Robert C. Harbach is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
The theme, in the title above, we, in our Protestant Reformed Churches, understand to be in sharp contrast to the Calvinistic (or the Reformed) conception of regeneration. It is the latter point of view we must and always do presuppose in our theological stance and thinking. So, at the outset, we quote from Buck’s Theological Dictionary, out of the article, Regeneration, p. 395: Regeneration “is an irresistible, or rather invincible work of God’s grace, Eph. 3:8 . . . It is an instantaneous (immediate, RCH) act, for there can be no medium between life and death . . . . It is acomplete act, and perfect in its kind; a change of the whole man, II Cor. 5:17. . . . It is a (divine, RCH) act, the blessings of which we can never finally lose, John 13:1.” The Arminian will not tolerate this conception.
His conception is documented in what has been called “a textbook of Wesleyan Arminian theology,” had in Dr. Thomas N. Ralston’s Elements of Divinity, chapter 34, entitled, “Regeneration.” This book, of boasted “classic” Arminianism, states that there are conditions, and there is cooperation, in this work of God on the part of the sinner within the process of the new birth (p. 424). Some of these conditions, for example, are that we must “seek, ask, knock, come to Christ, look unto God, repent, believe, open the door of the heart, receive Christ, etc. . . . All of these are spoken of, and urged upon us, as conditions of blessings of salvation, of regeneration . . . without which (conditions) we cannot expect these blessings.” Notice that there is first of all quite a list of conditions required of us, the performance of which will then be followed by the blessings and benefits of Christ’s salvation. But is it not obvious from Scripture that among the blessings of salvation it is also blessed to be able to and actually ask, seek, knock, and come to Christ? These, too, are blessings of and in salvation; so also to repent, believe, receive Christ and look unto the Lord. These are not conditions which indicate the “how to” obtain salvation. They are some of the blessings within our so great salvation.
Then Ralston asks, “are there any passages that say we cannot come, cannot believe, seek, etc.?” The question amazes us, for of course there are such Scripture passages. See John 5:40; John 6:44, 65; John 12:39-40; Ezek. 36:26, 27. Can a heart of stone ask, seek, pray, believe, come to Jesus, or subject itself to the law of God in its incurable state of enmity against God? In its total moral inability to be so subject? Rom. 8:7; Jer. 17:9, marg. Furthermore, none of these so called “conditions” (really blessings in God’s covenant) are “of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy,” (Rom. 9:16). “But,” says Ralston of this verse in Romans 9, “Whoever interprets this of personal and individual regeneration can hardly have examined the passage carefully and candidly.” A careful, candid look at it will bring to notice that in “it is not . . . ,” the “it” refers not to regeneration as such, but to the truth and mercy of unconditional election, which is the ground and guarantee of regeneration. Yet one of the main points of Arminianism is, “No unconditional election!” Then that would mean “no regeneration!” For regeneration, faith, repentance, etc., are fruits of election!
Another instance of conditions to regeneration Ralston finds in Ps. 51:10-12. But this would mean that getting a clean heart is a condition for having a clean heart (424-426). What the psalmist is stating here, though, is that out of a regenerated heart he confesses his double sin of adultery and murder, together with the defilement of these sins, praying for cleansing, for continuance of the consciousness of the enduring presence of the Holy Spirit of regeneration. He prays, too, for restoration, not of a lost salvation, but of the lost joy of his salvation.
To consider yet another Arminian source on this subject assigned us, we turn to Billy Graham’s book,How To Be Born Again. Billy Graham himself does not admit so openly to being an Arminian as Ralston had done. But he certainly is at the top of the list of contemporary “evangelical” Arminians. He conceives of personal and individual regeneration as contributing and “helping to make this world a better place . . .” (145). But this world is not necessarily a better place because of the presence in it of regenerated souls. The true church is better for this, and those souls are the better for it. But as for “this world”—it is so incurably bad that nothing less than eternal judgment and renewal by fire is destined for it, II Pet. 3.
