In our last article under this heading we referred to Canons III, IV, 12, which speaks of regeneration. And at the close of that article we had several questions which we now shall discuss.
The first question in whether, if faith is a condition, regeneration must not also be considered as conditional, as something which man must fulfill in order that God may give him the grace of regeneration. That would seem to be almost an impossible conception, but it is also a conception which seems to be implied in what the Rev. Petter writes in Concordia of Feb. 2, ’50. For there he writes that the Spirit of regeneration, the Spirit of salvation, comes after repentance and is related to the latter as a condition. And that certainly is the preaching and teaching of many Arminian preachers. If the sinner will fulfill the condition of opening his heart and of accepting the Lord Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God will enter in and regenerate him and make him a new man. Also the grace of regeneration, according to them, is dependent upon an act of man and upon a condition which he must fulfill. But this is certainly not the Reformed truth. And it is quite contrary to the article which we quoted from the Canons. For there we read: “And this is the regeneration so highly celebrated in Scripture, and denominated a new creation: a resurrection from the dead, a making alive, which God works in us without our aid.” How absolutely unconditional is the grace of regeneration presented here in this article. It is sometimes alleged by those that do not understand the Reformed truth that Reformed theologian, and especially Protestant Reformed theologians, deny or do not sufficiently emphasize the responsibility of man. And it seems that one of the motives that actuates the Rev. Petter to speak of conditions is rooted in that same misunderstanding of the relation between God’s sovereign grace and the responsibility of man. But let me ask the question: Is man responsible for his own regeneration? That is, indeed, an important question. For, mark you well, if he is not responsible for his own regeneration, but if this is absolutely and unconditionally a work of God, he cannot be responsible for his faith, which is rooted in regeneration, nor for any other blessings of grace. But what does the article say? It tells us that regeneration is a new creation. That means, therefore, that it is a work of God absolutely and unconditionally, in which man has no part whatsoever. Just as it would be the height of absurdity to teach that the creation of man, the manner of his creation and the nature with which he was created, was conditioned upon anything in man himself, so it is also the height of folly that regeneration, which is a new creation, is at all contingent upon or conditioned by anything that man may do or will or desire. Just as Adam was not responsible for his own creation, so the elect are certainly not responsible for their own regeneration. Besides, the article tells us that regeneration is a resurrection from the dead, a making alive. And that presents the work of regeneration again as absolutely unconditional. The dead certainly cannot fulfill any conditions. Nor can God possibly require of the dead that they fulfill any conditions. Nor can the dead ever be held responsible for their own regeneration. Nor can the regenerated be held responsible for the fact that they ever were regenerated. And to this the article adds, to make it absolutely sure that regeneration is a work of God alone and that it is performed upon us and in us unconditionally: “which God works in us without our aid.” We, therefore, have absolutely nothing to do with our own regeneration, which is the beginning, and at the same time the principle, of all our salvation as it is wrought within our hearts and as it is applied by the Holy Spirit to the elect.
The next question which we ask in connection with Article 12 of III and IV of the Canons is whether there is any part of the work of salvation left for man after God has accomplished His part. This is answered negatively by the article in the following words: “But this is in no wise effected merely by the external preaching of the gospel, by moral suasion, or such a mode of operation, that after God has performed his part, it still remains in the power of man to be regenerated or not.” Now regeneration is in principle the whole of salvation as it is applied unto us. All the benefits of salvation are already implied in the one principal benefit of regeneration. I therefore put the question in this way, and ask whether there is any part of salvation left for man to do after God has accomplished His part of the work of salvation. Mark you, I do not deny that after that part of the salvation which God works within us there is a part which we do fulfill as the inevitable result and the fruit of God’s part. But the question is simply whether there is any part of the work of salvation as God works it within us left to man, so that the work of God’s salvation is really not complete, or so that at any stage of that work of God in us His work is conditioned by and contingent upon anything that we must still do. And also this is most emphatically denied by Art. 12 of Canons III, IV. When God has wrought regeneration in the heart of man, which is the principle of subjective salvation, that work of God is entirely complete in itself. It is not in the power of man to be regenerated or not to be regenerated. The work of God is sure and absolutely unconditional as far as the application of salvation to the sinner is concerned.
Still more. The question is also whether it is in the power of man after God has regenerated him either to be converted or to remain unconverted, whether it is in his power after God has given him the principle of the new life either to believe in Christ or not to believe. Also on this question we find the answer in the article of the Canons. The article states that regeneration is not affected by such a mode of operation “that after God has performed his part, it still remains in the power of man. . . .to be converted or to continue unconverted; but it is evidently a supernatural work, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, astonishing, mysterious, and ineffable; not inferior in efficacy to creation, or the resurrection from the dead, as the Scripture inspired by the author of this work declares; so that all in whose heart God works in that marvelous manner, are certainly, infallibly, and effectually regenerated, and do actually believe.” From this it is very evident that neither regeneration, nor conversion, nor repentance, nor belief in Christ is in any sense conditional upon the work of man, upon his will, or desire. When God works His grace in a man, it is not in his power and it is not in his choice either to be converted or to remain unconverted. But he must be converted. When God works His grace in the heart of any man, if is not in his power either to repent or not to repent, which is an element of conversion. But he must and does actually repent. When God works His grace in the heart of any sinner, it is not up to him to decide whether he will believe or not believe in Christ. But he must believe in Christ and actually does believe. For the work of regeneration, and therefore, all the work which is implied in the application of salvation to the sinner is not inferior in efficacy to creation or to resurrection from the dead. And all in whose heart God works that marvelous grace are “certainly, infallibly, and effectually regenerated, and do actually believe”. Such is the marvelous work of grace which God performs sovereignly and unconditionally upon the sinner.
The question must still be asked: what is the proper conception of the relation between God’s part and man’s part, between the work of God and the activity of the regenerated sinner, between faith and believing?
But this we must leave till next time.