Home > Systematic Theology > Duty of Gratitude for Divine Grace: Blessings of Grace: Regeneration- Book Seventh- Chapter 3- Section 4

Duty of Gratitude for Divine Grace: Blessings of Grace: Regeneration- Book Seventh- Chapter 3- Section 4

Book Seventh

CHAPTER III.

SECTION IV.–REGENERATION.

IN ALL WHO ARE FINALLY SAVED, THE HOLY SPIRIT PRODUCES A GREAT MORAL CHANGE, BY WHICH THEY BECOME INCLINED TO HOLINESS.[121]

In our natural state we are totally depraved. No inclination to holiness exists in the carnal heart; and no holy act can be performed, or service to God rendered, until the heart is changed. This change, it is the office of the Holy Spirit to effect. Pardon, justification, and adoption, are changes in a man’s condition; but if no other change were wrought, the man would remain a slave to sin, and unfit for the service and enjoyment of God. Grace, therefore, does not stop with a mere change of condition, but it effects also that change in the character, without which the individual could not participate in the holy enjoyments of heaven, or be fitted for the society of the blessed.

Various forms of expression are employed in the Scriptures, to denote the change of heart; and they signify it with various shades of meaning.. It is taking away the heart of stone, and giving a heart of flesh;[122] giving a new heart;[123] putting the law in the heart;[124] quickening or making alive;[125] a resurrection from the dead; an illumination;[126] a conversion, or turning back to God.[127] So great is the change produced, that the subject of it is called a new creature,[128] as if proceeding, like Adam, directly from the creating hand of God; and he is said to be renewed,[129] as being restored to the image of God, in which man was originally formed. With reference to the mode in which the descendants of Adam come into the world, the change is denominated regeneration;[130] and the subjects of it are said to be born again.[131]

The change is moral. The body is unchanged; and the identity of the mind is not destroyed. The individual is conscious of being the same person that he was before; but a new direction is given to the active powers of the mind, and new affections are brought into exercise. The love of God is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost.[132] No love to God had previously existed there; for the carnal heart is enmity against God. Love is the fulfilling of the law, the principle of all holy obedience; and when love is produced in the heart, the law of God is written there. As a new principle of action, inciting to a new mode of life, it renders the man a new creature. The production of love in the heart by the Holy Spirit, is the regeneration, or the new birth; for “he that loveth, is born of God.”[133]

The mode in which the Holy Spirit effects this change, is beyond our investigation. All God’s ways are unsearchable; and we might as well attempt to explain how he created the world, as how he new-creates the soul. With reference to this subject, the Saviour said, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, or whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”[134] We know, from the Holy Scriptures, that God employs his truth in the regeneration of the soul. “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth.”[135] Love to God necessarily implies knowledge of God, and this knowledge it is the province of truth to impart. But knowledge is not always connected with love. The devils know, but do not love; and wicked men delight not to retain the knowledge of God,[136] because their knowledge of him is not connected with love. The mere presentation of the truth to the mind, is not all that is needed, in producing love to God in the heart. What accompanying influence the Holy Spirit uses, to render the word effectual, we cannot explain: but Paul refers to it, when he says, “Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost.”[137]–“but in the demonstration of the Spirit, and with power.”[138]

The term regeneration is sometimes used in a comprehensive sense, as including the whole formation of the Christian character. At other times it is used for the first production of divine love in the heart. In the latter sense, the work is instantaneous. There is a moment known only to God, when the first holy affection exists in the soul. Truth may enter gradually, and may excite strong affections in the mind, and may for a time increase the hatred of God which naturally reigns in the heart. So Paul says, “Sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence.”[139] But, in his own time and manner, God, the Holy Spirit, makes the word effectual in producing a new affection in the soul: and, when the first movement of love to God exists, the first throb of spiritual life commences.

Faith is necessary to the Christian character; and must therefore precede regeneration, when this is understood in its widest sense. Even in the restricted sense, in which it denotes the beginning of the spiritual life, faith, in the sense in which James[140] uses the term, may precede. But a faith which exists before the beginning of spiritual life, cannot be a living faith. Yet some have maintained that faith produces love. This opinion is of sufficient importance to demand a careful consideration.

The power of faith over the actions, the conscience, and the affections of the heart, every one must admit. Confidence place in a treacherous man, has often led to a course of action ruinous in its effects on the condition and character. A belief in false principles of morality blinds the conscience, and causes it to approve the wrong, and condemn the right. We may love or hate an individual, under a mistaken view of his character; and our affection towards him may be completely changed, by a better acquaintance with him. Now, it may be asked, does not dislike of God proceed from a wrong view of his character, and will not a true knowledge of him infallibly produce love?

That hatred of God, and a wrong view of his character, accompany each other, no one can deny; but which of these produces the other, ought not to be assumed without investigation. We readily judge well concerning those whom we love, and ill concerning those whom we dislike. Men’s interests pervert their judgments. In a deliberative assembly, parties are formed, according to the interests of individuals; and man take sides according to the circumstances which influence the heart. In these cases, the affections control the faith. The affections and faith mutually influence each other, and if either be wrong, the other cannot be perfectly right. The enmity to God which rules in the hearts of unregenerate men, renders their view of this character incorrect. A perfectly correct view cannot co-exist with enmity to him: and yet it does not follow that love to him may be produced, by giving right views of his character.

