Jul 29, 2009

Fuller vs Booth and MacLean

The following citations show the war that was waged between Andrew Fuller and Abraham Booth (and others) concerning the "ordo salutis" and of the relationship of regeneration to faith.

Wrote Andrew Fuller:

"The author of Glad Tidings to Perishing Sinners (Abraham Booth - SG), though he pleads for faith as including our receiving Christ, and coming to him, yet is decidedly averse from all holy disposition of the heart preceding it, (or Fuller's pre-faith "regeneration" - SG) not only as affording a warrant, but as any way necessary to the thing itself. And as he unites with Mr. MacLean in considering the sinner as an enemy to God at the time of his being justified (or that a sinner is first justified and then regenerated and sanctified - SG), he must, to be consistent, consider faith as having no holiness in its nature. His method of reasoning on the priority of repentance to believing would seem to denote the same thing. He allows speculative repentance, or a change of mind which has "no holiness" in it, to be necessary to believing; giving this as the reason: "While a sinner is either stupidly inattentive to his immortal interests, or expecting justification by his own obedience, he will not come to Christ. It should seem, then, that aversion of heart from the gospel plan, or a desire to be justified by one's own obedience, is no objection to coming to Christ; and that a sinner will come to him, notwithstanding this, provided he be right in speculation, and his conscience sufficiently alarmed. If so, there certainly can be nothing spiritual or holy in the act of coming." The respect which I feel both towards Mr. Booth and Mr. MacLean is not a little; but there needs no apology for opposing these sentiments. Truth ought to be dearer to us than the greatest or best of men.

Lastly, It is objected that the word of God is represented as the means of regeneration: "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth." -- "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." And as it is supposed that the word must be understood and believed, before it can have any saving influence upon us; so it is concluded that regeneration must rather be preceded by faith, than faith by regeneration; or, at least, that they are coeval. This objection has been advanced from several quarters and for several purposes. In answer to it, I would, in the first place, offer two or three general remarks.

First, Whether regeneration influence faith, or faith regeneration, if either [p. 410] of them influence the other, they cannot be coeval. One must be prior to the other, at least in the order of nature; as the effect is ever preceded by the cause.

Secondly, Whatever weight this objection may possess, it ought not to be made by any one who denies the belief of the gospel to be saving faith. For, allowing the word, understood and believed, to be that by which we are regenerated, still, if this belief be not faith, but something merely presupposed by it, faith may, notwithstanding, be preceded by regeneration. If faith be the same thing as coming to Christ, receiving him, and relying upon him for acceptance with God, all this, in the order of things, follows upon believing the truth concerning him; no less so than coming to God follows a believing that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. We may, therefore, be regenerated by a perception and belief of the truth, and, as the immediate effect of it, come to Jesus, and rely upon him for salvation.

Thirdly, It may be questioned whether this objection ought to be made by those who admit the necessity of a spiritual discernment of the glory of Divine things in order to believing. That this is a principle clearly established in the Scriptures cannot be denied. Seeing the Son is necessary to believing in him. Unbelief is attributed to spiritual blindness (2 Cor. iv. 4) ; and those who believed not the "report" of the gospel are described as "seeing no form nor comeliness" in the Saviour, nor "beauty, that they should desire him."

"Mr. MacLean, speaking of the saving truth of the gospel, says, "It is no sooner perceived and believed than it takes possession of the will and affections," p. 82. This, I should think, is allowing that perception is distinct from believing, and necessarily precedes it. But if a spiritual perception of the glory of Divine truth precede believing, this may be the same, in effect, as regeneration preceding it. Allowing that the word requires to be perceived, ere the will and affections can be changed, it does not follow that it must also be believed for this purpose; for the perception itself may change us into the same image; and, in virtue of it, we may instantly, with our whole heart, set to our seal that God is true.

Now I apprehend that all my opponents (Booth, MacLean, et als. - SG) are included under one or other of these descriptions; and if so, I might very well be excused from any further answer. The word of God may be allowed to be the means of regeneration, and yet regeneration may precede believing.

I do not wish, however, to dismiss the subject without stating my views of it, and the grounds on which they rest. To me it appears that the Scriptures trace a change of heart to an origin beyond either belief or perception, even to that Divine influence which is the cause of both; an influence which is with great propriety compared to the power that at first "commanded the light to shine out of darkness."

