. 4:4; to eternal life, I Tim. 6:12; and to God’s kingdom and glory, I Thess. 2:12.
3. THE RELATION OF EFFECTUAL CALLING TO REGENERATION.
a. The identification of the two in seventeenth century theology. It is a well known fact that in seventeenth century theology effectual calling and regeneration are often identified, or if not entirely identified, then at least in so far that regeneration is regarded as included in calling. Several of the older theologians have a separate chapter on calling, but none on regeneration. According to the Westminster Confession, X. 2, effectual calling includes regeneration. This view finds some justification in the fact that Paul, who uses the term “regeneration” but once, evidently conceives of it as included in calling in Rom. 8:30. Moreover, there is a sense in which calling and regeneration are related as cause and effect. It should be borne in mind, however, that in speaking of calling as including, or as being causally related to, regeneration, we do not have in mind merely what is technically termed internal or effectual calling, but calling in general, including even a creative calling. 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. And the prevalence of the term “calling” in the apostolic age finds its explanation and justification in the fact that, in the case of those who were in that missionary period gathered into the Church, regeneration and effectual calling were generally simultaneous, while the change was reflected in their conscious life as a powerful calling from God. In a systematic presentation of the truth, however, we should carefully discriminate between calling and regeneration.
b. Points of difference between regeneration and effectual calling. Regeneration in the strictest sense of the word, that is, as the begetting again, takes place in the sub-conscious life of man, and is quite independent of any attitude which he may assume with reference to it. Calling, on the other hand, addresses itself to the consciousness, and implies a certain disposition of the conscious life. This follows from the fact that regeneration works from within, while calling comes from without. In the case of children we speak of regeneration rather than calling. Furthermore, regeneration is a creative, a hyper-physical operation of the Holy Spirit, by which man is brought from one condition into another, from a condition of spiritual death into a condition of spiritual life. Effectual calling, on the other hand, is teleological, draws out the new life and points it in a God-ward direction. It secures the exercises of the new disposition and brings the new life into action.
c. The relative order of calling and regeneration. This is perhaps best understood, if we note the following stages: (1) Logically, the external call in the preaching of the Word (except in the case of children) generally precedes or coincides with the operation of the Holy Spirit, by which the new life is produced in the soul of man. (2) Then by a creative word God generates the new life, changing the inner disposition of the soul, illuminating the mind, rousing the feelings, and renewing the will. In this act of God the ear is implanted that enables man to hear the call of God to the salvation of his soul. This is regeneration in the most restricted sense of the word. In it man is entirely passive. (3) Having received the spiritual ear, the call of God in the gospel is now heard by the sinner, and is brought home effectively to the heart. The desire to resist has been changed to a desire to obey, and the sinner yields to the persuasive influence of the Word through the operation of the Holy Spirit. This is the effectual calling through the instrumentality of the word of preaching, effectively applied by the Spirit of God. (4) This effectual calling, finally, secures, through the truth as a means, the first holy exercises of the new disposition that is born in the soul. The new life begins to manifest itself; the implanted life issues in the new birth. This is the completion of the work of regeneration in the broader sense of the word, and the point at which it turns into conversion.
Now we should not make the mistake of regarding this logical order as a temporal order that will apply in all cases. The new life is often implanted in the hearts of children long before they are able to hear the call of the gospel; yet they are endowed with this life only where the gospel is preached. There is, of course, always a creative call of God by which the new life is produced. In the case of those who live under the administration of the gospel the possibility exists that they receive the seed of regeneration long before they come to years of discretion and therefore also long before the effectual calling penetrates to their consciousness. It is very unlikely, however, that, being regenerated, they will live in sin for years, even after they have come to maturity, and give no evidences at all of the new life that is in them. On the other hand, in the case of those who do not live under the administration of the covenant, there is no reason to assume an interval between the time of their regeneration and that of their effectual calling. In the effectual call they at once become conscious of their renewal, and immediately find the seed of regeneration germinating into the new life. This means that regeneration, effective calling, and conversion all coincide.
E. THE NECESSITY OF REGENERATION.
1. THIS NECESSITY IS DENIED BY MODERN LIBERAL THEOLOGY. The necessity of regeneration, as this is understood by the Christian Church, is naturally denied in modern liberal theology. It is not in accord with the teaching of Rousseau, that man is by nature good. Any radical change or complete turnabout in the life of a man who is essentially good, would be a change for the worse. Liberals speak of salvation by character, and the only regeneration of which they know is a regeneration conceived as “a vital step in the natural development of the spiritual life, a radical readjustment to the moral processes of life.” (Youtz.) Many teach a series of ethical renewals. Emerton says: “The character thus gained and proven and held fast is redemption. There is no other worthy definition of the word. It is the redemption of man’s lower self by the domination of his higher self. It is the spiritual redeeming the material, the divine that is in every man redeeming the animal.”[Unitarian Thought, p. 193.]