Then on page 150 of this book, Graham’s Arminianism stands out more glaringly. “The context of John 3teaches that the new birth is something that God does for man when man is willing to yield to God.” Almost in the same breath he adds, as though with afterthought, or, by the way, I have to tell you, “that man is dead in trespasses and sins.” That former statement of his, just quoted, is not true at all. No Scripture, including John 3, puts the will of man first before something (anything)God does! See John 1:12-13; James 1:18; I Pet. 1:23; Acts 15:18;Eph. 1:11. Then as for his following true statement, how is it possible for the spiritually dead to “yield to God”? Can the dead fulfill all kinds of conditions? Can the dead “accept” Jesus as Savior? Did Lazarus as a dead man come forth to Jesus? All other Arminian evangelists and preachers say much the same thing when speaking anent the new birth. A Pentecostal evangelist is frequently heard, these days, using such language as: God will work in you the new birth, “if you let Him.” Graham put it this way, “Any person who is willing to trust Jesus Christ as his personal Savior and Lord can receive the new birth now,” (152). This is saying, in only slightly different words, “You can be born of God, if you let Him.”
Involved here is actually a wicked conception of faith. It implies’ that faith originates with man. Some say, or imply, that every man naturally has faith; he need only be persuaded to place it in the right object. Also implied is that faith is a “condition” which God has put within the power of man to fulfill. This means that man’s so called “free will” (which is really a slave to sin) in spiritual things (saving things) is always first. So then faith and conversion are prior to regeneration. This error flows out of the wicked doctrine that all God’s saving mercies are preceded by the acquiescence and approval of the free will of man.
Graham suggests other prerequisites unto salvation. Example: Jesus offers Himself as the power available to live a great life! Also: Christ stands at the door of your heart, but you must open it. Then the Lord will work in you the new birth (155). In fact, with respect to all these conditions, “repentance is first, and absolutely necessary, if we are to be born again” (160). Or, BG puts it this way, “You must make a choice—you must choose to believe” before you may experience the new birth (162). We reject this false doctrine as it is expressed in our Canons of Dort: that it is “in man’s power to be regenerated or not,” (III-IV, Rejection of Errors, VIII). See also Graham’s book, pp. 163, 169.
How different the truth is in the plain, clear, exact wording of Scripture! First, take John, chapter 3, which is divided into two parts. The first part, verses 1-11, contains not a word about believing, but deals entirely with regeneration, God’s initial work of grace in the heart of the elect sinner. In His regenerating work, as this section of John 3 teaches, God alone is active; man is completely passive. The second part of the chapter, verses 12-36, is full of the activity of faith as seen in the regenerated sinner’s act of believing. The relationship between these two parts of John 3 is that of the root to the fruit. Regeneration is the divinely implanted root; faith, the inevitably produced fruit. Therefore, faith cannot be a condition necessary to the realization of regeneration. Whatever Christian graces are in view, regeneration is always the cause of them; they follow regeneration as the effect.
As for John 1:12-13, notice that “as many as received Him,” whenever that was, and do now, at this moment, “believe (present tense: continue to believe) on His name,” were already, prior to this experience of theirs, born of God! This puts regeneration first, as the root is always first before the fruit; and then faith (belief) appears as the fruit, and not otherwise.
Consider John 5:24: “Verily, verily I say unto you, he thatheareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me,hath (keeps having: the underscored words, are all present tenses) everlasting life, and shall not come (comes not) into condemnation (judgment), but is passed from death unto life” (has passed out of death into life!). Why anyone hears, believes, and so hasand keeps having (present tenses) everlasting life is because he has already passed (past tense) out of death into life! Regeneration is a spiritual resurrection, which, as these tenses show, has already occurred in the case of those who do now hear, believe, and have now, and keep on having, everlasting life. Again, regeneration is the root; and faith and the activity of faith are the fruit. These are deadly shots out of the “canon” of Scripture, which devastate the error of Arminianism. There is very much more ammunition in the magazine of Holy Writ. But it is hardly necessary for any more shooting at this point. After all, there is such a thing as “over-kill.”