A friend of mine, who recently left the "Primitive Baptists" because he came to see their error on the use of gospel means in regeneration, recenly asked me to listen to a sermon by Hardshell pastor, Elder Zack Guess, on the topic of means in regeneration. Zack is one who is part of the "liberal movement" among today's Hardshells, which includes many Hardshells who are returning to the truth of the bible and the faith of their Baptist forefathers on the subjects of means in new birth, perseverence of the preserved saints, theological and bible schools, etc. He seems to represent those in the liberal movement who believe all the regenerated will later come to believe the gospel, or be converted.
I wrote this former Hardshell elder this review of Zack's sermon, which can be found at http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=91806135724 under the sermon title "immediate regeneration."
I listened to the sermon by Zack and it is obvious that he does not believe in means in regeneration. His upholding of what he calls “immediate regeneration,” is a denial that it is mediated through the gospel.
Also, he equates “regeneration” and being “born again.” In this respect, he falls in the line of the Potter tradition within the Primitive Baptist sect. I would suspect that he does believe all the regenerated will respond to the gospel, if they hear it. It is not clear if he believes that all will hear it. His view is better than the common Hardshell view, but it still has a large distance to go to arrive at the truth as it is in scripture and in Old Baptist history.
Guess came out hard against the use of the gospel and word of God as a means in regeneration and was a typical Hardshell on this point. Let me give this review of what he preached.
First, he mentions some former leaders , two Baptist (Best, Pink) and one Presbyterian, who believed as he does. It is remarkable that he cites two modern, 20th century Baptists, and no pre 19th century Baptist authority or confession. He could have added Shedd and Berkhof to his list of Presbyterians who promulgated the “no means” view of regeneration.
Next, he argues that to believe in “total depravity,” and that men are spiritually “dead,” logically omits God’s use of gospel truth as an instrument in giving spiritual life. But, clearly his statements contradict plain scripture. The story of Ezekiel’s preaching to the dry dead bones destroys all the logical reasoning of Zack Guess and the Hardshells. God used preaching to raise the dead. God could have done it without Ezekiel, no question about that. But, it is not what he chose to do. The Hardshells are denying the sovereignty of God in their affirming that God can’t regenerate through the preaching of the gospel.
He then asks – “what do dead people do?” “Nothing,” he says. This question, of course, can be answered one of two ways, depending upon one’s perspective. “With man,” this is impossible. “With God,” however, it is possible. Dead people do not do anything unless God make the dead do something. The dead hear the voice of Christ, they obey it, and they come forward. Secondly, if we take Zack’s question and apply it to the case of the dry bones of Ezekiel’s vision, we would respond – “the dead bones moved, came together…” The dead doing something! What Zack said cannot be!
He speaks of regeneration as “God speaking to your heart.” Yet, the Hardshell idea of what this means is ridiculous. First, according to them, the one spoken to cannot identify who spoke to him, cannot tell you what was said. Yet, in scripture, people who heard the Lord speaking to them, both recognized who spoke to them, and what he said to them. Second, it is ironic that Zack brought up the case of Saul of Tarsus, in this connection. He even said that Paul’s regeneration on the Damascus road was, as Paul said, a “pattern” of how God regenerates his elect. Zack affirms that God “spoke to his heart” on the Damascus road. This is where he heard the voice of Christ. The irony here is that the example of Saul’s hearing the voice of the Son of God contradicts Hardshell ideas as to what it means to experience hearing the voice of the Lord. Saul knew who it was who spoke to him! He knew the “words” the Jesus spoke to him! And, if this is the “pattern,” then all God’s regenerated people, when they hear the voice of Jesus, all know it is Jesus, hear his words, believe in Jesus and the gospel, and become disciples. At the end of Zack’s sermon, he even confessed that he did not know when he had been born again, when he heard the voice of God, when he experienced gospel revelation.
He also said that, in Paul’s case, “the gospel was not present,” and that this was the “pattern” for all the elect. But, he contradicts himself and the gospel record in saying this. He had earlier spoken of how Saul “heard” Stephen “preach” a glorious sermon prior to his regeneration experience on the Damascus road. So, unless Saul had forgotten all he heard from Stephen’s gospel preaching, the gospel was indeed present when Saul was regenerated and converted. It was present in his heart and memory, lying dormant like a seed, and when Jesus appeared to him and spoke to him, that seed of gospel truth, was there ready to be germinated. Besides this fact, consider how Jesus spoke to Saul, in his regeneration, in sentences, which conveyed revelation of gospel truth, and so to say that “the gospel was not present,” is a grievous falsehood. Jesus said to Saul – “I am Jesus whom you persecute.” Was this not gospel preaching? Is this the “pattern” for all the elect who hear his voice in regeneration? Saul’s regeneration brought him to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior, and if he is the “pattern,” then all who are regenerated, confess Christ as Savior and Lord in that experience.
