Jul 27, 2009

Dr. Anderson on Regeneration

Regeneration By William Anderson
Published by Hodder and Stoughton, 1875
Original from Harvard University

See here

"Proceeding to explain the Nature of Regeneration, I remark, in the first place, that according to a distinction of old theology, it is something which is not only done for a man, but which is also done upon him. In this respect it differs from the Justification or Pardoning of the sinner, which is only something done for him, so as to change his state in the reckoning of Law; whereas Regeneration changes the man himself—gives him a new character. The distinction is valuable on account of the practical lesson which it contains."

"For that Faith which is saluted with the assurance, is at once the cause and evidence of Regeneration. It needs not then that a man should ascend to Heaven to learn if he have been justified there: let him examine, if he have been regenerated here on earth. The knowledge of it is near to him: it lies in his own character."

"I remark in the second place, that Regeneration being something which is done on a man's person, it is his mind, and not his body, which undergoes the change. Neither is this distinction futile, nor is its illustration superfluous."

"The primary characteristic of Regeneration is a change of heart from a state of carelessness about God, or slavish fear of Him, or enmity against Him; of despite to his Person and his government, to his law and his love, to his promises and his threatenings, to his family, and to his inheritance—into a state of filial reverence, confidence, and obedience: of admiration of Him, as being of all who are called great the most excellent; of gratitude towards Him, as being of all benefactors the most bountiful; of dependence on Him, as being of all friends the most tender, faithful, and powerful; and of loyalty towards Him, as being of all Sovereigns, the most rightful, glorious, and gracious—as being One in the contemplation of whom the soul finds all its demands of perfection answered, and in whom it reposes satisfied with the vision; whose favour it seeks after and enjoys as the chief good; to serve whom it regards its highest honour; to advance the interests of whose kingdom engages its warmest patriotism; in whose family it finds its most endeared kindred; and whose house is its longed-for home. Have you any understanding of this? From experience of such a state of feelings in any degree, is it easily comprehensible for you how a heart may be possessed by them to overflowing?" (52)

"Finally: as the secret of all the other changes, it is a change of mind from a state in which the Bible was felt, at best, or rather, in the least degree of evil, the most tiresome of books—into a state in which it is prized as being the book—indeed the Book of Life. Because, as will presently be more amply illustrated, that Book contains the truth, which is the seed of Regeneration, impregnating the soul with its divine principles. Any notion of Regeneration, without such an impregnation of Bible truth, so as to create a constitutional appetite for that truth, is as preposterous as the fancy of a child being careless about its mother's milk." (57)


II. The second department of this topic is the illustration of the necessary holiness as being attainable only through a change from a condition of evil. It is to be shown that this holiness is native to no man; that without the communication of principles which are not natural to him, he will grow up not only destitute of the holiness, but denied with the opposite impurity; and that all who have not yet had such a communication made to them, must in their present state be disqualified for the kingdom of heaven.

The main subject under discussion is Regeneration; so that it would be inopportune to enter extensively into the consideration of Original Sin. Nevertheless, since this is the radical evil which Regeneration is designed to remedy, it is requisite that more be done than simply assert its existence." (690


Precisely so is it in matters spiritual. The change of heart in Regeneration is produced by a previous change of judgment. The erroneous opinions of the sinner are corrected, and that corrects his feelings. He receives new information, and that gives another direction to his affections. Plainly, the Bible removes his delusions; and in showing him the true nature of objects, makes him love many things which he formerly hated,and hate many things which he formerly loved. When he believes its report—when he takes Bible views of objects—looks at them through its telescope—looks at them through its microscope—looks at them through its atmosphere;—when he looks at God, looks at Christ, looks at himself, looks at his soul, looks at this world, looks at death, looks at eternity in Bible light, the look revolutionizes him. See what a commotion has been produced among the affections of his spirit, so soon as this heavenly light, altering the decisions of his judgment, has dawned on his mind ! He is now with ardour pursuing objects which he formerly despised, or feared, or abhorred; and fleeing, as when a man flees from the plague, or from his house on fire, from objects which he formerly considered harmless, or in which his soul delighted. The Bible light has disclosed friends, where he thought there were none but foes; and foes, where he thought there were none but friends (2 Corinthians v. 17).

Such is the Instrumentality by which Regeneration is effected—the Bible believed, that is, received as true: and there are especially two parties here also, as on a former occasion, about whom I am concerned in having the simplicity of the account pressed on their attention, and having it established for their conviction on scriptural authority.

