By Aaron Hills
CONVERSION OR REGENERATION
The Greek verb translated to be "converted" in Matthew 18: 3 means "to turn in mind," "to be converted," "changed," "to become a new man." It is so used in many other passages.
"Regeneration" is found but twice. Matthew 19:28 and Titus 3: 5. This Greek noun means, "A new birth, i. e.; regeneration, a change by grace from a sinful nature to a Christian life; from sinful to holy affections," when spoken of a man. The verb used in John 3:3, "Except a man be born again," and in many other places, means to beget; then to have a new life imparted, or to impart a new life, or a new Spirit in Christ."
I. Calvinists, driven by the exigencies of their system of theology, have taught that conversion applies entirely to the human side, and regeneration is wholly the divine act: that men are passively regenerated, first, by the Holy Spirit, and then they are enabled to convert or turn themselves to God.
The Scriptures do not seem to bear them out in this contention, to be born again is to have a new moral character: and regeneration implies and includes a change of moral character, but a moral character cannot be made without the co-operation of the moral subject. The thing done implies the turning or activity of the subject. It is nonsense to claim that a man's moral character is changed without any agency of his own. Passive holiness of character is impossible. Regeneration is synonymous with a new heart: but sinners are required to make themselves a new heart, which they could not do, if they were not active in this change. "If the work is a work of God, in such a sense that He must first regenerate the heart or soul before the agency of the sinner begins, then it would be absurd and unjust for God to require the sinner to make himself a new heart until God had first regenerated him.
"Both conversion and regeneration are sometimes ascribed to God, in the Bible, sometimes to man, and sometimes to the subject; which shows clearly that the distinction under examination is arbitrary and theological rather than Biblical. The fact is that both terms imply the simultaneous exercise of both human and divine agency. The fact that a new heart is the thing done demonstrates the activity of the subject: and the word regeneration or the expression "born of the Spirit" asserts the Divine agency. The same is true of conversion or the turning of the sinner to God. God is said to turn him, and he is said to turn himself. God draws him, and he follows. In both alike, God and man are both active, and their activity is simultaneous. God works or draws, and the sinner yields or turns, or, which is the same thing, changes his heart, or, in other words, is born again, or born from above. The sinner is dead in trespasses and sins. God calls on him, 'Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead and Christ shall give thee light' (Eph, 5: 14). God calls and the sinner answers, Here am I. God says, arise from the dead. The sinner puts forth his activity, and God draws him into life: or rather, God draws, and the sinner comes forth to life" (Finney's Theology, pp. 283, 284).
The assertion or teaching that a sinner is morally helpless, and can do nothing to be saved until he is regenerated is of a most injurious tendency. "It leads the sinner to wait to be regenerated before he repents or turns to God. It is a most fatal tendency to represent the sinner as under the necessity of waiting to be passively regenerated before he gives himself to God" (Finney). We must not press the figure of the sinner being dead in sin too far. Dr. Albert Barnes says, "We are not in all respects like the dead. Let not this doctrine be abused to make us secure in sin, or to prevent effort. Let us not abuse this doctrine as though we could be required to do nothing. It is willful death. It is death because we do not choose to live. It is a voluntary closing our eyes, and stopping our ears as if we were dead; and it is a voluntary remaining in this state, when we have all the requisite power to put forth the energies of life. Let a sinner be as active in the service of God as he is in the service of the devil and the world, and he would be an eminent Christian. Indeed, all that is required is that the misdirected and abused energy of this world should be employed in the service of the Creator, and then all would be well." "The two terms, Regeneration and Conversion, evidently refer to the same essential change, because they are both used to express the condition of acceptance with God, to be supplied on the part of the sinner. John 3: 3, "Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Matt. 18: 3, "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Pres. Fairchild).
II. What Regeneration and Conversion are not.
It is not a change of substance in soul or body. If it were that, a sinner could not be required to effect it. Such a change would not bring about a change of moral character. No such change is needed, as the sinner has all the faculties necessary to render perfect obedience to God, He has intellect, sensibilities and free-will. All the moral attributes of an angel or of God Himself. It is not a new set of faculties which he needs, but a new use of the old faculties. He needs to be induced to use his powers and attributes as he ought to use them. The words "conversion" and "regeneration" do not then imply any change of substance, but only a change of character. The terms do not express a physical but a moral change. They do not imply any change whatever in the constitution of body or mind.
