Saturday, June 28, 2008
Monday, June 23, 2008
Sunday, June 22, 2008
“KEEP THY HEART WITH ALL DILIGENCE, FOR OUT OF IT
ARE THE ISSUES OF LIFE.”—Proverbs 4:23.
THE heart of man is his worst part before it is regenerated, and the best afterward; it is the seat of principles, and the fountain of actions. The eye of God is, and the eye of the Christian ought to be, principally fixed upon it.
The greatest difficulty in conversion, is to win the heart to God; and the greatest difficulty after conversion, is to keep the heart with God. Here lies the very force and stress of religion; here is that which makes the way to life a narrow way, and the gate of heaven a strait gate. Direction and help in this great work are the scope of the text: wherein we have,
Keeping the Heart [Chapter 1] by John Flavel
John 15:16. "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you that ye should go and bring forth fruit and that your fruit should remain."
This is a very humbling, and at the same time, a very blessed word to the true disciple. It was very humbling to the disciples to be told that they had not chosen Christ. Your wants were so many, your hearts were so hard, that ye have not chosen me. And yet it was exceedingly comforting to the disciples to be told that he had chosen them: "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you." This showed them that his love was first with them — that he had a love for them when they were dead. And then he showed them that it was love that would make them holy: "Ye have; not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain."
M'Cheyne - Electing Love
Saturday, June 21, 2008
HT Grace Gems
A tumor and swelling in the mind(Thomas Brooks,
"The Unsearchable Riches of Christ")
The Lord Almighty has done it to destroy your pride and show His contempt for all human greatness." Isaiah 23:9Pride is the original and root of most of those notorious vices which are to be found among men. Of all sins, pride is most dangerous to the souls of men. Pride is . . . a gilded misery, a secret poison, a hidden plague. Pride is . . . the conceiver of deceit, the mother of hypocrisy, the parent of envy, the moth of holiness, the blinder of hearts, the turner of medicines into maladies.Of all sins, spiritual pride is most dangerous, and must be most resisted. Spiritual pride is the lifting up of the mind against God; it is a tumor and swelling in the mind, and lies in despising and slighting of God--and in the lifting up of a man's self, by reason of birth, breeding, wealth, honor, place, relations, abilities or graces--and in the despising of others.Spiritual pride is a white devil, a gilded poison--by which God is robbed of his honor, and a man's own soul of his comfort and peace.Pride is a sure forerunner of a fall. "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty mind before a fall." Herod fell from a throne of gold--to a bed of dust. Nebuchadnezzar fell from a mighty king--to be a beast. Adam fell from innocence--to mortality. The angels fell from heaven--to hell; from felicity--to misery."The day is coming when your pride will be brought low and the Lord alone will be exalted. In that day the Lord Almighty will punish the proud, bringing them down to the dust!" Isaiah 2:11-12 "The Lord detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished!" Proverbs 16:5
Grace Gems (choice ELECTRONIC books, sermons & quotes)
Grace Audio Treasures (choice AUDIO sermons)
Sovereign Grace Treasures (choice PRINTED books)
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
For rest of article click on link below.
4. The Sovereignty of God in Salvation
Regeneration by Robert Reymond
from A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith 2nd Edition
Why do some people repent and respond by faith in Christ to the divine summons to faith while others do not? Concerning those who believe in Christ’s name John immediately says in John 1:13: “[These are they] who have been begotten [egennēthēsan], not by blood, nor by the will of the flesh, nor by the will of a husband, but by God.” By this particular reference to God’s “begetting” activity John refers to regeneration, and clearly suggests by his statement that, while faith is the instrumental precondition to justification and adoption, regeneration is the necessary precondition and efficient cause of faith in Jesus Christ. In short, regeneration causally precedes faith.
This sequential order of “regeneration as the cause, faith in Jesus Christ as the effect” is supported by Jesus’ statements in John 3:3, 5. When Jesus teaches that only those who have been “begotten from above” (anōthen) can “see” and “enter” the kingdom of God (figurative expressions for “faith activities”), he surely intends that regeneration is essential to faith as the latter’s causal prius.
John’s statement in 1 John 5:1, “Everyone who believes [pisteuōn] that Jesus is the Christ has been begotten [gegennētai] by God,” also bears out the sequential cause and effect relationship between regeneration as cause and faith as effect. It is true, if one were to restrict his assessment of John’s intended meaning to only this one verse, that one could conceivably argue that John, by his reference to regeneration, was simply saying something more, in a descriptive way, about everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ—that he “has been begotten by God,” but that he need not be understood as suggesting that a cause and effect relationship exists between God’s regenerating activity and saving faith. But when one takes into account that John says in 1 John 3:9a that “everyone who has been begotten [gegennēmenos] by God does not do sin, because [hoti] his seed abides in him” and then in 1 John 3:9b that “he is not able to sin, because [hoti] he has been begotten [gegennētai—the word in 5:1] by God,” we definitely find a cause and effect relationship between God’s regenerating activity as the cause and the Christian’s not sinning as one effect of that regenerating activity.
Then when he later makes the simple statement in 1 John 5:18 that “everyone who has7 In every other place where it occurs in the Gospel of John—3:31; 19:11, 23— anōthen, means “from above.” been begotten [perfect tense] by God sins [present tense] not,” though he does not say so in so many words, it is surely appropriate, because of his earlier pattern of speech in 1 John 3:9, to understand him to mean that the cause behind one’s not sinning is God’s regenerating activity. What is significant in 5:18 for 5:1 is his pattern of speech. When John declares in 5:1 that everyone who believes (pisteuōn) that Jesus is the Christ has been begotten (gegennētai) by God, it is highly unlikely that he intended simply to say about the Christian, in addition to the fact that he believes that Jesus is the Christ, that he has also been begotten of God and nothing more. His established pattern of speech would suggest that he intended to say that God’s regenerating activity is the cause of one’s believing that Jesus is the Christ, and conversely that such faith is the effect of that regenerating work.
When one adds to this Paul’s insistence in Ephesians 2:1–4 that he and Christians generally had been spiritually dead in their trespasses and sins until God, “who is rich in mercy, because of his great love by which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive [synezōopoiēsen—Paul’s term for regeneration] with Christ,” the conclusion cannot be avoided that God’s regenerating work must causally precede a man’s faith response to God’s summons to faith. Consequently, regeneration must be positioned before repentance unto life and faith in Jesus Christ in the ordo salutis as the cause of both. But since Romans 8:29– 30 clearly teaches that glorification is the last act in the ordo, implying thereby, when Paul speaks earlier of calling, that he intended to teach that effectual calling is the first act in the “series of acts and processes” in the ordo, we may safely conclude that regeneration either follows upon calling or is the effecting force within calling which makes God’s summons effectual (I shall argue the case for the latter possibility later).
Accordingly, we have now established the following order of application: effectual calling, regeneration, repentance unto life and faith in Jesus Christ, justification, adoption, glorification.
REGENERATION (NEW BIRTH)
The Biblical Data
The framers of the Westminster standards offer no separate and distinct chapter or questions on regeneration, preferring to treat this doctrine, as we have already noted, within the context of effectual calling. But the Scriptures have much to say about this gracious work of the Spirit. Paul employs the word (palingenesia, “regeneration”) itself only once with reference to the spiritual renewal of an individual: “Not by works which we have done in righteousness but according to his mercy he saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). But he elaborates the doctrinal notion elsewhere under the terminology of (1) lifegiving resurrection with Christ (Eph. 2:5—“when we were dead in trespasses, he made us alive with Christ”; Col. 2:13—“when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ”; see also Rom. 4:17) and (2) the divine work of new creation (2 Cor. 5:17— “if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation”; Gal. 6:15—“what counts is a new creation”; Eph. 2:10—“we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus”). Peter and James, as we noted in another context, speak respectively of God “begetting anew” (1 Pet. 1:23) and “bringing forth” (James 1:18).
It is particularly John, following the teaching of Jesus himself, however, who is in a unique sense the “theologian of the birth from above.” John records Jesus’ “birth from above [John 3:3, 7—, gennēthēnai anōthen] discourse” in John 3:1–15, and refers eleven times to God’s “begetting,” in John 1:13 (“who were begotten by God”), 1 John 2:29 (“by him he has been begotten”), 3:9 (“the one who has been begotten by God,” “by God he has been begotten”), 4:7 (“by God he has been begotten”), 5:1 (“by God he has been begotten,” “the One who begot,” “the one who has been begotten by him”), 5:4 (“whatever has been begotten by God”), and 5:18 (“the one who has been begotten by God,” “the one begotten by God”).
By this divine work the sinner is re-created in and to newness of life, has the defilement of his heart cleansed or “washed” away (Ezek. 36:25–26; John 3:5; Titus 3:5), and is enabled to “see” and to “enter” the kingdom of God by faith (John 3:3, 5). He is also enabled to believe in Jesus (John 1:12–13), to believe that Jesus is the Christ (1 John 5:1), to love others, particularly other Christians (1 John 4:7; 5:1); and to do righteousness and to shun the life of sin (1 John 3:9; 5:18).
Its Divine Monergism
Jesus expressly taught the divine monergism in regeneration when he declared: “No one can come to me, unless the Father who sent me draws [helkysē] him” (John 6:44), “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me” (John 6:45), and “No one can come to me, unless it has been granted [ē dedomenon] him from the Father” (John 6:65). From the analogy which he drew between the wind’s natural operation and the Spirit’s regenerating work (John 3:8), Jesus taught, in addition to the facticity (“The wind blows”) and the efficacy (“and you hear the sound of it”) of the latter, both the sovereignty (“The wind blows wherever it pleases”) and the inscrutable mysteriousness (“you cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes”) of the Spirit’s regenerating work. And while Jesus declares that the birth “from above” is absolutely necessary (dei) for faith (John 3:7), he never preaches the “birth from above” in the imperative mood as if his auditor could in his own power produce it. By his metaphor of a “begetting from above” to describe the Spirit’s quickening work, Jesus underscored its divine monergism. J. I. Packer observes:
Infants do not induce, or cooperate in, their own procreation and birth; no more can those who are “dead in trespasses and sins” prompt the quickening operation of God’s Spirit within them (see Eph. 2:1–10). Spiritual vivification is a free, and to man mysterious, exercise of divine power (John 3:8), not explicable in terms of the combination or cultivation of existing human resources (John 3:6), not caused or i nduced by any human efforts (John 1:12–13) or merits (Titus 3:3–7), and not, therefore, to be equated with, or attributed to, any of the experiences, decisions, and acts to which it gives rise and by which it may be known to have taken place.
