« Prev 5. Proof of the Doctrine. Next »

§ 5. Proof of the Doctrine.

Common Consent.

1. The first argument in proof of the Augustinian doctrine of efficacious grace, is drawn from common consent. All the great truths of the Bible are impressed on the convictions of the people of God; and find expression in unmistakable language. This is done in despite of the theologians, who often ignore or reject these truths in their formal teachings. There are in fact but two views on this subject. According to the one, regeneration is the effect of the mighty power of God; according to the other, it is the result of moral suasion. This latter may be understood to be nothing more than what the moral truths of the Bible are in virtue of their nature adapted to produce on the minds of men. Or, it may characterize the nature of the Spirit’s influence as analogous to that by which one man convinces or persuades another. It is from its nature one which may be effectually resisted. All those, therefore, who hold to this theory of moral suasion, in either of its forms, teach that this influence is effectual or not, according to the determination of the subject. One chooses to yield, and another chooses to refuse. Every man may do either. Now, infants are confessedly incapable of moral suasion. Infants, therefore, cannot be the subjects of regeneration, if regeneration be effected by a process of rational persuasion and conviction. But, according to the faith of the Church Universal, infants may be renewed by the Holy Ghost, and must be thus born of the Spirit, in order to enter the kingdom of God. It therefore follows that the faith, the in-wrought conviction of the Church, the aggregate body of God’s true and professing people, is against the doctrine of moral suasion, and in favour of the doctrine that regeneration is effected by the immediate almighty power of the Spirit. There is no possibility of its operating, in the case of infants, mediately through the truth as apprehended by the reason. It is hard to see how this argument is to be evaded. Those who are consistent and sufficiently independent, admit its force, and rather than give up their theory, deny the possibility of infant regeneration. But even this does not much 690help the matter. A place outside of the faith of the universal Church is a very unpleasant position. It is, moreover, unsafe and untenable. The whole Church, led and taught by the Spirit of Truth, cannot be wrong, and the metaphysicians and theorists alone right. The error of the Papists as to the authority of the Church as a teacher, was twofold: first, in rendering it paramount to the Scriptures; and secondly, in understanding by the Church, not the body of Christ filled by his Spirit, but the mass of unconverted wicked men gathered with the true people of God within the pale of an external organization. With them the Church consists of that external commonwealth of which the Pope is the head, and to which all belong who acknowledge his authority. It is a matter of very small moment what such a body may believe. But if we understand by the Church the aggregate of the true children of God, men renewed, guided, and taught by the Holy Spirit, then what they agree in believing, must be true. This universality of belief is a fact which admits of no rational solution, except that the doctrine thus believed is revealed in the Scriptures, and taught by the Spirit. This argument is analogous to that for the being of God founded upon the general belief of the existence of a Supreme Being among all nations. It is a philosophical maxim that “What all men believe must be true.” This principle does not apply to the facts of history or science, the evidence of which is present only to the minds of the few. But it does apply to all facts, the evidence of which is contained either in the constitution of our nature or in a common external revelation. If what all men believe must be accepted as a truth revealed in the constitution of human nature, what all Christians believe must be accepted as a truth taught by the Word and the Spirit of God. The fact that there are many theoretical, speculative, or practical atheists in the world, neither invalidates nor weakens the argument for the being of God, founded upon the general convictions of men; so neither does the fact that theorists and speculative theologians deny the possibility of infant regeneration either invalidate or weaken the argument for its truth, founded on the faith of the Church Universal. But if infants may be subjects of regeneration, then the influence by which regeneration is effected is not a moral suasion, but the simple volition of Him whose will is omnipotent.

Argument from Analogy.

2. A second argument, although most weighty, is nevertheless very difficult adequately to present. Happily its force does not 691depend on the clearness or fulness of its presentation. Every mind will apprehend it for itself. It is founded on that analogy between the external and spiritual world, between matter and mind, which pervades all our forms of thought and language, and which is assumed and sanctioned in the Word of God. We borrow from the outward and visible world all the terms by which we express our mental acts and states. We attribute sight, hearing, taste, and feeling to the mind. We speak of the understanding as dark, the heart as hard, the conscience as seared. Strength, activity, and clearness, are as truly attributes of the mind, as of material substances and agencies. Dulness and acuteness of intellect are as intelligibile forms of speech, as when these characteristics are predicated of a tool. Sin is a leprosy. It is a defilement, a pollution, something to be cleansed. The soul is dead. It needs to be quickened, to be renewed, to be cleansed, to be strengthened, to be guided. The eyes of the mind must be opened, and its ears unstopped. It would be impossible that there should be such a transfer of modes of expression from the sphere of the outward and material to that of the inward and spiritual, if there were not a real analogy and intimate relation between the two. A feeble or diseased mind is scarcely more a figurative mode of speech than a feeble or diseased body. The one may be strengthened or healed as well as the other. The soul may be purified as literally as the body. Birth and the new-birth, are equally intelligible and literal forms of expression. The soul may be quickened as really as the body. Death in the one case is not more a figure of speech than it is in the other. When the body dies, it is only one form of activity that ceases; all the active properties belonging to it as matter remain. When the soul is dead, it also is entirely destitute of one form of life, while intellectual activity remains.

