Regeneration and the Flyswatter: Part Two, The Language of Regeneration

This may serve to clarify some issues about the use of dogmatic (theological) terminology for those unfamilar with Reformed theology. However, in particular, this is part two of a series about the Flyswatter.

Reformed Views of Regeneration in Summary

Recently, it has become popular in some circles to assert that the current language with respect to regeneration does not conform to confessional Calvinism. Ironically, this comes from no theologian in the Reformed Baptist tradition, not even Dr. Peter Masters at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, but from certain self-proclaimed watchdogs of the faith who appeal to Spurgeon routinely, who routinely distort, caricature and misrepresent others in most non-Christian ways. When confronted with a refutation, they immediately change the subject to infant regeneration. We are told by these individuals that the current view articulated in Reformed Baptistry and Presbyterianism denies means. When confronted with direct quotes showing otherwise, these are either ignored, or the subject is changed to infant regeneration, as if the exception (infant regeneration) disproves the rule with respect to all others. In so doing, these individuals drop all the caveats of those holding to infant regeneration and then read what they affirm about infant regeneration back into everything else they have written about regeneration in non-infants and then impute this to the positions held by Reformed Baptist theologues. When this fails, they say that the current position espoused by such as the Founders Ministry, Dr. Tom Schriener, R.C. Sproul, and others denies that regeneration and faith are inextricably bound such that one can exist without the other in an immediate fashion. In the process they also assert that the current language affirms “Hardshell doctrine.” When this fails, they fall back to infant salvation, and the circle continues.

What are we to make of this? Has language changed since the time of the early confessions? If so, doesn’t this prove their argument for them? As we shall see, it does not.

Yes, the language has changed. Nobody denies this. The concepts, however, have not changed significantly.

I. Why the changes in language?

It may be asked, “Why the changes in language?” Charles Hodge plainly says, With the theologians of the seventeenth century conversion and regeneration were synonymous terms.” (Systematic Theology Vol.3, 3-4) He and A.A. Hodge* note that Turretin, however, began distinguishing between “conversio habitulis” and “conversio actualis,” and from that point on the language has evolved into the most dominant form, View 2 below. He speaks this way: “”conversio habitualis seu passiva,” i.e., the infusion of a gracious habit–of soul by God, in respect to which the subject is passive; and “conversio actualis seu activa,” i.e., the consequent acts of faith and repentance elicited by co–operative grace and acted by the subject. ((Turretin, 50. 15, Ques. 4, §13) in A.A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, ch. 29. and Charles Hodge, ST. Vol.3, 4.) Therefore, we know that this view is not new at all. It was articulated in the 17th century itself.

*I have cited the Hodges here, because the critics to whom this paper is designed to respond insist that Spurgeon should be the defining speaker in this matter. Spurgeon stated that Charles Hodge was the theologian with whom he agreed the most, and he used A.A. Hodge’s Outlines in his school at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. The only reservations he ever expressed with the Outlines were over the portions on paedobaptism and covenant children.

The question arises, according to Charles Hodge in his Systematic Theology, if we speak of conversion and regeneration interchangeably, about whether man is passive or active in regeneration and whether it is effected by immediate or mediate means.

This one question must be answered one way if regeneration includes conversion, and in another if it be taken in its restricted sense. The Bible makes a distinction between conversion (repentance, faith, turning, etc.) and regeneration (the new birth, spiritual resurrection). God regenerates; the soul is regenerated. Now, confusion results if we keep speaking of them as interchangeable terms, for, as Hodge notes,

“In the Romish Church justification is making subjectively just, i.e. free from sin outwardly and inwardly holy. So is regeneration. So is sanctification. These terms, therefore, in the theology of that church are constantly interchanged.” (ST, Vol.3, 4).

Thus, Hodge continues,

“By the consent almost universal the word regeneration is now used to designate, not the whole work of sanctification, nor the first stages of that work comprehended in conversion, much less justification or any mere external change of state, but the instantaneous change from spiritual death to spiritual life.” (ST, Vol 3, 5).

Hodge goes on to enumerate several articulations of this in several traditions of his day, ranging from the Lutheran to Anglican, to the Finneyan to others that have since declined and disappeared. He affirms the classic Reformed understanding to affirm that regeneration takes a logical, causal priority to saving faith and repentance. He, like James Boyce below, distinguishes between a narrow sense (God’s sovereign, omnipotent act of raising the dead to new life, not a product of “moral suasion,”) and the wider sense to include conversion and its results (then “indeed said to be by the Word.”) (ST Vol3, 31)

The reason for this is that there were those it seemed who were conflating spiritual renovation and regeneration within the parlance of their day. The Reformed position is that one is internal and the other external. The means of grace, which includes the Word of God, are involved, in Reformed theology, in the effectual call, but the actual work of regeneration is now understood, in the narrow sense, to emphasize the immediate agency of the Holy Spirit, whereas the broader context (effectual call leading to faith and repentance itself) does involve the use of means, and this, in fact, underwrites the agency of the Holy Spirit. Ergo, to emphasize the internal nature and the idea this is God’s work, not the work of baptism or some other device, the usage changed.

His point is that this confusion is what has led to the way we distinguish between regeneration and conversion at the present time, and it is this that these critics refuse to acknowledge by the insistence that the 17th century confessions are the confessions qua confessions whose language we should use. The current parlance differs, because those writing the theologies were seeking to be more precise in their particular time and place, addressing their peers in other traditions. However, as we shall see, the current parlance is not antithetical to stating that the effectual call gives rise to faith, for, in that sense, regeneration is understood to encompass the effectual call while at the same time occurring prior to conversion itself. Thus, in that sense, regeneration precedes faith, because the effectual call precedes faith.