Jesus’ metaphor points up how erroneous is Arminianism’s synergistic construction of regeneration, which makes man’s spiritual renewal dependent on his cooperation with grace, and liberalism’s vision of redemption, which denies the need for prevenient grace altogether. Regeneration is the precondition of repentance unto life and faith in Jesus Christ; it is not dependent upon these for its appearance in the Christian life.
Summary of the Doctrine
Regeneration is not the replacing of the substance of fallen human nature with another substance, nor simply the change in one or more of the faculties of the fallen spiritual nature, nor the perfecting of the fallen spiritual nature. Rather, it is the subconscious implanting of the principle of the new spiritual life in the soul, effecting an instantaneous change in the whole man, intellectually, emotionally, and morally, and enabling the elect sinner to respond in repentance and faith to the outward or public gospel proclamation directed to his conscious understanding and will. No extra-biblical words have captured better both the divine monergism and the inevitable effects of the Spirit’s regenerating work than the following verse from Charles Wesley’s great hymn, “And can it be that I should gain”:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
All this is illustrated in the case of Lydia, about whom Luke writes: “Lydia was listening, whose heart the Lord opened to respond to the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 16:14).
Excerpts from A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith 2nd Edition - Revised and Updated by Dr. Robert L. Reymond pg. 709
Monday, June 16, 2008
"The old truth that Calvin preached, that Augustine preached, that Paul preached, is the truth that I must preach to-day, or else be false to my conscience and my God. I cannot shape the truth; I know of no such thing as paring off the rough edges of a doctrine. John Knox's gospel is my gospel. That which thundered through Scotland must thunder through England again."—C. H. Spurgeon
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
MANUAL OF THEOLOGY
BY J. L. DAGG, D. D.
We have said, that the Holy Spirit continues to sanctify those whom he has regenerated. In consequence of this, they persevere in a course of holy obedience to the end of life. Whatever struggles it may cost, and whatever temporary departures from the straight line of duty may mark their course, they are graciously preserved from total and final apostacy. This truth may be proved by the following arguments:
1. By the will of God, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, that which is produced in regeneration, is immortal. This is signified by the language of the Scriptures: "The hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible." "Being born of the incorruptible." "Whosoever is born of God, doth not commit sin, for his seed remaineth in him." Grace in the heart is here represented as incorruptible and abiding, and as securing its possessor from sin, that is, from a life of sin, such as unregenerate men pursue. The same truth is taught in these words of Christ: "He that believeth, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life." The new life which grace produces, is in the present possession of the believer, and is here called everlasting. Its perpetuity is asserted in another form, in the words "Neither shall he come into condemnation." If one who has been made a new creature, and justified by faith, can return to the state from which divine grace has rescued him, he will come again into condemnation; but this is declared in these words of the infallible teacher, to be impossible: "If they who have passed from death to life, may return again to death, their present life is not everlasting;" and the assurance, neither shall come into condemnation, is groundless. The same truth is exhibited in another light, in these words of Paul: "Knowing that Christ, being raised from the dead, dieth no more, death hath no dominion over him; likewise reckon ye yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord." Here believers are taught to account the new life which they have received, to be like the life of Christ, raised from the dead. As death hath no more dominion over him, the resemblance would fail in a most important particular, if their spiritual life were not immortal. As death can have no more dominion over the risen Saviour, so, death can have no more dominion over those who, in regeneration, have passed from death to life, and have been raised up together with Christ.
2. The union of believers with Christ is indissoluble. His love holds them fast. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ," &c. "Having loved his own, he loved them to the end." "His power holds them fast; neither shall any pluck them out of my hand." Such is their union to him, that their life is said to be in him, and he is called their life. The life of the risen Jesus, is the life of his people, and such is their union with him, as to render this life operative in them.: "If when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life." As his death was efficacious to bring us into a state of reconciliation with God, his life, now that he has been raised from the dead, and is ever living to make intercession for us, and is the source of our life, hid in the Godhead, will much more preserve us in this state of reconciliation, and secure our final and complete salvation.
3. The promises of God secure our preservation in Christ. When the new covenant is made with believers, by writing the law in their hearts, the accompanying promise is: "I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people." It is true that the Israelites were once accounted the people of God; and that they departed from God, and were rejected by him; and the same departure and rejection might happen to believers in Christ, if they were under the same covenant. But God found fault with the old covenant precisely on this ground, that it did not secure his people from disobedience and rejection: "Because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not." Having found fault with this covenant, which did not put the law in their hearts, and secure them from rejection, he abolishes that covenant, and makes a new one, founded on better promises: "I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me." "Believers are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation;" and the power which keeps them through faith, keeps that faith in existence and exercise, or it would fail to preserve them. This preservation of their faith, follows from the intercession of Christ, who prayed for Peter, that his faith should not fail; and as he ever liveth to make intercession, the preservation of faith is secured by the continued supplies of his grace, which otherwise would not be sufficient for his people. It is manifest that Paul entertained these views, when he wrote to the Philippians: "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ."
4. Final apostasy, when it does occur, is accounted for, in the Scriptures, on the ground that there was an absence of true religion. This is clearly expressed by John: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us; but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us." With this agrees the teaching of Christ, in the parable of the seed sown in different kinds of ground, and explained by him of the word in its effect on different classes of hearers. The stony ground hearers "in time of temptation fell away," because the seed had not much depth of earth. There may be much appearance of religion where it does not really exist. Some, the Saviour has informed us, will seek to enter in, saying: "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name have done many wonderful works?" These applicants are rejected, not on the ground that their plea was false. Their profession of Christ, and their prophesying, and working of miracles, in his name, are not denied: but the ground of this rejection is stated in these words: "Depart from me, ye that work iniquity. I never knew you."
Now, if any of them had ever been true followers of Christ, he must have known them as such, and therefore he could not say: "I never knew you."The text last considered, may assist us in explaining a passage in which many have found difficulty: "It is impossible for those who were one enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the power of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance." Apostasy, after great attainments in religion, is here supposed; but these apostates had never been true disciples of Christ, distinguished by love to him, and works of holy obedience. In immediate connection with this account of them, Paul addresses true Christians thus: "Beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things which accompany salvation, though we thus speak, for God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love." The work and labor of love will be acknowledged by him in the great day, when the workers of iniquity will be rejected, whatever knowledge of divine things they may have possessed, and whatever miraculous gifts they may have been endowed with. The superiority of love to all knowledge, miraculous gifts, and all outward works, however costly and self-denying, is clearly taught in 1 Cor. xiii., and we are assured that all these, where love is wanting, will avail nothing. Hence all these, if without love, will not preserve from apostasy in this life, nor from rejection in the last day.
In a practical use of this and some other passages, the minds of many have been distressed with the apprehension that they had committed the unpardonable sin. For their relief, it is important to observe, that the difficulty in the way of the salvation of the apostates here described, consists in the impossibility of renewing them again to repentance. No humble penitent, therefore, has any ground to fear. Whatever his backslidings may have been, if he now truly repents of his sin, and implores pardon through the blood of the cross, he may feel assured that the way of salvation is open to him. The renewal to repentance has, in his case, been accomplished; and he may therefore know that he is not in the number of those, to whom this renewal is impossible.
The confessions of men eminent for piety, prove that they are not free from sin; and the cases of David, who committed adultery, and Peter, who denied his master, prove that true saints have sometimes fallen into gross sins. But David was renewed to repentance, and the record of his penitential acknowledgments has been transmitted to us in the 51st Psalm. A look of Jesus melted Peter's heart, and he went out, and wept bitterly. But the apostates, who are described in the passage which we have been considering, are given over to hardness of heart: "It is impossible to renew them again to repentance." The difficulty is, not that the blood of Christ is insufficient to atone for sins so atrocious, but that it is impossible to renew them again to repentance. God never bestows the grace of repentance on such characters. But when one who has been born of God, falls into sin, this impossibility of renewing of repentance does not exist; but his seed remaineth in him; and divine grace brings him back form his wanderings, and restores him to the paths of righteousness. The fire of divine love in the heart, though its flame may be smothered for a time, is more easily rekindled than when first produced; and it is never true of him, as it is of an unregenerate man who falls away, that the last state is worse than the first.
Several other passages of Scripture, which have been understood to imply the apostasy of true believers, require consideration.
"Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh away." This figurative representation, which the Saviour has employed, teaches that there is a sense, in which persons are "in" him, who do not bring forth the fruits of holiness. Such persons do not abide in him. Their connection is not vital, but professional. They are among his disciples, but not of them; for if they had been of them, they would no doubt have continued with them. The process of separating them, described by the words, "he taketh away," corresponds well with the removing of a branch which has been grafted into a stalk, but has failed to become vitally connected with it. The perseverance of true saints is taught in the remaining part of the verse: "Every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
""If we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins; but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries." This passage has sometimes severely tried the faith of weak believers. When conscious of having committed sins to which their will has consented, these words present themselves in dreadful array, and seem to deter them from all further approach to the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, from which they once obtained peace. In such times of trial, the language of faith is, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." While this awful text fills with terror, the existence of an humble abiding trust in God is thus demonstrated, and, in view of it, other texts authorize encouragement and hope. With these encouraging and consolatory texts, the passage now under consideration, if properly understood, cannot be inconsistent. It describes the sin of those Hebrews who, after embracing the gospel of Christ, forsook the assembly of Christians, and turned back to Judaism. To them no efficacious sacrifice for sin remained, in the abolished ceremonies of the Mosaic dispensation; and if that of Christ were renounced, no other could be found. But these words were never designed to deter any humble penitent from free approach to the atoning sacrifice of Christ, whatever sins he may have committed. The assurance that Jesus has given, "Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out," is sufficient to banish all fear from those who put their trust in him. The same invitation which first made them welcome, and the same assurance which first gave them peace, remain to encourage their continued confidence in this power and grace.
