Converted men are born again by God, not by essentially changing their nature, but by mortifying their sinful passions, and evil deeds, and by stirring up all human energies to holy works and to a new life.
567. Regeneration has been compared to the natural birth. As man is born from his parents, so he is, as it were, spiritually born anew, or a second time, by God. For which reason the latter act is not called simply a birth, but a new birth, or regeneration.
Concerning regeneration three things are to be considered viz:
a. that it is not implying any essential change of the regenerated;
b. the nature of regeneration, and what it consists of, and
c. that those who are regenerated may fall again from their happy state, into sin, and perish in the same for ever.
568. a. Regeneration is not implying any essential change of the regenerated. It is true, that tHe natural birth gives man his essential character, and we are also told, that by regeneration we put on a new man and a new creature. Nevertheless can the latter act not be said to infer an essential change in man, as if, by his spiritual birth, he was not to retain a body, like that of Adam, but be gifted with one like that of Jesus Christ. For
569. i. those who are regenerated are still said always to be renewed. But a new building that has been raised in the place of the one pulled down, cannot be said to have been renewed, — an appellation only applicable to one, the essentials of which have remained, and that has but put on a new and improved appearance. Exactly so it is in the case of man’s regeneration; for by it he is renewed, not by any essential change taking place with his substance, but by his becoming better in the sight of God, and putting on a more pleasing appearance.
570. ii. because in the regenerated man there is still always something to be found, that has remained from his former state of sin. For there is no man that can be said to live so pure and holy, that sin should not cleave to him. Nobody can say: I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin,” Prover. 20, 9. We read in Isa. 64, 6: “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags.” Now if regeneration did essentially change human nature, than there could not possibly be room within it, for evil desires and others sins.
571. iii. The flesh is continually warring against the spirit, within the regenerated man, Galat. 5, 17. Now for a war two parties are required, and as we find within the regenerated man a war going on between the spirit of God and between the flesh, it is evident that, in the regenerated man, there is to be found not only the Spirit of God, or spiritual things, but also sinful flesh.
572. iv. Because the regenerated men do not have, children that are by nature holy. On the contrary they conceive and bare children as other people do, whose thoughts are evil from their youth. Now if the nature of regenerated men was changed in such a manner, that nothing earthly could stick to them, but all within them be heavenly, how could such a pure and holy nature be said to beget sinful children?
573. v. To the regenerated the same words are applied as is to all those, who, according to Adam, are of flesh and blood. Thus the regenerated David says, Pslm. 51, 5: “Behold I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” This proves David to have got still the same body with him, as was the case at the time, he was born. And the regenerated Paul writes Galat. 1, 13, that he persecuted the church; from which we infer that he, after his body, was still the same as formerly, when persecuting the church of God; and that by being regenerated, his nature had not been essentially changed.
574. b. The nature of regeneration, and what it consists of. In this respect we have to observe
i. Mortification of the sinful nature. This does not mean to say that the members of the body were to be subjected to mortification: but that they are to be made captive to the obedience of Christ, 1 Cor. 10, 5; that sin should have no more dominion in our members, but that they should be henceforth members of righteousness, Rom. 6, 12. 13; that they who are Christ’s should crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts, Galat 5, 24; that sin should not be allowed any dominion over them, but be subdued. Genes. 4, 7; that they should abstain from fleshly lusts, that war against the soul, 1 Peter, 2, 11. By all which exertions the human energies, that are inclined to sin are curbed, weakened, kept down, yea, as it were, killed, routed out and cast away; as the Lord Jesus speaks of the same subject, Matth. 5, 29. 30; 18, 8. 9. For thereby the members of the body are forbidden to perform sinful works, as if they were altogether mortified indeed. It is with reference to this state, that Paul speaks of himself, Galat. 6, 14: the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world;” meaning that the lusts and enjoyments of this world did matter so little to him, as if he had a crucified and dead body. This is the one part of regeneration, viz, that every thing sinful, which we have inherited from our parents should be spiritually dead to us.
575. ii. The second part consists in the awakening of the soul and of all its powers to an activity with which God is well pleased. Every one who is not performing some sort of work, is like a dead body; and accordingly as we are by nature unfit for any thing that is good, the Holy Ghost designates us as “dead,” Ephes. 2, 1; Coloss. 2, 13: “when ye were dead in trespasses and sins.” Now if God imparts unto us the ability of doing whatever is good and spiritual, then he makes us alive, and by becoming alive, we are able to perform good works.
576. Our reason is made alive by being turned from our natural blindness and ignorance to the knowledge of God, Coloss. 3, 10; by beginning to be able to discern and to judge the things of the spirit, 1 Cor. 2, 15; by being able to know God, although at this time but as in a glass darkly, 1 Cor. 13, 12.
577. Our will is made alive, in that God gives unto us, in the room of this stony heart a heart of flesh, that we might do His will, Hezek. 11, 19. 20; in granting unto as a pure heart, and a new spirit, Pslm. 51, 12; our mind is renewed, and we walk in righteousness and true holiness, Ephes. 4, 23. 44; and our minds are converted, that we turn to serve the living God, waiting for his Son from heaven, 1 Thess. 1, 9. 10.
578. Our inward and outward powers are made alive, in that we present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, Rom. 12, 1; when we walk in newness of life, Rom. 6, 4; when we keep the feast, with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, 1 Cor. 5. 8.
579. To such a spiritual life the Holy Ghost is, what the soul is to the natural life. For thus we are born again by the Holy Ghost, John. 3, 5; wherever the soul is in full activity, there is life, and likewise where the Holy Ghost is, there is also life and salvation, “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God,” Rom, 8, 14. By this act therefore we find the whole mind of man, as well as all the powers of the body and the soul to have undergone an entire change, so that as he has formerly been dead to every good work, he now is alive to and busied with them; and as he has been formerly alive to evil and to the committal of the same, he is now entirely dead to it. A man of this description is, as it were born again, and has become quite another man, as the scriptures speak concerning Saul “the Spirit of the Lord will come upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt he turned into another man,” 1 Sam. 10, 6; not as if his substance had become another, but his life and purposes have been changed.
580. c. Constancy and perseverance in the state of regeneration. The scriptures contain many precious promises on the part of God, that the faithful are not to be rejected from His presence. “Though he (the good man) fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand,” Pslm. 37, 24: “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand, John. 10, 28. — This has led some to the conclusion that such men, as have once been regenerated, could pot possibly again turn from the grace of God, fall in unbelief and thus perish. It is therefore our duty to consider this point more clearly:
581. aa. With regard to God, we know that He, on His part, is doing every thing, that the believer might remain in his faith. For He calls, teaches, admonishes, warns and threatens him, in order that the commenced work might not be destroyed again. That this is the case is evident from the fact which has been proved already: viz, that, if all men are not saved, the fault is in nowise to be laid with God.
582. bb. The reason for the believer’s not always persevering in his faith, is solely to be sought on the part of man. Thus we are entitled to the conclusion, that as long as the believer clings to God, and does not turn from him as “long will he not be cast away from God’s presence. For as long as man clings to his God, no power on earth is able to wrench him from this stronghold.
583. cc. God has, in this respect, not left the believers without means, but has given them His word, and they can never be turned away from salvation as long as they take this word for their guide. But as soon as they desert this guide (and that is not at all impossible) then it is possible for them to fall from their state of regeneration. — It is just like a father leading his child a very impracticable track, upon which it would impossible for the latter to proceed by himself. The father is giving him comfort: you cannot fall, for I keep you with my hand! now as long as the child retains the hold of his father’s hand, he will be sure not to fall. But suppose him leaving his father’s hand, out of mere wantonness or confidence of his’ own strength, his destruction will be inevitable. In spite of this, the words of warning and comfort his father had formerly addressed to the same would be considered to have been truth; the child could not fall as long as he allowed himself to be guided by his father, but, ceasing this precaution, he might be destroyed. — Exactly so it is with regenerated man: he cannot fall from his state of salvation as long as he submits himself to the guidance of God and His word, (which is, as it were, His arm). This can be proved by the fact
584. 1. that scripture expressly teaches, that some of the regenerated may fall away again, Luk. 8, 13: “They on the rock are they, which when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for awhile believe, and in time of temptation fall away,”
585. 2. that God promises salvation to such as remain stedfast unto the end; Matth. 10, 22: “he that endureth to the end shall be saved;” Heb. 3, 14: “We are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence unto the end.” Now if all believers did remain stedfast in their faith, and there was no danger of their falling away; there would have been no occasion for its being alluded to as a necessary, yet, with regard to man, doubtful condition.
586. 3. We are admonished to be careful of not falling away; 1. Cor. 9, 24: “Run, that ye may obtain;” ibid. 10, 12: “let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall; Revel. 2, 10: “be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee life; ibid. 3, 11: “hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” — Now it is in no way necessary for a man to be admonished to persevere in retaining a thing, which he is in no danger whatsoever of loosing. And as regenerated man is admonished in scripture to constancy, it proves that it is possible for such a one to fall from his blessed state.
587. 4. God reveales his wrath over all those regenerated who have fallen from grace, Ezek. 8, 24: “When the righteous turneth away from his righteousness and comitteth iniquity, and doeth all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die.” Rom. 11, 20. 21: “thou standest by faith; be not highminded, but fear: for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee;” 2. Peter 2, 20. 21: “if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.” Heb. 6, 4. ff.: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away to renew them again unto repentance.”
An exhortation St. Paul had been mindful of m a great measure, when he writes concerning himself; “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I my self should be a cast away,” 1 Cor. 9, 27.
588. We find recorded in scripture express instances of such as have, after their regeneration, fallen away again. — Thus we read that Aaron, though having been regenerated, has yet committed sin, in raising an idol to the people, Exod. 32, 4, 5. 21; that David committed adultery and murder upon Uriah and his wife, after having been regenerated, 2 Sam. 12, 7. 9. Peter, although he was a disciple of the Lord Jesus and in a regenerated state, has yet fallen away, in that he denied his master, Matth. 26, 69. ff. Hymeneus and Alexander also, having put away faith and a good conscience, made shipwreck concerning their faith, and were consequently delivered unto Satan by Paul, Timet. 1, 19. 20. Hymeneus and Philetus are said to have subverted the faith, in teaching that the resurrection had taken place already, 2 Timot. 2, 18. — Now the same that happened to the above mentioned individuals, may also happen to every one who is regenerated.