Some have maintained the opinion that a revelation of God’s love to us is sufficient to produce love to him. That it ought to do so, cannot be denied; and in a heart under no evil bias, it would produce this effect. We may rather say, that a heart in which no evil bias exists, will love God, on receiving a revelation of his general character, without waiting for evidence of special favor. If our love to God proceeds from a belief that he loves us in particular, it is merely a modification of self-love. Such love has no moral excellence in it; for “sinners love those that love them.”[141] Some have supposed, that the faith of devils differs from the faith of Christians in the circumstance, that it sees in God no manifestation of love towards them, and therefore can produce no love in their hearts towards God. But this opinion regards the faith which distinguishes the people of God, and purifies their hearts, as possessing no moral excellence in its nature. The circumstances in which it is exercised, do not make its nature better. If it may consist with perfect hatred to God, it cannot have moral excellence in itself, or tend to produce moral purity.

An inspired writer has said, “We love him, because he first loved us:”[142] but these words do not teach, that our love to God originates in the conviction that we are the favorites of his love. The love of God towards us, operates both as an efficient, and as a motive. 1. As an efficient cause. “For his great love where with he loved us,[143] when we were dead in sin, hath quickened us together with Christ.” Here is an operation entirely distinct from that of mere motive. The dead body of Christ in the grave, was quickened by the Spirit; and a like power quickens the dead soul. “We believe according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead.”[144] Here faith itself is ascribed to this divine operation. All this operation proceeds from God’s great love wherewith he hath loved us. It is plain, therefore, that this love operates as an efficient cause, before it operates as a motive to holiness. It cannot operate as a motive without faith; and faith is produced by its efficient power. After this efficiency has quickened the dead soul, the love of God towards us then operates. 2. As a motive. The goodness of God leads to repentance, and every attribute and act of God has a tendency to call forth the love of the heart, when in the right state. Nothing so effectually melts the heart, as a view of God’s great love towards us, while we were yet sinners: and of Christ’s love in giving himself for us: but many a heart has felt this melting influence, without having in view the personal benefit to be received from this love. Our love to God does not produce a disregard to our own happiness, but it rises above the consideration of it. It is, therefore, not a modification of self-love.

This divine operation, which is additional to the motive power of truth, proceeds from what has been called the direct influence of the Spirit. Truth, as contained in the Holy Scriptures, is a revelation from the Holy Spirit; and as men’s words, whether spoken or written, have an influence on the minds of other men, so the words of the Holy Spirit have an influence on the minds of all who read the Bible, or hear the gospel preached. In this indirect way, the Holy Spirit operates on men’s minds, as the author of a book operates on all who read his work. But this indirect influence is by means of truth as a motive power; and no mere motive, operating on the sinner’s heart, can induce him to love God for his own sake. While self-love rules in the mind, all motives derive their power from their relation to the ruling principle; and cannot, therefore, establish a higher principle of action. This change, by which true love to God is produced, results from the direct influence of the Holy Spirit, accompanying his word, and making it effectual. It was this direct influence which rendered the word so effectual on the day of Pentecost,[145] which opened Lydia’s heart,[146] so that she attended to the things that were spoken by Paul;–which gave the increase when Paul planted, and Apollos watered,[147]–and which has ever brought the word to the heart, in demonstration of the Spirit, and with power.[148]

The doctrine of the Holy Spirit’s direct influence, is a fundamental truth of the gospel dispensation. That Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, and completed the great work for which he assumed our nature, is a truth that lies at the foundation of Christianity. The gospel reveals to us the Spirit as well as the Son. When about to leave the world, Jesus promised another comforter, who should dwell with his disciples for ever. The Holy Spirit, as God, had always been in the world: but he was now to be present by a peculiar manifestation and operation. This manifestation and operation attended the ministry of the Word on the day of Pentecost, and the gospel has always been the sword of the Spirit,[149] the instrument with which he operates in the fulfilment of his office for which he has come into the world, in answer to the prayer of Christ.