That there is a Divine influence upon the soul, which is necessary to spiritual perception and belief, as being the cause of them, those with whom I am now reasoning will admit. The only question is in what order these things are caused. Whether the Holy Spirit causes the mind, while carnal, to discern and believe spiritual things, and thereby renders it spiritual; or whether he imparts a holy susceptibility and relish for the truth, in consequence of which we discern its glory, and embrace it. The latter appears to me to be the truth...It is thus, I apprehend, that God reveals the truth to us by his Spirit, in order to our discerning and believing it."

I see nothing inconsistent between this statement of things and that of James and Peter. We are as properly said to be "born again by the word of God," as we are said to be born into the world by means of our parents; yet as, in this case, the instrumentality of man was consistent with the inspiration of him "who quickeneth all things," and who, by an immediate though mysterious operation of his hand, gave us life; so I conceive it is in the other. The term "regeneration," in the sacred writings, is not always used in that strict sense in which we use it in theological discussion. Like almost every other term, it is sometimes used in a more strict and sometimes in a more general sense. Thus repentance is sometimes distinguished from faith; at other times, it comprehends the whole of that which is necessary to forgiveness, and must therefore comprehend believing. And thus regeneration is sometimes expressive of that operation in which the soul is passive; and in this sense stands distinguished from conversion, or actual turning to God by Jesus Christ. At other times, it includes not only the first impartation of spiritual life, but the whole of that change which denominates us Christians, or by which we are brought as into a new moral world. When the term is introduced as a cause of faith, or as that of which believing in Jesus is a proof, (as it is in John i. 12, 13, and 1 John v. 1,) we may be certain it stands distinguished from it; but when the same things are ascribed to it which peculiarly pertain to faith, we maybe equally certain that it includes it. Thus we read of "the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost, which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that, being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life." If regeneration did not here include faith in Jesus Christ, it would not I conceive stand connected as it does with justification, which is peculiarly ascribed to faith.

Regeneration, taken in this large sense of the term, is undoubtedly “by the word of God.” It is by means of this that a sinner is first convinced of sin, and by this, as exhibiting mercy through Jesus Christ, he is kept from despair. It is by this only that he can become acquainted with the character of the Being he has offended, the nature and demerit of sin, and the way in which he must be saved from it. These important truths, viewed with the eye of an enlightened conscience, frequently produce great effects upon the soul even previously to its yielding itself up to Christ. And the impartation of spiritual life, or a susceptibility of heart to receive the truth, may generally, if not always, accompany the representation of truth to the mind. It was while Paul was speaking that the Lord opened the heart of Lydia. It is also allowed that when the word is received into the soul, and finds place there, it "worketh effectually," and becomes a principle of holy action, "a well of water springing up to everlasting life." All I contend for is that it is not by means of a spiritual perception, or belief of the gospel, that the heart is for the first time effectually influenced towards God; for spiritual perception and belief are represented as the effects, and not the causes, of such influence.

A spiritual perception of the glory of Divine things appears to be the first sensation of which the mind is conscious; but it is not the first operation of God upon it. Spiritual perception is that which the Scriptures call...judgment, or sense, or the judgment arising from holy sensibility, Phil. i. 9. It is that in spiritual things which a delicate sense of propriety is in natural things, in which the mind judges as it were instinctively from a feeling of what is proper. It is by this "unction from the Holy One" that we perceive the glory of the Divine character, the evil of sin, and the lovely fitness of the Saviour; neither of which can be properly known by mere intellect, any more than the sweetness of honey or the bitterness of wormwood can be ascertained by the sight of the eye. Nor can one be perceived but in connexion with the other. Without a sense of the glory of the object offended, it is impossible to have any just perception of the evil nature of the offence; and without a sense of the evil nature of the offence, it is equally impossible to discern either the necessity or the fitness of a Saviour: but with such a sense of things, each naturally, and perhaps instantaneously, follows the other. Hence arise the exercises of "repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ;" and in the order in which the Scriptures represent them.

Much has been said of this statement of things, as involving the absurdity of a godly unbeliever. Scripture declarations and promises, expressive of the safety of the regenerate, have been urged, and a conclusion drawn, that if regeneration precede believing, men may be in a safe state without coming to Christ."* (*Mr. Booth's Glad Tidings, pp. 176, 189)

See here

From these remarks by Fuller it is obvious, as Alexander Campbell pointed out, that Fuller believed in two kinds of "regeneration," one that was "without the means of the word of God," and one that was "by means of the word of God and faith."

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