2. The terms do not imply the creation of any new faculties or attributes. This is a matter of consciousness. The newly-converted Christian has no more faculties and attributes than he ever had. He had an intellect before conversion and the same afterward. He had a memory before and a memory afterward. He had a sensibility both before and afterward. He had a conscience before even though drugged by sin: and he has a conscience afterward.
He had a will; a power of choice, before and afterward. A man would not know what to do with a new faculty, if one were given him. But as a matter of experience, such is never the case. A sinner has already all the moral attributes of an angel, or even of God Himself. It is not new faculties which he needs, but a new use of the old faculties. All he needs is to be graciously moved to use his faculties in line with right and duty. A suasive influence from God, which is never necessitating, creative, or causative (Daniel Steele).
III. Consider what Regeneration or Conversion is.
Turning from sin to righteousness is manifestly the change that God requires for salvation. Ezek. 18: 21, "If the wicked will turn from the sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live." The sinner will never make this turning without the help of the Holy Spirit. This constitutes the great feature of his guilt that he can do it, and will not. The spirit graciously persuades him to turn from sin. This must be the essential significance of the words "Conversion" and "Regeneration." The necessity lies in the nature of the case; sinners cannot become the subjects of salvation without turning from sin to righteousness. Rom. 8: 7, "The mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be." The necessity is two-fold, governmental and natural. God cannot pardon the sinner while continuing in sin, without breaking down His authority and His law. Again, pardon, if it could he offered, would bring no salvation. Sin and salvation are incompatible. In the nature of the case, sin is ruin. The necessity is as wide-spread as sin; and as all men are sinners, all must be converted that their sins may be blotted out. This is the assumption of Scriptures: "Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." This language is addressed to every man. The nature of the change is shown in the fact that it is a ceasing to sin, turning from sin to righteousness. Sin is what stands in the way of salvation. Ceasing to sin is the necessary condition of salvation. As it is a turning from sinning to obedience, it is called Conversion, turning.
In this view, and to this extent, the change is wholly moral, a voluntary change. The man himself has power to make the change, and no other being can make it for him. Sin is man's free action; so also is obedience; and so is the change from sin to obedience. Thus the scriptures everywhere hold the sinner responsible for the change. Matt. 11:28, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Acts 3: 19, "Repent ye therefore and be converted that your sins may be blotted out." James 4: 8, "Cleanse your hands, ye sinners." John 5: 40, "Ye will not come to me that ye might have life." These passages, and many others, indicate that man himself must turn; that he alone is responsible for the failure, if there be a failure.
Sin may be defined as the gratification of the sensibilities, against the protests of right reason.
The fundamental choice of the sinner is self gratification. Whether he eats or drinks or wakes or sleeps, or toils or rests, his own pleasure, from the gratification of his sensibilities, is the end of his being. The glory of God, the interests of His kingdom, and the good of the universe, are all overlooked. Self-gratification is the end of his being.
God commands: "Make you a new heart and a new Spirit" (Ezek. 18: 31). "Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die?" (Ezek. 33: 11). "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh" (Ezek. 36:26). "Except one be born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).
There is no contradiction between the commands and the promises; for in Regeneration there is human and divine co-operation.
Definition-Regeneration is the work of God and man cooperation, by which man resolutely turns from a life of self-gratification, and makes the supreme choice to live for the glory of God and the good of being; having been previously incited thereunto by the convicting and enlightening influence of the Holy Spirit who graciously inclined him to the love of God and holiness"
This divine influence is never compulsory. Salvation and compulsion are contradictory terms. There is no such thing as "irresistible, efficacious grace." God's saving grace is being constantly and fatally resisted. Jesus says: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in" (Rev. 3: 20). But Jesus does not break down the door, and come in uninvited. So long as man is man, and God is God, the heart's door must be opened from the inside! God eternally respects man's self-sovereignty.
At the same time we have reason to suppose that no one ever turns of his own motion; that is, without antecedent, inducement or persuasion. Sinners are so fascinated and possessed, as to require divine persuasion; and the Scriptures sometimes state very strongly this unwillingness or repugnance. John 6: 44, "No man can come unto me except the Father who hath sent me draw him." This "cannot" is still unwillingness. It stands in close connection with the Savior's words: "Ye will not come to me that ye might have life." It expresses the difficulty, the reluctance and unwillingness,-not the impossibility; as when Joseph says (Gen. 39: 9), "How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" The drawing which precedes the coming is not physical, but moral. It carries with it no compulsion. John 12: 32, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." This divine drawing is necessary to the conversion of men because they make it so.