"Of how much sorer punishment suppose ye shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing; and hath done despite to the spirit of grace?" The difficulty in this passage is found in the phrase "wherewith he was sanctified." Do these words teach that persons who have been sanctified may apostatise? Let it be observed that the word sanctify, among the Hebrews, was used to denote external consecration to God. This consecration, under the former dispensation, to which the Hebrews had been accustomed, was by the blood of animals. In professing Christianity, they had turned from the blood of animals to the blood of Christ; and their consecration to the service of Christ was by professed faith in his blood. In returning to Judaism, they rejected this precious blood, and accounted it an unholy thing, as if it had been the blood of a vile impostor. But it is better to interpret the phrase by referring the pronoun "he" to the last antecedent, "the Son of God." The Son of God was sanctified and sent into the world; and as the priests of the law were consecrated with blood, Jesus, as our great High Priest, may be said to have been consecrated with the blood of the new covenant.
"The just shall live by faith; but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him." In this verse our translators have supplied the words, "any man," which have no corresponding word in the Greek. The regular translation would be, "If he draw back," &c. Thus rendered, the pronoun "he" naturally refers to the just man, mentioned in the preceding clause; and the words seem to imply that a just man may draw back, so that God will have no pleasure in him. An argument for supplying the words "any man," may be drawn from the fact that these words are quoted from the Septuagint version of Habakkak ii. 6, in which the last clause occurs first; and the man who draws back is manifestly distinguished from the just man. The same distinction is made by Paul in the words which immediately follow: "We are not of them who draw back to perdition, but of them who believe to the saving of the soul." The introduction of the words "any man," may therefore give a correct exposition of Paul's words: still, they are an exposition, and not a translation. Paul has inverted the order of the two clauses written by the prophet: and, in so doing, he was doubtless guided by the Holy Spirit, for some wise purpose; and it becomes us to learn from his words, as they have been given by the Spirit for our instruction and admonition. The prophet's warning was, "If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him." This warning Paul places in such order, as to make it apply to the just man. What is true of any man, must be true of the just man; and Paul will not deny to the just man the benefit of this admonition. Such admonition, in the apostle's view, was not inconsistent with the doctrine of the saints' final perseverance.
"When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done, shall he die." These words are to be understood in the same manner as the words of Paul which have just been considered. The terms "just" and "righteous" are of like import, and are descriptive of those who obey God's commands, and enjoy his favor. Such persons need the admonitions contained in these passages; and they are given in language precisely adapted to the case. To all, except the Searcher of hearts, there is an uncertainty respecting man's character in his sight; and, on the ground of this uncertainty, opportunity is given for the needed admonition. Paul spoke with confidence, that the Hebrews whom he addressed were "of those who believe to the saving of the soul:" yet, without relying on his own estimate of their character, or deriving from it an assurance of their perseverance, he warned them earnestly against apostasy.
"If, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world, through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning." These words describe men who have been reformed in their conduct by the influence of the gospel, but without a thorough change of heart. This appears from the proverb applied to them: "The dog has returned to his vomit, and the sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire." As the temporary change of the dog and the sow had not altered their natural propensities, so it was with these men. Their change, though a reform, had not made them new creatures.
"Whosoever of you are justified by the law, ye are fallen from grace." These words describe a change in their doctrinal views as to the method of salvation. They had turned from salvation by grace to salvation by the law. But how far the state of their hearts was influenced by their doctrinal creed, either before or after the change here described, the passage does not inform us.
"Concerning faith having made shipwreck."[212 "Overthrow the faith of some."[213 Wrong views had been inculcated by these men respecting the resurrection of the dead. It may be that neither they, nor those who were misled by them, had ever received the love of the truth. On this point the passage says nothing.
"Through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish for whom Christ died?" When the stronger Christian will not, for the sake of a weak brother, deny himself a carnal indulgence, he exhibits a criminal disregard of his weak brother's interest. The tendency of this conduct is the ruin of his weak brother; and the criminality is to be judged by its tendency; and is the same, whether the tendency goes into effect, or is prevented by the interposition of divine grace. The question propounded does not affirm what the result will be; but impressively exhibits the guilt of the offender by contrasting his conduct with that of Christ. Christ died for the weak brother; and would you cause him to perish, rather then deny yourself a trifling gratification?
"I keep under my body and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." These words contain a manifest reference to the Grecian games, in which the herald, who announced them, took no part in the contest, or the previous preparation for it; and therefore did not receive the crown Paul was not only a herald, making the gospel proclamation, but he entered the lists as a combatant, and made diligent preparation for the conflict, by keeping under his body. He did this, knowing that his preaching, or acting the herald, to others, would not secure a crown to himself. He prepared diligently for the combat, that he might receive the crown, and not be a castaway, or one rejected by the Judge.
The explanation which has been given to this passage, removes all appearance of inconsistency between it and the doctrine of the saints' final perseverance; yet it admits that Paul was stimulated to activity and perseverance in the Christian conflict, by the belief that his obtaining of the crown depended on his perseverance and success in the struggle. They who understand the doctrine of perseverance to imply that God's people will obtain the crown without the struggle, totally mistake the matter. The doctrine is, that God's people will persevere in the struggle; and to suppose that they will obtain the crown without doing so, is to contradict the doctrine. It is a wretched and fatal perversion of the doctrine, if men conclude that, having been once converted, they will be saved, whatever may be their course of life. God's work plainly declares, that "he who sowth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption:" and every man who does not keep under his body, and bring it into subjection, and who does not endure to the end, in this spiritual conflict, will assuredly fail to receive the crown. Without this, no conversion which he may have undergone, and not even a call to apostleship, will secure the approbation of the final Judge.
We have said that the new creature produced in regeneration, is immortal; but this immortality is dependent on the will of God, and is secured by means which God has provided. Adam, in his primeval innocence, was immortal; but his life was sustained, under God, by the fruits of the garden which had been assigned to his use. So God has appointed necessary means for preserving the divine life in the soul, and the use of these means is as indispensable to the accomplishment of the purpose, in this, as in all other cases in which he has chosen to work by means. The doctrine of final perseverance, when properly understood, does not teach that God's people are in no sense in danger of final apostasy. Paul tells us that he had often been in perils of waters. One of these times of danger was the shipwreck which he experienced in his voyage to Rome. He, and all his companions in the vessel, were in great danger; and they could not have been saved, if the necessary means for their preservation had not been used. Yet God had both purposed and promised their deliverance. The righteous, notwithstanding the purpose and promise of God, are scarcely saved. They succeed at last, as by a narrow escape. Through danger, imminent danger, they are at last delivered: and, in order to that deliverance, the use of the appointed means is as necessary as the appointment itself;--as necessary as the purpose of God.
The warning which the Scriptures give to the people of God, constitute an important part of the means which God has appointed for their perseverance in holiness to eternal life. As the rock in the mariner's chart guards him from being dashed to pieces, so these warnings preserve the spiritual mariner from destruction. The awful warnings given by Paul to the Hebrews, were designed to guard them against final apostasy. They therefore imply that there was danger of such apostasy. The heirs of promise might have strong consolation, in the hope founded on the oath and promise of God, that they would be brought safely through the danger. In the wisdom of God, the warnings are so given, as to secure their proper effect, without destroying that confidence in God, which is the Christian's hope and joy. To make this clear, and to derive the proper benefit from these warnings, let us briefly review them.
The warning given in Heb. vi.4--7, was designed for real Christians. Every clause in the description of the persons, whose apostasy is declared to be fatal, would in other connections be understood to denote true Christians. The Hebrew Christians are elsewhere described as persons "illuminated." The first particular in the description here, is, "who were once enlightened." Other particulars are added, agreeing with well known peculiarities, which distinguished the followers of Christ. These words, therefore, contain a general description of Christians; and the warning which they contain was applicable to Christians, and designed for their benefit. With these features of the Christian character, which are so vividly portrayed, and which were so well known in the days of primitive Christianity, there was generally connected a love to the truth, which was necessary to the full and proper effect of divine instruction. When this operated, the warning here proposed had its proper effect. These persons were like the fruitful ground, which received blessing from God; and this love the apostle believed to exist in those to whom his epistle was directed. They who possessed this love were moved by his warning, to make advance in spiritual attainments, according to his exhortation in the beginnings of the chapter. But this result did not invariably follow the instructions and warning, which were given to those who possessed the general features of the Christian character. Apostasy sometimes occurred; and apostasy which was final and hopeless. This fact gave just occasion for the warning.
Similar remarks may be made on the passages in the 10th chapter of Hebrews. That they were designed as warnings to true Christians, may be seen in the fact that Paul includes himself in the number. "If we sin wilfully," &c., and in the further fact that the just "are warned against drawing back." All these consequences were set before the Christians, who are addressed, and the apostle again expresses his confidence, that they, with himself, will, in the belief and love of the truth, receive the warning and be saved.
The warning against apostasy, and the exhortations to perseverance, were not addressed to false professors, as such. The apostle was not solicitous that these should persevere in their false profession. They to whom his epistle was directed, were all exhorted to hold fast their profession, on the supposition that it had been honestly made. All had exhibited the appearances of true religion, and were treated accordingly. The plant which springs from seed sown in stony places, does not differ from that which is sown in good ground, except in not having much depth of earth; and this defect becomes manifest, when it withers under the beams of the sun. So those who afterwards apostatise, agree in the profession which they make, and all the appearances of religion which they exhibit, with those who endure to the end. The difference is, that the word has not a deep place in their hearts; and this is discovered only by their apostasy. "They went out from us, that they might be made manifest, that they are not all of us." Hence, until their apostasy occurs, the same means of spiritual cultivation are employed for their benefit, as for others; the same hopes are entertained for them; and the same language is used in describing them. The tendency of this spiritual cultivation is to render them fruitful, like the rest; but it fails to produce this effect, because they have no sincere and abiding love of the truth.