In addition, the exact nature of these events is speculative, because Scripture itself says that it is a mystery exactly how the Holy Spirit does this (John 3:3-5). We know little more than men believe because they are regenerated (I John 5:1). Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology (701) writes,

“Exactly what happens in regeneration is mysterious to us. We know that somehow we who were spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1) have been made alive to God and in a very real sense we have been born ‘born again.’ (John 3:3,7, Eph.2:5).”

Each of the conceptual expressions of regeneration articulated by Reformed theologians at this time, are univocal in affirming that regeneration comes before saving faith (1 John 5:1) and that genuine regeneration must bring results in life and perseverance (1 John 2:29, 3:9,4:7, 5:4). It provides us with protection from Satan (1 John 5:18), and it brings about the fruit of the Spirit (Gal.5:22-23). Our faith does not rise in us from a state of moral “suasion,’ as John Owen once remarked, rather it is granted to us (John 6:44,45,65) as a gift (Phil 1:29) This much is definite with respect to our understanding of its origin and order with respect to repentance and saving faith:

With scriptural confidence we can declare that the new birth is the sovereign work of God the Spirit resulting in the regenerate trusting God the Son as their personal Lord and Savior according to the eternal purpose and plan of God the Father. On this the Bible speaks clearly and plainly. (Charles Rosson, Evangelist and Friend of Sinners, aka “Scripture Searcher” in email dated 7/9/2006).

What are these views? One view looks at regeneration as a process that begins with an immediate divine intervention but may not result in conversion for a very long time. In this view, regeneration is identified with everything involved in the genesis of the actual faith and repentance of the convert, including the external and internal call. Another attempts to be more precise and speaks of it in a narrow and a broad sense, and a third speaks of it as an immediate event but without conscious results. As we shall see, the first two are functionally equivalent, and the third is that of the hyper-Calvinists.

II. Explanations of Views

The following represent the three main descriptions of the regeneration within Reformed theology at present:

View One

A. Regeneration includes effectual calling, etc. and culminates in a profession of faith. Regeneration is identified, in this view with all of these elements. It is a process. It is described in one sense/way, not two. Diagramed it looks something like this:

Holy Spirit acts on the individual through means/instrumentality

–leads to-or is equivalent to-

Regeneration (encompasses instruction in the gospel, the means of grace, conviction, knowledge of the true God, personal sin, guilt and condemnation, sorrow for sin, and knowledge of Christ as Savior and all elements up to the genesis of faith/repentance)

+

indeterminately short or long time, if not lengthy time of years

–leads to-

repentance and saving faith (aka conversion).

B. Note: Regeneration is equivalent to exposure and instruction in gospel, truth/ external Call, Internal/effectual Call and the following elements:

1. A knowledge of the true God, and acceptance of him as such.

2. Knowledge of personal sin, guilt and condemnation.

3. Sorrow/conviction for sin and desire to escape condemnation.

4. Determination to turn away from sin and seek God.

5. Conviction of personal need of help in so doing.

6. Knowledge of Christ as a Saviour from sin.

C. End result: Personal trust in Christ and his salvation/repentance from sin.

D. Time factor: It begins with instruction in the gospel and may continue on for hours, days, weeks, months, or years, until the person finally exercises faith and trust in Christ.

E. Engagement of mind: Active in calling and instructional elements. Conscious of feelings of sorrow, etc. The soul itself is said to be passive with respect to the Holy Spirit’s resurrecting power itself, in that He is the one who initiates this process. The person’s mind itself is engaged in instruction, etc.

F. Use of means: Primary: Word of God, Secondary: circumstances, etc. A person perishing without having heard the gospel (such as the heathen) and thus converted, with the possible exception of those dying in infancy, perishes in their sins, cut off from God, under the presumptive judgment of God in this life. Ergo, we must do missions and evangelism in order to reach the lost.

G. Causality:. Coming to Christ is the result of this process. Regeneration precedes their actual faith by causing it. It is monergistic.

H. Held by: 16th and 17th century divines, Peter Masters (current pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle). Masters advocates a return to this view, as he sees a danger in view two: the overemphasis of the narrow sense, and thus a view that disengages the mind and thus consciousness of the convert. Ironically, the critics of the current dominant expression, because they affirm an immediacy between saving faith/repentance and regeneration are at odds with Dr. Peter Masters, Spurgeon’s current successor at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, as it is very apparent from this that regeneration, when understood in this manner, is a process that can take many years from its beginning in the heart and mind of the subject, culminating later in conversion itself. Dr. Masters sees regeneration as a process that subsumes various aspects of God’s converting work—effectual calling, conviction, spiritual awakening, conversion, and the genesis of faith. These, he said, usually aren’t simultaneous; they occur over time and are the work of God’s Word on the mind. That’s why evangelistic preaching ought to be persuasive. When an elect person comes to faith, his mind ought to be fully convinced in the process. This view still maintains that faith is the result of regeneration. Regeneration precedes faith.

View Two

A. This is the current dominant expression. Regeneration defined in 2 ways/senses.

Narrow sense: The work of regeneration itself is the work of the Holy Spirit alone. This expresses the actual phenomenology of God Himself regenerating, God’s own work defined as resurrecting the lost soul to life.” He operates immediately upon the heart to prepare the way for the truth… The Scripture attributes the birth to the will of God exclusively, thus showing that in some aspect it is not to be regarded as due to the reception of the truth. John 1:13. “(James Boyce, Abstract of Theology, Regeneration and Conversion).

