Part 2—Exposition of the Canons, Fifth Head of Doctrine. Of the Perseverance of the Saints. Rejection of Errors, Article 8

Article 8. Who teach: That it is not absurd that one having lost his first regeneration, is again and even often born anew. For these deny by this doctrine the in­corruptibleness of the seed of God, whereby we are born again. Contrary to the testimony of the Apostle Peter: “Having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible,” I Peter 1:23.

The above rendering very well conveys the idea of the original, and therefore needs no correction in the translation. The structure and punctuation of the last two sentences, however, could be improved. A comma, instead of a period, should follow the words “born again,” and then the sentence should continue with “contrary to the testimony of the apostle Peter,” etc. Besides, as we have noted before, it would be better consistently to follow the King James Ver­sion in the citations from Scripture.

It is rather unfortunate that Reformed people in the dis­cussion of this article tend to lose sight of the main point and to become entangled in the rather involved question of mediate or immediate regeneration. This may be quite natural. And we surely do not mean to say that the question of mediate or immediate regeneration is of no significance, or that a discussion of the question is without benefit. Never­theless, even though this discussion has arisen since the time when our Canons were drawn up, and even though this dis­cussion has often centered about the text in I Peter 1:23, quoted in this article, that discussion is not exactly germane to the issue involved in this article of the Rejection of Errors. The Arminians had, and still have, an altogether different conception of regeneration than the Reformed. And every sound Reformed man, whether he maintains that regenera­tion is mediate or that it is immediate, will with our Canons reject the Arminian view of regeneration.

Although, therefore, we will naturally come to this ques­tion of mediate or immediate regeneration in connection with our discussion of the Scriptural proof attached to this article, we intend to give our primary attention to that which is also primary in the article, namely, the erroneous Arminian view of regeneration. And we intend to do this not only because this is in harmony with the article itself, but also because this is very necessary in our day, when this same erroneous view of regeneration is widely taught as though it were the truth of Scripture.

It may be considered rather strange that in connection with the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints this sub­ject of regeneration comes up again and again. In reality, however, this is not strange at all. For the two truths are inseparably related, and the one necessarily follows from the other. If you are Reformed in regard to the doctrine of regeneration, to be consistent you must also be Reformed in regard to the doctrine of perseverance. And if you are Ar­minian in regard to regeneration, you will also be Arminian in regard to the perseverance. Regeneration, rightly under­stood, is the essence of perseverance; and perseverance is but the extension of the wonder of regeneration. Regeneration means that the principle of the new life of Christ is implanted in your heart. Perseverance, positively speaking, means nothing else than that Christ from moment to moment con­tinues to give you that life through His indwelling Spirit. Regeneration means that the incorruptible seed has been im­planted in you. Perseverance means that that seed remaineth in you, so that no matter how grievously you may fall and no matter how far you may fall, you can never fall so far that the principle of the new life perishes. If, therefore, you deny this truth of regeneration, you have already principally denied the truth of perseverance.

Thus the Arminians necessarily did violence to the truth of regeneration when they attempted to deny the sure perseverance of the saints. They taught, according to this article, “that it is not absurd that one having lost his first regeneration, is again and even often born anew.” And our fathers charged that “these deny by this doctrine the in­corruptibleness of the seed of God, whereby we are born again.” Our fathers go the very core of the Arminians” error in this statement. But there is more than one related error in the Arminian view. And we must, first of all, under­stand their view. Even in the brief statement of their view in this article we may distinguish these elements: 1) Re­generation is of such a nature that it can be lost. 2) Re­generation is of such a nature that one can be repeatedly regenerated. 3) Regeneration—this by implication—is of such a nature that it can be lost permanently and finally, that is, so that we are never again regenerated.

What, then, is the Arminian teaching on this score?