2. IT FOLLOWS FROM WHAT SCRIPTURE TEACHES CONCERNING THE NATURAL CONDITION OF MAN. Holiness or conformity to the divine law is the indispensable condition of securing divine favor, attaining peace of conscience, and enjoying fellowship with God. Heb. 12:14. Now the condition of man by nature is, according to Scripture, both in disposition and act, exactly the opposite of that holiness which is so indispensable. Man is described as dead through trespasses and sins, Eph. 2:1, and this condition calls for nothing less than a restoration to life. A radical internal change is necessary, a change by which the whole disposition of the soul is altered.
3. IT IS ALSO EXPRESSLY ASSERTED BY SCRIPTURE. Scripture does not leave us in doubt about the necessity of regeneration, but asserts this in the clearest terms. Jesus says: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God,” John 3:3.[Cf. also the verses 5-7.] This statement of the Saviour is absolute and leaves no room for exceptions. The same truth is clearly brought out in some of the statements of Paul, as, for instance, in I Cor. 2:14: “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned”; Gal. 6:15: “For in Christ Jesus neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.” Cf. also Jer. 13:23; Rom. 3:11; Eph. 2:3,4.
F. THE EFFICIENT CAUSE OF REGENERATION.
There are only three fundamentally different views that come into consideration here, and all the others are modifications of these.
1. THE HUMAN WILL. According to the Pelagian conception regeneration is solely an act of the human will, and is practically identical with self-reformation. With some slight differences this is the view of modern liberal theology. A modification of this view is that of the Semi-Pelagian and Arminian, who regard it as, at least in part, an act of man, co-operating with divine influences applied through the truth. This is the synergistic theory of regeneration. Both of these views involve a denial of the total depravity of man, so plainly taught in the Word of God, John 5:42; Rom. 3:9-18; 7:18,23; 8:7; II Tim. 3:4, and of the Scripture truth that it is God who inclines the will, Rom. 9:16; Phil. 2:13.
2. THE TRUTH. According to this view the truth as a system of motives, presented to the human will by the Holy Spirit, is the immediate cause of the change from unholiness to holiness. This was the view of Lyman Beecher and of Charles G. Finney. It assumes that the work of the Holy Spirit differs from that of the preacher only in degree. Both work by persuasion only. But this theory is quite unsatisfactory. The truth can be a motive to holiness only if it is loved, while the natural man does not love the truth, but hates it, Rom. 1:18,25. Consequently the truth, presented externally, cannot be the efficient cause of regeneration.
3. THE HOLY SPIRIT. The only adequate view is that of the Church of all ages, that the Holy Spirit is the efficient cause of regeneration. This means that the Holy Spirit works directly on the heart of man and changes its spiritual condition. There is no co-operation of the sinner in this work whatsoever. It is the work of the Holy Spirit directly and exclusively, Ezek. 11:19; John 1:13; Acts 16:14; Rom. 9:16; Phil. 2:13. Regeneration, then, is to be conceived monergistically. God alone works, and the sinner has no part in it whatsoever. This, of course, does not mean, that man does not co-operate in later stages of the work of redemption. It is quite evident from Scripture that he does.
G. THE USE OF THE WORD OF GOD AS AN INSTRUMENT IN REGENERATION.
The question arises, whether the Word of God is used as a means in regeneration or not; or, as it is frequently put, whether regeneration is mediate or immediate.
1. THE PROPER IMPORT OF THE QUESTION. Careful discrimination is required, in order to avoid misunderstanding.
a. When the older Reformed theologians insisted on the immediate character of regeneration, they often gave the term “immediate” a connotation which it does not have to-day. Some of the representatives of the school of Saumur, as Cameron and Pajon, taught that in regeneration the Holy Spirit supernaturally illumines and convinces the mind or the intellect in such a powerful manner that the will cannot fail to follow the prevalent dictate of the practical judgment. He works immediately only on the intellect, and through this mediately on the will. According to them there is no immediate operation of the Holy Spirit on the will of man. In opposition to these men, Reformed theologians generally stressed the fact that in regeneration the Holy Spirit also operates directly on the will of man, and not merely through the mediation of the intellect. To-day the question of mediate or immediate regeneration is a slightly different, though related, one. It is the question of the use of the Word of God as a means in the work of regeneration.
b. The exact form of the question ought to be carefully noted. The question is not, whether God works regeneration by means of a creative word. It is generally admitted that He does. Neither is it, whether He employs the word of truth, the word of preaching in the new birth, as distinguished from the divine begetting of the new man, that is, in securing the first holy exercises of the new life. The real question is, whether God, in implanting or generating the new life, employs the word of Scripture or the word of preaching as an instrument or means. The discussion of this matter often suffered in the past from the lack of proper discrimination.
