About Mediate and Immediate Regeneration
From a reader in Ontario, Canada I received the following questions:
“In the Standard Bearer of February 15, ’76 I found that according to The Vidalia Resolution (see All Around Us) ‘Through the gospel the children of God are instructed and fed, strengthened and rebuked, exhorted and corrected; but nowhere does the Bible teach that God uses the gospel as a means of regenerating sinners.’
“This seems to create a difficulty as far as I Peter 1:23 is concerned, where we read: ‘Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.’
“However the words of our Lord in John 3:8, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit,” must be interpreted in favor of the Vidalia Resolution.
“Please could you shed more light on this?
“In the second place, Rev. Veldman does connect this statement that the sinner is regenerated outside of the preaching of the gospel with the ‘well-meant offer of salvation to all who hear the gospel’; I do not see such a connection. Would you or Rev. Veldman please explain this?
“In the third place, if the preaching of the gospel is not used by the Lord to regenerate sinners, what about repentance? This in the light of Romans 10, I Corinthians 1:21-25, John 20:31, II Corinthians 5:18-21?”
These are interesting and also important questions.
First of all, I would point out that this entire subject is discussed rather at length in Volume II of The Triple Knowledge, in the explanation of Lord’s Day XXV. I strongly recommend that all our readers who have this exposition of the Heidelberg Catechism by the late Rev. Herman Hoeksema read the chapter entitled “Regeneration Immediate,” pp. 420-433. I also recommend that, in connection with the importance of this subject, the next chapter, pp. 434-442, entitled “Preaching in the Sphere of the Covenant,” be read. The latter subject is, of course, closely connected with the subject of immediate regeneration. In fact, it seems to me that some time ago I received a question on this subject of preaching in the sphere of the covenant, either in private correspondence or for Question Box. At that time I made reference to the same chapter. These are two very significant subjects which are intimately related. Space does not permit quoting these chapters in our Standard Bearer, however; and therefore I will limit myself to a quotation of what is found in this chapter concerning I Peter 1:23-25. We read on pp. 430, 431:
“Again, also the text from I Peter 1:23-25 teaches us the same truth, namely: the regeneration in its first beginning is an immediate work of the Holy Spirit. The text reads as follows: ‘Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass whithereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth forever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.’
“This passage has often been quoted as favoring mediate regeneration. Does not the apostle plainly refer to the Word of God (vs. 23) through which we are reborn as ‘the word which by the gospel is preached unto you?’ From this it is plain, it is argued, that regeneration is wrought through the means of the preaching of the gospel.
“However, such an interpretation fails to distinguish properly and sharply between the different concepts of the text. Especially important are the two prepositions: ‘of and ‘by’. These two prepositions are better literally translated by ‘out of’ (ek) and ‘through’ (dia). We are regenerated out of incorruptible seed’ and through the Word of God which liveth and abideth forever. Regeneration, therefore, is here presented as developing out of a seed. This seed is evidently the new principle of life, implanted immediately in the heart by the Holy Spirit. It is wrought in our hearts not only without our will or effort, but even without consciousness. It takes place in what is often called the subconscious. And the development of the new birth out of this incorruptible seed takes place throughthe Word of God. The question is, what is meant here? It must be evident that not the preaching of the gospel is meant, for this Word of God is described as the Word that ‘liveth and abideth forever’, and again, as ‘the Word of the Lord that endureth forever.’ And this certainly cannot be said of Scripture or of the preaching of the gospel as such. For as such the written Word of God or even the preaching of the gospel does not live, nor does .it endure forever. It is therefore the casual, creative Word of God that is wrought efficaciously in the heart, opening the same, as in the case of Lydia, to hear the Word of truth. And finally, the apostle writes that this living and abiding and ever-enduring Word of God is preached unto men. Conceiving, therefore, of the work of regeneration as a whole, we may distinguish three stages. In the first place, there is the seed that is implanted in the heart immediately by the Holy Spirit. In the second place, there is the Word of God, living and abiding forever, by which the seed of regeneration is developed into the new birth. Finally, there is the preaching of the gospel, through which men are externally called and in connection with which they are brought to consciousness through the power of the same living and abiding Word of God.”