Such being the state of the case; such being the intimate relation and analogy between the material and spiritual, and such being the consequent law of thought and language which is universal among men, and which is recognized in Scripture, we are not at liberty to explain the language of the Bible when speaking of the sinful state of men, or of the method of recovery from that state, as purely metaphorical, and make it mean much or little according to our good pleasure. Spiritual death is as real as corporeal death. The dead body is not more insensible and powerless in relation to the objects of sense, than the soul, when spiritually dead, is to the things of the Spirit. This insensibility and helplessness are precisely what the word dead in both cases is meant to express. It is 692as literal in the one case as in the other. It is on the ground of this analogy that much of the language descriptive of the moral and spiritual state of man, used in the Bible, is founded. And the account given of the mode of his recovery from his estate of sin has the same foundation. As the blind could not open their own eyes, or the deaf unstop their own ears, or the dead quicken themselves in their graves; as they could not prepare themselves for restoration, or coöperate in effecting it, so also with the blind, the deaf, and the dead in sin. The cure in both cases must be supernatural. It can be accomplished by nothing short of almighty power. One grand design of Christ’s miracles of healing was to teach this very truth. They were intended to teach the sinner that his case was beyond all creature-help; that his only hope was in the almighty, and unmerited grace of Christ, to whom he must come and to whom he must submit. “As many as touched [Him] were made perfectly whole.” Their cure was by no medicinal process. It was not a gradual work. It was not a change to be understood and accounted for by the laws of matter or mind. It was due to the simple volition of an almighty will. As there have been persons disposed to give the rationale of these cures; to explain them on the theory of animal magnetism, of occult forces, or of the power of the imagination, so there are those who prefer to explain the process of regeneration on rational principles, and to show how it is accomplished by moral suasion, and how it depends for its success on the coöperation of the subject of the work. This is not the Scriptural account. Our Lord said to the leper, I will; be thou clean; as he said to the winds, Be still.

There is another view of the subject. As the Bible recognizes and teaches this analogy between the material and spiritual worlds, so it constantly assumes a like analogy between the relation which God sustains to the one and the relation which He sustains to the other. He has given to his creatures, the aggregate of whom constitutes nature, their properties, attributes, and powers. These are not inert. They act constantly and each according to its own laws. What we regard as the operations of nature, especially in the external world, are the effects of these agencies, that is, of the efficiency of second causes, which God has ordained, and which act with uniformity and certainty, so that like causes always produce like effects. God, however, is everywhere present with his creatures, not only upholding, but guiding, so that the effects produced, in the infinite diversity of vegetable and animal forms, are indicative of an everywhere present and everywhere active 693intelligence. In the exercise of this potentia ordinata God acts uniformly according to the laws which He has ordained. But the Scriptures teach that God has not limited Himself to this ordered action. He is over, as well as in all things. He controls the operations of the laws of nature so as to produce given results. He so directs the agencies that produce rain, that it rains at one time and place and not at others, as seems to Him good. He so controls the winds that they sink navies in the depths of the sea, or waft the richly freighted vessel to its desired haven. This providential control, everywhere distinguished from his providential efficiency, or potentia ordinata, is universal and constant, extending even to the casting of the lot, the flight of an arrow, or the falling of a sparrow. In all this providential control, however, God acts with and through second causes. It was not by a mere volition that He scattered the Spanish Armada; He made the winds and the waves his instruments. The Bible, however, teaches that He is not confined to this use of means; that He intervenes by his immediate efficiency producing effects by his simple volition without any intervention of second causes. In such cases the effect is to be referred exclusively to his almighty power. There special interventions of God, for what we know, may be, and probably are, innumerable. However this may be, it is certain that the Bible is full of recorded cases of this kind. All his supernatural revelations, all inspiration and prophecy, all supernatural gifts, and all miracles, whether in the Old Testament or in the New, belong to this class. There were no second causes employed in revealing the future to the mind of the ancient seer, or in healing the sick, or in opening the eyes of the blind, or in raising the dead by a word.