"The moral force of persuasion is often exerted through human agency; as Paul says (2 Cor. 5:11, 20), "We persuade men; we pray you ... be reconciled to God." Sometimes the drawing influence comes through providences; sometimes by the direct action of the Spirit upon the sensibilities, to soften and subdue, and predispose to a reception of the truth. But this direct action upon the soul does not produce conversion in the sense of causing it; it is simply an arousing of the soul to understand and appreciate the truth; and the truth must operate as motive to induce conversion. The change must be made by the sinner himself in view of the truth; the work of the Spirit becomes effective through the truth, - that is, as motive. James 1: 18, "Of His own will begat He us with the word of truth." 1 Pet. 1: 23, "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible; by the Word of God." The work is done by the truth; that is, by persuasion, motive. It is therefore a moral work. . . .
In reference to the nature of this change, and the cause or force that produces it, there is confusion in the minds of theologians, and God excites holy affections (only) by motives, inducements, persuasions. The efficient cause of them is the man himself; there can be no other cause of responsible activity in any form. A theologian says: "The Spirit of God is the efficient cause of all holy affections." There is a mistake as to the nature of holy affections. Some condition of the sensibility or of the feeling is in the writer's mind, which belongs to a Christian experience, and which the sinner cannot originate; but such an experience is not required of him-is not obligatory. What he can do is to yield his heart to God in a spirit of obedience; this is possible, and this is a holy exercise, and he is the cause of it. It is an utter removal of responsibility to say that God must give us a new heart before we can become obedient. We take to ourselves the new heart, in becoming obedient; and the Scriptures always place the responsibility upon the sinner himself,
The antecedent action of the Spirit in inducing obedience is often brought to light in the Scriptures. Eph. 2:1, "And you hath He quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins." This sounds, at first thought, like a work of divine power, of (mere) omnipotence; but lest we should press this figure of death too far, we have, again, in the same epistle, Eph. 5: 14, "Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead and Christ shall give thee light." The death spoken of is not an irresponsible condition; and to arise from the dead, is a duty resting upon the sinner, which he is exhorted to discharge. . . . There is no propriety in waiting for the movement of the Spirit, and no excuse for waiting. Every sinner has motive sufficient, and there is not the slightest hindrance out of his own will; he will not turn.
But this persuasive action of the Spirit is not irresistible; it is doubtless often resisted. We have no reason to suppose that the influence of the Spirit is different in kind or degree, in the case of those who are converted, from that afforded in the case of others who are not converted. "Because I have called and ye refused" is the language God addressed to the reprobate. Effectual calling, as distinguished from the common calling addressed to men, is an idea of theology, not of the Scriptures. It is the responsibility of the sinner to determine whether the call shall be effectual.
Thus jar, then, we find two things: God's persuading, calling; and man's hearing, yielding. The last is the moral change required; the first is the universal antecedent (Fairchild's Theology, pp. 234-238).
We will quote some other authors on this exceedingly important subject. It may help to dispel the confusion of thought existing in so many minds. Finney, than whom no man ever had more experience, in the regeneration of men, said: "Regeneration is represented in the Bible as constituting a radical change of character, as the resurrection from a death in sin, as the beginning of a new creature, as a new creation, not a physical, but a moral or spiritual creation, as conversion, or turning to God, as giving God the heart. Now we have seen abundantly, that moral character belongs to, or is an attribute of the ultimate choice or intention of the soul. Regeneration then is a radical change of the ultimate intention, and of course of the end or object of life. We have seen that the choice of an end is efficient in producing executive volitions, or the use of means to obtain its end. A selfish choice is, therefore, a wicked heart, out of which flows every evil, and a benevolent ultimate choice is a good heart, out of which flows every good and commendable deed.
Regeneration, to have the characteristics ascribed to it in the Bible, must consist in a change in the attitude of the will, or a change in its ultimate choke, intention, or preference; a change from selfishness to benevolence; from choosing self-gratification as the supreme and ultimate end of life, to the supreme and ultimate choice of the highest wellbeing of God and of the universe; from a state of entire consecration to self-interest, self-indulgence, self-gratification for its own sake, or as an end, and as the supreme and ultimate end of life" (Theology, p. 287).
