Apr 24, 2009

Webster on Regeneration II


"The author regrets his inability to give the name of the writer, who has so ably and satisfactorily refuted Dr. Ridgley's opinion, that the word cannot be the instrument of regeneration. The article first appeared in the third volume of the Religious Monitor, in 1827.

"Observing lately,upon reading Dr. Ridgley's Body of Divinity, on the subject of regeneration, a sentiment advanced by the Dr. upon that subject, which, in my opinion, is very exceptionable; and a sentiment, which, as far as is known to the writer of this paper, was never maintained before by any who passed for orthodox on the general and leading doctrines of the gospel,—as the Dr. will be considered as an authority by many on subjects of this kind, and as the work is, by a late extensive edition of it, published in this country, put into the hands of great numbers, and something like the sentiment advanced by the Dr. begins to make its appearance in some of the publications of modern times, whose character for orthodoxy is not disputed, I concluded it might perhaps be of service to some of your readers to send my thoughts upon the sentiment advanced by him, to your useful miscellany for insertion, if you deem them worthy of a place there.

What we dislike in the account the Dr. gives of this saving work of God upon the soul, is that he makes regeneration to take place without the instrumentality of the word, or any of the ordinary means of grace; and his arguments to prove that this is indeed the case, we consider to be very inconclusive, and involved in great obscurity, if not founded upon mistaken views of the nature of a work of grace in the soul, both in regeneration, and in progressive sanctification.

That a work of God, whether of nature or of grace, may be entitled to the character of a creation work, it is not requisite that it be accomplished without means, and our asserting that the word is the instrument, in what is called the new creation, is accordingly without that absurdity the Dr. would attach to it. Our admitting, too, that this new creation is effected by the instrumentality of the word generally, lays no ground for the assertion, that then we would be created by faith; because, though the word cannot profit without faith, yet faith does not go before, but follows the word, which both begets the act of faith and the principle which produces it, being, in the hand of the Spirit, the instrument for this purpose."

"Having presented his arguments to prove that regeneration is accomplished without the instrumentality of the word, he tries to account for the other way of thinking on this subject. "I am ready (he says) to conjecture that what leads many divines into this way of thinking, is the sense in which they understand the words of the Apostle, "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." 1 Pet. i. 23, and elsewhere, "Of his own will begat he us by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures." James i. 16. Whereas, this does not so much respect the implanting the principle of grace, as it does our being enabled to act from that principle; and it is as though he should say, he hath made us believers, or induced us to love and obey him, by the word of truth, which supposes a principle of grace to have been implanted: otherwise the word of truth would never have produced these effects. Regeneration may be taken not only for our being made alive unto God, or created unto good works, but for our putting forth living actions proceeding from that principle which is implanted in the soul. I am far from denying that faith and all other graces are wrought in us, by the instrumentality of the word; and it is in this sense, that some who treat on this subject, explain their sentiments when they speak of being born again by the word."

Of consequence, according to the Dr., regeneration, strictly speaking, and the new birth, are quite distinct things, according to any conception we are to form of them; and the new birth is not to be referred to that change which takes place when the sinner is brought from nature to grace, nor to be restricted to any given period of time, but is a thing which is taking place every day; according as the believer is carried out by new supplies of grace, he attains to the practice of duty. "It is (he says) our being enabled to act from that principle: and it is as though he should say, he hath made us believers or induced us to love and obey him by the word of truth:" which is but what God is doing by his Spirit upon his people every day, by means of his word, and various other ordinances of his grace. And lest we should misunderstand him, and conclude that he intends only to show, that the Apostle meant, that only those who are born again can do good actions, but that he means something more than this, he adds, "Regeneration may be taken, not only for our being made alive to God, &c. but for our putting forth living actions," attempting to prove thereby, that these passages, if they respect regeneration at all, it must be in this very extended sense of the word. It is some such a kind of new birth as the Arminians receive into their creed, which they may have and lose, and which rises and falls as, they stand or fall from grace; for in the language of the Dr. being born again, may be taken, for our putting forth living actions, proceeding from that principle. But this the believer does not always, or at least sometimes he does it in so small a degree that it is scarcely perceptible. He is sometimes more, sometimes less active, spiritually, as the measure of grace is, which is given to him, according to the gift of Christ.