The doctrine of final perseverance, properly understood, gives no encouragement to sluggishness or negligence in duty; much less does it lead to licentiousness. He who takes occasion from it to sin against God, or to be indolent in his service, not only misunderstands, and misapplies the doctrine, but has reason to fear that his heart is not right before God. Perseverance in holiness is the only infallible proof that the heart is right; and he who ceases to persevere, on the presumption that his heart is right, believes without the proper evidence, and is wofully hazarding his eternal interests on his presumption. The doctrine is, that grace in the heart will produce perseverance to the end; and where the effect is not produced, the cause does not exist. Every man, therefore, whatever his past professions and attainments may have been, has reason to take alarm, if he finds his heart inclined to depart from Christ: and the greater his past attainments may have been, the greater is the occasion for alarm; because his case, if he falls away, will so much the more resemble that in which renewal to repentance is impossible.
To reject the doctrine of final perseverance, tends to fix the hope of salvation on human effort, and not on the purpose and grace of God. If, in God's method of salvation, no provision has been made, which secures the safe keeping of the regenerate, and their perseverance in holiness, their salvation is left dependent on their own efforts, and their trust must be in that which success depends. All that God has done for them, will fail to bring them through, if this effort, originating in themselves, be not superadded; and the eye of hope is necessarily directed to this human effort, as that on which the momentous issue depends. Thus the denial of the doctrine draws off the heart from simple trust in God, and therefore tends to produce apostasy. The just shall live by faith. Simple trust in God, is necessary to preserve the spiritual life; and to trust in man, and make flesh our arm, is to fall under the curse, and draw back to perdition. In our first coming to Christ, we renounce all confidence in self, and put our entire trust in the mercy and power of God: and in the same faith with which we began, we must persevere to the end of our course. Worldly wisdom may encourage self-reliance, and regard it as necessary to success: but the wisdom that is from above teaches us to renounce and avoid it as ruinous to the soul.
Convinced of his weakness and helplessness, the believer learns more and more in this life of faith to trust God, and to have no confidence in himself. He learns, by daily experience, the treachery of his own heart, and is increasingly weaned from the folly of trusting in it. It becomes his more earnest prayer, as he makes greater progress in the knowledge of himself and the way of salvation. "Hold thou me up." He looks forward to the temptations and trials through which he has to pass; and, unwilling to trust himself in the least degree, asks God, earnestly and importunately to keep him to the end. This prayer he may hope that God will answer, if the doctrine of final perseverance be true. If the grace to persevere is a gift of God, it is a proper subject of prayer; and that doctrine best accords with God's method of salvation, which teaches us to come boldly to the throne of grace, for the mercy and grace to help in every time of need. We cannot now ask with confidence, for grace to help us through all future times of need, and to incline and strengthen us to persevere to the end, if the bestowment of such persevering grace is not within God's plan of salvation.
The doctrine of final perseverance is full of consolation to the believer, when ready to faint in his spiritual warfare. So far as he finds, in a careful examination of his heart, evidence that the love of God has been shed abroad there by the Holy Spirit, he is enabled to regard this grace as an earnest of the future inheritance, and to rejoice in hope of obtaining that inheritance in full possession, at the time appointed of his heavenly Father. If doubts arise, they spring not from a view of incompleteness in God's method of salvation, but they refer exclusively to the question whether his heart has been brought to put simple and exclusive trust in that divine method, and the provision of mercy which it includes. As the best termination of these doubts, he views the way open for him to come now, if never before, and cast himself on this mercy, so richly provided, and so gloriously adapted to his necessities.
(176) 1 Pet. iii. 4.1 Pet. i. 23. 1 John iii. 9. John v. 24.Rom. vi. 9, 11. Rom. viii. 35--39. John xiii. 1. John x. 28. Col. iii. 3, 4. Rom. v. 10. Heb. viii. 10. Heb. viii. 9. Jer. xxxii. 40. 1 Pet. i. 5. Luke xxii. 32. Heb. vii. 25. Phil. i. 6. 1 John ii. 19. Luke viii. 13. Matt. vii. 23. Heb. vi. Heb. vi. 9. John xv. 2 John xv. 6. Heb. x. 26, 27. Job xiii. 15. Heb. x. 25. John vi. 37. Heb. x. 29. Ex. xiii. 2; xix. 10, 22, 23, &c. John x. 36. Heb. x. 38. Ezek. xviii. 26. 2 Pet. ii. 20. 2 Pet. ii. 22. Gal. v. 4. 1 Tim. i. 19. 2 Tim. ii. 18. 1 Cor. viii. 11. 1 Cor. ix. 27. 2 Cor. xi. 26. 1 Pet. iv. 18. Heb. x. 32. Heb. vi. 7. Heb. vi. 9, 10. Heb. x. 26. Heb x. 38. 1 John ii. 19. Heb. x. 38. Jer. xvii. 5. Ps. cxix. 117.
Monday, June 9, 2008
Here is a excellent article by Jim Elliff on the perserverance of the saints. If you can all of a sudden lose your salvation then you are more powerful than God. God would not be Sovereign would He. And we know according to scripture that God is in control of all thing. There is not a maverick molecule out there.Scripture does not teach that mans will can trump God's.He is the potter and we are the clay. Remember it is God who Regenerates the heart and its the work of the Spirit not the work of the flesh or the will of man but God. You must be Born Again!
Enjoy the article. Here is the link to Jim Elliffs website.
I've seen a few extremely powerful things. Just recently I watched a tornado whirling debris on the lawn as it rose up and passed just beside our house. I know that it was insane to be outside watching, but power is intriguing. I've been in a tropical storm on the Florida coast, packed and ready to leave in an instant if it accelerated to a hurricane. I've felt the ground rumbling while watching a space shuttle launch, and I've circled three times in a small plane over the mighty Victoria Falls in southern Africa. I've faced an angry bull elephant in the wild and stood on the bed of an open truck in the middle a buffalo stampede.
I've also met a few powerful people—congressmen, CEOs of this or that—even a former president of the United States.
But how much more powerful is God than all of these?
It is interesting that Jesus would choose to talk about power in his teaching on sheep, but that's what He does in John 10. Perhaps it makes some sense when you think about how stupid and helpless sheep tend to be. They're good for being eaten, looking great on a hillside, and producing a few wool sweaters, but that's about it. They cannot be ridden or milked—whoever heard of sheep milk? They don't lead or even follow very well. And they are vulnerable to attack. Perhaps there is nothing so "eatable" as a dumb sheep, standing befuddled in the view of a hungry predator. They do need somebody else's power on their behalf.
Here's what Jesus said in that passage on sheep to some Jews when they questioned Him as to whether He was the Christ:
"I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father's name, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand." (Jn. 10: 27-28)
Then, to make the emphasis even stronger, He says,
My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand. I and My Father are one." (Jn. 10: 29-30)
These are power words—"My Father . . . is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand."
The point Christ is making, of course, is that the "sheep" (that is, the true believers) are kept by the power of the One who is "greater than all" and that there is no force in the universe that has the ability to take these Christians out of His hands. Helpless sheep need such power.
In this passage there is the resolve to a misconception. It is the mistaken idea of many religious people that the security of the Christian is found in how tightly he or she can hold on to God. If the believer sins badly (an inevitability) and the grip is loosened, the once happy and secure believer drops into lost-ness. Then, through much effort and grieving, he struggles up to get a grasp on God again. This happens ad infinitum throughout the struggler's life. This kind of person would never speak confidently about security in Christ—no sense of rest or peace for this individual. To them, being a confident Christian sure of eternal life would be a matter of pride, since it implies an ability to hold on perfectly.
But is this what Jesus said? Not on your life! Jesus said the opposite, in fact. The point in what Christ said is not that the Christian is to hold on to God or lose it all; rather, it is all about God holding on to you. This is not a subtle shade of difference, it is contradistinctive in a most complete sense.
True believers are held "in Christ," not by an armed guard, or even the entire national guard, or the complete armed forces of the country, or even the armed forces of all the countries for all time. No, you are kept secure in Christ by the greatest power ever known—God Himself. There has never been anyone able to snatch a person out of God's hands, once God has wrapped his fingers around him.
I'm not so excited about being called a sheep, but since God sees me that way, I am enormously energized by the fact that such a powerful Shepherd keeps me in the flock forever.
An unsuspecting child was running around the grounds of a baseball complex in the Midwest of the United States, having as much fun as any little girl could have. This was a safe environment as far as the mother was concerned, as she watched her other child play his game. But when the mother discovered her daughter was not in sight, she quickly jumped up and went to find her. This had happened before. She would be right around the corner, behind the refreshment stand, or under the bleachers. But this time, something was different—the moments passed, and the mother became frantic in her search. What the mother feared had happened—the child was abducted!
Perhaps few experiences in the imagination of parents could compare to abduction. The child who had been so much a part of the family, who had been the admiration and love of them all, in whom so much had been invested, and whose daily needs had been met for all those years, was now gone—gone for good.
But such abduction can never take place for the true Christian. You are kept by the power of God once you are His.
And nobody can snatch you out of the Father's hand!
Copyright © Jim Elliff 2003This is a chapter from Jim Elliff's upcoming book, Safe for the Risks. Permission granted to copy in full for non-profit use, including all copyright information. Other uses require written permission. For more information about Christ, see:www.WayToGod.org
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Saturday, June 7, 2008
The Holy Spirit’s Work in Bringing Sinners to Faith in Christ(Excerpts from The Holy Spirit)
by John Owen
“To say that we are able by our own efforts to think good thoughts or give God spiritual obedience before we are spiritually regenerate is to overthrow the gospel and the faith of the universal church in all ages.” - John Owen
All men can be divided into two groups. They are either regenerate or unregenerate. All men are born unregenerate (John 3:3-8).
...Spiritual darkness is in all men and lies on all men until God, by an almighty work of the Spirit, shines into men’s hearts, or creates light in them (Matt 4:16; John 1:5; Act 26:18; Eph 5:8; Col 1:13; 1 Pet 2:9). ...The nature of this spiritual darkness must be understood. When men have no light to see by, then they are in darkness (Exod. 10:23). Blind men are in darkness, either by birth or by illness or accident (Psa. 69:23; Gen 19:11; Acts 13:11). A spiritually blind man is in spiritual darkness and is ignorant of spiritual things.