These authors both recognize human and divine co-operation in regeneration, which is entirely Scriptural. The best definition of the divine side of regeneration is given by Wakefield as follows: "Regeneration may be defined to be that moral change in man, wrought by the Holy Spirit, by which he is saved from the love, the practice, and the dominion of sin, and enabled, with full choice of will and the energy of right affections, to love God and to keep His commandments." This is an excellent definition of its kind; but it is onesided, and can be misinterpreted. It represents the work as wholly the Lord's,-monergistic, as the Calvinists say, and leaves out man's part altogether. . . . The author's entire discussion follows in the same vein. He strangely quotes only a part of one verse, the whole of which, clearly proves human and divine co-operation in the work of regeneration: "But as many as received Him to them gave He the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on His name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1: 12). Man does the receiving and the believing; God does the moving upon the heart by gracious influences and the conferring of the right to become children. This is the synergism taught by Arminians.
If this were not true, then, logically, the entire blame for many sinners remaining unregenerated must fall upon God. This is the difficulty with Calvinism always, and everywhere; it makes God responsible for everything, and lifts all blame from the sinner. They remain in rebellion against God because they were not included in the atonement, were not elected, were not the subjects of an effectual call, and were not visited by a sovereign God, with an efficacious, irresistible, regenerating grace. It is an awful misrepresentation of God, wholly foreign to the Bible.
In a gentleman's library in Liverpool, England we found a book written by Dr. Charles Hodge of America containing the following: "Regeneration consists in the production not of new views, feelings and purposes, but of a new principle antagonistic to the principle of depravity. Regeneration does not destroy the principle of evil which remains, although weakened and counteracted. These two principles, the flesh and the spirit, the law in the members, and the law of the mind, are in constant conflict. The new principle is generally victorious. It does not always prevail as to specific acts, and never as to complete conformity to the will of God. The final and complete victory is certain. The means of subduing it are the Word, sacraments and prayer. By the assiduous use of these means the principle of evil is weakened, and the principle of grace is strengthened," etc. This means monergistic regeneration by God alone and gradual sanctification by our own efforts, - neither of which can we accept.
And while we admit the co-operation of man in regeneration, we do well to emphasize the agency of the Holy Spirit, because it is vital to the reality of the experience. Whatever else may be conditional to regeneration, or whatever must precede or accompany it, still it is certainly wrought by the power of the Holy Spirit.
But while admitting this, we make a mistake, as we shall see hereafter, in affirming, as many do, that the Holy Spirit, is "the only efficient agency," and belittling the effect of truth, and the influence of Christian workers, and the potent co-operation with God of the sinner himself. Miley says: "Regeneration is not an absolute work of the Spirit. There are prerequisites which cannot be met without our own free-agency. There must be an earnest turning of the soul to God, deep repentance of sin, and a true faith in Christ. Such are the requirements of our own agency. There is no regeneration for us without them. Yet they are not possible in the unaided resource of our own nature. Hence there must be a help work of the Spirit prior to His work of regeneration. There is such help, The Holy Spirit enlightens, awakens, and graciously draws us. All this may be without our consent, and even despite our resistance. We may finally resist, or we may yield to the gracious influence, and be born of the Spirit. Here is the sphere of synergism" (Miley's Theology, Vol. II, pp. 336,337).
IV. Consider Why Regeneration Is Necessary.
1. The sins of men make their justification necessary; the necessity for regeneration lies in the depravity of our nature. The necessity then is co-extensive with moral depravity. This is universal among the unregenerate of our race. It surely is impossible for a race of selfish, sinful beings to be happy in a universe ruled over by a holy God. It is impossible that heaven should be made up of selfish beings. "It is intuitively certain that without benevolence or holiness no moral being can be ultimately happy. Without regeneration, a selfish soul can by no possibility be fitted either for the employments or for the enjoyments of heaven" (Finney).
2. This is the universal teaching of Scriptures: "Jesus answered and said unto him, verily, verily, I say unto thee' except a man be born again, (from above) he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3: 3). The Greek word means "anew" or "from above," "For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision availeth anything, nor un-circumcision, but a new creature" (Gal. 6: 15). In other words, nothing will avail but to be made anew in Christ Jesus."