There is only one way by which, when he asserts that to be born again is, our being enabled to act from that principle implanted in regeneration, he can be supposed to mean, with any shade of consistency with himself, that the new birth is a work of God which takes place at one and the same moment of time, and that is by allowing him to consider it as an ability given by God, to exercise the principle implanted in regeneration, (for he says it is different from regeneration properly so called,) which man continues ever after, unaided of God, to put forth of himself, so that he is like a clock, that put together by its maker and set in motion, moves by a power inherent in itself; because, if the ability of the Christian to act from that principle, is by continued supplies of grace, and more or less, as these supplies are granted, it could not be one act of God, but a continued acting or a succession of acts, in the way of communicating that ability. But as he says it may be taken for the putting forth of living actions, this seems to put it beyond a doubt, that according to him, it is not to be confined to any given time, or particular act of God, towards the sinner. So much with respect to the Dr.

The Editor of the Philadelphia edition, in a foot note, defends the sentiment and advances some things equally as exceptionable concerning this first work of the Spirit of God upon the soul.—"No intervention (he says) of second causes seems necessary.—The Spirit of God is the agent; the soul of man is the subject of influence; and he is said to open the heart, to give a new heart, to create anew, to enlighten the mind in the knowledge of the truth, to work in us to will and to do; or to give sight to the blind, and hearing to the deaf. From such expressions, it may be gathered that sight, knowledge, new dispositions, and a change of inclinations, are the effect of regeneration, not the thing itself." Again: "If the Holy Spirit acts no otherwise than by motives, angelic natures do this also, and no more power is ascribed to the Searcher of hearts than to them." He makes it to be entirely a physical change, and seems to mistake the view of those who hold that the Spirit of God, in regeneration, uses the instrumentality of the word. For it is not their opinion, that the Holy Spirit acts no otherwise than by addressing motives to the soul, in regeneration. On the contrary, they maintain, that while he addresses with motives, he exerts a power, in producing this change, through the word, so as these motives take their effect; and this is the sole reason, according to them, why the same motives presented to every hearer of the gospel, which are lost upon many, to others have an efficacy in them, to draw them to Christ. But this will be considered afterwards."

"After a very able argument in defence of the instrumentality of the word in regeneration, this author concludes the whole thus:—

"We shall close this paper with mentioning two objections which may be brought forward against all we have said on the subject, and giving a reply to them; the rest of the objections, of any seeming consequence, having been already attended to in our review of the Dr's. own arguments.

"The first is—that some infants are regenerated before they actually believe; and is not this a proof that the Spirit does not always act in regeneration by the instrumentality of the word, and acts in this work, as respects the implantation of the principle of grace without the word? To which we reply, that as the Lord's manner of dealing with those infants, which are the subjects of saving grace, is among the secret things which belong to himself; it cannot be a rule by which we are to judge in the case of capable subjects of actual faith, more especially when we find it declared so plainly in scripture, that it is by the instrumentality of the word he both regenerates and sanctifies the latter. Regenerated infants are subjects also of justification, though they are not capable of the actual exercise of faith in Christ, through the word exhibiting Christ to us as the Lord our righteousness; and we do not see how their being the subjects of regeneration, without the instrumentality of the word, could prove that regeneration in adults-is accomplished without it; more than their being justified, would prove that adults may be and are justified persons in the sight of God, all such as are actually justified without a receiving of Christ as the Lord their righteousness.