To put it very bluntly, the Arminian does not believe in regeneration at all. But the term regeneration is Scriptural. And since the Bible speaks of being born again or being born from above, the Arminian must also say something about regeneration. In fact, Arminians love to say, “The Bible says …” However, they empty the term of its true, Scriptural content; and they substitute for that true mean­ing of the term their own false notions, which really have nothing to do with the term. They pour into the term an entirely foreign meaning.

In the first place, the Arminian completely denies any necessity of and any room for regeneration in the true sense of the word. For he denies original sin. And he denies that the will has ever been corrupted. And he denies that the unregenerate man is really and utterly dead and destitute of all powers, and gifts is not necessary (because man never lost man can yet hunger and thirst after righteousness and life, and can offer the sacrifice of a contrite and broken spirit. Hence, there is really no room for and no necessity of a new birth in the Arminian view of man. Man is essentially good.

In the second place, the Arminian teaches that faith is always and only an act—not a bond, nor a power. Accord­ing to him, in conversion the infusion of new qualities, powers, and gifts is not necessary (because man never lost them), and it does not take place. And therefore faith itself is not a quality or gift infused by God, but only an act of man. The Arminian therefore places all the emphasis upon the act of believing.

In the third place, that act of believing is, in the Arminian view, the very first step in salvation. Peculiarly enough, it is before regeneration. This betrays already—or at least ought to betray to any thinking Christian—that he is playing hocus-pocus with the doctrine of regeneration. For if a man is able to believe, this obviates any necessity whatsoever of a being born again. Nevertheless, this is the Arminian view. If you believe and accept Christ, then you will be reborn. They can speak of this silly and absurd thing in the most glowing and persuasive terms. But silly it is, and desperately wicked too, to teach that the wonderful and powerful act of regeneration that is in Scripture so highly celebrated as a new creation and a resurrection from the dead is dependent upon an act of believing to be performed by a dead sinner. Surely, the Bible says, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” But to say, “Unless you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you cannot be born again,” is just as foreign to Scripture as black is to white. And it is so desperately wicked because it is so deceptive and sounds so nice and pious in the ears of the uninitiated. But once again: this is the Arminian view.

In the fourth place, the Arminian—for he has to speak of this too—corrupts and distorts the grace of God whereby we are converted into a gentle advising. He denies the power of the Word of God and changes it into a mere advisory or persuasive word, even though that word be true in its con­tents. The power of that Word is dependent on the consent of the hearer.

And now regeneration, finally, means that if a man hears that gentle, advisory, persuasive word and believes it—and only so long as he believes it—there is an influence for good on his life, a change for the better, a “new birth.” If, however, that same man tomorrow no more believes, but in­stead rejects that word, then that new birth is lost too. As long as a man accepts the word, that word has a good in­fluence upon him; if he lets go of that word, then that good influence is also lost. Thus it is possible that a man is regenerated repeatedly. And thus it is possible that he may also lose his regeneration finally and completely, with the result that though he was born again, he nevertheless perishes forever.

Now our fathers do not take the trouble to go into all the ramifications of the Arminian view to contradict their error. In the first place, they have already dealt with the various errors that are involved. But, in the second place, they pin­point a single element which makes it obvious beyond a shadow of doubt that the Arminians in fact deny the whole truth of regeneration and maintain a downright absurd view. That one element is this, that the Arminians actually teach that the seed of God, through which we are born again, is corruptible, while the Scriptures teach that we are born again not of corruptible, but of incorruptible seed.

This is quite sufficient to overthrow the entire view. And it is a sufficient test for anyone to use in order to determine whether one’s view of regeneration is correct. In the light of the Scriptural truth that we are born again of incorruptible seed, it is nothing short of absurd to teach that one can lose his first regeneration and can be again and even often born anew.

The passage from Scripture which our fathers cite is I Peter 1:23. Because we intend to enter into the question of mediate or immediate regeneration in connection with this discussion, we will quote the entire passage of I Peter 1:23-­25 for such use as we may make of it in connection with that question. It reads as follows: “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.”

(to be continued)

H.C.H.