This is what God is laboring for, all down the ages. "I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; from all your filthiness and from all your idols will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you" (Ezek. 36: 25, 26). The reason is plain. If men were allowed to go to heaven in their carnal selfishness, there would be as many petty little sovereignties in heaven as there were miserable sinners. Each one would be opposed to God, and would set up for himself. But regeneration brings to every breast the constitution of a new and holy choice of will which leads to a new character. The governing motive of the soul is changed from devotion to the gratification of the senses, to the pursuit of the glory of God, and the good of being. It can then unite in sympathy and accord with all holy beings in the universe in seeking the glory of God, in the extension of this kingdom, and ascriptions of praise to His holy name.
V. Consider the Various Agencies Employed in Regeneration.
1. As we have already fully shown in our discussion, our regeneration is due to the Holy Spirit. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). "Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1: 13).
2. We have seen that the sinner himself is active in the work. Since what is called regeneration consists in the sinner changing his ultimate choice or preference; changing from selfishness to love or benevolence, or one's choice of self-gratification to the supreme love of God, and the love of one's fellow-men, of course it is the result of the sinner's own choice. He would never make this choice without the gracious moving and prompting of the Holy Spirit; but still, as an ultimate fact, he must make it before the work is done. No one can do it for him.
3. There are often other human agents besides the sinner, who helped persuade him to turn to God. Thus St. Paul says: "I have begotten you through the Gospel" (Cor. 4: 15). "Onesimus whom I have begotten in my bonds" (Philemon 10). In both these verses the same Greek verb is used, which is also used when Regeneration is ascribed to God. Again an apostle said: "Ye have purified your souls, by obeying the truth" (1 Pet. 1:22). Here the work is ascribed to the sinner himself. There may be, then, several active agents in the regeneration of a man. 1. The Holy Spirit. 2. The Christian worker or preacher, perhaps several of them. 3. The sinner himself. When a theologian says that regeneration is the work of the Spirit alone, he simply misrepresents the facts. Men may be willing, designing, responsible agents, as really and truly as God Himself.
4. Let it be observed that these agents use instrumentalities; to produce the effects they aim to accomplish. (1) The truth. This must, from the nature of the mind, be employed in effecting regeneration. In view of truth the will is aroused to holy action. This is plainly taught in the Word: "The truth shall make you free" (John 8: 32). "The Spirit of truth will guide you into all truth" (John 16: 13). "God hath chosen you to salvation, through belief of the truth" (2 Thess. 2: 13). "Ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth" (1 Pet. 1: 22). "Being born again . . . by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever" (1 Pet. 1: 23). "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (Rom. 1: 16). "Of His own will begat He us with the word of truth" (James 1: 18). "I have begotten you through the Gospel" (1 Cor. 4: 15).
Calvinists who teach some kind of constitutional or physical regeneration, some change of man's constitutional being, hold that the Holy Spirit employs no instrument whatever, because the work is an act of omnipotent creative power, like the creation of a star in the heavens. Such theologians have taught that regeneration is a miracle of creative power; and that there is no power in the Gospel, whether presented by God or man, to regenerate the heart. Dr. Edward Griffin says in his Park Street Lecture on Regeneration Supernatural: "Motives have no influence to produce a new disposition. Though the word of God in the shape of motives has an important instrumentality in carrying on the preparatory work in the conscience, and in occasioning the exercises of the new heart, it is in no sense instrumental in changing the disposition. The motives must find the disposition already prepared to favor them before they can act upon the mind. ... If the carnal mind is hostile to the true God, it will hate Him the more, the more it sees Him, and light will only rouse the enmity to stronger action. To use the light (of the Gospel), then, as an instrument to cure the disposition, is like using oil to extinguish fire." In other words, he denies the adaptability of the Gospel to regenerate the soul. Until that is done by arbitrary, sovereign omnipotence, he says that neither the Gospel, nor preaching, nor entreaty, nor any other influence, can aid the work, or help to bring it about; but on the contrary they are all adapted to produce an opposite result." What a monstrous theory that is, which teaches that neither Gospel truth, nor preaching, nor any other means of grace can have any effect to bring about a revival or hasten in the least the regeneration of men! It practically tells the sinner that he can do nothing to secure his own regeneration, and must idly wait until God is pleased to recreate His constitution or put in him a new disposition, before he can do anything but oppose God! Just another monstrous error of Calvinism!