The second objection is—that regeneration is an instantaneous work, or rather act of God; but to suppose it to be accomplished by the word, as the means or instrument, would make it to be the result of a process of reasoning in the mind of the regenerated person, and of a process of exercise upon the word, whjch could not comport with its being an instantaneous act. Supposing the word to be the instrument, it can only be so by a discovery both of the person himself, and of Christ the proper object of faith therein, in order that it may be operative in producing this change, if its instrumentality is at all to be admitted in the first work of regeneration. But it may be replied, that that discovery becomes a saving discovery, only when the person sees the excellence and suitableness of Christ, the glorious object of faith, his own welcome, with the heart's approbation of the object, and appropriation of him, which is faith, or a believing sight, because it is a sight of Christ in the way of applying the revelation which is made of him in the gospel, to his own particular case; while all that is short of this is no more than what the natural man, by a natural and common work of the Spirit may attain. And, it is so much instantaneous, as that there is no intermediate condition between this saving sight of Christ, and what may be the mere fruit of a common operation of the Spirit. But, the moment he obtains it, the change passes upon him, and the word, in the hand of the Spirit, is the instrument."

223 - CHAPTER V.


"Why does the Spirit use the term calling? To denote the medium which God uses to convert men, namely, the voice of the gospel, and the proclamation of the word, than which nothing more suitable and convenient could be given to the rational creature.—De Focatione et Fide. Quest. 1. Sect. 4.

Although the Spirit in effectual calling acts not without the word, nevertheless he acts not only mediately by the word, but also operates in the soul immediately with the word, that the call must necessarily take its effect.— Quest. 4. Sect. 23.

On the Lord's opening of Lydia's heart, against the Remonstrants.

"It is in vain that it should be laid down here, that this opening of the heart can also be effected by the word, as it is elsewhere said, Acts xxvi. 18, 'That Paul was sent to the Gentiles to open their eyes, and convert them from darkness to light.' Especially as it is in such manner that it does not differ from [Lydia's] attention; but is used for one and the same thing, as God is said to have opened her heart, when she attended to the words of Paul: nothing else is intimated, than, that the preaching of Paul was efficacious, and that the praise of its efficacy must be ascribed to God, the first moving cause of all things. For although the opening of the heart is in this manner ascribed objectively to the word, as far as it can. be done by a moral cause; because it is not accustomed to be done without the word, but according to its presence; and it is ascribed in- strumentally to the ministers of the word, because they are the organs which God uses for this work. It cannot, however, be effected simply by the word, or by the word of God proposed by men, unless the Holy Spirit add a distinct internal power by the word. This intervention through the word externally proposed to the mind is received with faith by her. This Luke distinctly notices, when he says, she first heard Paul, that is, it [the opening of the heart] came between his preaching, and her receiving the word. Because, indeed, the preacher brings it in vain to the ears, unless the Creator open the heart, and the word knocks in vain against the door of the heart closed by unbelief and ignorance, unless, by the grace of God, it should be opened; therefore, he adds, that God opened her heart, that she attended to the things taught by Paul; the end and effect of this opening is noted. And so three things are distinctly enumerated, which concur in effectual calling: first, the action of Paul preaching; the action of God opening the heart, and the action of Lydia with her heart opened, and embracing the word by faith; which three things flow spontaneously from the words of Luke.—Id. Quest. 4. Sect. 36.

In treating of the new birth, which he calls a creation, resurrection, regeneration, drawing, &c., he says, "it is also expressed by illumination, doctrine, persuasion; and that both these classes of words and similes are sweetly and efficaciously conjoined in the same places, as when the spouse joins running with drawing— Song i. 2,4." See also John vi. 44; 1 Cor. ii. 4; Eph. i. 18, 19; Jer. xx. 7;* Hosea ii. 14; 2 Cor. v. 14. After quoting these texts, he then adds: " Hinc idem evangelium, quo conver- timur, et potentia, et sapientia vocatur." " Hence the same gospel by which we are converted, is called both the power and the wisdom of God."—Id. Sect. 2Q.—Turreline.

The first principle of the new creature is faith. Faith is a part of this new creature. The new creation is an evangelical impression, and therefore corresponds in its intention with the gospel. This is the instrument whereby the creature was wrought; and this was appointed and published for the glory of God, "Glory to God in the highest."