First, there are the conscientious, but ignorant and fanciful, who imagine that there is much more that is mystical, than there truly is, in the regenerative change; and who either distress themselves with doubts because they have no experience of any thing of that character; or, in their search for something extraordinary, discredit the work of the Spirit of Truth, by ascribing to His operation fancies and impressions which are the product of their own weak and disordered minds. To all such, I say, that, in Regeneration, the mind feels nothing differently, in respect of the manner in which the change is produced, from what it feels when changed on some worldly subject, by the reports, or arguments, or representations of a friend. I cannot avoid reiterating the illustration. You felt abhorrence of a certain character last night; this morning you admire and love him; and when your neighbours express their astonishment at the change, you reply, that there is nothing wonderful in the case; that you can give a clear and rational account of it:—that a friend, in whose testimony you have confidence, has since that assured you, that the individual in question is of a very different character from what you had previously supposed him to be; and that your opinions of him having undergone a change, your feelings towards him have necessarily changed too. Is not all this most easily comprehended? Well, the case is every whit as plain and comprehensible in the matter of Regeneration. The Bible is a trustworthy friend's report concerning the character and purposes of God; and the belief of it, in changing the sinner's judgment, changes his heart. He can tell distinctly how he was changed. He says, he once imagined that God was a gloomy, hard task-master, but that, on reading the Bible, he found he had been most grossly and wickedly deluded; that the very reverse was the truth: that he discovered there, that God is a Father so rich in mercy, that he spared not his only begotten Son, when there was need of Him for his salvation. So he opens the Scripture, and pointing to the sixteenth verse of the third chapter of the Gospel according to John, or the thirty-second verse of the eighth chapter of Paul's Epistle to the Romans, or some similar passage of the Regenerating Record, he says with emotion—"There is what changed my heart: it altered my views of God: it gave me a different account of Him from what I formerly entertained, and ever since I have loved Him." It is another question, How was the man brought to the belief of the Bible ? This will be treated of under a subsequent topic. But, meanwhile, let it be clearly understood, that it is the truth of the Bible believed, and this means alone, by which the heart is savingly changed, and when any one tells us of certain feelings which he pleads as an evidence of his regenerated state, let us immediately ask him, What part of the Bible produced these feelings? If he be unable to refer to book, and chapter, and verse, let us ask him, What were the words? Or, if he cannot quote them accurately, let us ask him, What was the idea? Unless he can give us this, we must question the sufficiency and genuineness of his evidence. He is not savingly changed, if it was not the Bible that did the work. That Bible is the seal, and the only seal, which the Spirit employs for making an impression on the heart; and it is not until we discover the impress of its characters, that we are warranted to conclude that the impression is of God." (100, 101)

"Before I proceed with adducing scriptural evidence for the establishment of the point hitherto illustrated only metaphysically, that Bible truth believed works all the change of Regeneration, I observe, that it seems almost preposterous to furnish such scriptural proof. Who needs it? All unregenerated persons feel, at this moment, that, were they to credit the Bible; were they to adopt its views of matters, their hearts would directly undergo a great change..."

"Notwithstanding, however, all this metaphysical and experimental plainness of the point, that it is the truth of the Bible which in changing a man's opinions regenerates him, through the change which is thereby necessarily produced on the affections of his heart; yet, of such importance is it as a practical lesson, and so much has simplicity been obscured in the course of controversy, perplexing the simple, and enervating the preaching of the gospel, that it is necessary to produce a part of the scriptural evidence. I select the following :—

Jamea i. 18. Of his own will begat He us with the Word of Truth.

1 Peter i. 23. Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God.

2 Peter i. 4. Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises ; that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature.

John vi. 63. The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.

John xvii. 17. Sanctify them through thy Truth : thy Word is Truth.

John xv. 3. Now ye are clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you.

John viii. 31, 32. If ye continue in my Word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free.

Ephesians vi. 17. The sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.

Hebrews iv. 12. The Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Such is a specimen of the scriptural testimony on the subject, in which we find, not only that Regeneration is ascribed in express terms to the instrumentality of the Word, as being that seed by which those who have been born again were begotten of God; but, that, when viewed under particular aspects, the representation is regularly and consistently the same. Is Regeneration a slaying of the natural enmity of the heart? then, it is the Word which is the sword. Is it the quickening of a man into a new life? then, it is the Word which vivifies. Is it the production of a state of holy affection? then, it is the Word which cleanses and sanctifies. Is it an emancipation of the soul from bondage? then, it is the Word which gives the freedom. In sum, Is it an impartation to the soul, morally, of the divine nature? then, the promises of the Word are the vehicle of the communication." (106, 07)

"To believe with the heart, then, necessarily implies nothing more than to be "sincerely convinced," as distinguished from a mere pretence of believing." (111)