There is an outward darkness on men and an inward darkness in men.
Outward darkness is when men do not have that light by which they are enabled to see. So outward spiritual darkness is upon men when there is nothing to enlighten them about God and spiritual things (Matt 4:16; Psa 119:105; Psa. 19:1-4,8; 2 Pet 1:19; Rom 10:15, 18). It is the work of the Holy Spirit to remove this darkness by sending the light of the gospel (Acts 13:2, 4; 16:6-10; Psa. 147:19,20).
Inward darkness, on the other hand, arises from the natural depravity and corruption of the minds of men concerning spiritual things. Man’s mind is depraved and corrupted in things which are natural, civil, political, and moral, as well as in things which are spiritual, heavenly and evangelical. This depravity is often held back from having its full effects by the common grace of the Holy Spirit. So, man’s mind being darkened, he is unable to see, receive, understand or believe to the saving of his soul. Spiritual things, or the mysteries of the gospel, without the Holy Spirit first creating within the soul a new light by which they can see and receive those things, cannot bring salvation.
However brilliant the mind may be, and however brilliant the preaching and presentation of the gospel might be, yet without the Holy Spirit first creating this light in them, they cannot receive, understand and agree with the truths preached, and so will not be led to salvation (Eph 4:17, 18).
So the unregenerate ‘walk in the futility of their mind’ (Eph 4:17). The natural inclination of the unregenerate mind is to seek those things that cannot satisfy (Gen 6:5). It is an unstable mind (Prov. 7:11-12). The unregenerate understanding is darkened and cannot judge things properly (Jhn 1:5). The unregenerate heart is blind. In Scripture the heart includes the will also. Light is received by the mind, applied by the understanding and used by the heart. ‘But if the light within is darkness,’ said Jesus, ‘how great is that darkness.’
...Even though the unconverted mind is highly educated and talented, yet it is utterly unable to receive and understand spiritually those things needful for its eternal salvation. It will not respond to the preaching of the gospel until renewed, enlightened and enabled to do so by the Holy Spirit: “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned’ (1 Cor 2:14). The subject of this verse is the natural man. The natural man is quite opposite of the spiritual man (1 Cor 15:44; Jude 19).
Paul tells us that the first Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit (1 Cor 15:45). The natural man comes from the first Adam and the spiritual man comes from the last Adam. The natural man is one that has all that is or can be had from the first Adam. He has a rational soul and is well able to use it. The natural man trusts in his reasoning powers and sees no need for any spiritual help. He does not see that God has given him a soul in order that it might learn and receive what he, God, has to give. Man is never made to live independently of God. Eyes are beautiful and useful, but if they try to see without light, their beauty and power will be of no use and the eyes might even be damaged. And if the unconverted mind tries to see spiritual things without the help of the Spirit of God, it will only end up destroying itself.
In verse fourteen [1 Cor 2] we see things put to the natural man. These things are ‘the things of the Spirit of God’. Now what are these things of the Spirit of God which are put to the natural man? Here are some of them, all from 1 Cor chapter 2, ‘Jesus and him crucified’ (v.2). ‘The hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory’ (v. 7). “The things that are freely given to us by God’ (v.12). ‘The mind of Christ’ (v. 16).
These are the things of the Spirit of God. These are things that cannot be received except by sovereign, supernatural illumination. These are the things that ‘eye has not see, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love him’ (v.9). They are things from God’s eternal counsel. These are the things which the mind of man at his first creation had no idea existed (Eph 3:8-11).
Two things can be said of the natural man and the things of the Spirit of God. Firstly, he does not receive them: secondly, he cannot know them.
In this double assertion we learn firstly that the power to receive spiritual things is denied the natural man (Rom 8:7). He cannot receive them because they are spiritually discerned. We learn secondly that the natural man willingly rejects them. This is implied in the words ‘does not receive the things of the Spirit of God’. And he rejects them because they appear to him to be foolish.
The natural man cannot, will not and does not receive the things of the Spirit of God. He can know the literal sense of the doctrines presented to him. He can know that Jesus Christ was crucified. But there is a wide difference between receiving doctrines as mere statements presented to him and knowing the reality which those statements present.
The natural man can know the way of righteousness as a mere statement (2 Pet. 2:21). Other things he can know, merely as ideas presented to him (Titus 1:16; Rom 2:23, 24). But these truths have no transforming effect on his life. The spiritual man, on the other hand, knows them in reality and they have a transforming effect on his life (Rom 12:2; Eph 4:22-24).
Now before spiritual things can be received two things are necessary. It is necessary that we understand them, agree with them and receive them because they agree with wisdom, holiness and righteousness of God (1 Cor 1:23, 24). It is also necessary that we see how well adapted they are to glorifying God, the salvation of sinners and bringing the church to grace and glory. The natural man cannot do this. He can, however, receive exhortations, promises, commands and threatenings in the gospel (1 John 5:20). But to him the wisdom of God is foolishness. Paul says that the ‘foolishness of God is wiser than men’ (1 Cor 1:25). But to the natural man they are foolishness.... He cannot [receive them] because they are spiritually discerned. The natural man by the natural light of reason can discern natural things. The spiritual man by a spiritual light received from Jesus Christ discerns spiritual things.
Paul teaches us the Christ ‘has delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love’ (Col 1:13).
[Due to the corruption of nature] ...the darkness fills the mind with enmity against God and all the things of God ( Col 1:21; Rom 8:7). If God is great in goodness and beauty, why do men hate him? This hatred arises from this darkness which is the corruption and depravity of our nature.
This darkness fills the mind with prejudices against all spiritual things, and the mind is utterly unable to free itself from the prejudices. The darkened mind sees first the things that it lusts after. Then, later, it recognizes those lusts in itself. But when men are called to seek God above all other desires, then this is considered to be foolish, because to the unconverted mind things that are spiritual things will never bring contentment, happiness and satisfaction. In particular, the unregenerate mind has a special bias against the gospel.
The gospel...shows that obedience can arise only from a regenerate heart that is no longer at enmity with God. It also shows that the whole purpose of obedience is to being glory to God. It shows that we cannot obey until we have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. All these things put moral duties into a new framework, the framework of the gospel. Secondly, by giving us his Spirit, God strengthens and enables us to obey according to the gospel framework.
The eye is the natural light of the body. By means of the eyes, the body is led safely round dangerous obstacles, and so is kept from hurting itself. But if the eye is blind, or is surrounded by darkness and so cannot see, then the body has no idea where it is going and will inevitably bump into objects to trip over obstacles. What the eye is to the body, the mind is to the soul. If the mind sees the glory and beauty of Christ and his salvation presented in the gospel, it will excite the heart to desire them as truly good and the will to receive and embrace them.
If the mind is ignorant of the gospel, or is blinded by prejudice, then the heart will not be roused to desire Christ, nor the will be urged to embrace him. ...We see, therefore, how important are the words of Jesus when he said, ‘You must be born again.’
...As the body cannot live without the soul, so the soul cannot live to God without spiritual life. Without the spiritual life the soul becomes morally corrupt (Rom 8:7,8; John 6:44; Matt 7:18; 12:33; Jer. 13:23).
As the body has only passive power to receive life, for it cannot give life to itself and raise itself from the dead, so the soul also has only a passive power to receive spiritual life, for it has no power to regenerate itself from spiritual death to spiritual life. Exhortations, promises and threatenings in Scripture do not tell us what we can do, but what we ought to do. They show us our state of spiritual death and our inability to do any spiritual good. God is pleased to make these exhortations and promises the means by which we can receive spiritual life (James 1:18; 1 Pet 1:23).
This inability to live to God is due to sin (Rom 5:12). Unregenerate persons are able to do something towards regeneration, but this they neglect to do, so they wilfully sin. Though they cannot live to God, they can and do resist God, because their depraved minds are alienated from the life of God. Unregenerate persons freely and wickedly choose to disobey God.
Jesus complained, ‘You will not come to me that you might have life’ (John 5:40). There is in this death a ceasing of all vital activities. Unregenerate persons cannot do any vital activity that could be called spiritual obedience. True spiritual obedience springs from the life of God (Eph 4:18).
...God is the origin of all life and specifically spiritual life (Psa. 36:9). So our life is ‘hid with Christ in God’ (Col 3:3).
Our spiritual life differs from every other kind of life. It does not come to us directly from God, but it is first deposited in all its fullness in Christ our mediator (Col. 1:19). So it is out of his fullness that we receive this life (John 1:16). So Christ is our life (Col 3:4). It is, therefore, not so much we who live but Christ who lives in us (Gal 2:20). We can do nothing of ourselves but only by Christ’s power and virtue (1 Cor 15:10).
The origin of this life is in God. The fullness of this life is in Christ. And it is imparted to us by the Holy Spirit. We experience it as a new power and ruling principle in us (Rom 8:11; Eph 4:15, 16). Christ is our life and without him we can do nothing (John 15:5) [including believe the gospel with our own natural resources]. This spiritual life imparted to us by the Holy Spirit is still also in Christ. So, by this life we are joined to Christ as a branch is joined to the tree, derives its life from the tree and can never live independently of the tree (John 15:4).
This spiritual life is imparted to us by the Holy Spirit in order that we might be enabled to obey the terms of God’s holy covenant. By this new life, God writes his law in our hearts and then we are able to walk in obedience to his commandments. Without this ruling principle of spiritual life there can be not spiritual obedience. To say that we are able by our own efforts to think good thoughts or give God spiritual obedience before we are spiritually regenerate is to overthrow the gospel and the faith of the universal church in all ages. It does not matter how powerfully we are motivated and encouraged, without regeneration we can do no good works which are pleasing and acceptable to God. A religious, decent, moral life, derived from self and not ‘born of God’ is as sinful as the worst of sinful lives.