As to the second question, the Rev. Veldman may reflect further on this if he so pleases. But let me remark briefly that if God well-meaningly offers grace and salvation to all men in the preaching of the gospel, it ought to be plain that this offered salvation also includes regeneration, the very first of the benefits of salvation. In that case, it is plain not only that regeneration is mediate, that is, wrought through the preaching of the gospel, but also that one is shut up to the Arminian view of regeneration, namely, that it is dependent on man’s willingness to respond to the offer and to seek, desire, and ask for the blessing of the rebirth. This is the view of regeneration taught by a man such as Billy Graham. Some years ago I commented on the fact that this is exactly what Billy Graham teaches in his book World Aflame. It must be remembered, however, that even those Reformed men who held to a view of mediate regeneration did not hold to this Arminian theory. This, by the way, is discussed in the chapters of The Triple Knowledge to which I already referred.
The answer to the third question ought now to be plain. Certainly, repentance is wrought by the Spirit of God through the preaching of the gospel (that is, therefore, mediately) in the- heart of the elect, regenerated sinner. It is through the saving calling, the external aspect of which is the preaching of the gospel, that the life or regeneration is quickened into active and conscious faith and repentance.
ABOUT COMMON GRACE FOR CAIN
From a reader on the West Coast I received a request to explain Genesis 4:15, particularly in connection with the idea that somehow God showed grace to Cain after having first pronounced punishment and curse upon him.
First of all, we should get the entire passage before us. In Genesis 4:10-15 we read: “And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground. And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand; When thou tillest the ground, it. shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and vagabond shalt thou be in the earth. And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face .of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me. And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.”
It is a very commonly held view that in this passage Cain complains about the greatness of his punishment, and that in response to this complaint the Lord takes pity upon Cain and shows him kindness (grace) by placing a mark upon him and thus preventing his being slain. This, then, would be grace to the reprobate, or common grace.
In response to this question, I will quote a section from my Old Testament History Notes, the syllabus on The Prediluvian Period, pp. 24, ff. The first part of this quotation is about the sentence pronounced on Cain:
“Sentence is therefore pronounced upon Cain. He is cursed from the earth which hath opened her mouth to receive his brother’s blood. Notice, in the first place, that Cain is cursed not by, but from the ground. Secondly, notice that this is explained in the words of verse 12: ‘When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.’
“This is a specific curse pronounced upon Cain, quite in harmony with the nature of his sin. The ground itself was also cursed after the fall; yet for Christ’s sake, and for the sake of the elect in Him, it was also kept and principally blessed. But now Cain is cursed from the ground. The earth itself is made to assume an attitude of cursing toward Cain. When Cain tills the ground, it will not yield its strength to him. This does not mean that Cain will dwell in the desert. But it implies that wherever Cain shall turn, he will be cursed from the earth. His presence, as it were, will cause the earth to recoil in horror, so that it will scarcely feed him, and so that only with great difficulty will he be able to derive from the soil the means of his support.
“In that same sense he will be a fugitive and a vagabond. The very earth will cast him out and forsake him, so that he will have no rest. Especially, it seems, in the light of Cain’s retort and in the light of the fact that he goes forth from the land of Eden, this included two elements: 1) that he no longer had any place in the land of Eden, where Jehovah revealed His face and spoke to His people; and, 2) that he would be driven always by the impulse of fear that everyone finding him would want to slay him. As unrelentingly chased by this dread, he would have no settled resting place in the earth. A vain, fugitive, accursed life shall Cain lead in the earth. The very earth will spew him out, wherever he turns.
“Bear in mind, too, that behind all this is the Word of God’s curse, the almighty Word of God’s wrath upon Cain, and that, too, in specific judgment of his sin of murdering the righteous. The covenant God takes the part of His people and takes vengeance upon their enemies.”