I observe, in the second place, that, when the apostles went forth into the world, calling on men to believe the gospel which they preached, in order to their being saved, they must have used the term in its common acceptation; otherwise their speech would have been unintelligible or deceptive. That common acceptation then was, "the crediting of a declaration." Accordingly the apostle, when felicitating the church of Thessalonica on the grace bestowed on them, refers to their faith under this form of expression, "our testimony among you was believed," and again, in the same epistle, he defines it as being "the belief of the Truth" (2 Thess. i. 10, and ii. 13). Why encumber a doctrine so simple, with the representation that there is a great variety of faiths; and perplex some, and cause the delusion of others, in the way we have seen, by calling on them to examine, if it be the right species of which they are possessed? There is no wrong species; there is only one kind, and the proper question is, Believest thou the Record? That is simply, but searchingly, thy trial. When any one, however, answers, that he does believe it, the question is a fair one, when his neighbours proceed to interrogate him respecting his feelings—not that they may determine if his faith be of the right kind, but that they may see if it be true that he believes at all."

"Such are the three points of testimony characteristic of the Bible system; if less than which be believed, there can be no regenerate consequence; but if the whole of which be believed—believed as when you believe any other report which you reckon trustworthy —then is your Regeneration certain. Let us recount the points: That you yourself are naturally in a perilous condition; that God has raised up his Son Jesus to be a Saviour in His threefold character of Prophet, Priest, and King; and that you yourself are divinely welcomed to place yourself under His protection, guidance, and cherishing. Let your understanding be once convinced of the truth of this, and it is impossible that it should communicate such intelligence to your heart without that heart undergoing an entire revolution. The great matter is to attain to the belief; that being secured, all the rest follows in natural and necessary order." (125)

"Since Regeneration and its development in sanctification are effected only by the belief of the truth, these sacraments can avail to salvation only as their symbolical representations are another mode of presenting truth to the mind, another way of proclaiming the gospel; and unless the result be the enlivening and strengthening of faith, their observance is the merest vanity. No delusion can be more childish and fatal than the fancy of some virtue being infused into that baptismal water and eucharistic bread and wine, by priestly incantations, whereby they are endowed with a chemical efficacy for the salvation of the soul!"(127)

I observe, in the third place, that the work does not consist, as others imagine and affirm (like Andrew Fuller - SG), in the production of a holy disposition, antecedently to the presentation of the Word to the mind; so that it is prepared to relish its truths, and thereby induced to believe them. The greatness of the names of many of the divines who hold this opinion, forbids that we treat it with contempt; but I cannot refrain from expressing my astonishment. The greater part of them not only admit, but contend, that it is in the creating of this pre-disposition that Regeneration properly consists. And they do so self-consistently. He who is so disposed as to relish lessons of piety, is already pious, and who is so disposed as to relish lessons of benevolence, is already benevolent; and who is so disposed as to relish the promises, is already heavenly-minded, in the very essence of the various characters. But to what does that "already" refer? Why, to a point of time before the Word is believed—it may be, before a syllable of it has been heard. This I cannot otherwise characterize than as being a palpable contradiction of the Scripture. "He begat us with the Word of Truth;" " Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God." " The Words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life." There stands the testimony, than which there is none more explicit on any subject in the entire Scripture.

According to the dogma of those metaphysicians referred to, the Word would be at best only the aliment of a new life, which was communicated independently of it; whereas, in the passages quoted— and there are many more similar—it is declared to be the life-giving, generative, spiritual seed. Those who are less conversant with the dexterities of metaphysical theology may feel curious about what the abettors of the pre-disposition theory say of these and similar passages."

"Even Dr. Payne, who essentially abets the theory, cannot here withhold his censure, though it is expressed as gently as possible. "I confess," says he, "I have always been dissatisfied with the way in which Mr. Fuller, Dr. Williams, and others have attempted to reconcile these passages (James i. 18, and 1 Peter i. 23) with the sentiments they hold on the subject. James and Peter refer, say they, to Regeneration improperly so called. The proper sense of the term is exhibited in those passages which describe the effect of the direct agency of the Spirit upon the mind. Now, in the first place, I apprehend many of the passages to which they refer do not exhibit exclusively the effect of this direct agency of the Spirit, but the results of the combined influence of the Spirit and of truth, such as, "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me." And in the second place, I think I may venture to affirm that not one of those passages to which they appeal as exhibiting the effect of the direct influence of the Spirit, although none of them should be excepted against, declares that effect to be Regeneration. Mr. Fuller is, therefore, involved in the curious predicament of affirming a certain effect or change to be Regeneration in the proper sense of the term, which is never said to be such; and of denying that a certain other change (conversion - SG) is, strictly speaking, Regeneration, though it only is designated by that name in the Word of God. We cannot well be wrong in following the apostles James and Peter, in calling that Regeneration which is so denominated by them."