Preachers of the gospel and others have sufficient warrant to press on all men the duties of repentance, faith and obedience; although they know the unregenerate have no ability to do these things. They must show the unregenerate why they are unable and that it is their own fault they are unable to do these things. It is the will of God and the command of God that the unregenerate should be told his duties. We are not to consider what man can or will do, but what God says they should do. There are two good reasons why these duties should be pressed on the ungodly. The ungodly must be stopped from going further into sin and being more and more hardened, and these duties are the means appointed by God for their conversion. ...by God’s grace working in due time …
...According to Pelagianism, the preaching of God’s word [apart from the regenerating work of the Spirit] is quite sufficient as an outward means to bring a person to repentance and faith. The revelation made of God and his mind is quite sufficient to teach men all they need to believe and do, that they may be converted to God and begin to obey him. [in the Pelagian view] ...regeneration is the result of responding to the Word preached.
Yes the Word of God is powerfully persuasive in itself, but until born again, unregenerate men cannot and will not be persuaded by it. The unregenerate must be persuaded that these are not ‘cunningly devised fables’ (2 Pet 1:16). Things in Scripture are not just truths, but divine truths. These are things that ‘the mouth of the Lord has spoken’. And only when a person is born again will he believe that.
The unregenerate must be persuaded that the things preached are good, lovely and excellent. They must be persuaded that only faith in God can bring them to the height of all happiness. They must be persuaded of the sinful depravity of their souls and their utter inability to do any good acceptable to God without first being born against by His Spirit. All these truths are divine truths, and therefore the person hearing them must be convinced that they have been revealed by one who has divine authority. Not only must the mind be persuaded but also the heart must be activated to desire and the will heartily to embrace these things for salvation.
If the preaching of God’s Word is done with great eloquence and ability of speech, then men will be persuaded to repent and believe, say the Pelagians. But Paul utterly rejects this in his ministry. He says, “My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power’ (1 Cor 2:4).
...The real effectiveness of preaching does not lie in the clever oratorical ability of men, nor in the ability to back up the preaching by doing miracles. It lies in the following two things. Firstly, the preaching must have been instituted by God. He has appointed the preaching of his Word to be the only outward means for the conversion of the souls of men (1 Cor 1:17-20 Mark 16:15, 16; Rom 1:16). Secondly, the power that makes preaching effective in the hearts of men for their salvation is in God’s hands alone. To some, preaching is made effective for salvation, to others for damnation. God also gives his appointed preachers special spiritual gifts and abilities to preach his Word (Eph 4:11-13). So the power to persuade a person to repent and believe the gospel by preaching lies in the sovereign will of God.
The Pelagians and all who believe that sinners must first repent and believe before they are born again say that the only work the Holy Spirit does in preaching is to persuade by motives, arguments and reasons put to the natural unconverted mind, and that by these alone the sinner is convinced and persuaded to repent. The sinner therefore repents and believes of his own free will and choice.
But we have shown that the mind of man is so corrupt and depraved, that unless preaching is accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit in regeneration no sinner will be persuaded to repent and believe. The outward means of conversion then is the preaching of God’s Word. The inward work necessary to persuade men to respond to the preaching is regeneration, which is a transforming, not merely a persuading work done on the souls of men by the Holy Spirit....
If the Holy Spirit does nothing more than present reasons, arguments and motives to conversion, the will of the unregenerate person will remain unmoved. If it is up to the unregenerate first to repent and believe before the Holy Spirit will do his work of regeneration, then this denies salvation to be of the sovereign grace of God. It is indeed true that the will of the unregenerate can resist and refuse the gospel and the grace that accompanies its preaching. But it is false to say that God is unable to effect a work of grace in us that cannot be resisted and will infallibly lead to conversion. It is false to say that the only work of grace God can do in us is that which can be resisted and rejected. It is false to say that the will of the unregenerate can make use of that grace of God or not, as it chooses. It is false to say that the power of conversion lies alone with the sinner, and that God cannot regenerate the sinner and bring him to conversion without the sinner first giving his consent. This is Pelagianism.
These things are false because this gives all the glory of our regeneration and conversion to ourselves and not to the sovereign grace of God. It is false also because it leaves man to decide who will be in heaven and who will not. In spite of God’s purpose to save, and in spite of Christ’s incarnation and redemption, nobody could be saved and God would be frustrated and disappointed of his sovereign will and purpose.
These things are false because this teaching is contrary to Scripture, which tells us that conversion is from first to last dependent on God’s grace (Phil 2:13). God works in us to will our conversion, and by his sovereign power brings it about.
If regeneration is nothing more than persuading a person to be good, then no new, real, supernatural strength has been conferred on the soul, though prejudices may have been removed from the mind. According to this teaching, man has no need to such supernatural power, because he has been able by his own power, the power of his own will, to overcome his depraved, sinful, corrupt nature, remove all errors and prejudices from his mind and bring himself to such holiness of life as to make himself wholly acceptable to God. This is the power of free will which some have believed and taught. Such people deny that man must first be born again before he can do anything pleasing and acceptable to God.
Some teach that grace enlightens the mind, and that all man has to do is to choose the good which God’s grace has shown him, and then that grace will work along with his choosing and willing and so bring the soul to new birth. But all the grace of God is doing here is enlightening the mind, exciting the desires and helping the will, and this only by persuading the person to repent and believe. No real strength is imparted to the soul. The will is left perfectly free to cooperate with this grace or not, as it chooses. This also denies the whole grace of Christ and to make it of no use at all in salvation. It ascribes to man’s free will the honor for his conversion. It makes a man give birth to himself which is nonsense. It destroys the analogy between the work of the Holy Spirit in forming the natural body of Christ in the womb and the work of the Holy Spirit in the forming of his mystical body in regeneration. It makes the act of living to God by faith and obedience to be a mere natural human act and not the result of Christ’s mediation. It allows the Spirit of God no more power in regenerating us than is in a minister who preaches the Word or an orator who eloquently and feelingly persuades a person to turn from evil to doing good.
We do not pray to God for anything but for what he has promised to give us. Does anyone then pray that God would merely persuade him or others to believe and obey? Do people pray to be converted or to convert themselves? The church of God has always prayed that God would work these things in us. Those who are truly concerned for their souls pray that God will bring them to true repentance and faith, that he will graciously work these things in their hearts. They pray that he will give them faith for Christ’s sake and increase it in them and that he will work in them by the exceeding greatness of his power both to will and to do according to his good pleasure.
To think that by all these prayers, and with all those examples of prayer given in Scripture, we desire nothing more than that God would persuade, excite and stir us up to act by our own power and ability to bring about the answers to our prayers by our own efforts, is contrary to all Christian experience. For a man to pray with importunity, earnestness and with fervent zeal for that which he is quite able to do by himself, and which cannot be done except he will it to be done by his own free choice, is ridiculous. They mock God who pray to him to do for them what they can do for themselves. Suppose a man has ability to believe and repent. Suppose that his ability to believe and repent lies only in his free will and that God cannot by his grace work in him, but only persuade him to repent and believe, and to give him good reasons why he should do so, what would be the purpose of praying to God. Why ask God to give him faith and repentance?
It is because many believe that they have it in their own power to repent and believe when they so choose, that they think Christian prayers are useless and foolish. But it is as easy to persuade a person to regenerate himself by persuading himself to repent and believe as it is to persuade a blind man to see, or a lame man to walk normally or a dead man to rise from the grave. Conclusion: The work of regeneration is not the Holy Spirit [merely] persuading sinners to repent and believe.
How Regeneration is Accomplished
In regeneration a person the Holy Spirit makes use of the law and the gospel. There is not only a moral but also a direct nature-changing work of the Spirit on the minds or souls of men in regeneration. This is what we must hold on to, or all the glory of God’s grace is lost, and the grace which comes to us by Christ will be neglected. Paul tells us of this direct work of the Spirit: “That you may know ... what s the exceeding greatness of his power towards us who believe, according to the work of his mighty power which he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead’ (Eph 1:18:- 2). The power here mentioned has an exceeding greatness attributed to it, because by this power Christ was physically raised from the dead. Paul would have us know that the same mighty power which God worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead is the same mighty power which the Holy Spirit works when he raises us from spiritual death to spiritual life in regeneration. By this same mighty power we are kept by God to the day of salvation. It is because of his mighty power continually working in Christians that they are kept from ever falling away so as to be eternally lost.
...Where any work of grace begun in a person does not result in regeneration and the salvation of that person, it is because God never intended to regenerate that person, and so did not work that work in him. There is an important doctrinal principle to learn here. When the Holy Spirit intends to regenerate a person, he removes all obstacles, overcomes all resistance and opposition, and infallibly produces the result he intended.
...how can this be done without forcing and compelling the will? ..the work of regeneration is an internal work, transforming our very nature. This work of regeneration is not preached to the will and so it not resisted by the will, but it works effectively on the will, wonderfully renewing it. The will, in the first act of conversion, does not will or choose to act first and then is regenerated. Rather it is first renewed by regeneration and then it wills or chooses. The will lies passive or inert until roused by the Holy Spirit in regeneration. There is an inward, almighty, secret act of power producing or working in us the will to be converted to God. This act of power so works on our wills [affections] that we freely and gladly will what God wants us to will and choose, which is to do his will.
God Works in Us What He has Promised to Do
Before the work of grace the heart is ‘stony’. It can do no more than a stone to please God. A stony heart is obstinate and stubborn. But God says that he will take away this stony heart (Ezek 11:19). He does not say he will try and take it away, or give us some power so that we can take it away ourselves, but that he will take it away. When God says he will take it away, he means that he will infallibly take it away and that noting can stop him taking it away. He promises to give us a new heart and a new spirit (Ezek 36:26).
There is an 'eye' in the understanding of man. This eye is the ability to see spiritual things. It is sometimes said to be blind, darkness, shut. By these descriptions we are taught that the natural mind cannot know God personally for salvation, and nor can it see, that is, discern spiritual things. It is the work of the Spirit of grace to open this eye (luke 4:18, Acts 26:18). He does this, firstly, by giving us the spirit of wisdom and revelation. Secondly, he gives us a heart to know him (Jer 24:7).
We are enabled to obey God firstly by an inward, spiritual, ruling principle of grace ... by virtue of the life and death of Jesus Christ according to the terms of the new covenant... by which God writes his laws in our hearts and enables us to obey them by the Holy Spirit.
Excerpt from The Holy Spirit by John Owen Banner of Truth Trust
Thursday, June 5, 2008
by R.C. Sproul
Without the presence of the Spirit there is no conviction, no regeneration, no sanctification, no cleansing, no acceptable works . . . Life is in the quickening Spirit. — W A. CRISWELL
BIRTH and rebirth. Both are the result of the operation of the Holy Spirit. Just as nothing can live biologically apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, so no man can come alive to God apart from the Spirit’s work
In His discourse with Nicodemus, Jesus said this about the Holy Spirit:
Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3)
To be “born again” is to experience a second genesis. It is a new beginning, a fresh start in life. When something is started, we say that it is generated. If it is started again, it is regenerated. The Greek verb geniauo that is translated as “generate” means “to be,” “to become,” or “to happen.” Regeneration by the Holy Spirit is a change. It is a radical change into a new kind of being.
To be regenerated does not mean that we are changed from a human being into a divine being. It does mean that we are changed from spiritually dead human beings into spiritually alive human beings.
Spiritually dead persons are incapable of seeing the kingdom of God. It is invisible to them, not because the kingdom itself is invisible, but because the spiritually dead are also spiritually blind.
REGENERATION AS NECESSARY
When Jesus uses the word unless in speaking to Nicodemus, He is stating what we call a necessary condition. A necessary condition is an absolute prerequisite for a desired result to take place. We cannot have fire without the presence of oxygen because oxygen is a necessary condition for fire.
In the jargon of Christianity people speak of “born again” Christians. Technically speaking, this phrase is redundant. If a person is not born again, if he is not regenerate, then he is not a Christian. He may be a member of a Christian church. He may profess to be a Christian. But unless a person is regenerate, he is not in Christ, and Christ is not in him.
The word unless makes regeneration a sine qua non of salvation. No regeneration, no eternal life. Without regeneration a person can neither see the kingdom nor enter the kingdom.
When Nicodemus was puzzled by Jesus’ teaching he replied:
How can a man be born when be is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born? (John 3:4)
Nicodemus’s response almost seems like an attempt to ridicule Jesus’ teaching. In crass terms he suggests that Jesus must mean that a fully grown person must attempt the impossible task of returning to his mother’s womb.
Nicodemus failed to distinguish biological birth from spiritual birth. He didn’t differentiate between flesh and spirit. Jesus answered his response by saying,
Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of the water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again.” (John 3:5-7)
Again Jesus prefaces His words by saying, “Most assuredly, I say to you . . .” The “most assuredly”— the Hebrew amen, carried over into the New Testament — indicates strong emphasis. That is, when Jesus spoke of regeneration as a necessary condition for seeing and entering the kingdom of God, he stated this necessary condition emphatically. To argue against the need of rebirth to be a Christian, as many of our contemporaries frequently do, is to stand in clear opposition to the emphatic teaching of Christ.
The word cannot is also crucial to Jesus’ teaching. It is a negative word that deals with ability or possibility. Without regeneration no one (universal negative) is able to enter the kingdom of God. There are no exceptions. It is impossible to enter God’s kingdom without a rebirth.
No one is born a Christian. No one is born biologically into the kingdom of God. The first birth is one that is of the flesh. Flesh begets flesh. It cannot produce spirit.
Later in John’s Gospel, Jesus adds this comment:
It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. (John 6:2 3)
When Martin Luther was debating whether fallen man is utterly dependent upon the Holy Spirit for regeneration, he cited this text and added: “The flesh profits nothing. And that ‘nothing’ is not a ‘little something.’”
The flesh is not merely weak with respect to the power of rebirth. It is utterly impotent. It has no power whatever to effect rebirth. It cannot aid or enhance the Spirit’s work. All that the flesh yields is more flesh. It cannot yield an ounce of Spirit. The nothing is not a little something.
Finally Jesus says, “You must be born again.” If there is the slightest ambiguity with the use of the conditional word unless, the ambiguity completely evaporates with the word must.
REGENERATION IN EPHESIANS
In his Letter to the Ephesians the apostle Paul speaks of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit:
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved). (Ephesians 2:1-5)
Paul provides a graphic description of our spiritual impotence prior to regeneration. He is addressing the Ephesian believers and describing a prior condition in which they all once shared. He adds the phrase “just as the others” (2:3), presumably referring to the whole of mankind.
He declares that this prior condition was a state of death: “You were dead in trespasses and sins.” Again, this death is obviously not a biological death, as he enumerates activities that these dead, persons were involved in.
The characteristic behavioral mode of people dead in trespasses and sins is described in terms of walking a particular course. He calls it the “course of this world” (2:1-2). Here the course of this world obviously refers to a course or pattern that is opposed to the course of heaven. The words this world refer not so much to a location as to a style or a point of reference. It involves a this-worldly orientation.
Christians and non-Christians alike share the same sphere of operations. We all live out our lives in this world. The regenerate person’s course, however, is guided from above. He has his eye on heaven and his ear attuned to the King of heaven. The unregenerate person is earthbound. His ear is deaf to any word from heaven; his eye is blinded to the glory from on high. He lives as a walking cadaver in a spiritual graveyard.
The course of this world is “out of the way” of God (Romans 3:12). Rather, it follows a path that is “according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2).
The spiritually dead have a master. Their master sets a course for them that they willingly — even eagerly — follow. This master is called the “prince of the power of the air.” This sobriquet of royalty can only refer to Satan, the chief architect of all things diabolical. Paul calls him “the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.” Satan is an evil spirit, a corrupt and fallen angel who exercises influence and authority over his captive hordes.
Paul sets forth a principle of life. We either walk according to the Holy Spirit or we walk according to the evil spirit. Augustine once compared man to a horse who is either ridden by Satan or by the Spirit of God.
Paul continues his vivid description of the regenerate person’s prior unregenerate lifestyle:
Among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind. (2:3)
The attention now shifts away from the external course and the external influence of Satan to the internal state of the unregenerate person. Again we see this as a universal condition: “Among whom also we all once conducted ourselves . . .” The key descriptive word of this previous internal condition is the word flesh. Here Paul echoes the language Jesus used with Nicodemus.
The word flesh here must not be understood as a synonym for “physical body.” Our bodies per se are not evil, since God made us as physical beings and became a human being Himself. The flesh refers to the sin nature, the entire fallen character of man.
Prior to regeneration we live exclusively in the flesh and by the flesh. Our conduct follows after the lusts of the flesh. That refers not exclusively to physical or sexual appetites but to a pattern of all sinful desires.
Paul caps this universal indictment of our fallen style by adding: “And were by nature children of wrath, just as the others” (2:3). When Paul speaks of “by nature,” he refers to our state in which we enter this world. Biological birth is natural birth. Regeneration is a supernatural birth. Men were not originally created as children of wrath. Original nature was not fallen. Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve, however, the word natural refers to our state of innate sinfulness.
Every child who enters this world enters it in a corrupt state. David declared, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). We are all spiritually stillborn. We are born dead in trespasses and sin. In theology we call this inherent sinful condition original sin. Original sin does not refer to the first sin of Adam and Eve; it refers to the consequences of that first sin, with the transmission of a corrupt nature to the entire human race.
We are by nature “children of wrath.” How different this sounds from the socially acceptable notion that we are all naturally the children of God! This misguided idea is both longstanding and widespread. It is a falsehood that gains credibility by its frequent repetition. If you repeat a lie often enough, people will begin to believe it.
The lie of saying that we are by nature children of God was a lie that distressed Jesus. He was forced to combat it and refute it in His debates with the Pharisees. The Pharisees raged under Jesus’ criticism and said,
“We were not born of fornication; we have one Father — God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself but He sent Me. Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. . . . He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore, you do not hear, because you are not of God. (John 8:41-47)
Although the Bible acknowledges that God is the Father of all men in the sense of His being the Creator of all men, there is a special sense in which the Fatherhood of God is defined not in terms of biology but in terms of ethics. Obedience is the operative word. In the biblical view, our father is the one we obey. The relationship is established not by biological ties, but by willing obedience.
Since the Pharisees obeyed Satan rather than God, Jesus said of them, “You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44).
In Ephesians 2 Paul speaks both of “children of wrath” (v. 3) and “sons of disobedience” (v. 2).
These When Paul completes his description of our unregenerate state, he moves abruptly and gloriously into a doxology that praises God for His mercy. The transitional word is the single word upon which our eternal destinies depend. It is perhaps the most glorious word in Scripture, the single word that crystallizes the essence of the Gospel. It is the word but. This tiny conjunction shifts the mood of the entire passage. It is the link between the natural and the supernatural, between degeneration and regeneration:
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:4-10)
THE DIVINE INITIATIVE
Regeneration is the sovereign work of God the Holy Spirit. The initiative is with Him, not with ourselves. We notice that the accent with Paul falls on the work of God, not on the effort of man:
But God, who is rich in mercy . . .
We observe that the Apostle does not write:
But man, out of his goodness, inclines himself to God and raises himself to a new spiritual level.
One of the most dramatic moments in my life for the shaping of my theology took place in a seminary classroom.
One of my professors went to the blackboard and wrote these words in bold letters:
REGENERATION PRECEDES FAITH
These words were a shock to my system. I had entered seminary believing that the key work of man to effect rebirth was faith. I thought that we first had to believe in Christ in order to be born again. I use the words in order here for a reason. I was thinking in terms of steps that must be taken in a certain sequence to arrive at a destination. I had put faith at the beginning of the sequence. The order looked something like this:
In this scheme of things the initiative falls with us. To be sure, God had sent Jesus to die on the cross before I ever heard the gospel. But once God had done these things external to me, I thought the initiative for appropriating salvation was my job.
I hadn’t thought the matter through very carefully. Nor had I listened carefully to Jesus’ words to Nicodemus. I assumed that even though I was a sinner, a person born of the flesh and living in the flesh, I still had a little island of righteousness, a tiny deposit of spiritual power left within my soul to enable me to respond to the gospel on my own.
Perhaps I had been confused by the traditional teaching of the Roman Catholic church. Rome, and many other branches of Christendom, had taught that regeneration is gracious; it cannot happen apart from the help of God. No man has the power to raise himself from spiritual death. Divine assistance is needed and needed absolutely. This grace, according to Rome, comes in the form of what is called prevenient grace. “Prevenient” means that which comes before something else.