Before I continue with the quotation of my notes, let me call attention to the fact that the very idea of God’s showing kindness to Cain in the light of the preceding would be very strange. It would be in conflict with the whole idea of God’s holy wrath and the consequent curse pronounced on Cain. And this reminds us again of the theological consequence of the theory of common grace, namely, that it is in conflict with God’s holiness. When God shows grace toward His elect people in Christ, He does not do so at the expense of His holiness, but in a way that is in perfect harmony with His holiness. But an alleged grace toward the reprobate can only imply a contradiction in God, a contradiction of holiness and grace.
And now I continue to quote from my Old Testament History notes on the subject of the execution of God’s sentence:
“Cain’s attitude over against this sentence is not at all one of repentance. He retorts, ‘My punishment is greater than I can bear,’ or, according to another rendering, ‘Mine iniquity is greater than can be forgiven.’ Even the latter rendering, though questionable in itself, cannot be explained as a complaint of repentance, or even of remorse—not in the light of what follows. He looks at the heavy punishment imposed on him, rather than looking with sorrow at his sin. This is always characteristic of the impenitent.
“But even with respect to that punishment his attitude is one of rebellion and defiance. He retorts that his punishment is greater than he can bear. He is driven out from the presence of the Lord in Eden. He is become an accursed outcast. But his punishment, such is his defiance, shall never be executed: for everyone that finds him will kill him. The sense of Cain’s retort, therefore, is that his punishment will fail of execution because it will soon be ended by death at the hand of someone who will kill him.
“But the Lord will work out His purpose with Cain. Cain himself must be a sign, a sign of the truth that the righteous shall inherit the earth, while the wicked shall be disinherited. He must serve as a sign and concrete illustration of the everlasting punishment of the wicked, who shall go on forever existing, yet absolutely disinherited. Thus in Cain is realized a theme which occurs often in the Psalms (cf. Ps. 59, 69, 109, for example).
“Hence, the Lord appoints a mark, a sign, upon Cain. There is no profit in joining the speculations which have been made as to the nature of that sign—whether Cain was a leper, or a horn, or was afflicted with trembling, etc. The simple fact is that the Bible does not tell us about this, and we do not have to know. The point is that it was a mark which served to prevent Cain’s being killed by warning and threatening everyone of a seven-fold vengeance upon the man who might lay hands on this God-appointed vagabond. Nor must we mistake the purpose and motive of this sign. There was no expression of grace and longsuffering in it. This is impossible: grace and the curse do not go hand in hand. In fact, this sign had the very opposite motive: it insured the execution of God’s sentence upon Cain.
“Thus, in the first place, Cain must serve as a living testimony of the fact that the Lord takes His people’s part in the conflict between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Here is a revelation that God and all things are for His people, and against the wicked; that God’s people can suffer and be hurt for a little while, but that their enemies must soon perish, while the righteous have the victory.
“In the second place, the Lord’s justice upon Cain is so executed upon Cain that: 1) He is kept alive and becomes the progenitor of an ungodly generation. 2) He and his generation are given a separate place, away from the presence of the Lord in Eden, where they can develop in ungodliness and where the sin of Cain can ripen and bear its full fruit.
“In the third place, the very form of the curse pronounced upon Cain becomes, under the providence of God, the occasion for Cain and his generations becoming civilization-builders. It must not be considered mere coincidence that when Cam goes out from the presence of the Lord, he goes about building a city. This should be viewed as a consequence of his wrestling against the curse pronounced upon him. But even this must serve ultimately the divine purpose of the defeat of the seed of the serpent. For as the line of Cain becomes great in its worldly achievements, so it also progresses in wickedness, finally filling the measure of iniquity and becoming ripe for the destruction of the Flood.”
The above goes beyond the immediate question of common grace, but I wanted to be positive as well as negative in my comments. Besides, my questioner suggested that the notion of common grace for Cain was contrary to the idea of the covenant. I agree with this suggestion, and I wanted to point out somewhat how the punishment of Cain had to serve the realization of God’s purpose with a view to His covenant during the pre-diluvian period.