In strict analogy to this relation of God to the external world, is, according to the Scriptures, his relation to his rational and moral creatures. They have their essential attributes and faculties. Those faculties act according to established laws; for there are laws of mind as well as laws of matter, and the one are as uniform and as imperative as the other. Mental action, not in accordance with the laws of mind, is insanity. God is in all his rational creatures, sustaining them and all their faculties. He is, moreover, over them and out of them, controlling and guiding them at his pleasure, in perfect consistency with their free agency. He restrains the wrath of men. He puts it into the hearts of the wicked to be favourable to his people. He conducts all the progress of history, overruling the minds of men, with unerring certainty and infinite wisdom. All this is mediate government; a rule exercised 694not only according to the laws of human agency, but through the rational influences by which that agency is determined in its operations. In like manner in his dealings with his people by the Spirit, He argues, remonstrates, reproves, exhorts, excites, comforts, and strengthens, through the truth. But He is not confined to this mediate action. He operates when, where, and how He sees fit, without the intervention of any second cause. By a word, or a volition, raising the spiritually dead, opening the eyes of the heart, renewing the will, communicating what the Scriptures call a new nature.

There are men who deny the providential intervention of God in nature and in the government of the world. To them the world is a great mechanism, which, admitting it to have been framed by an intelligent first cause, does not need the constant supervision and intervention of its Maker to keep it in successful operation. There are others who acknowledge the necessity of such providential intervention for the preservation of second causes in their activity, but deny anything beyond this potentia ordinata of God. They deny any special providence. Events in the natural world and among the nations of the earth, are not determined by his control, but by natural causes and the uncontrolled free agency of men. And there are others, who admit not only the general concursus or coöperation of the first, with all second causes, but also the special providence of God, and yet who insist that He always operates through means; He never intervenes by the immediate exercise of his power; there can be no such thing as a miracle, in the ordinary and proper sense of that word. In like manner in reference to the relation of God to moral and rational creatures, there are those who deny that He is anything more than their creator. Having made them, He leaves them entirely to their own control. He neither positively upholds them in being; nor does He control them by an operation on their minds by truth and motives presented and urged by his Spirit. There are others who admit the universal agency of God in sustaining rational creatures, and who are willing to concede that He operates on them according to the laws of mental action, as one mind may influence other minds; but they deny any more than this. They deny any miracles in the sphere of grace, any effects produced by the immediate exertion of the omnipotence of God.

It is a strong argument in favour of the Augustinian doctrine of efficacious grace, which teaches that regeneration is an act of almighty power, or, in its subjective sense, an effect produced in 695the soul by the omnipotence of God, that it is in analogy with the whole teaching of the Bible as to the relation between the outward and spiritual world, and as to the relation in which God stands to the one and to the other. This doctrine assumes nothing beyond what is recognized as true in every other department of the universe of God. He is everywhere present, and everywhere active, governing all creatures and all their actions in a way suited to their nature, working in, with, through, or without second causes, or instrumental agency, as seems good in his sight.

Argument from Ephesians i. 17-19.

3. A third argument on this subject is founded on Ephesians i. 17-19. The truth involved in this doctrine was so important in the eyes of the Apostle Paul, that he earnestly prayed that God would enable the Ephesians by his Spirit to understand and believe it. It was a truth which the illumination and teaching of the Holy Ghost alone could enable them duly to appreciate. Paul prayed that their eyes might be enlightened not only to know the blessedness of being the subjects of God’s vocation, and the glory of the inheritance in reserve for them, but also “the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power which He wrought in Christ, when He raised him from the dead.” There are two questions to be decided in the interpretation of this passage. First, does the Apostle speak of the present or of the future? Does he refer to what the believer experiences in this life, or to what he is to experience at the last day? In other words, does the passage refer to the spiritual resurrection from a state of death in sin, or to the resurrection of the body and the glory that is to follow? The great majority of commentators, Greek as well as Latin, Protestant as well as Catholic, ancient as well as modern, understand the passage to refer to the conversion or regeneration of believers. This general consent is primâ facie evidence of the correctness of this interpretation. Besides, the whole context, preceding and subsequent, shows that such is the meaning of the Apostle. In what precedes, the prayer refers to the present experience of the believer. Paul prayed that the Ephesians might be made to know the value of the vocation they had already received; the preciousness of the hope they then enjoyed, and the greatness of the power of which they had already been the subjects. Here a reference to the future would be out of place. Besides, in what follows, the Apostle does not trace the analogy between the resurrection of Christ and the future resurrection 696of his people. He does not say here as he does in Romans viii. 11, “He that raised up Christ from the dead, shall also quicken your mortal bodies,” but He that raised Christ from the dead, has quickened you “who were dead in trespasses and sins.” It is clear, therefore, that it is the analogy between the resurrection of Christ from the grave, and the spiritual resurrection of believers, that the Apostle has in view. And this is an analogy to which the Scriptures elsewhere refer, as in Romans vi. 4. The parallel passage in Colossians ii. 12. “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God who hath raised him from the dead;” renders it plain that it is the spiritual resurrection of believers which the Apostle refers to the mighty power of God, and not the future resurrection of their bodies.