2. CONSIDERATIONS THAT FAVOR A NEGATIVE ANSWER. Dr. Shedd says: “The influence of the Holy 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 spirit; of one of the trinitarian persons upon a human person. Neither the truth, nor a fellow-man, can thus operate directly upon the essence of the soul itself.”[Dogm. Theol. II, p. 500.] The following considerations favor this view:
a. Regeneration is a creative act, by which the spiritually dead sinner is restored to life. But the truth of the gospel can only work in a moral and persuasive way. Such an instrument has no effect on the dead. To assert its use would seem to imply a denial of the spiritual death of man; which, of course, is not intended by those who take this position.
b. Regeneration takes place in the sphere of the sub-conscious, that is, outside of the sphere of conscious attention, while the truth addresses itself to the consciousness of man. It can exercise its persuasive influence only when man’s attention is fixed on it.
c. The Bible distinguishes the influence of the Holy Spirit from that of the Word of God, and declares that such an influence is necessary for the proper reception of the truth, John 6:64,65; Acts 16:14; I Cor. 2:12-15; Eph. 1:17-20. Notice particularly the case of Lydia, of whom Luke says: “She heard us (ekouen, impf.), whose heart the Lord opened (dienoixen, aor., single act), that she attended (prosechein, inf. of result or purpose) unto the things which were spoken of Paul.”
3. SCRIPTURE PASSAGES THAT SEEM TO PROVE THE CONTRARY.
a. In James 1:18 we read: “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” This passage does not prove that the new generation is mediated by the Word of God, for the term here used is apokuesen, which does not refer to begetting, but to giving birth. They who believe in immediate regeneration do not deny that the new birth, in which the new life first becomes manifest, is secured by the Word.
b. Peter exhorts believers to love one another fervently in view of the fact that they have been “begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the Word of God, which liveth and abideth.” I Pet. 1:23. It is not correct to say, as some have done, that “the Word” in this verse is the creative word, or the second person in the Trinity, for Peter himself informs us that he has in mind the word that was preached unto the readers, vs. 25. But it is perfectly in order to point out that even gennao (the word here used) does not always refer to the masculine begetting, but may also denote the feminine giving birth to children. This is perfectly evident from such passages as Luke 1:13,57; 23:29; John 16:21; Gal. 4:24. Consequently, there is no warrant for the assertion that Peter in this passage refers to the initial act in regeneration, namely, the begetting. And if it refers to regeneration in a broader sense, then the passage offers no difficulty whatsoever in connection with the matter under consideration. The idea that it refers to the new birth here, is favored by the fact that the readers are represented as having been born again out of a seed that was evidently already implanted in the soul, cf. John 1:13. It is not necessary to identify the seed with the Word.
c. The Parable of the Sower is sometimes urged in favor of the idea that regeneration takes place through the Word. The seed in this parable is the word of the kingdom. The argument is that the life is in the seed and comes forth out of the seed. Consequently, the new life comes forth out of the seed of the Word of God. But, in the first place, this is over-shooting the mark, for it will hardly do to say that the Spirit or the principle of the new life is shut up in the Word, just as the living germ is shut up in the seed. This reminds one somewhat of the Lutheran conception of calling, according to which the Spirit is in the Word so that the call would always be effective, if man did not put a stumbling-block in the way. And, in the second place, this is pressing a point which is not at all in the tertium comparationis. The Saviour wants to explain in this parable how it comes about that the seed of the Word bears fruit in some cases, and not in others. It bears fruit only in those cases in which it falls in good ground, in hearts so prepared that they understand the truth.
