In our former article we were occupied with the grand truth that this Scripture passage fromis a precept of the gospel to the reborn church of God. We ended by asserting that Peter does not admonish the Church to become what she is not, but rather the Church is admonished to live out in holy fear and trembling what (she has been made to be in Christ. More and more we must love one another fervently from the heart. That is conversion. That is true sorrow for the “spots” that cleave to our best works, and more and more having true joy in God through Jesus Christ.
Let us further make an inquiry from the text as to this matter of loving one another fervently from the heart.
It should then not escape our notice, that the spiritual concomitant of such a fervent love from the heart is “having your souls purified in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren.” We do well in taking particular notice of the relationship in which the Apostle here places this fervent love from out of the “heart” to the purification of the “souls”.
The question is: what is the relationship between these two elements in our Christian experience as indicated in the text?
The grammatical connection between these two parts is indicated by the perfect active participle “Hegnikotes,” which allows for more than one translation in English. The King James Version translates: “Seeing that ye have purified your souls….” According to this rendering it means that the purification is already an accomplished act. Whether that act is once or repeated. It is finished. There is also the translation which makes of the perfect participle a gerund: by purifying. In this latter sense Calvin interprets it. Personally we favor the latter interpretation for we believe that it points us in the proper direction. It indicates that without the purifying of the “soul” there will be no fervent love from the “heart.” The two go hand in hand; they are concomitant! This concomitancy is, however, not such that the purifying of the “soul” is the “pre-requisite” for love from the “heart”. That it cannot be because of the following in the text.
First, because the text is not simply speaking of love from the heart for one another, but its speaking of fervent love, which we are to have one for another. It is not so that we cannot love at all from the heart except we first do something else, that is: purify our souls. That would be pure moralism! No, the text is speaking of fervent love, and admonishes us to such fervency.
Secondly, because the perfect tense of this participial form indicates not a static purity, but rather a living active faith and new life in Christ, which is constantly up to the present moment in the activity of purification. The seed of regeneration is there by the Word of God that liveth forever; God preserves us in the faith through His Spirit abiding in us.
Thirdly, because the relationship of “heart” and “soul” in man is such that our “soul” does not determine the “heart” but rather our “heart” determines the life of our “soul”. Strictly speaking we cannot purify our souls from a pure heart. This relationship is indicated also in the words of the Lord Jesus when he tells us that the great commandment is that we love the Lord, our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind. The heart is first, it is the fountain from which all life’s issues are. The soul is the vehicle employed by the heart. Without the soul the heart cannot express itself. And the “heart” expresses itself through the “soul,” but then consciously by means of the “mind.”
From this it appears that the concomitancy between the purification of the soul and the love of the heart is not one of pre-requisite or cause. It is rather one of the only proper spiritual quality of the soul in which the love of the heart can express itself fervently. For the fervency of the love of the heart is really the spiritual warmth of a pure soul. In a filthy and evil soul fervent love cannot be expressed. Here the loins of the mind are not girt up in spiritual readiness.
When the text here speaks of “soul” reference is had to the spiritual soul of man, commonly spoken of as consisting of mind and will, together with the concrete attitudes of this will and mind. Now this attitude, fundamentally, can be one of the “flesh” or it can be of the “spirit”. If it is the former then we do not have obedience to the truth by the Spirit; when the latter is present then it is obedience to the truth.
Just one more observation here.
Now a purified soul is one who sees himself consciously as the “I” who has delight in the law of God after the inward man. That delight fills his soul. Thus the soul is pure. In this purity the love for the brother is fervent.
Oh, when we obey the entire truth of the glorious gospel with the obedience of faith wrought by the Holy Spirit then it is not a grievous law demanding works from us, but it is the inward must of the new life in Christ, of our having been renewed by God’s Holy Spirit in true righteousness and holiness. It is self-conscious faith that asserts itself in new obedience. Such faith bows before the will of Christ. It is the man, who is enlightened in his mind, in a most delightful, astonishing, mysterious and ineffable way.
Such is the purification of which Peter here speaks.
Such is the concomitancy of the purification of the “souls” of each elect believer, and the “fervency” of his love from the “heart”. It allows for the term “require merit”, while the term “pre-requisite” cannot possibly express this relationship. For it ought to be evident that we do not purify our souls in order to love fervently! And such is not the teaching of the text either. The text says that our purification is into brotherly love. The preposition into (eis in Greek) means more and more into brotherly love. There is no purification of the soul, the mind the will, but what we are going in the direction of love for the brother. Such is the quintessence of “philadelphia”. Spiritually-psychologically there is no point of separation between the purifying of the, soul and the fervent love. One could not possibly first do the one and then the other. That is a spiritual monstrosity. And he who tries it nonetheless would find himself once more in a hopeless impasse of being under the bondage of the law rather than in the blessedness of grace. Let a man try it once, if he wants to play with fire, and see once whether he will not land in hopeless desperation!
But we will not place such burdens of unnatural and un-Scriptural spiritual soul-care upon the dear flock of God!
We will remind the flock of God, as does Peter, of the fact that there is strong consolation for us in the imperishable and unchangeable work of God’s regenerating grace.
The text reads further: “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God which liveth and abideth forever…” Verse 23.
Let us try to see some of the implications of this last quoted Scripture passage.
First of all we would point out, that this entire 23rd verse is related to the main clause in verse 22 by the participle in Greek (anagegenneemenoi) translated in the King James Version: being born again. This relationship is expressed as being a circumstantial participle. In this case it expresses cause of the purifying of the soul and having fervent love for one another. There is no such love and purity possible except out of the work of God in regeneration. When this same “cause” is viewed from the aspect of the fact, that the text is an exhortation, then the participle also expresses ground.
Concerning this new birth in Christ we ought to notice the following particulars in the text.
It is evident from the passive tense that in the work of this regeneration we are wholly passive. We do not co-operate with God in this work. Nor do we in any way experience this regenerating work of God so that we can point it out. It is solely God’s work in our hearts, in the hearts of the elect in Christ, so that we are such that we are new creatures in Christ. Old things have passed away. Our hearts are fundamentally made new. The dominion of sin and darkness is once and for always broken. The works of the Devil have been destroyed in us principally. And we shall return to our former condition never again. God has created us in this regeneration unto good works in Christ. He has planted in us the habitus of faith from which the actus of faith springs forth in purification unto brotherly love.
That this regeneration, spoken of in the text, is wider in scope than the first implanting of new life, or regeneration in the narrow sense is also evident. It is, evidently, regeneration viewed in the wider sense, as including faith, conversion and hope in God.
For proof of this interpretation we call attention to the following elements in the text and context. In the first place, notice that the regeneration here spoken of is presented by the Apostle as coming forth out of incorruptible seed. It proceeds from a new principle of life. And this “seed” is thus in some sense prior to the regeneration here referred to. Secondly, notice that it is a regeneration that is brought about through (by means of—dia) the word of God. And this word is explicitly stated to be the Word of God, which by the gospel is preached to us.
We will reflect on this in a future essay—the last on this Chapter.
Meanwhile, it seems to me, that we here stand before the reality that “the manner of this operation cannot fully be comprehended by believers in this life”. Canons of Dordt, Articles III, IV, Paragraph 13.
(To be continued)