Zack then said – “people don’t find God in conversion but find him in regeneration.” I found this interesting. First, because I believe the scriptures to show that regeneration and conversion are terms that speak of the same experience of being reborn. But, seeing how the Hardshells fail to rightly divide the word of truth on this issue, putting asunder what God has joined together, making regeneration and conversion to be distinct and divided, I can see how Zack would say this.
I am glad that he admits, however, that sinners “find God” in “regeneration.” I assume he does not mean just any “god,” but the one true God. I assume he understands that men cannot find something unconsciously. It is the common Hardshell view that “regeneration” is on the “sub conscious level.” This is why they speak of the regeneration of infants in the womb and of some practicing pagans. They commonly believe that many religious people, Christian and non Christian, have experienced “regeneration” on the “sub conscious level,” people who are born again, but don’t consciously know it, people who love Jesus, but don’t consciously know it, who are Christians but do not know it, etc.
Zack makes the common Hardshell assertions regarding John 6: 63, where Jesus said “the words that I speak to you are spirit and they are life.” He says that these are words that Jesus speaks personally to each of the elect, and is never through an agent, or preacher of the gospel. The words Jesus may speak through gospel preachers has no power to regenerate, but only those words that Jesus himself speaks to the sinners. Supposedly too, all on the sub conscious level! Was that, however, the way it was in the case of Ezekiel and the valley of dead bones? That the words of God spoken through a preacher cannot raise the dead? Were not the words that the prophet spoke to the dead bones “spirit and life”? According to Zack and the Hardshells, the “words” of Jesus, the message of the gospel, has no power to raise the dead, unless Jesus himself be the preacher!
He then brings up the case of John the Baptist to prove his Hardshell idea of “immediate regeneration.” But, the case of John the Baptist, like the case of Saul of Tarsus, affords the Hardshell no comfortable place. The Hardshells need to leave the case of John the Baptist alone, as a proof text for Hardshellism, for it clearly refutes their views.
Zack says that the “leaping for joy” of the Baptist, while in the womb, was evidence that he had been already regenerated. He says that “joy is the fruit of the Holy Spirit,” and to him that means “joy is the result of the new birth.” But, I would ask him, does not joy imply knowledge and understanding? Does not the rejoicing of the Baptist prove he had gospel knowledge? If his joy proves his prior regeneration, then it also implies his former knowledge of the gospel. And, was not the gospel announced to him, and is what produced the exultation? Was he not rejoicing over the good news of the birth of Jesus? How can he say, as he did with the case of Saul, that “the gospel was not present”? Its seems to me that both cases show that the gospel was indeed present and working in regeneration. So, not only was the Baptist “filled with the Holy Ghost,” from the womb, he was also filled with gospel truth.
Zack next brings up the case of David, where David said that God had “made me to hope while upon my mother’s breast.” Here he attempts to make the case of David to be like the case of the Baptist. David too was regenerated while an infant, the only difference being, one was while being in the womb, and the other when upon mother’s breast . He believes that David’s being “made to hope” to be a description of David’s “regeneration.” But, how can one “hope” sub consciously? Or unconsciously? How can one hope ignorantly, without any understanding? So, this case of David refutes Hardshell conceptions of what it means to be “regenerated.” David hoped in the Messiah, had a gospel hope. His mother taught him the gospel and he learned it as well as his nursery rhymes. How old was David when this happened? First, we must decide what is meant by David being “upon my mother’s breast”? Is he referring to the time spent on the breast sucking? If so, then David would have been probably no older than three years. If, however, “upon my mother’s breast,” alludes to time in her lap, in reclining in her bosom, this time could reach up to the years of puberty, till teenage years. Toddlers spend a lot of time upon their mother’s breast long after they have stopped sucking the breast.
Zack then affirms that only he and his Hardshell brethren, who believe in “immediate regeneration” apart from the word and gospel, are the only ones “giving God 100% of the glory for regeneration.” They are “guilty of giving God too much credit.” He affirms that those who believe God regenerates by the gospel do not give all the glory and credit to God for regeneration. Did God fail to get 100% of the glory and credit in the resurrection of the dry dead bones when they were raised through the preaching of the prophet? Did God fail to get all the credit when the prophets and apostles raised the dead? But, notice how this reasoning backfires on Zack and the Hardshells. Do they believe, unlike regeneration, that conversion is by means of the preached gospel? Yes, they do. But, then Zack, by his own criterion, must affirm that God does not get 100% of the credit in conversion! He believes God gets 100% of the credit in regeneration because he acts apart from means, but since he uses means in conversion, then God, by his own admission, does not get all the credit for Hardshell conversions!