But if this be, as seems so clear, the meaning of the Apostle, what does the passage teach? What is it that Paul desired that the Ephesians should understand, when he says, that their regeneration, or spiritual resurrection was effected by the mighty power of God? (1.) In the first place it is very clear that he meant them to understand that it was not their own work. They had not by their own power, by the efficiency of their own will, raised themselves from the dead. (2.) It is no less clear that he does not mean to teach that there was any special difficulty in the case, as it regards God. To Him all things are easy. He speaks and it is done. He upholds all things by the word of his power. It is not the difficulty, but the nature of the work, he would have them to understand. (3.) And, therefore, the precise truth which the passage teaches is that regeneration belongs to that class of events which are brought about by the immediate agency, or almighty power of God. They are not the effect of natural causes. They are not due to the power of God acting through second causes. This is the definite meaning of the words. There can be no reason for saying that the Ephesians had experienced the effects of the mighty power of God, if they were subjects of no other influence than that of moral suasion, which all more or less experience, ano which all may resist. The language would be incongruous to express that idea. Besides, the very point of the illustration would then be lost. The Ephesians had been quickened by the very power which wrought in Christ when God raised Him from the dead. This was the immediate power of God. It was not exercised through second causes. It was not a natural process aided by divine efficiency; much less was it the result of any form of 697moral suasion. As then Christ was raised by the immediate power of God, so are the people of God raised from spiritual death by the same almighty power.

This was in the view of the Apostle a most important truth. It determines the whole nature of religion. It raises it from the sphere of the natural, into that of the supernatural. If regeneration is a change effected by the man’s own will; if it be due to the mere force of truth and motives, it is a small affair. But if it be the effect of the mighty power of God, it is as to its nature and consequences supernatural and divine. The whole nature of Christianity turns on this point. The conflict of ages concerns the question, Whether our religion is natural or supernatural; whether the regeneration, sanctification, and salvation promised and effected under the gospel, are natural effects, produced by second causes, aided and guided, it may be, by the coöperation of God, as He aids and guides the forces of nature in the production of their wonderful effects; or whether they are something entirely above nature, due to the supernatural intervention and constant operation of the Holy Spirit. Which of these views is Scriptural, can hardly be a question among unsophisticated Christians. And if the latter be the true view, it goes far to decide the question, Whether regeneration be due to moral suasion, or to the almighty power of the Spirit.

Argument from the General Teaching of Scripture.

4. This introduces the fourth argument on this subject. It is drawn from the general account given in the Scriptures of subjective Christianity, or the nature of the divine life in the soul. It is the tendency of all anti-Augustinian systems, as just remarked, to represent all inward religion as a rational affair, that is, something to be accounted for and explained on rational principles; the result of moral culture, of the right exercise of our free agency, and the favourable influence of circumstances. Such is not the view given in the Bible. When our Lord said, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John xv. 5), He certainly meant that the vital union between Him and his people is something more than that which may subsist between disciples and their master, — a union including merely trust, congeniality, and affection. The influence to which the fruitfulness of the believer is attributed is something more than the influence of the truth which He taught; however that truth may be applied or enforced. Their abiding in Him, and He in them, is something 698more than abiding in the profession and belief of the truth. Christ is the head of the Church not merely as its ruler, but as the source of its life. It is not I, says the Apostle, that live, “but Christ liveth in me.” (Gal. ii. 20.) “Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Cor. xiii. 5.) It is from Him, as the same Apostle teaches us, that the whole body derives those supplies by which it lives and grows. (Eph. iv. 16.) “Because I live, ye shall live also. (John xiv. 19.) “I am the resurrection, and the life.” (John xi. 25.) “1 am that bread of life.” (John vi. 48.) “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me and I in him.” (John vi. 56.) “This is that bread which came down from heaven: . . . . he that eateth of this bread shall live forever.” (John vi. 58.) “We shall be saved by his life.” (Rom. v. 10.) “The first man Adam was made a living soul, the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.” (1 Cor. xv. 45.) “As the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself.” (John v. 26.) “Thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.” (John xvii. 2.) “Your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.” (Col. iii. 3, 4.)

The Scriptures, therefore, plainly teach that there is a vital union between Christ and his people; that they have a common life analogous to that which exists between the vine and its branches, and between the head and members of the body. The believer is truly partaker of the life of Christ. This great truth is presented under another aspect. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one God. Wherever, therefore, the Father is, there is the Son, and where the Son is, there is the Spirit. Hence if Christ dwells in the believer, the Father does and the Spirit also does. In answer to the question of the disciples, “Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?” our Lord answered, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” (John xiv. 22, 23.) In the Bible, therefore, it is said that God dwells in his people; that Christ dwells in them, and that the Spirit dwells in them. These forms of expression are interchanged, as they all mean the same thing. Thus in Romans viii. 9-1l, “Ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his.” Here the same person is called the Spirit of 699God and the Spirit of Christ. But in the next verse it is said, “If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin;” and then in verse 11, “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” It is thus plain that the indwelling of the Spirit is the indwelling of Christ. And therefore those numerous passages in which the Spirit of God is said to dwell in his people, are so many proofs of the mystical union between Christ and all true believers. They are One. One with Him and one with one another. For by one Spirit they are all baptized into one body. (1 Cor. xii. 13.)