4. THE RELEVANT TEACHINGS OF OUR CONFESSIONAL STANDARDS. The following passages come into consideration here: Conf. Belg., Articles XXIV and XXXV; Heid. Cat., Q. 54; Canons of Dort, III and IV, Articles 11,12,17; and, finally, the Conclusions of Utrecht, adopted by our Church in 1908. From these passages it is perfectly evident that our confessional writings speak of regeneration in a broad sense, as including both the origin of the new life and its manifestation in conversion. We are even told that faith regenerates the sinner.[Conf. Belg., Art. XXIV.] There are passages which seem to say that the Word of God is instrumental in the work of regeneration.[Conf. Belg., Art XXIV, and especially Art. XXVI; Canons of Dort III and IV, Articles 12,17.] Yet they are couched in such language that it still remains doubtful, whether they actually teach that the principle of the new life is implanted in the soul by the instrumentality of the Word. They fail to discriminate carefully between the various elements which we distinguish in regeneration. In the Conclusions of Utrecht we read: “As far as the third point, that of immediate regeneration, is concerned, Synod declares that this expression can be used in a good sense, in so far as our churches have always confessed, over against the Lutheran and the Roman Catholic Church, that regeneration is not effected through the Word or the Sacraments as such, but by the almighty regenerating work of the Holy Spirit; that this regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, however, may not in that sense be divorced from the preaching of the Word, as if both were separated from each other; for, although our Confession teaches that we need not be in doubt respecting the salvation of our children which die in infancy, though they have not heard the preaching of the gospel, and our confessional standards nowhere express themselves as to the manner in which regeneration is effected in the case of these and other children, — yet it is, on the other hand, certain that the gospel is a power of God unto salvation for every one who believes, and that in the case of adults the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit accompanies the preaching of the gospel.”[The following Reformed theologians teach immediate regeneration; Synopsis Puriosis Theologie (of the Leyden Professors), 31:9; Mastricht, Godgeleerdheit VI. 3,26; Brakel, Redelijke Godsdienst I, p. 738. These three authorities, however, apparently use the term “immediate” in a different sense. Further: Turretin, Opera XV. 4,23 f.; Shedd, Dogm. Theol. II, pp. 500, 506; Hodge, Syst. Theol. III, p. 31; Kuyper, Dict Dogm., De Salute, p. 74; Bavinck, Roeping en Wedergeboorte, pp. 219 ff.; Vos, Geref. Dogm. IV, pp. 46 ff.]
H. DIVERGENT VIEWS OF REGENERATION.
1. THE PELAGIAN VIEW. According to the Pelagians man’s freedom and personal responsibility implies that he is at all times just as able to desist from sin as to commit sin. Only acts of conscious volition are regarded as sin. Consequently, regeneration simply consists in moral reformation. It means that the man who formerly chose to transgress the law, now chooses to live in obedience to it.
2. BAPTISMAL REGENERATION. This is not always represented in the same way.
a. In the Church of Rome. According to the Roman Catholic Church regeneration includes not only spiritual renewal, but also justification or the forgiveness of sins, and is effected by means of baptism. In the case of children the work of regeneration is always effective; not so in the case of adults. These can gratefully accept and utilize the grace of regeneration, but can also resist it and make it ineffective. Moreover, it is always possible that they who have appropriated it will lose it again.
b. In the Anglican Church. The Church of England is not unanimous on this point, but represents two different tendencies. The so-called Puseyites are in essential agreement with the Church of Rome. But there is also an influential party in the Church which distinguishes two kinds of regeneration: the one consisting merely in a change of one’s relation to the Church and the means of grace; and the other, in a fundamental change of human nature. According to this party only the former is effected by baptism. This regeneration includes no spiritual renewal. By means of it man merely enters into a new relation to the Church, and becomes a child of God in the same sense in which the Jews became children of God through the covenant of which circumcision was a seal.
c. In the Lutheran Church. Luther and his followers did not succeed in purging their Church from the leaven of Rome on this point. On the whole the Lutherans maintain, in opposition to Rome, the monergistic character of regeneration. They regard man as entirely passive in regeneration and incapable of contributing anything to it, though adults can resist it for a long time. At the same time some teach that baptism, working ex opere operato, is the usual means by which God effects regeneration. It is the usual, but not the only means, for the preaching of the Word may also produce it. They speak of two kinds of regeneration, namely, regeneratio prima, by which the new life is begotten, and the regeneratio secunda or renovatio, by which the new life is led in a God-ward direction. While children receive the regeneratio prima by means of baptism, adults, who receive the first regeneration by means of the Word, become partakers of the regeneratio secunda through baptism. According to the Lutherans regeneration is amissible. But through the grace of God it can be restored in the heart of the penitent sinner, and that without re-baptism. Baptism is a pledge of God’s continued readiness to renew the baptized and to pardon his sins. Moreover, regeneration is not always accomplished at once, but is often a gradual process in the life of adults.