I have a question for Zack and the Hardshells at this point. When the Holy Spirit convicts a sinner of sin and lost condition, you say that this is proof of his prior regeneration. But, if the Holy Spirit were convicting only those who have already been regenerated, then would the Holy Spirit not be lying to them in convicting them of lost condition?
Zack next began to describe the regeneration/new birth experience by going to Hebrews chapter eight where it is described by God “writing his laws” into the heart and mind. It was argued that this divine writing was done by God on the unconscious level, that it must be done apart from the revelation of gospel truth to the mind, and is what must occur before a person will consciously be converted. But, to the ruination of Hardshellism, Paul included the preacher in this writing. He wrote:
“Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” (II Cor. 3: 3)
Here clearly the preachers of the gospel, the “ministers” mentioned, are the quill, and the Spirit is the ink. The writer is Christ, the heart is the paper, the ink is the Holy Spirit, and the “instrument” is the “minister.” “Ministered by us” clearly identifies the preachers as being the instruments of this writing. The ministers act as the “finger” of God just as Ezekiel acted as God’s hand and finger, yea, and his tongue. Hardshells envision Christ using no quill. It reminds me how they, as Zack did in this sermon, are contradictory on their attempts to make physical birth the exact mechanical replica of spiritual birth. But, I would ask Zack – “do you believe you can have a birth without both a father and mother?” Then why do you have a “father alone” view of regeneration? Where is your “mother”? If the church is the mother, which obviously it is, then birth takes place by means of the church, by means of her proclamation of the gospel. Who is the mother in Hardshell new birth?
Zack also refers to the words in Hebrews eight, where further description is given of those who experience regeneration, where God says “and they shall be my people and I will be their God.” But, how does this harmonize with Hardshell immediate regeneration? How does it harmonize with their “Father alone” and “Spirit alone” view of regeneration? Can one be the people of God unconsciously? Without knowing God? Without knowing God as the Father of Christ?
Zack next brought up the words “and they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying know the Lord, for all shall know me, from the least even to the greatest.” First, Zack should read the citation from the Old Testament, where Jeremiah says “they shall teach no more…saying know the Lord.” Obviously, men do teach men to know the Lord. Obviously, when all have come to know the Lord, there will be no more reason to say know the Lord. Also, how can Zack and the Hardshells divorce knowledge of the true God, knowledge of Christ and gospel truth, from the description of the text? They shall know “me”? Who is the “me”? Is it not the God of Israel? The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? How can one know unconsciously? How can one know God but does not know that he knows him? How does a regenerated infant “know the Lord”?
Zack went on to say that regeneration was “God putting the love of God into your heart.” But how can one love another and not know it? How can one love unconsciously? How can one love another that he has no knowledge of? If a love of God is what is produced in regeneration, then this love springs from knowledge about God, and from a belief in what one knows. Does Zack’s “regenerated infant” in the womb, know and love God? It seems Zack, on one hand, wants to associate religious and gospel truth with the experience of regeneration, but on the other hand, to deny it. And, it seems, what knowledge of God is given in regeneration must not be more than nature itself reveals. It must be some kind of innate knowledge that is not conscious. All this is theological metaphysics at its worst.
He then refers to II Cor. 4: 6 as a reference to regeneration. “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” He tried in vain to divorce this work of divine shining in the soul from the preaching of the gospel, and from faith in it. But, clearly this work is done by the application of gospel truth to the heart and mind, as the context shows. In verse 5 Paul says “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake.” Notice how Paul is talking about preaching the gospel of God, the message concerning Jesus and his salvation, and as “servants,” God’s instruments. What is given in the regeneration experience, this verse affirms, is the light of gospel knowledge, knowledge of Jesus. Hardhells do not believe that this shining light experience, this regeneration, produces knowledge and faith in Christ. According to Hardshells, millions are walking around who have had this light shine into their hearts, but who do not acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior, but remain pagans.
He then gave the old Hardshell argumentation on II Tim. 1: 10 where Paul affirmed that “life and immortality” are “brought to light by the gospel.” To Zack and the Hardshells, Paul was giving the Hardshell “ordo salutis” in these words. They insist that the gospel does not give life, is not a means in giving it, but only is the manner in which those who have been regenerated come to realize it. The gospel when preached, turns the light on, and the elect regenerated are manifest. Thus, Paul is viewed as affirming, as they do, that the gospel only reveals those who are already spiritually alive, and cannot be a means to actually make them alive. Yet, this is clear eisegeses, reading into the text what is not there. All Paul is saying is that the truth about these subjects are revealed in the bible, or in the gospel. Where does one find revelation about salvation? About God? Are these topics of discussion not “brought to light” by the bible, by the gospel?
In summation, the argumentation of Zack Guess to prove “immediate regeneration,” or “Spirit alone regeneration,” or “father alone regeneration,” is untenable, contradictory to both scripture and sound logical principles.