Apr 16, 2009

New Divinity

It has been the contention of Bob Ross and myself that the idea that regeneration occurs prior to and without faith, and that conversion and regeneration are separate and distinct experiences, is not the original view of the first Calvinists and Reformers, but was a later invention by 18th and 19th century neo Calvinists. This later hybrid or novel invention is part of what historians of Calvinism properly call the "New Divinity." The following work by an able historian demonstrates that the view of the "hybrids" is a novel doctrine among Calvinists, a "New Divinity." The following citations are from "Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War" by E. Brooks Holifield. This "New Divinity" is also sometimes called "Hopkinsianism."

Holified wrote (emphasis mine - SG):

"Conversion required regenerating grace, and this truth too the New Divinity had misunderstood. First, the Edwardeans had insufficiently appreciated the "common work of the Spirit of God preparatory to a saving faith." Hart believed that Hopkins allowed for "no preparatory work of the Spirit," but Hemmenway saw that the problem lay in differing understandings of preparation. The difference was visible in the readiness of the Old Calvinists to talk of degrees of preparation, to claim that some of the unregenerate might be "more prepared than others." The New Divinity could tolerate no such idea of progress in the unregenerate state, no such gradualism in the religious life. The Old Calvinists also said that the same means of grace that prepared the heart also produced its regeneration; the New Divinity denied that means ever regenerated anybody."

"To the Old Calvinists, one of the worst errors of the Hopkinsians was their failure to recognize that regeneration occurred through illumination of the mind by the means of grace. A recurring theme in Old Calvinist polemics was the assertion that "all judicious Calvinist divines" believed that "conversion or regeneration is wrought by light, by the moral power of divine truth." In the Old Calvinist order of salvation, the Spirit first illumined the mind with a "common doctrinal understanding and belief of truth." This truth brought a sense of guilt, a fear of puhnishment, and an affecting view of the holiness and mercy of God; and the assent to truth moved the will toward a heartfelt consent and faith. How, the Old Calvinists asked, could the will ever consent to anything without first understanding it? Only the conviction that faith came "through the truth" made such means of grace as sermons and meditations worth defending." (pg. 154-55)

"The New Divinity allowed no middle ground between sinners and saints. One either loved God above self or one loved self above God. This is why Hopkins found it so distressing to read Jonathan Mayhew's 1761 sermon on Striving to Enter in at the Strait Gate, in which Mayhew encouraged the unregenerate to use the means of grace to strive toward holiness and suggested that their striving made them more acceptable to God. Bellamy also taught that the means of grace helped people overcome sin, but Hopkins saw in Mayhew's doctrine a gradualism that made no immediate demand for repentance. He replied to Mayhew four years later in his Enquiry Concerning the Promises of the Gospel, in which he argued that the Bible made no promises of salvation to "the exercies and doings of the unregenerate." In telling his followers to strive, Hopkins thought, Jesus was addressing true disciples. Hopkins acknowledged that the New Testament held out salvation to everyone who desired it. But in the New Testament, he said, to desire salvation was to desire "holiness for its own sake," and the unregenerate never wanted to be saved in this sense. In the background stood Edward's conception of true virtue."

"The debate over the promises of salvation furnished the context in which Hopkins employed the New Divinity distinction between regeneration and conversion. Expanding on a point that Edwards had once made in reference to infants, Bellamy concluded in 1750 that regeneration preceded conversion, which he defined as an exercise of the heart that flowed from a new direction. Hopkins used the same distinction to counter Mayhew. He argued that God regenerated the sinful by laying a foundation in their mind by which they could discern the excellence of Christian truth and embrace the gospel with their hearts. This regeneration was an "unpromised favor," a divine work, immediate, instantaneous, and imperceptible. The conditional promises of the New Testament-do this and you will be saved-were directed to men and women who were regenerate but not yet converted. They still had to turn to repentance, faith, and holiness. This turn constituted their conversion, and in it they were active. Mayhew was right
(was "wrong" - SG) to say that the promises implied a capacity for response, but he failed to see that only the regenerate could respond."

"In describing regeneration as immediate, Hopkins threw into question the old Puritan assumption that God normally produced regeneration through such "means of grace" as sermons and prayers. The initial change, he said, came from the Spirit-not from "any medium or means whatsoever." Means of grace were necessary. They accomplished a "preparatory work"-producing the knowledge, conviction, and humilitation that normally preceded regeneration. They ensured that the saint would be "prepared to act properly when regenerated." But as Edwards had also argued, the means could not bring about regeneration, which was an immediate act of the Spirit."
(This is a misrepresentation of the view of Edwards - SG)

"Hopkins further disturbed the Old Calvinists when he added that the unregenerate became "more vicious and guilty in God's sight" the more knowledge they derived from the means of grace. This was the point that first caused opponents to accuse him of espousing a "New Divinity." Almost a century earlier, Samuel Willard had warned about the special danger of remaining unfruitful under a gospel ministry. Edwards made a similar observation. Bellamy taught that even the best religious performances of the unregenerate remained "sinful," because the sinner was interested in "only what he can get." But Hopkins emphasized the point in a way that drew spirited reactions. He insisted that resistance from the awakened brought greater blame than resistance from someone who knew nothing of the gospel."

See here

Thus, it appears that it is an historical fact that the idea that men are regenerated apart from the gospel and faith, and that conversion and regeneration are separate experiences, is not the "Old Calvinist" position. I have yet to find those "hybrid" or "hyper" Calvinists who teach Hopkinsianism to come forward and disprove this historical fact that such is not the original view of the great Calvinist Reformers, but was a later novel invention by their supposed heirs.

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