3. THE ARMINIAN VIEW. According to the Arminians regeneration is not exclusively a work of God, nor exclusively a work of man. It is the fruit of man’s choice to co-operate with the divine influences exerted by means of the truth. Strictly speaking, the work of man is prior to that of God. They do not assume that there is a preceding work of God by which the will is inclined to the good. Naturally, they also believe that the grace of regeneration can be lost. The Wesleyan Arminians altered this view in so far that they stress the fact that regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit, be it in co-operation with the human will. They do assume a prior operation of the Holy Spirit to enlighten, awaken, and draw man. However, they also believe that man can resist this work of the Holy Spirit, and that, as long as he does this, he remains in his unregenerate condition.
4. THE VIEW OF THE MEDIATING THEOLOGIANS. This is cast in a pantheistic mold. After the incarnation there are no two separate natures in Christ, but only a divine-human nature, a fusion of divine and human life. In regeneration a part of that divine-human life passes over into the sinner. This does not require a separate operation of the Holy Spirit whenever a sinner is regenerated. The new life has been communicated to the Church once for all, is now the permanent possession of the Church, and passes from the Church into the individual. Communion with the Church also insures participation of the new life. This view ignores the legal aspect of the work of Christ entirely. Moreover, it makes it impossible to hold that any one could be regenerated before the divine-human life of Christ came into existence. The Old Testament saints cannot have been regenerated. Schleiermacher is the father of this view.
5. THE TRICHOTOMIC VIEW. Some theologians constructed a peculiar theory of regeneration on the basis of the trichotomic view of human nature. This view proceeds on the assumption that man consists of three parts, — body, soul, and spirit. It is generally assumed, though there are variations on this point, that sin has its seat only in the soul, and not in the spirit (pneuma). If it had penetrated to the spirit, man would have been irretrievably lost, just as the devils, who are pure spiritual beings. The spirit is the higher, divine life in man, destined to control the lower life. By the entrance of sin into the world the influence of the spirit on the lower life is weakened very much; but by regeneration it is strengthened again and harmony is restored in the life of man. This is, of course, a purely rationalistic theory.[Cf. Heard, The Tripartite Nature of Man.]
6. THE VIEW OF MODERN LIBERALISM. The liberal theologians of the present day do not all have the same view of regeneration. Some of them speak in terms that remind one of Schleiermacher. More generally, however, they sponsor a purely naturalistic view. They are averse to the idea that regeneration is a supernatural and recreative work of God. In virtue of the immanent God every man has a divine principle within him and thus possesses potentially all that is necessary unto salvation. The one thing that is necessary, is that man become conscious of his potential divinity, and that he consciously yield to the guidance of the higher principle within him. Regeneration is simply an ethical change of character.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY: What other terms and expressions does the Bible use to designate the work of regeneration? Does the Bible sharply distinguish between calling, regeneration, conversion, and sanctification? How do you account for it that the Roman Catholic Church includes even justification in regeneration? How do regeneration and conversion differ? Is there such a thing as prevenient grace, preceding and preparing for regeneration? What is active, as distinguished from passive, regeneration? Does man’s passivity in regeneration last for any length of time? Does not the view that the Word of God is not instrumental in effecting regeneration, make the preaching of the Word seem futile and quite unnecessary? Does it not lead to the verge of mysticism?
LITERATURE: Kuyper, Dict. Dogm., De Salute, pp. 70-83; ibid., Het Werk van den Heiligen Geest, II, pp. 140-162; Bavinck, Geref. Dogm, IV, pp. 11-82; ibid., Roeping en Wedergeboorte; Mastricht, Godgeleerdheit, VI, 3; Dick, Theology, Lect. LXVI; Shedd, Dogm. Theol. II, pp. 490-528; Dabney, Syst. and Polem. Theol., Lect. XLVII; Vos, Geref. Dogm. IV, pp. 32-65; Hodge, Syst. Theol. III, pp. 1-40; McPherson, Chr. Dogma, pp. 397-401; Alexander, Syst. of Bib. Theol. II, pp. 370-384; Litton, Introd. to Dogm. Theol., pp. 313-321; Schmid, Doct. Theol. of the Ev. Luth. Church, pp. 463-470; Valentine, Chr. Theol. II, pp. 242-271; Raymond, Syst. Theol. II, pp. 344-359; Pope, Chr. Theol. III, pp. 5-13; Strong, Syst. Theol., pp. 809-828; Boyce, Abstract of Syst. Theol., pp. 328-334; Wilmers, Handbook of the Chr. Rel., pp. 314-322; Anderson, Regeneration.