Rome adds to this prevenient grace the requirement that we must “cooperate with it and assent to it” before it can take hold in our hearts.
This concept of cooperation is at best a half-truth. It is true insofar that the faith that we exercise is our faith. God does not do the believing in Christ for us. When I respond to Christ, it is my response, my faith, my trust that is being exercised.
The issue, however, goes much deeper. The question still remains: Do I cooperate with God’s grace before I am born again, or does the cooperation occur after I am born again?
Another way of asking this question is to ask if regeneration is monergistic or synergistic. Is it operative or cooperative? Is it effectual or dependent? Some of these words are theological terms that require further explanation.
MONERGISM AND SYNERGISM
A monergistic work is a work produced singly, by one person. The prefix mono- means one. The word erg refers to a unit of work. Words like energy are built upon this root. A synergistic work is one that involves cooperation between two or more persons or things. The prefix syn- means “together with.”
I labor this distinction for a reason. It is fair to say that the whole debate between Rome and Martin Luther hung on this single point. At issue was this: Is regeneration a monergistic work of God, or is it a synergistic work that requires cooperation between man and God?
When my professor wrote, “Regeneration precedes faith” on the blackboard, he was clearly siding with the monergistic answer. To be sure, after a person is regenerated, that person cooperates by exercising faith and trust. But the first step, the step of regeneration by which a person is quickened to spiritual life, is the work of God and of God alone. The initiative is with God, not with us.
The reason we do not cooperate with regenerating grace before it acts upon us and in us is because we cannot. We cannot because we are spiritually, dead. We can no more assist the Holy Spirit in the quickening of our souls to spiritual life than Lazarus could help Jesus raise him from the dead.
It is probably true that the majority of professing Christians in the world today believe that the order of our salvation is this: Faith precedes regeneration. We are exhorted to choose to be born again. But telling a man to choose rebirth is like exhorting a corpse to choose resurrection. The exhortation falls upon deaf ears.
When I began to wrestle with the professor’s argument, I was surprised to learn that his strange-sounding teaching was not a novel innovation to theology. I found the same teaching in Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and George Whitefield. I was astonished to find it even in the teaching of the great medieval Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas.
That these giants of Christian history reached the same conclusion on this point made a tremendous impact on me. I was aware that they were neither individually nor collectively infallible. Each and all of them could be mistaken. But I was impressed. I was especially impressed by Thomas Aquinas.
Thomas Aquinas is regarded as the Doctor Angelicus of the Roman Catholic church. For centuries his theological teaching was accepted as official dogma by most Catholics. So he was the last person I expected to hold such a view of regeneration. Yet Aquinas insisted that regenerating grace is operative grace, not cooperative grace. Aquinas spoke of prevenient grace, but he spoke of a grace that comes before faith, which is the grace of regeneration.
The key phrase in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians on this matter is this:
even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved). (Ephesians 2:5)
Here Paul locates the time when regeneration occurs. It takes place when we were dead. With one thunderbolt of apostolic revelation all attempts to give the initiative in regeneration to man is smashed utterly and completely. Again, dead men. do not cooperate with grace. The spiritually dead take no initiative. Unless regeneration takes place first, there is no possibility of faith.
This says nothing different from what Jesus said to Nicodemus. Unless a man is born again first, he cannot possibly see or enter the kingdom of God. If we believe that faith precedes regeneration, then we set our thinking and therefore ourselves in direct opposition not only to Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, and others, but we stand opposed to the teaching of Paul and of our Lord Himself.
REGENERATION IS GRACIOUS
In Paul’s exposition of regeneration there is a strong accent on grace. It is necessary that Christians of all theological persuasions acknowledge willingly and joyfully that our salvation rests upon the foundation of grace.
During the Reformation the Protestants used two Latin phrases as battle cries: sola scriptura (Scripture alone) and so/a fide (faith alone). They insisted that the supreme authority in the church under Christ is the Bible alone. They insisted that justification was by faith alone. Now Rome did not deny that the Bible has authority; it was the sola they choked on. Rome did not deny that justification involves faith; it was the sola that provoked them to condemn Luther.
There was a third battle cry during the Reformation. It was originally penned by Augustine more than a thousand years before Luther. It was the phrase sola gratia. This phrase asserts that our salvation rests on the grace of God alone. There is no mixture of human merit with it. Salvation is not a human achievement; it is a gracious gift of God. This formula is compromised by a synergistic view of regeneration.
It is not by accident that Paul adds to his teaching on regeneration that it is a gracious work of God. Let us look at it again:
But God who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) . . . that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:4-10)
Have you ever second-guessed the Bible? I certainly have, to my great shame. I have often wondered, in the midst of theological disagreements, why the Bible does not speak more clearly on certain issues. Why, for example, doesn’t the New Testament come right out and say we should or we shouldn’t baptize infants?
On many such questions we are left to decide on the basis of inferences drawn from the Bible. When I am bewildered by such disagreements, I usually come back to this point: The trouble lies not with the Bible’s lack of clarity; it lies with my lack of clear thinking about what the Bible teaches.
When it comes to regeneration and faith I wonder how Paul could have made it any more clear. I suppose he could have added the words to Ephesians 2, “Regeneration precedes faith.” However, I honestly think that even that phrase wouldn’t end the debate. There’s nothing in that phrase that isn’t already clearly spelled out by Paul in this text or by Jesus in John 3.
Why then, all the fuss? My guess is that it is because if we conclude that regeneration is by divine initiative, that regeneration is monergistic, that salvation is by grace alone, we cannot escape the glaring implication that leads us quickly and irresistibly to sovereign election.
As soon as the doctrine of election comes to the fore, there is a mad scramble to find a way to get faith in there before regeneration. In spite of all these attending difficulties, we meet the Apostle’s teaching headon:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Here the Apostle teaches that the faith through which we are saved is a faith that comes to us by grace. Our faith is something we exercise by ourselves and in ourselves, but it is not of ourselves. It is a gift. It is not an achievement.
With the graciousness of the gift of faith as a fruit of regeneration, all boasting is excluded forever, save in the boasting of the exceeding riches of God’s mercy. All man-centered views of salvation are excluded if we retain the sola in so/a gratia. Therefore we ought never to grieve the Holy Spirit by taking credit to ourselves that belongs exclusively to Him.
REGENERATION IS EFFECTUAL
Within traditional forms of Arminian theology there are those who agree that regeneration precedes faith but insist that it doesn’t always or necessarily produce faith. This view agrees that the initiative is with God; it is by grace, and regeneration is monergistic. The view is usually tied to some type of view of universal regeneration.
This idea is linked to the cross. It is argued by some that one of the universal benefits of the atonement of Christ is that all people are regenerated to the point that faith is now possible. The cross rescues all men from spiritual death in that now we have the power to cooperate or not cooperate with the offer of saving grace. Those who cooperate by exercising faith are justified. Those who do not exercise faith are born again but not converted. They are spiritually quickened and spiritually alive but remain in unbelief. Now they are able to see the kingdom and have the moral power to enter the kingdom, but they choose not to.
I call this view one of ineffectual or dependent grace. It is close to what Thomas Aquinas rejected as cooperative grace.
When I maintain that regeneration is effectual, I mean that it accomplishes its desired goal. It is effective. It gets the job done. We are made alive into faith. The gift is of faith which is truly given and takes root in our hearts.
Sometimes the phrase effectual calling is used as a synonym for regeneration. The word calling refers to something that happens inside of us, as distinguished from something that occurs outside of us.
When the gospel is preached audibly, sounds are emitted from the preacher’s mouth. There is an outward call to faith and repentance. Anyone who is not deaf is capable of hearing the words with his ears. These words strike the auditory nerves of the regenerate and the unregenerate alike.
The unregenerate experience the outward call of the gospel. This outward call will not effect salvation unless the call is heard and embraced in faith. Effectual calling refers to the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration. Here the call is within. The regenerate are called inwardly. Everyone who receives the inward call of regeneration responds in faith. Paul says this:
Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (Romans 8:30)
This passage in Romans is elliptical. That is, it requires that we supply a word to it that is assumed by the text but not explicitly stated. The big question is, Which word do we supply—some or all? Let us try some:
Moreover, some whom He predestined, these He also called; some whom He called, these He also justified; and some whom He justified, these He also glorified.
To add the word some here is to torture the text. It would mean that some of the predestined never hear the call of the gospel. Some who are called never come to faith and justification. Some of the justified fail to be glorified. In this schema not only would calling not be effectual, but neither would predestination nor justification be effectual.
The implication of this text is that all who are predestined are likewise called. All who are called are justified, and all who are justified are glorified.
If that is the case, then we must distinguish between the outward call of the gospel, which may or may not be heeded, and the inward call of the Spirit, which is necessarily effectual. Why? If all the called are also justified, then all the called must exercise faith. Obviously not everyone who hears the external call of the gospel comes to faith and justification. But all who are effectually called do come to faith and justification. Here the call refers to the inward work of the Holy Spirit that is tied to regeneration.
Those whom the Holy Spirit makes alive most assuredly come to life. They see the kingdom; they embrace the kingdom; they enter the kingdom.
It is to the Holy Spirit of God that we are debtors for the grace of regeneration and faith. He is the Gift-giver, who while we were dead made us alive with Christ, to Christ, and in Christ. It is because of the Holy Spirit’s merciful act of quickening that we sing sola gratia and soli deo gloria — to the glory of God alone.
Dr. R.C. Sproul, theologian, minister, teacher, is the chairman of the board of Ligonier Ministeries. A graduate of Westminster College, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and the Free University of Amsterdam. Dr. Sproul is currently professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and the director emeritus of Prison Fellowship, Inc. His many books include, Pleasing God, The Holiness of God, Chosen by God, The Mystery of the Holy Spirit, The Soul’s Quest for God, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, The Glory of Christ, and If There’s a God, Why are there Atheists?
This article is taken from Dr. Sproul's book, The Mystery of the Holy Spirit (Tyndale House: Wheaton, 1979).