These representations of Scripture concerning the union between Christ and his people, are neither to be explained nor explained away. Both attempts have often been made. Numerous theories have been adopted and urged as divine truth, which in fact are only philosophical speculations. Some say that it is “the substance of Christ’s person” that dwells in the believer. Others say that it is his divine nature, the Logos, who becomes incarnate in the Church; others that it is the humanity of Christ, his soul and body; others that it is the theanthropic nature; others that it is generic humanity raised by its union with the divine nature to the power of divinity. All this is darkening counsel by words without wisdom. It is, however, far better than the opposite extreme, which explains everything away. The one method admits the vital fact, however unauthorized may be the explanations given of it. The other denies the fact, and substitutes something easily intelligible for the great Scriptural mystery. It is enough for us to know that Christ and his people are really one. They are as truly one as the head and members of the same body, and for the same reason; they are pervaded and animated by the same Spirit. It is not merely a union of sentiment, of feeling, and of interests. These are only the consequences of the vital union on which the Scriptures lay so much stress.

Now if the whole nature of religion, of the life of God in the soul, is, according to the Scriptures, thus something supernatural aid divine; something mysterious; something which is not to be explained by the ordinary laws of mental action or moral culture, then assuredly regeneration, or the commencement of this divine life in the soul, is no simple process, the rationale of which can be made intelligible to a child. It is no unassisted act of the man himself yielding to the force of truth and motives; nor is it an act to which he is determined by the persuasion of the Spirit, giving 700truth its due influence on the mind. It is an event of a different kind. It is not thus natural but supernatural; not referrible to any second cause, but to the mighty power of God. This does not involve any undervaluing of the truth, nor any oversight of the constant mediate influence of the Spirit on the minds of all men, and especially upon the minds of the people of God. We may admit the value and absolute necessity of light, while we deny that light can open the eyes of the blind, or preserve the restored organ in its normal vigour. The man who contends for the possibility and truth of miracles, does not make everything miraculous. He may admit both the potentia ordinata of God, and his constant providential control over second causes, while he holds that there are occasions in which He acts immediately by his power, without the intervention of any other agency. So Augustinians, while they hold to the supernatural character of the inward life of the believer, and to the fact that regeneration is due to the immediate exercise of the almighty power of God, nevertheless believe that the Holy Spirit constantly operates on the minds of men, according to the laws of mind, enlightening, convincing, persuading, and admonishing. They believe all that their opponents believe, but they believe more.

Argument from the Nature of Regeneration.

5. The Scriptures not only teach that regeneration is the work of the immediate omnipotent agency of the Spirit, but they give such an account of its nature as admits of no other explanation of its cause. It is a kind of work which nothing but almighty power can accomplish. It is a ζωοποίησις, a making alive. Originating life is from its nature an act of God, for He alone can give life. It is also an act of immediate power. It precludes the intervention of second causes as much as creation does. Christ was raised from the dead by the power of God. So was Lazarus. So are the regenerated. Spiritual resurrection is just as really and as literally an act of making alive as calling a dead body to life. The one occurs in the sphere of the outward, the other in the sphere of the spiritual world. But the one is just as real a communication of life as the other. When the principle of life is communicated to a dead body, all the chemical properties which belong to it are controlled by the vital force, so as to make them work for its preservation and increase, instead of for its disintegration. And when the principle of spiritual life is imparted to the soul, it controls all its mental and moral energies, so that they work to its spiritual 701nourishment and growth in grace. The Scriptures, therefore, in teaching that regeneration is a quickening, do thereby reveal to us its nature as a work not of man, or of moral suasion, or of divine efficiency operating through second causes, but of the immediate, and therefore the almighty power of God.

The Bible teaches the same truth when it declares believers to be new creatures, and says that they are created anew in Christ Jesus. Creation is the work of God, and it is an immediate work It precludes the intervention of means. It is of necessity the work of almighty power, and therefore the Scriptures so often claim it as the peculiar prerogative of God. It is true that the Greek and Hebrew words which we translate by the English word create, are often used in the sense of to make, to fashion out of preexistent materials. They occur, also, in a secondary or figurative sense, and express in such cases only the idea of a great, and generally a favourable change, no matter how produced. It would not, therefore, be sufficient to establish the Augustinian doctrine of regeneration, that it is called a creation, if in other parts of Scripture it were spoken of as a change produced by second causes, and if the means and the mode were described. In that case it would be natural to take the word in a figurative sense. But the contrary of all this is true. If the Bible taught the eternity of matter, or that the world is an emanation from God, or a mode of God’s existence, we should be forced to give a figurative sense to the words, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” But as the Scriptures tell us that God alone is eternal, and that all else owes its existence to his will, we are authorized and bound to retain these words in their simple and sublime significance. Now, as regeneration is always declared to be God’s work, his peculiar work, and a work of his mighty power, analogous to that which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead; as it is declared to be a making alive, an opening of the eyes, and an unstopping the ears; then, when it is also called a new creation, we are bound to understand that term as containing a new assertion that it is a work of almighty power.