It ia necessary by God's appointment, for all the degrees of the new birth, and all the appendages to it. When God shows his own glory for a farther change, he represents the species of it in the glass of the Gospel; "beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory." 2 Cor. iii. 18. It is the ministration of the Spirit in all the acts of the Spirit. If the Spirit quicken, it is by some gospel precept; if it comforts, it is by some gospel promise; if it startles, it is by some threatening in the word: whatsoever working there is in the Christian's heart, it is by some word or other dropping upon it. If any temptation which assaults us be baffled, it is by the word which is the sword of the Spirit. The life of the Christian is made up of increasing lights, refreshing comforts, choicer inclinations of the heart towards God; by the same law whereby the soul is converted, the heart is rejoiced, and the eyes are farther enlightened.

As God will have the mediation of his Son honoured in the whole progress and perfection of grace as the meritorious cause, the efficacy of the Spirit as the efficient cause, so he will have the word in every step to heaven honoured as the instrumental cause; that as Jesus Christ is all in all, as the chief, so the word may be all in all as the means. As God created the world by the word of his power, and by the word of his providence bid the creatures increase and multiply, so by the word of the gospel he lays the foundation and rears the building of his spiritual house.

Let the word be whispered by the Spirit in the ear of a rebel sinner, and the curtains which obscured his sin from his eye, drawn open, that he may see what a nest of devils he has, what astonishment will it raise in him! how will he stand amazed at his folly! how will he loathe that self, which he before so vehemently loved?

When the word like fire, and the heart like tinder come close together, the heart catches the spark and burns.

The word seems to have an active force upon the will, though the manner of it be very hard to conceive. It is operative in the hand of God for sanctification; the petition of our Saviour, "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth," John xvii. 17, seems to intimate more than a bare objective relation to this work; it both shows us our spots and cleanses them. It is a seed; seed, though small, is active; no part of the plant retains a greater efficacy, all the glory and strength of the plant in its bud, blossoms, and fruit are hidden in it; the word is this seed, which being settled in the heart, by the power of the Spirit, brings forth this new creature. It is a glass that not only represents the image of God, but by the Spirit changes us into it, 2 Cor. iii. IS. A sword that pierceth the heart, Heb. iv. 12; yea, sharper than a two- edged sword, dividing asunder the soul and spirit ; it is a fire to burn. The Spirit does so edge the word, that it cuts to the quick, discerns the very thoughts, insinuates into the depths of the heart, and rakes up the small sands from the bottom, as a fierce wind does from, the bowels of the sea. It is God's ordinance to batter down strong holds; though it be not a natural instrument to work necessarily, yet .lt is likened to natural instruments, which are active under the efficiency of the agent which manages them; and this, also, in the hand of the Spirit, works mighty effects. So that the word is mighty in operation as well as clear in representation; for an activity seems to be ascribed to it by the scripture metaphors. The chief activity of it is seen in the likeness which it produces in the soul to itself. Seeds have an efficacious virtue to produce plants of the same kind with that whose seeds they are, so that the word produces qualities in the heart like itself. The law in the heart, is the law in the word transcribed in the soul; a graft which changes a crabbed stock into a sweet tree, Jas. i. 1,2; like a seal, it leaves a likeness and impression of itself; it works a likeness to God as he is revealed in the gospel; for we are changed into the same image;—what image? The same image which we behold in that glass, 2 Cor. iii. 18, not his essential image, but the image of his glory, represented in the gospel for our imitation. The word is the glory of God in a glass, and imprints the image of the glory of God in the heart. It is a softening word, and produces a mollified heart; an enlightening word, and causes an enlightened soul; a divine word, and engenders a divine nature: it is a spiritual word and produces a spiritual frame; as it is God's will, it subdues our will; it is a sanctifying truth, and so makes a sink of sin to become the habitation of Christ To conclude, this is certain, the promise in the word breeds principles in the heart suitable to itself; it shows God a father, and raises up principles of love and reverence; it shows Christ a mediator, and raises up principles of faith and desire. Christ in the word, conceives Christ in the heart; Christ in the word, the beginning of grace, conceives Christ in the soul, the hope of glory.—Charnock on the Instrument of Regeneration.

Now, the Spirit of God hath a sovereignty over three things in order to the conversion of sinners:

1. Over the word which works.
2. Over the soul wrought upon.
3. Over the time and season of working.— Flavel, Vol. 2. p. 297—299.

See here

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