The experience of mankind, before the coming of Christ, prepared the way for the introduction of his religion. The wise men of the world had sought to know God, but their laborious research had been ineffectual. Some other means of knowledge was, by their failure, proved to be necessary: “After that in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”[150] While an experiment was made in the heathen world, demonstrating the necessity of revelation, another was in progress among the people of Israel, under the Mosaic dispensation, demonstrating the inefficiency of revelation, unless accompanied by direct influence of the Holy Spirit. The Israelites had this great advantage over the heathen world, that to them were committed the oracles of God.[151] The Scriptures, given by inspiration from God, were in their possession: and God spoke to them at sundry times and in divers manners, by prophets whom he raised up among them, and inspired to declare his will. That these prophets, with their burdens of divine messages, might arrive in due time, God represents himself as rising up early and sending them.[152] So abundant were the means of religious knowledge granted them, that God said, “What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?”[153] Yet, with all this advantage, they turned away from the God of Israel, and provoked him to anger. Another influence was needed, to produce love and obedience to God. Hence it was said, by the prophet Jeremiah, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will perform that good thing which I have promised unto the house of Israel, and to the house of Judah.”[154] This new covenant is explained in the Epistle to the Hebrews,[155] to be the spiritual dispensation of the gospel. Its grand peculiarity is, that the law of God is written in the heart. The Israelites had the revelation from God written on stone and parchment, but it was not in their hearts; and an new divine influence was promised by the prophet, and the promise has been fulfilled in the direct influence of the Holy Spirit, the gift of which characterizes the gospel dispensation as the ministration of the Spirit.[156] The saints of God, under the former dispensation, received this influence of the Holy Spirit, and to them also was the gospel preached.[157] The privileges and blessings of the future dispensation, were, by anticipation, bestowed on them; and the Christ to come was made their Saviour, as if he had already appeared and fulfilled his work. But the abundant influence of the Holy Spirit was reserved for the times following the ascension of Christ, and from that day he dwells in the Church, and makes the bodies of believers his temple. This peculiar presence implies the peculiar influence by which the truth is put into the heart; that is, by which men are made to love the truth. The whole Mosaic dispensation was an experiment, demonstrating the necessity of this peculiar influence. That covenant did not promise this blessing, and God found fault with it, because it did not secure the obedience of his people. The experiment was made, in his wisdom, not for his information, but for our benefit; and, by the failure of that covenant, we are enabled better to estimate the value of the blessing that distinguished the covenant founded on better promises.

That philosophy which shuts God out of his creation, and substitutes laws of nature for his ever-present influence and operation, stands ready to deny the doctrine of the Holy Spirit’s direct influence. It admits not the possibility of any influence, but that which the means employed naturally tend to produce. But means have not natural efficiency apart from the will of God. By the will of God, the truth has its regenerating and sanctifying power; for he works in us to will and to do, according to his pleasure.[158] It belongs to the Holy Spirit, in the economy of grace, to produce divine life in the soul, as he brooded over the face of the waters, at creation, reducing the chaotic mass to order, and filling it with life. He is pleased to work with means; and he employs the truth as his instrument of operation. This instrument he wields at his pleasure, and he renders it effectual by his divine power: “My word shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”[159] By the ordinary providence of God, the Bible operates in the world, and influences the minds of men: but this providence equally existed in the former dispensation, in which the oracles of God were possessed by the Israelites, but held by them in unrighteousness. An influence above the ordinary providence of God is needed, to the regeneration of the soul. The coming of Christ into the world, and the coming and abiding of the Holy Spirit, belong to a dispensation which is above the ordinary providence of God. Into this new economy we are ushered, when we are translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. Here we recognise both the Son and the Spirit, as specially given of God. It is contrary to the faith of the gospel to regard Christ and his redeeming work, as things of God’s ordinary providence; and it is equally contrary to faith to consider the Spirit and his work in the heart as merely natural influence of the truth on the heart.

[121] John iii. 5, 6; Ezek. xi. 19; xxxvi. 26, 27; xxxvii. 14; Tit. iii. 5; James i. 18; 2 Cor. v. 17; 1 John iv. 8.

[122] Ezek. xxxvi. 26.

[123] Ezek. xviii. 31.

[124] Heb. viii. 10.

[125] John vi. 63; Eph. ii. 1; Rom. vi. 11, 13.

[126] Heb. x. 32.

[127] Ps. li. 13; Matt. xviii. 3; Ps. xxv. 16; Isaiah lix. 20.

[128] 2 Cor. v. 17; Gal. vi. 15.

[129] Col. iii. 10; Rom. xii. 2; Tit. iii. 5.

[130] Tit. iii. 5.

[131] John iii. 3, 7; 1 Pet. i. 23.

[132] Rom. v. 5.

[133] 1 John iv. 7.

[134] John iii. 8.

[135] James i. 18.

[136] Rom. i. 28.

[137] 1 Thess. i. 5.

[138] 1 Cor. ii. 4.

[139] Rom. vii. 8.

[140] James ii. 17.

[141] Luke vi. 32.

[142] 1 John iv. 19.

[143] Eph. ii. 4, 5.

[144] Eph. i. 19, 20.

[145] Acts ii.

[146] Acts xvi.

[147] 1 Cor. iii.

[148] 1 Cor. ii. 4.

[149] Eph. vi. 17.

[150] 1 Cor. i. 21.

[151] Rom. iii. 2.

[152] Jer. xxxii. 33.

[153] Isaiah v. 5.

[154] Jer. xxxiii. 14.

[155] Heb. viii.

[156] 2 Cor. iii. 8.

[157] Heb. iv. 2; Gal. iii. 8.

[158] Phil. ii. 13.

[159] Isaiah lv. 11.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology

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