Another common Scriptural representation leads to the same conclusion. Believers are the children of God, not merely as his rational creatures, but as the subjects of a new birth. They are born of God. They are born of the Spirit. They are begotten of God. 1 John v. 1-18. The essential idea in such representations, is that of communication of life. We derive one form of life from our corrupt earthly parents, and another from the Spirit. 702“That which is born of the flesh, is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit, is Spirit.” (John iii. 6.) In the case of creatures, this communication of life by the parent to the offspring is merely transmission. In the case of God, the fountain of all life, it is a real communication. He originates the life which He gives. As it is utterly incongruous to think of a creature’s begetting itself, or originating its own life; and no less incongruous to regard this commencement of life or being, as brought about by secondary influences, so is it utterly inconsistent with the Scriptures to regard regeneration as a man’s own work, or as due to his coöperation, or as produced by the influences of truth. As well might it be assumed that light, heat, and moisture could make a dead seed germinate, and bring forth fruit. All beginning of life is directly from God; and this is what the Bible most explicitly asserts to be true of regeneration. Those who become the children of God are “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John i. 13.)

This argument is not invalidated by the fact that Paul says to the Corinthians, “I have begotten you through the gospel.” All words are used literally and figuratively; and no man is misled (or need be) by this change of meaning. We are accustomed to speak of one man as the spiritual father of another man, without any fear of being misunderstood. When the historian tells us that the monk Augustine converted the Britons, or the American missionaries the Sandwich Islanders, we are in no danger of mistaking his meaning; any more than when it is said that Moses divided the Red Sea, or brought water out of the rock, or gave the people manna out of heaven. The same Paul who told the Corinthians that he had “begotten them through the gospel,” told them in another place, “I have planted, Apollos watered: but God gave the increase. So then, neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” (1 Cor. iii. 6, 7.)

In 1 Peter i. 23, it is written, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.” From this passage it is sometimes inferred that the new birth is a change produced not by the immediate agency of God, but instrumentally by the Word, and therefore by a rational process, or moral suasion. It has, however, been already remarked that regeneration is often taken in the wide sense of conversion. That is, for the whole change which takes place in the sinner when he is made a child of God. This is a comprehensive 703change, including all that takes place in the consciousness, and all that occurs in the soul itself (so to speak), below the consciousness, and subsequently in the state and relation of the soul to God. In this change the Word of God is eminently instrumental. It is by the Word that the sinner is convinced, aroused, made to seek reconciliation with God, and enlightened in the way of salvation. It is by the Word that the person and work of Christ are revealed, and all the objects on which the activity of the regenerated soul terminates, are presented to the mind. The Gospel is, therefore, the wisdom and power of God unto salvation. It is by the Word that all the graces of the Spirit are called into exercise, and without it holiness, in all its conscious manifestations, would be as impossible as vision without light. But this does not prove that light produces the faculty of seeing; neither does truth produce the principle of spiritual life. The Apostle Paul, who glories so much in the gospel, who declares that it is by the foolishness of preaching that God saves those that believe, still teaches that the inward work of the Spirit is necessary to enable men to receive the things freely given to them of God; that the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit, that they must be spiritually discerned. (1 Cor. ii. 8-11.) As examples of the latitude with which the words beget, begotten, and new-birth are used in Scripture, reference need be made only to such passages as 1 Peter i. 3, where it is said, He “hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead;” and 1 Corinthians iv. 15. There is therefore nothing in what the Scriptures teach of the agency of the truth in conversion, or regeneration in the wide sense of the word, inconsistent with their distinct assertion that in its narrow sense of quickening or imparting spiritual life, it is an act of the immediate omnipotence of God. This point was adverted to in a previous chapter.