Well does Finney say: "It is the most abominable and ruinous of falsehoods. It is to mock his intelligence. What! call on him, on pain of eternal death, to believe; to embrace the Gospel; to love God with all his heart, and at the same time represent him as entirely helpless, and constitutionally the enemy of God and of the Gospel, and as being under the necessity of waiting for God to regenerate his nature, before it is possible for him to do otherwise than to hate God with all his Heart!" (p. 290).
Just such Calvinistic preaching prevailed in this country a hundred years ago. It wrapped sinners in the slumbers of death, idly waiting for God to come and work some strange, mysterious work of regeneration in them to enable them to accept the Gospel and be saved. God raised up Finney to smite this false teaching, hip and thigh, and arouse the people to seek God, just as they were, without waiting for anything. The many scores of thousands that were regenerated under his preaching proved that he was right.
(2) The Various providences which God brings to a community, ' or church, or family or individual, may be used by the Spirit to arouse the soul, and drive truth home on the heart. The apostle Peter, in his early sermons in Jerusalem called attention to the late events and used them to put his hearers under conviction and get them saved; this is often done with great profit. A great providence, like the Titanic disaster or the Galveston flood, may be used to bring conviction to multitudes of men. They are God's alarm bells to call men to repentance and salvation.
If now it be asked how the Bible can consistently ascribe regeneration at one time to God, at another to the subject, at another to the truth, at another to a third person; the answer is to be sought in the nature of the work. The work accomplished is the change of a sinner's character, as the result of his change of fundamental, supreme choice. The end to be chosen must be clearly and forcibly presented by the Holy Spirit, and perhaps also by a Christian worker. The Spirit takes the truths of salvation and presses them upon the soul, and so truth must be used; and in view of all the truth, and gracious persuasions, the sinner acts,-that is, makes his new choice, which carries along with it soul destiny.
Thus we get a comprehensive view of this great work of grace. The sinner must be active in it from the very nature of the change. But he acts only as, and when, he is acted upon by the Holy Spirit. The sinner may be passive in the perception of the truth presented. This perception of truth elects the heart, induces or leads to regeneration. It is the condition and the occasion of regeneration, therefore the subject of regeneration must be a recipient of the truth presented by the Holy Spirit, who acts upon him through or by the truth. Thus far he is, or may be, passive. He yields to the truth; in this he is active. So plainly there is human and divine co-operation.
"Now what a deplorable blunder those theologians are making, who represent the sinner as altogether passive in regeneration! If this were true, it rids the sinner at once of any conviction of responsibility or duty about the matter. He can calmly fold his hands and wait for God to regenerate him. It is wonderful that a notion so absurd and so wholly dishonorable to God has held its way in theology so long. It ought long ago to have been banished from the theological writings of all mankind. The only reasons why it has not been, is that the Devil loves falsehood, and error dies hard, People love systems of thought, and this is an essential part of a system! But while it is maintained, it is no wonder that sinners are not converted, while the sinner believes this, it is a well-nigh insuperable hindrance to his regeneration. He will stand and wait for the arbitrary, sovereign, electing, regenerating grace to do for him and in him "what he ought to do himself and God requires him to do, and no one else can do for him. Neither God, nor any other being, can regenerate him, if he will not turn. If he will not change his choice it is impossible that it should be changed" (Finney). Sinners, who have been taught this and have believed it, are not at all likely to be subjects of saving grace, unless the Holy Spirit leads them to forget their error, and bestir themselves and seek God.
To tell men that they are utterly helpless to do anything toward their own salvation, until God comes to them while in a complete passivity, and creates in them a new "disposition," or "trend," or "appetite," or "inclination," or "propensity," or "taste" for God and righteousness, and that this is regeneration, and that they must wait for it, is to throw all blame for unregeneracy upon God. It absolves the sinner of all responsibility and all guilt for his wicked obduracy of heart. He is under no obligation to be regenerated in childhood, or early manhood or at any other time. God will come, when He pleases, and do the work irrespective of our wishes and desires, or not do it at all, as He sovereignly elects, and, in that case, consign the helpless sinner to a hopeless and eternal damnation! Such a theory is as irrational and unscriptural as it is horrible and blasphemous!