"But, besides being an unscriptural derogation from the honour of the Word, without even an apparent enhancing of the honour of the Spirit, I contend that the dogma is glaringly unphilosophical, and violates common sense. It contains a preposterous transposition of cause and effect. In all our other dealings with men we attempt to influence their dispositions by means of truth; but, according to this inversion, it would be presumptuous for any man to preach the Word, in expectation that the Spirit might bless and use it for changing the sinner's inclinations; the only lawful design being to furnish what might gratify and cherish a disposition—the holy relish—which, perchance, has been theretofore communicated." (164, 65)

"It will be observed that I feel more than usual ardour in the reprobating of this error. The reason is, that I regard it not only with that dislike with which I regard everything that is unscriptural and unphilosophical, but with a kind of personal aversion, inasmuch as it impugns my professional character. On such a principle I should feel that my occupation as a preacher of the gospel would be nearly gone. It would behove me to bid farewell to all my attempts at argument and rhetorical persuasion, with the view of furnishing weapons which the Spirit might employ for quelling an evil, and generating a good disposition; and to limit myself to a simple lection of the Word, and grammatical explanation of its terms. Yea, with the reading of much of the Word itself, I should feel I might dispense; since much of it consists of arguments of refutation and conviction, and of rhetorical enforcement, for which there would be no need nor room, on the principle that there was a disposition already prepared for receiving the simple statement of the truth with admiration and joy. You might as well argue with a child to persuade him of the sweetness of honey. Either, after all my reading and pondering, I mistake the theory; or else it is worthy of being denounced as deeply mischievous, whether to the preacher or hearer of the Word whose mind is influenced by it." (166)

"Dr. Payne, who, as already intimated, has adopted the theory of pre-disposition in a modified form, says, that he knows of nothing with which the producing of that disposition may be compared, but the "primary act of creation." In like manner, I, who unite with those who maintain that it is the faith in order to the disposition, and not the disposition in order to the faith, which the divine agency produces, do not deny that the operation may be of this miraculous character; but there are few, I should think, who would have recourse to such a solution, except as a last resort." (169)

"Though the mode of the operation remain an unexplained and inexplicable mystery, yet the fact of there being a direct action of the Spirit on the mind in producing the necessary faith, being certified to us by the Scripture, we can proceed to use the doctrine of it for practical ends as cogently as if we clearly understood the whole of the process.

Observe, therefore, in the first place, that all are responsible for being regenerated." (170)

"If the Regeneration, then, has not been effected, we are sure that that application for it has not been made, for making which all are responsible." (171)

"The grand plea to be held with him, and all infidel men of whatever sort is, that it is the first duty of an intelligent created nature to submit itself to the Creator for the regulation of its mind, and confidingly to pray, "May the God that made me show me the truth, whereever it may lie, whether in the New Testament or the Koran, in the writings of Paley or Voltaire, or in those of Wardlaw or Priestly!" For such a prayer every man is responsible, in virtue of his dependent nature as a creature; and by the rule of the scriptural assurances already quoted, we are certain that the responsibilities of the duty have not been fulfilled, wherever we find the regenerating faith wanting." (172)

"In the third place, let us be on our guard against a superstitious presumption. We are warranted, indeed, to expect much from the providence of the Spirit in the way of making preparation for the reception of the Word; but we must remember that it is only by his inspiring application of that Word that the great act of Regeneration is ultimately effected; teaching us to be diligent in storing both our own and our neighbours' minds with the ideas of Scripture, that they may be ready for being applied by the divine operation.

Under a preceding department of the subject this matter was largely reviewed; but of such importance is it, that I additionally transcribe here the similar observations of Dr. Payne:—"It sometimes happens that the footsteps of a sinner, going on in his sins, are arrested by unlooked for and dreadful calamities. The hand of death suddenly snatches from him the companions of his guilt, or the power of God stretches him on the bed of affliction, and brings him within the view of the eternal world. Conscience shakes off her slumbers, and will be heard. A spirit of penitence is awakened, and the delightful issue of the visitation is, that he 'becomes a servant of God, having his fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.' Still it is not the affliction which turns his heart from sin to God; affliction is utterly incapable of doing this. It is by the 'incorruptible seed of the Word,' and not by any of the mercies or judgments of God, that sinners are born again. Divine providence is the minister of divine grace, and it is only the minister. It is often employed to awaken serious reflection; to recall the neglected truths of God's Word to the recollection of the sinner; to impress them powerfully on his conscience; and to fix his attention upon that truth which saves the soul from death and condemnation. But still it is the gospel of God, and not the providence of God, that enlightens the eyes and sanctifies the heart" (Lect. xxii).

The practical conclusion is, that we pray as if all depended on the Spirit; and that we work in our personal study of the Word, and disseminating its truth among our friends and throughout the world as if all depended on ourselves. The Church for sowing, and God for giving the increase, is the great rule of our duty and expectation." (175, 176)

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