The fact then that the Bible represents regeneration as a spiritual resurrection, as a new creation, and as a new birth, proves it to be the work of God’s immediate agency. There is another familiar mode of speaking on this subject which leads to the same conclusion. In Deuteronomy xxx. 6, Moses says: “The Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.” In Ezekiel xi. 19, it is said, “I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh.” And in chapter xxxvi. 26, “A new heart also will I give 704you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments and do them.” Jeremiah xxiv. 7, “I will give them an heart to know me. The Psalmist prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” (Ps. li. 10.) It is admitted that the word heart, like all other familiar terms, is used in different senses in the Scriptures. It often means the whole soul; as when mention is made of the eyes, the thoughts, and the intentions of the heart. It very frequently means the feelings or affections, or is used collectively for them all, or for the seat of the feelings. A cold, hard, sluggish, timid, humble, broken, heart are all common forms of expression for what exists in the consciousness; for transient and changeable states of the mind, or inward man. Notwithstanding it is no less clear that the word is often used in the same sense in which we use the word nature, for a principle of action, a permanent habit or disposition. Something that exists not in the consciousness, but below it. That such is its meaning in the passages just quoted, and in all others in which God is said to change or renew the heart, is plain: (1.) Because it is something which God not only gives, but which He creates. (2.) Because it is the source of all right action. It cannot be a volition, or a generic purpose, or any state of mind which the man himself produces; because it is said to be the source of love, of fear, and of new obedience. Our Lord’s illustration, derived from trees good and bad, forbids any other interpretation. A good tree produces good fruit. The goodness of the tree precedes and determines the goodness of the fruit; and so a good heart precedes all just thoughts, all right purposes, all good feelings and all holy exercises of every kind. (3.) The Scriptures explain what is meant by “creating a new heart” by the exegetical expression, “I will put my Spirit within you.” This surely is not a right purpose. The indwelling Spirit or Christ dwelling in us, is the principle and source of that new life of which the believer is made the subject. All those passages in which God promises to give a new heart, are proofs that regeneration is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit; not a moral suasion, but a creating and imparting a principle of a new form of life.

Argument from related Doctrines.

6. Another decisive argument in favour of the Augustinian doctrine of efficacious grace, is derived from its necessary connection 705with other Scriptural doctrines. If the latter be true, the former must be true also. If the Bible teaches that men since the Fall have not lost all ability to what is spiritually good; that they are not dead in trespasses and sins; that they still have the power to turn themselves unto God, or, at least, the power to yield to the influence which God exerts for their conversion, and power to resist and refuse, then so far as this point is concerned it might be true that regeneration is the result of moral suasion. It might be true that “God offers the same necessary conditions of acceptance to all men; desires from the heart that all men as free agents comply with them and live; brings no positive influence upon any mind against compliance, but, on the contrary, brings all those kinds and all that degree of influence in favour of it, upon each individual, which a system of measures best arranged for the success of grace in a world of rebellion allows; and finally, saves, without respect of kindred, rank, or country, whether Scythian, Greek or Jew, all who under this influence, accept the terms and work out their own salvation, and reprobates alike all who refuse.”528528The Quarterly Christian Spectator of New Haven, vol. iii. 1831, p. 635. But, on the other hand, if the Scriptures teach that “man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto;”529529Westminster Quarterly, ch. ix. § 3. then must it also be true that “when God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, He freeth him from his natural bondage under sin, and by his grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good.”530530Ibid. ix. § 4. Then is it also true, that man in effectual calling “is altogether passive, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.”531531Ibid. x. § 2. If man is as really spiritually dead, in his natural state since the fall, as Lazarus was corporeally dead, then is the spiritual resurrection of the one as really a work of divine omnipotence as the bodily resurrection of the other. These doctrines, therefore, thus logically connected, have never in fact been dissociated. All who hold that original sin involves spiritual death and consequent utter inability to any spiritual good, do also hold that his recovery from that state is not effected by any process of moral suasion human or divine, but by 706the immediate exercise of God’s almighty power. It is in reference to both classes of the dead that our Lord said, “As the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.” (John v. 21, 25.)

There is the same intimate connection between the doctrines of God’s sovereignty in election and efficacious grace. If it were true that men make themselves to differ; that election is founded on the foresight of good works; that some who hear the Gospel and feel the influence of the Spirit, allow themselves to be persuaded, that others refuse, and that the former are therefore chosen and the latter rejected, then it would be consistent to represent the grace exercised in the vocation of men as an influence to be submitted to or rejected. But if God has mercy on whom He will have mercy; if it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy; if it be of God, and not of ourselves, that we are in Christ Jesus; if God hides these things from the wise and prudent and reveals them unto babes as seems good in his sight; then the influence by which He carries his purpose into effect must be efficacious from its own nature, and not owe its success to the determination of its subjects.

The same conclusion follows from what the Scriptures teach of the covenant of redemption. If in that covenant God gave to the Son his people as the reward of his obedience and death, then all those thus given to Him must come unto Him; and the influence which secures their coming must be certainly efficacious. Thus this doctrine is implicated with all the other great doctrines of grace. It is an essential, or, at least, an inseparable element of that system which God has revealed for the salvation of men; a system the grand design of which is the manifestation of the riches of divine grace, i.e., of his unmerited, mysterious love to the unworthy; and which, therefore, is so devised and so administered that he that glories must glory in the Lord; he must be constrained to say, and rejoice in saying, “Not unto us, O Lord; not unto us, but unto thy name give glory.” (Ps. cxv. 1.)