But there is another Calyinistic theory quite as dishonorable to God. It teaches that all the exercises and actions of moral agents in all worlds, and whether those exercises be holy or sinful, are produced by divine efficiency, or by a direct act of omnipotence; that holy and sinful acts are alike the effects of an irresistible cause, and that this cause is the power and agency, or efficiency of God.
This philosophy teaches that the moral character of every moral agent, whether holy or sinful, is formed by an agency as direct, as sovereign, as irresistible as that which gave existence to planets and suns. True submission to God implies the hearty consent of the will to have the character thus formed, and then to be treated accordingly, for the glory of God! This theory leads to some unavoidable conclusions. 1. It leaves in the mind a harrowing sense of the tyranny and injustice of God, in forcing a character upon each of us, and then treating us as if we were responsible for it. 2. It contradicts human consciousness. We know, if we know anything, that we are the cause, of our moral actions, and are justly responsible for our choices, and the ensuing character. 3. If God handles moral beings in that way, then there are no moral beings. There is no moral government in the universe, only a physical government. Men would be in the estimation of God, no better, and worthy of no more considerate treatment, than stocks and stones. 4. God has deluded all moral beings. He has created the notions in our heads that we are all responsible for our character and conduct. But according to the theory, it is all a delusion.
In the atmosphere of such philosophies and theological notions, what chance is there to get a Scriptural idea of regeneration? What a relief to turn from these speculations of men to the Word of God. It teaches how the Holy Spirit is brooding over all hearts, striving to regenerate all: how He pleads with all to fall in with His invitations and offers of mercy and life; how He pleads with all who know God to co-operate with the Spirit and press the saving truths of the Gospel upon the attention of sinners, and beseech them, as in Christ's stead, to be reconciled to God.
This view of the co-operation of God and man in the regeneration of the soul is of supreme importance.
1. If sinners are thus to be regenerated by truth, arguments and persuasions, then preachers and Christian workers can understand what their work is, and learn how to adapt means to ends, and how to co-operate with the Spirit in the work of regenerating men.
2. The unsaved also may learn a most salutary lesson. They are not to wait in passive indolence for God to work some physical constitutional change, or create something new within them, before they seek to be saved. It behooves them to embrace the truths of salvation, and submit to God at once, waiting for nothing, if they ever expect to be saved. Any other course is spiritual suicide.
To wait for physical omnipotence to regenerate us is supreme folly. It is not a work of mere power. Universalists reason thus: "If God cannot save all, He is not omnipotent. If He can save everybody and will not, He is not a God of infinite love. But we know that He is omnipotent, and a God of infinite love. Therefore He can and will save all men." Such foolish reasoning seems very satisfactory to them. But the simple answer is that we are not regenerated and saved by physical power, but by moral influence, which any sinner can successfully resist. The physical omnipotence of God affords no presumption that all men will be saved, or any man. God cannot compel men to be regenerated. "Salvation and compulsion are contradictory terms." Salvation is the voluntary harmony of the soul with the immutable law and character of a holy God. It is not accomplished by mere physical power. God cannot do the sinner's duty for him, and regenerate him without the right exercise of the sinner's own agency. Finney nays: "The sinner's dependence on the Holy Spirit arises entirely out of his own voluntary stubbornness, and that the guilt is all the greater, by how much the more perfect this kind of dependence is" (p. 300).
VI. Evidences of Regeneration.
We must remember, when discussing this subject, that regeneration has added no new faculty to man's nature, and does not reorganize his physical constitution. This is not saying that along with regeneration, God may not work a miracle of deliverance from abnormal appetites and the diseases connected with them. We know that this is sometimes the case. But, then, it is an accompanying blessing, additional to regeneration, and not regeneration itself.
1. We must remember, then, that saints and sinners have precisely similar constitutions, and constitutional susceptibilities, and therefore they have many things in common. We may enumerate them as follows:
(1) They have alike the whole complement of moral faculties that belong to every moral being, viz., Intellect, sensibility, free-will and conscience. In thought-power the sinner may be the equal of the saint. He may be as susceptible of any kind or degree of feeling, as vigorous in the use of his will.
(2) They must alike desire their own personal happiness.
(3) They may alike desire the happiness of others.
(4) They must certainly alike dread their own misery.
(5) They may be agreed in desiring the triumph of truth and righteousness in the world, and the suppression of error and vice. Sometimes un-Christian men are the most active moral reformers, and are against every public wrong.
(6) In their inmost souls they alike approve of what is right, and disapprove of what is wrong. Paul knew he could commend himself to every man's conscience in the sight of God. Whether men were good or bad, and whatever they said or did, he could get the endorsement of their conscience. Even sinners can have delight in contemplating the goodness of God, or the character of Christ.
(7) Saints and sinners may alike feel disgust and abhorrence of sin, or some great crime. This is often the case, as all may know. Men will sin, and weep over it, and curse themselves for committing it. Few if any sinners, love sin for its own sake; it is the self-gratification connected with it that they seek.
(8) Both saints and sinners admire justice. Listen to their comments on the street when a great crime has been committed, or justice has miscarried, and you will find that sinners have a constitutional love of justice, and wish in general to have it prevail.
(9) So they may alike esteem all the other cardinal virtues that ennoble society, sobriety, industry, integrity and the like. None of these things, however, are the decisive tests of Christian character, or give reliable evidence that one has been regenerated.
2. What then are the positive evidences of such a change of heart?
(1) The regenerated man does not habitually sin. 1 John 3:9, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin." 1 John 5: 18, "Whosoever is born of God sinneth not." "He cannot sin because he is born of God" (3: 9). Not that it is physically impossible, but morally so. He must first abandon his regeneration, before he can get his own consent to commit a willful sin. A regenerated man must live outwardly above the conscious practice of sin, as truly as a sanctified man. There are no separate standards for them. "In this are the children of God manifest, and the children of the devil; whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God" (1 John 3: 10).
(2) Peace. Rom. 5:1, "Therefore, being justified by faith we have peace with God." This comes with justification, which always accompanies regeneration.
(3) The regenerated man loves the brethren, 1 John 3: 14, "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren." When one becomes a new born child of God, a spontaneous love is felt for every other child of God.
(4) The Holy Spirit witnesses to regeneration. 1 John 5: 10, "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in him." A satisfactory evidence will be given to every child born into the family. He will hear from the skies.
(5) The regenerated man will keep the commandments. 1 John 2: 3, "And hereby know we that we know Him if we keep His commandments." 1 John 2:29, "Ye know that every one also that doeth righteousness is begotten of Him." The loyalty to the commandments is an infallible test of sonship.
(6) To be born of God means to resemble God. The child resembles the parent. There is a family likeness. Jesus said to wicked men: "Ye are of your father, the Devil." They had the likeness. So it is with the Heavenly Father's children; they are like Him.
3. Thus it is that this great supernatural work of grace lifts the sinner from a life of sin to the practice of righteousness. It instantly translates him from the broad road that leads to death, to the narrow way that leads to heaven, and transfers his allegiance from Satan to God. It is a complete change in the purpose and aim, and goal of life. In this respect he is a new creature, "Old things have passed away, and all things have become new." Instead of worldliness, and a life of self-pleasing, there is a life of willing obedience to Christ, and devotion of self to the glory of God.
"The mystery of it does not lie in the change of moral character. All this is open to consciousness, and is comprehended by our understanding as a natural human exercise. Nor does it lie in the forces employed by the Spirit,-the motives of truth operating on the will. The mystery is the coming and intervention of the Spirit; this is a supernatural fact and lies outside of the field of consciousness (John 3:8). In this view and to this extent regeneration is a supernatural fact" (Fairchild's Theology, pp. 242, 243).
4. The idea of baptismal regeneration is sometimes maintained, on the ground that the rite is a channel of grace. Another view is that, baptism is an act of obedience, appointed as the entrance
upon the Christian life; that the sinner can do nothing acceptable but this, and in doing this he is accepted. This is a misapprehension. The sinner may enter upon a life of obedience in the act of prayer or in any other duty, or in an inward act of consecration independent of any outward duty; and the act of baptism is just as liable to be performed without inward obedience as any other outward duty. The interpretations of a very few passages of Scripture that make them teach that baptism is the essential condition of salvation is wholly out of harmony with the general tone of the Scriptures, as what we wrote on justification proves. The lives of the members of the churches that teach baptismal regeneration give no credence to the doctrine. Beyond all question, the notion has been fraught with unspeakable evil to the world.