Broad sense:
The entire process leading up to a saving profession of faith and even continuing on (as a person is considered to be regenerate). Thus, this broader view is, functionally, the first view (eg. the one held by Dr. Masters). This expresses the broader psychology of the person, the object of God’s regenerating work. This usage may encompass all that leads up to the actual moment of conversion, or it may include that which follows (the fruits of regeneration itself, e.g. a regenerated person is a regenerate person; we know he is regenerate because of the fruit his life shows). James Boyce, stated it this way, “The Spirit acts mediately through the word.” (ibid)

So, Regeneration, in its strictest sense, refers solely to the Holy Spirit’s work in the sub-conscious life of man: “by a creative word God generates the new life, changing the inner disposition of the soul, illuminating the mind, rousing the feelings, and renewing the will. In this act of God the ear is implanted that enables man to hear the call of God to the salvation of his soul.” Regeneration in its broadest sense refers to what occurs when the regenerated heart comes in contact with the gospel and the Holy Spirit effectively applies God’s word to the mind.

B. Order: External and effectual call-This encompasses instruction in the gospel, the means of grace, conviction, knowledge of the true God, personal sin, guilt and condemnation, sorrow for sin, and knowledge of Christ as Savior. (This expresses the broader psychology). The Holy Spirit then brings this person over into spiritual life (the immediate phenomenonlogy), then they believe, repent, and are justified, and begin living the Christian life (back to the broader psychology).

Robert Reymond even gives this order in his New Systematic Theology (771) in discussing the order of salvation: Two divine acts. 1. Effectual call, via (2) regeneration. The result is 2 human acts: (3) repentance and (4) faith.

When it is said that “regeneration precedes faith,” theologians articulating this view are referring to the narrow sense (the phenomenology of God’s sovereign agency), not the broader psychology and process. Thus, they tend to divide View 1 (Dr. Masters’ view) above up and express it in terms of: Calling (External and internal/effectual, inclusive of elements 1 to 6 above), Regeneration (God’s immediate agency), and Conversion (repentance and faith).

Diagramed it looks like this:

External and Internal (Effectual) Calling (encompasses instruction in the gospel/Word of God, the means of grace, conviction, knowledge of the true God, personal sin, guilt and condemnation, sorrow for sin, and knowledge of Christ as Savior.) (May or may not take a short or long time) This is underwritten by the Holy Spirit striving with the soul of the person, which is what makes the call “effectual.”*

-leads to-/by way of-

Regeneration (the immediate agency of the Holy Spirit and the individual’s passing from spiritual death to spiritual life)

-leads to—

Conversion (immediate Faith and Repentance) The analogy is that he is born, and like a baby cries and breathes so does he.

*Some like Berkhof state that the external call precedes regeneration, then the effectual call results and then follows conversion. John Murray makes regeneration the link between effectual call and conversion as diagrammed above. Either view falls well within this second view of the order.

In regeneration in the broader sense the implantation of the incorruptible seed, the changing of the heart, the drawing power of the triune God, and the external call of the gospel all come together and give birth to the converted soul, who believes, repents, and is justified.

In Presbyterianism and some Reformed Baptist theology you find that except in the case of elect infants, elect imbeciles, and John the Baptist (Lk. 1:41-44) regeneration always accompanies either the preached word, the written Word, or an intellectual knowledge of the gospel held in the mind received in the past. There are people who hear or read the gospel who immediately are regenerated and saved, and there are people who hear the gospel for years and know it intellectually but who are not saved until the Holy Spirit comes and opens their eyes spiritually.

C. Time factor:

(a)External and Effectual calling, as defined above: may take any amount of time, short or long on a case by case basis.

(b) With respect to the time of conversion itself: Regeneration itself in, the narrow sense, (the Spirit’s giving of New Life) is immediate and immediately followed by repentance and faith (conversion) such that (emphasis mine):

“The very first conscious exercise of the renewed soul is faith; as the first conscious act of a man born blind whose eyes have been opened is seeing.” (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. 3, 41).

REGENERATION is an act of God originating by a new creation a new spiritual life in the heart of the subject. The first and instant act of that new creature, consequent upon his regeneration, is FAITH, or a believing, trusting embrace of the person and work of Christ. Upon the exercise of faith by the regenerated subject, JUSTIFICATION is the instant act of God, on the ground of that perfect righteousness which the sinner’s faith has apprehended, declaring him to be free from all condemnation and to have a legal right to the relations and benefits secured by the covenant which Christ has fulfilled in his behalf. A.A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, Chapter 34, available here: http://www.reformed.org/books/aa_hodge/outlines/chapter34.html

and

This is not a question of order in time, because regeneration and justification are gracious acts of God absolutely synchronous. The question is purely as to the true order of causation; Is the righteousness of Christ imputed to us that we may believe, or is it imputed to us because we believe? Is justification an analytic judgment, that the man is justified as a believer though a sinner, or is it a synthetic judgment, that this sinner is justified for Christ’s sake ? (A.A. Hodge, Ibid.)

“The immediate effect of the divine regeneration of the soul is that the sinner now abhors his sin that he once loved and trusts in Christ for his salvation.”(Boyce and Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace, 149)

When speaking of the order of salvation (ordo salutis), Reformed theology always and everywhere insists that regeneration precedes faith. Regeneration precedes faith because it is a necessary condition for faith. Indeed it the sine qua non of faith. It is important to understand, however, that the order of salvation refers to a logical order, not necessarily a temporal order. For example, when we say that justification is by faith, we do not mean that faith occurs first, and then we are justified at some late time. We believe that at the very moment faith is present, justification occurs. There is no time lapse between faith and justification. They occur simultaneously. Why then do we say that faith precedes justification? Faith precedes justification in a logical sense, not a temporal sense. Justification is logically dependent on faith, not faith on justification. We do not have faith because we are justified; we are justified because we have faith.

Similarly when Reformed theology says regeneration precedes faith, it is speaking in terms of logical priority, not temporal priority. We cannot exercise saving faith until we have been regenerated, so we say faith is dependent on regeneration, not regeneration on faith. (R.C. Sproul, Grace Unknown: The Heart of Reformed Theology,, 2000 edition, 195).

D. Engagement of mind: Active in “calling” elements. The soul itself is said to be passive with respect to the Holy Spirit’s resurrecting power itself. The mind itself is actively engaged in instruction, conviction, sorrow, etc. (the calling elements), culminating with repentance and faith due to the Holy Spirit’s striving with the soul.

E. Use of means: In the narrow usage, referring to the Holy Spirit’s actual phenomenological task of resurrecting the unbeliever’s soul to new life, there is no means as such, it is His work alone. Means are “preparations” for this work of grace but not the work itself. In the broader sense, however, means are used as preparations and given orientation to the new convert’s spiritual life, because the narrow meaning does not occur independently of the means of grace (the gospel in particular), in order for them to repent and believe. Thus, in this broader sense: Primary: Word of God, Secondary: circumstances, etc. This is God’s ordinary means (emphasis mine):

God’s call is made effectual by the Word and the Spirit. It is important to see that the Word and the Spirit are here conjoined as two vital factors of regeneration. The Holy Spirit is not working apart from the Word or against the Word, but with the Word. Nor is the Word working alone without the presence and power of the Spirit.

The call referred to in effectual calling is not the outward call of the gospel that can be heard by anyone within range of the preaching. The call referred to here is the inward call, the call that penetrates to and pierces the heart, quickening it to spiritual life. Hearing the gospel enlightens the mind, yet it does not awaken the soul until the Holy Spirit illuminates it and regenerates it. This move from ear to soul is made by the Holy Spirit. This move is what accompanies God’s purpose of applying the benefits of Christ’ work to the elect. (Ibid., 190 -191).

Apart from the Word, there is no salvation and no activity of the Holy Spirit in the lives of God’s people. Where the Word is rightly preached, the Spirit is active in power. Where the Word is not rightly preached, the Spirit is not active in power. It is impossible to have a place in which the Word is preached clearly (as the proclamation of Christ), where the Spirit is absent in his power and saving strength. It is equally impossible for the Spirit to be actively present if the preaching of Christ is not the central focus. (Michael Horton, Receiving Christ, In The Face of God, http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/horton/ReceivingChrist
.html )

A person perishing without having heard the gospel (such as the “heathen”) and being converted, with the possible exception of those dying in infancy, perishes in their sins, cut off from God, under the presumptive judgment of God in this life. Ergo, we must do missions and evangelism in order to reach the lost. Some (Boyce, Abstract of Theology, Ch.32: cf: http://www.founders.org/library/boyce1/ch32.html) hold out the possibility that God can regenerate a person to motivate them to pray for more revelation through a missionary.

V. The relation of regeneration to conversion will, therefore, appear to be one of invariable antecedence.

Wherever the appropriate truth is at the time present its relation is almost that of producing cause, for the prepared heart at once receives the truth. Hence, as this is so generally the case, they have been usually regarded as contemporaneous and by some even as identical. But that regeneration is the invariable antecedent is seen,

1. From the fact that the heart is the soil in which the seed, the word of God, is sown, and that seed only brings forth fruit in the good soil. The heart is made good soil by regeneration.

2. Regeneration (as in infants) may exist without faith and repentance, but the latter cannot exist without the former. Therefore, regeneration precedes.

3. Logically the enabling act of God must, in a creature, precede the act of the creature thus enabled. But this logical antecedence involves actual antecedence, or the best conceptions of our mind deceive us and are not reliable. For this logical antecedence exists only because the mind observes plainly a perceived dependence of the existence of the one on the other. But such dependence demands, if not causal, at least antecedent existence. Here it is only antecedent.
VI. There is not only antecedence, but in some cases an appreciable interval.

1. This is true even of conversion regarded as a mere turning to God. Between it and regeneration must intervene in some cases some period of time until the knowledge of God’s existence and nature is given, before the heart turns, or even is turned towards that God.

(1.) This must be true of all infants and of all persons otherwise incapable of responsibility, as for example idiots.

(2.) There is no reason why it should not be true of some heathen. The missionaries of the cross have been sought by men, who knew nothing of Christianity, but whose hearts, unsatisfied with the religion of their fathers, were restlessly seeking for what their soul was crying out.

In such cases, God ensures that they receive the gospel itself through a missionary. Boyce takes this from missions reports. This is an exception, not the rule, and it is speculative.

F. Causality: Regeneration precedes their actual faith by causing it. It is monergisitic.

G. Held by: Princeton/Westminister Presbyterians, early Southern Baptist writing theologians (Boyce, Dagg, et.al.) , late 18th century theologians, some 17th century theologians (Turretin), 20th century theologians, majority of current American traditional Calvinists (Sov. Grace/Reformed Baptists, OPC, PCA, etc.), some Progressive Primitives. This is, currently, the dominant parlance.

This critics have stated that this position “denies the use of means.

This is the same “direct operation” palabber taught by the pedo-regenerationist theologians Shedd, Berkhof, and R. C. Sproul, and other preachers such as James White, Scott Morgan of the Founders, Gene Bridges, Tom Schreiner of the Southern Seminary, and others who advocate “Reformed” theology according to the Berkhof theology book.

None of them has given evidence that they believe that the Word of God is an instrumentality in the “quickening” work of the Spirit in regeneration or the New Birth, contrary to the Creedal Calvinism of all the Calvinistic Confessions of Faith. See: http://www.carthage.lib.il.us/community/churches/primbap/BradleyProgressive.html

By way of reply: Where in this view is means denied? Nowhere.

God’s call is made effectual by the Word and the Spirit. It is important to see that the Word and the Spirit are here conjoined as two vital factors of regeneration. The Holy Spirit is not working apart from the Word or against the Word, but with the Word. Nor is the Word working alone without the presence and power of the Spirit. (Sproul, Ibid.)

While regeneration is a sovereign act of God according to election, it is an encouraging fact both for the sinner and the preacher of the word that God’s regenerating grace is commonly bestowed where the preparatory work is performed. This is the rule, under the gospel dispensation. He who reads and meditates upon the word of God is ordinarily enlightened by the Holy Ghost, perhaps in the very act of reading, or hearing, or meditating. “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word,” Acts 10 : 44. He who asks for regenerating grace may be regenerated perhaps in the act of praying. God has appointed certain human acts whereby to make ready the heart of man for the divine act. Without attentive reading and hearing of the word, and prayer, the soul is not a fit subject for regenerating grace. (Shedd, Regeneration, cf: http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/Shedd_Regeneration.html

These individuals have claimed that this view affirms that regeneration can exist without faith and/or that faith is not considered to immediately accompany regeneration. How is this criticism then true?

“The very first conscious exercise of the renewed soul is faith; as the first conscious act of a man born blind whose eyes have been opened is seeing.” (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. 3, p. 41).

“The immediate effect of the divine regeneration of the soul is that the sinner now abhors his sin that he once loved and trusts in Christ for his salvation.”(Boyce and Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace, 149)

It should be apparent that View 1 can comfortably subsist within View 2 as subset expression or vice versa. Likewise, they are functionally equivalent expressions. There is no “Hardshell Doctrine” to be found here, none whatsoever. The only thing equivalent is the axiom that regeneration precedes faith, but this has always been the view expressed by the Reformed community. This is, it seems, why these critics have to change the subject to infant regeneration. That, however, is a separate issue (see below).

View Three

A. Regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit alone. Differentiates between conversion and regeneration sharply. There is only one way to define “regeneration” in this view, and that is by His immediate work, what view 2 terms the “narrow” usage.

B. Engagement of Mind: Passive. The mind of the person may be so utterly passive that they are not at all conscious of regeneration. Others may be active.

C. Causality: Regeneration precedes their actual faith by causing it. It is monergisitic. Some extreme Hardshells affirm that one need not even believe, suspending salvation on election alone apart from means or results.

D. Order: Regeneration may occur at any time (even infancy) and generally precedes effectual calling, and thus conversion (faith and repentance), but it may also occur while hearing the external call and thus take the form of either view 1 or 2 above.

If this process is diagramed in basic form, we have two groups in view: Those who hear the gospel (Group A) and Those who do not hear (B). Some, but not all Hardshells/Primitive Baptists will affirm A but not B; others may affirm B and not A; some may affirm A and B.

Group A

Regeneration (at any point, including birth). The subject may or may not be unconscious or conscious of this.

Effectual Calling (may or may not commence @ regeneration between external (general) and internal (effectual calling), there may be a significant time gap, so those regenerated as infants, could potentially not exercise faith and repentance until adulthood. Means, because these are those who hear and believe the gospel, are used (the Word of God, preaching, etc.), but this does not infer that an effectual call begins at all as soon as they are used.

Conversion (Repentance and faith).

Group B

Regeneration (at any point, including birth). The subject is unconscious of this.

No external and therefore no effectual calling is associated with means.

“Conversion” according to the degree of revelation each has received. (This view has more in common with universalistic types of Arminianism than it does Calvinism itself, and is also truly fatalistic.).

E. Time factor: Regeneration itself (the Spirit’s giving of New Life) is immediate. External and Effectual calling: may take any amount of time and are not always immediately followed by repentance and faith (conversion), but this may take place over a long process and may continue on for hours, days, weeks, months, or years, until the person finally exercises faith and trust in Christ. Often searching for a “warrant to believe” is involved as well.

F. Use of Means: No means for regeneration at all. Word of God for effectual/external call, etc. Some anti-missions folks believe God will regenerate the wicked without any external means whatsoever and that persons may enter heaven without ever hearing the gospel. There is, therefore, no pressing need for missions work.

G. Held by: Old Hardshells, Primitive Baptists, a few Progressive Primitives, some hyper-Calvinists.

III. Infant Salvation

1. This is never taken to be God’s ordinary way of dealing with men. It is admittedly speculative in many ways. In discussing regeneration, J.I. Packer states (emphasis mine)

Though infant regeneration can be a reality when God so purposes (Luke 1:15, 41-44), the ordinary context of new birth is one of effectual calling—that is, confrontation with the gospel and illumination as to its truth and significance as a message from God to oneself. Regeneration is always the decisive element in effectual calling.

Regeneration is monergistic: that is, entirely the work of God the Holy Spirit. It raises the elect among the spiritually dead to new life in Christ (Eph. 2:1-10). Regeneration is a transition from spiritual death to spiritual life, and conscious, intentional, active faith in Christ is its immediate fruit, not its immediate cause. Regeneration is the work of what Augustine called “prevenient” grace, the grace that precedes our outgoings of heart toward God. (Packer, Concise Theology, Regeneration,http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/
packer/regeneration.html )

2. Both the Westminster Confession (WCF) and the Second London Baptist Confession (SLC) contain the following article:

3. Elect infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit; who worketh when, and where, and how he pleases; so also are all elect persons, who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word. ( John 3:3, 5, 6; John 3:8 )

Therefore, it is undeniable that both the Presbyterian and Reformed Baptist traditions allow for some sort of infant salvation. Presbyterians, as we will see, have tended to affirm infant regeneration in those who survive. Baptists have preferred to limit this to those dying in infancy.

The salvation of these persons is grounded in their election. The basis of their election is not their incapacity or innocence, it is God’s mercy. Their death in infancy is perceived as a sign of election, just as faith, repentance, perseverance are the outward signs of election in all others. This is a limiting case that addresses the salvation of infants. This is offered in the SLC in contradistinction to the WCF’s concept of covenant children. Notice, the text does not read, “infants” generally, rather it reads “elect infants.

3. Traditionally, Warfield has classified no fewer than five different positions on this issue (Warfield, Works, 9:431-434) :

1.From the beginning a few held with Zwingli that death in infancy is a sign of election, and hence that all who die in infancy are the children of God and enter at once into glory. After Zwingli, Bishop Hooper was probably the first to embrace this view. It has more lately become the ruling view.

2.At the opposite extreme a very few held that the only sure sign of election is faith with its fruits, and, therefore, we can have no real ground of knowledge concerning the fate of any infant; as, however, God certainly has his elect among them too, each man can cherish the hope that his children are of the elect. Peter Martyr approaches this sadly agnostic position.

3.Many held that faith and the promise are sure signs of election, and accordingly all believes and their children are certainly saved; but the lack of faith and the promise is an equally sure sign of reprobation, so that all the children of unbelievers, dying such, are equally certainly lost. The younger Spanheim, for example, writes…”they are justly reprobated by God on account of the corruption and guilt derived to them by natural propagation.

4.More held that faith and the promise are certain signs of election, so that the salvation of believers’ children is certain, while the lack of the promise only leaves us in ignorance of God’s purpose; nevertheless that there is good ground for asserting that both election and reprobation have place in this unknown sphere. Accordingly, they held that all the infants of believers, dying such, are saved, but that some of the infants of unbelievers, dying such, are lost. Probably no higher expression of this general view can be found that John Owen’s.

5.Most Calvinists of the past, however, have simply held that faith and the promise are marks by which we may know assuredly that all those who believe and their children, dying such, are elect and saved, while the absence of sure marks of either election or reprobation in infants, dying such outside the covenant, leaves us without ground for inference concerning them…It is this cautious, agnostic view which has the best historical right to be called the general Calvinistic one.

Warfield also mentions that “Calvin seems, while speaking with admirable caution, to imply that he believed some infants dying such to be lost,” ibid. 431, n66.

Most Reformed Baptists seem to move along 1 and 2, though you may find representatives of each of those 5 if you looked hard enough.

4. Infant Reprobation:

Calvin on infant reprobation, according to Boettner(Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, 147): While, therefore, Calvin teaches that there are reprobate infants, and that these will be finally lost, he nowhere teaches they will be lost as infants, sand while they are infants; but, on the contrary, he declares that all the reprobate “procure” their own destruction by personal acts of impiety, wickedness, and rebellion. Consequently, his own reasoning compels him to hold (to be consistent with himself) that no reprobate child will die in infancy; but such must live to the age of moral accountability, and translate original sin into actual sin.

5. It should go without saying that there are two separate groups of infants to discuss, namely those who die in infancy and those who survive.

A. Infants who die in Infancy

Those affirming that infants are regenerated, univocally affirm that any infant dying in infancy and believed to consequently enter heaven must be regenerated by an immediate, unconditional decree of God and an immediate and effectual, regenerating call, because of original sin, otherwise they enter God’s presence on account of their own righteousness God (Cf, Boettner on Charles Hodge, WGT Shedd, and Warfied, ibid., 145),.

The Primitive/Hardshell tradition has sometimes tended toward affirming they are reprobated. All others adopt one of four positions ranging from universal infant salvation of those dying in infancy to a cautious, agnostic position in the matter. For example, in the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Al Mohler adopts the position that all infants dying in infancy are saved. Others, like Steve Camp, affirm a cautiously agnostic position. This is because there are too few Scriptures chasing this one topic.

B. Infant Regeneration in Those Who Do Not Die in Infancy

The Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed tradition allow for infant regeneration. Some Reformed Baptists (James Boyce) do as well, but for different reasons. Hardshells also affirm that infants can be regenerated.

Difference between Hardshell doctrine and dominant Reformed doctrine:

In Hardshell doctrine, infants regenerated may come to Christ very late in life. In Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed churches (and as abstract limiting cases in the views of some Baptists), an infant that is regenerated will come to faith, not as an adult, but at an exceptionally young age.

On this latter view, they are reared in believing homes, exposed from infancy to the Word of God, the gospel, etc. and make a saving and credible profession very early. Therefore, their conversion is not separated from instrumentality at all. They may through their behavior prove not to be “problem children” at all, but behavior itself is not a measure of their status with God at this age. This is considered the exception to the rule in God’s dealings with people and is very rare. It is put forward to account for those who either have no memory of their conversion (like Ruth Graham) or were converted at the ages of 3 or 4 and generally shown the fruits of conversion (faith, understanding of truth, apprehension and love for God and Christ, sorrow over sin, etc.). Shedd epitomizes this view, in his discussion of regeneration in adults vs. infants. After his discussion of preaching, prayer, etc. and its connection to regeneration and conversion, he writes:

The regenerate child, youth, and man, believe• and repent* immediately. The regenerate infant believe• and repent• when his• faculties will admit of the exercise and manifestation of faith and repentance. In the latter instance, regeneration in potential or latent faith and repentance.

Historically, the Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed traditions have oscillated between 2 views on the treatment of children. Abraham Kuyper, for example, advocated a position by which children born to believers (and of course baptized) should be presumed to be elect (and thus presumptively regenerate) until they show signs otherwise. They appeal to Maccovius, Voetius, Gomarus and others, but this is far from conclusive. (See: http://members.aol.com/RSIGRACE/neo3.html) Presently, those Presbyterians favoring Auburn Ave./Federal Vision theology tend toward this direction. This view also seems to involve the a time gap between regeneration and effectual calling.

Archibald Alexander summarizes the dominant view among Presbyterians in the Princeton tradition (emphasis mine):

“The education of children should proceed on the principle that they are in an unregenerate state, until evidences of piety clearly appear, in which case they should be sedulously cherished and nurtured. . . . Although the grace of God may be communicated to a human soul, at any period of its existence, in this world, yet the fact manifestly is, that very few are renewed before the exercise of reason commences; and not many in early childhood.” (Archibald Alexander, Thoughts on Religious Experience (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1967), pp. 13-14.)

So, the first presumption is not that the child is regenerate, rather it is that s/he is unregenerate. The only possible exception may have been Charles Hodge who could be viewed to presume baptized infants as regenerate/elect, who was very concerned about the failure of some to practice infant baptism within his denomination and argued for not accepting adults who failed to baptize their infants as members. However, his views on that point were largely ignored, including by his own son, J. Aspinwald Hodge. What then is the age about which we are speaking here?

Vern Poythress articulates this dominant Princetonian position today (emphasis mine) from http://www.frame-poythress.org/poythress_articles/1997Linking.htm

It might seem that I have pushed hard in the direction of finding genuine faith even in very young children. But it would be artificial and speculative to place any great weight on demonstrating the character of the child’s response. It is much more important that we recognize that God can meet and spiritually bless such young children. Obviously the very young child is more passive, and the signs of response may be very vague. But the blessing of God, his spiritual care, rebuke, comfort, and strengthening are quite vividly real, as they come largely through the channel of the child’s parents. To a large extent, these very young children are receiving the substance of the care that ought to characterize participation in the Christian community.

The experience of the Christian community also shows what happens to children who are raised in this kind of environment. Let us suppose that the parents and the larger community are diligent in practicing their faith and in raising children “in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Let us suppose that they are diligent in praying for their children to be saved and to grow spiritually. Then the children will be professing faith in Christ

when they are two and three and four. There are no four-year-old apostates in a healthy Christian community.

Infants do not directly manifest their faith by verbal confession. But the prayers of their parents, the training of their parents, and the power of the Holy Spirit in the Christian community are evidence that they will give credible professions by the time they are a few years old. One might then argue that this evidence is in practice just as convincing as a verbal confession. There is no more danger that the children will apostasize when four years old than that an adult convert would apostasize after four years in the faith.

This is, therefore in contrast to the Kuyperian and Old Hardshell Baptist traditions which state that infant regeneration can occur (and in the Old Hardshell tradtion, regeneration can occur at any time), and the individual is not converted either immediately or in a very short period thereafter.

Thus we can outline these 2 positions as follows:

A. Kuyperian/Old Hardshell*

Order:
Infant Regeneration
Time Gap, even into adulthood
Effectual Calling
Conversion, even in adulthood

*In Old Hardshell doctrine any person, not only an infant, may be regenerated by the immediate agency of the Holy Spirit and not become conscious of it for a lengthy interval, even a great many years. From this comes their doctrines of “time salvation” and “eternal justification.” In contrast, View 2 above states that, while the agency of the Holy Spirit is immediate and, technically, His own work apart from means, in all but infants (the exception to the rule), this does not happen apart from instrumentality of the Word, and the first conscious action of the person is to repent and believe, and, moreover, because of the use of instrumentality, they are actively engaged in the psychology of this process.

B. Princetonian:

Infant Regeneration
No time gap
Effectual calling commences immediately
Conversion at very early age “as soon as his faculties will admit”; very rare.

Strictly speaking, from a Baptist perspective, both views seem to involve a time gap between regeneration and effectual calling, judging from a surface level comparison. Moreover, because Baptists deny that children are part of the New Covenant, Reformed / Sovereign Grace Baptists have no conceptual mechanism by which to presume infants regenerate, making the Old Hardshell position seem grossly illogical as a result. However, Baptists standing in the broader Reformed tradition do often, as Boyce demonstrates, affirm the possibility of infant regeneration under the Princetonian, not the Kuyperian, paradigm, because of their pastoral experience, not because of any theology of covenant children.

William Young, responding to the Kuyperian position taken by the hyper-covenantalists / Federal Visionists responds to this idea (emphasis mine):

The view of Voetius and Kuyper involves the anomaly of a time gap between regeneration and effectual calling, particularly appalling in the case of the apostle Paul, of whom, on the basis of Gal. 1:15, the younger Kuyper is reported to have preached as an example of a regenerated blasphemer.

In his detailed exposition in E Voto, Kuyper devotes a chapter to documentation and argumentation for his claim that he is introducing no novelty, but simply returning to the doctrine of Calvin and the Reformed fathers which a later generation allowed to fall into oblivion.(32) Does he make out his case?

Kuyper quotes from Institutes IV.xvi.17-20 to find support in Calvin, who does teach: “That some infants are saved; and that they are previously regenerated by the Lord, is beyond all doubt.” What Kuyper fails to quote is Calvin’s rejoinder to the Anabaptist evasion that the sanctification of John the Baptist in his mother’s womb “was only a single case, which does not justify the conclusion that the Lord generally acts in this manner with infants.” Calvin’s rejoinder is: “For we use no such argument.”(33) But Kuyper does use such an argument, in contending that children of the covenant are to be presumed to be regenerated because in fact that is the general manner of the Lord’s dealing with them. Calvin does speak of a seed of future repentance and faith implanted by the Spirit,(34) but does not state the false proposition that this is the case with all baptized infants, nor the highly disputable thesis of Voetius that this is the case with all elect children of believers. Certainly there is no hint of the presumptive doctrine of Kuyper in any of these texts of Calvin. (Historic Calvinism and Neo-Calvinism Westminster Theological Journal, vol. 36 (1973-74).)

The understanding of the dominant Princeton tradition represented by Presbyterians outside the Auburn Avenue/Federal Vision/”hyper-covenantal” position, has been that those who are regenerated in infancy will, because of God’s providential care, be exposed from birth to the means of grace, including the gospel (as soon as they can understand language) and thus, the effectual call begins from that moment and culminates in their conversion. This view is also the view of Reformed Baptists who hold this out as an abstract possibility. These individuals reason as James Boyce in his Abstract of Theology (http://www.founders.org/library/boyce1/ch32.html) as follows:

2. Regeneration (as in infants) may exist without faith and repentance, but the latter cannot exist without the former. Therefore, regeneration precedes.

3. Logically the enabling act of God must, in a creature, precede the act of the creature thus enabled. But this logical antecedence involves actual antecedence, or the best conceptions of our mind deceive us and are not reliable. For this logical antecedence exists only because the mind observes plainly a perceived dependence of the existence of the one on the other. But such dependence demands, if not causal, at least antecedent existence. Here it is only antecedent.

VI. There is not only antecedence, but in some cases an appreciable interval.

1. This is true even of conversion regarded as a mere turning to God. Between it and regeneration must intervene in some cases some period of time until the knowledge of God’s existence and nature is given, before the heart turns, or even is turned towards that God.

(1.) This must be true of all infants and of all persons otherwise incapable of responsibility, as for example idiots.

Boyce will go on to discuss the heathen and some pastoral cases, but they are not germane to this particular discussion on infants. For Boyce, such individuals are regenerated in infancy and are brought under the effectual call and believe as soon as they are able.

Thus, unlike the Kuyperian tradition, there is not a time gap between regeneration and the effectual call, with respect to these infants, since all the means of grace, including the Word of God are included in the Princetonian tradition’s definition of the external and internal call and the Spirit is seen to underwrite these, making the external means of grace effacious, but there is a time gap between regeneration and conversion itself. In addition, then, at the conceptual level, this view is quite at home in View 1 of Regeneration above, and View 1 itself is, as we have seen, at home in View 2 as a subset of View 2. A Reformed Baptist holding to View 2 of Regeneration would be more prone to say that the child making an early saving/credible profession of faith was regenerated by the Holy Spirit at the time of his actual conversion, but, strictly speaking, given the speculative nature of such analysis, and the further rarity attached to infant regeneration as such, the two evaluations, while differing on the timing of regeneration, are generally equivalent.

In the Kuyperian tradition, there is a time gap between regeneration and effectual calling. This is closer to the Old Hardshell doctrine, but it is not the view of Sproul, Frame, et.al. They hold to the Princeton tradition in this matter. It is unfair, therefore, for certain individuals to lump all persons affirming the regeneration of infants in the Presbyterian tradition together while dropping their distinctive approaches. There are not, as these critics suggest, in the Princetonian tradition, regenerated persons walking around as adults who have not believed in the Lord, for if a child makes it past the age of 3, or at most 4 years of age, s/he is not to be considered an elect infant. What is more, only the Kuyperian tradition treats infants as presumptively elect. These critics should spend more time reading The Westminster Journal or actually discussing these matters with men like Dr. Frame before making generalizations about what they actually affirm. Those that listen to them would do well to check their use of the sources. In the third installment, we will examine A.H. Strong and Louis Berkhof, who have been set at odds with each other in their writings, as an example of the ineptitude of these critics. Did Strong really disaffirm affirm that regeneration precedes faith? Did he and Berkhof truly hold to different views on this issue?

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One Comment on “Regeneration and the Flyswatter: Part Two, The Language of Regeneration”

  1. charles rosson Says:

    It is a very difficult and always a losing battle against TRUTH…


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