Argument from Experience.

7. Appeal on this subject may safely be made to the experience of the individual believer, and to the history of the Church. All the phenomena of the Christian life are in accordance with the 707Augustinian doctrine of efficacious grace. No believer ever ascribes his regeneration to himself. He does not recognize himself as the author of the work, or his own relative goodness, his greater susceptibility to good impression, or his greater readiness of persuasion, as the reason why he rather than others, is the subject of this change. He knows that it is a work of God; and that it is a work of God’s free grace. His heart responds to the language of the Apostle when he says: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (Tit. iii. 5.) Paul says of himself that God, having separated him from his mother’s womb called him by his grace. (Gal. i. 15.) There was nothing in him, who was injurious and a persecutor, to demand the special intervention of God in his behalf. So far from his referring his vocation to himself, to his greater readiness to yield to the influence of the truth, he constantly represents himself as a monument of the wonderful condescension and grace of God. He would have little patience to listen to the philosophical account of conversion, which makes the fact so intelligible why one believes and another rejects the offer of the Gospel. Paul’s conversion is the type of every genuine conversion from that day to this. The miraculous circumstances attending it were simply adventitious. He was not converted by the audible words or by the blinding light, which encountered him on his way to Damascus. Our Lord said, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” (Luke xvi. 31.) Neither was the change effected by a process of reasoning or persuasion. It was by the instantaneous opening his eyes to see the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ. And this opening his eyes was as obviously an act of unmerited favour and of God’s almighty power, as was the restoration of the blind Bartimeus to sight. God, says the Apostle, revealed his Son in Him. The revelation was internal and spiritual. What was true in his own experience, he tells us, is no less true in the experience of other believers. “The god of this world,” he says, “hath blinded the minds of them which believe not.” But “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. iv. 4, 6.) The truth concerning the person and work of Christ is presented objectively to all. The reason why some see it, and others do not, the Apostle refers to the simple fiat of Him 708who said in the beginning, “Let there be light.” This is Paul’s theory of conversion.

Five thousand persons were converted on the day of Pentecost. Most of them had seen the person and works of Christ. They had heard his instructions. They had hitherto resisted all the influences flowing from the exhibition of his character and the truth of his doctrines. They had remained obdurate and unbelieving under all the strivings of the Spirit who never fails to enforce truth on the reason and the conscience. Their conversion was sudden, apparently instantaneous. It was radical, affecting their whole character and determining their whole subsequent life. That this was not a natural change, effected by the influence of truth on the mind, or produced by a process of moral suasion, in primâ facie certain from the whole narrative and from the nature of the case. The Holy Ghost was poured out abundantly, as the Apostle tells, in fulfilment of the prophecy of Joel. Three classes of effects immediately followed. First, miracles; that is, external manifestations of the immediate power of God. Secondly, the immediate illumination of the minds of the Apostles, by which they were raised from the darkness, prejudices, ignorance, and mistakes of their Jewish state, into the clear comprehension of the Gospel in all its spirituality and catholicity. Thirdly, the instantaneous conversion of five thousand of those who with wicked hands had crucified the Lord of glory, into his broken-hearted, adoring, devoted worshippers and servants. This third class of effects is as directly referred to the Spirit as either of the others. They all belong to the same general category. They were all supernatural, that is, produced by the immediate agency or volition of the Spirit of God. The Rationalist admits that they are all of the same general class. But he explains them all as natural effects, discarding all supernatural intervention. He has the advantage, so far as consistency is concerned, over those who admit the gift of tongues and the illumination of the Apostles to be the effects of the immediate agency of the Spirit, but insist on explaining the conversions as the consequents of argument and persuasion. This explanation is not only inconsistent with the narrative, but with the Scriptural method of accounting for these wonderful effects. The Bible says they are produced by “the exceeding greatness of” the power of God; that He raises those spiritually dead to a new life: that He creates a new heart in them; that He takes from them the heart of stone and gives them a heart of flesh; that He opens their eyes, and commands light to shine into their hearts, as in the 709beginning He commanded light to shine in the darkness which brooded over chaos. The Bible, therefore, refers conversion, or regeneration, to the class of events due to the immediate exercise of the power of God.

The scenes of the day of Pentecost do not stand alone in the history of the Church. Similar manifestations of the power of the Spirit have occurred, and are still occurring, in every part of the world. They all bear as unmistakably the impress of divine agency, as the miracles of the apostolic age did. We are justified, therefore, in saying that all the phenomena of Christian experience in the individual believer and in the Church collectively, bear out the Augustinian doctrine of Efficacious Grace, and are inconsistent with every other doctrine on the subject.

« Prev 5. Proof of the Doctrine. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection