Regeneration, Christian Graces, and Assurance of Salvation (Gurnall)

When God sovereignly regenerates a sinner, that person is renewed, reborn, made new.  “…If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17 NASB; c.f. Gal. 6:15).  The person then walks in the newness of life (Rom. 6:4).  This doesn’t mean a regenerate person is sinless and perfect, but it does mean that his whole person is made new by God.  William Gurnall put it this way:

“As natural corruption is a universal principle of all sin that sours the whole lump of man’s nature; so sanctifying grace is a universal principle that sweetly seasons and renews the whole man at once, though not completely.  Grace indeed grows by steps, but is born at once.  The new creature has all its parts formed together, though not its degrees.  One grace may, we confess, be perceived to stir and so come to be noticed by the Christian before other graces.”

Gurnall is saying that when God renews and regenerates a person, that person is given true faith, repentance, love, fear of God, evangelical obedience, and so forth.  These things are called “graces.”  Sometimes a Christian sees one of his graces more than another, but it doesn’t mean that other graces aren’t there.  God doesn’t just give someone repentance but not godly fear or true faith.  Gurnall said that some parts of the world have been discovered before other parts of the world, but the whole world has been in existence since God created it.  So it is with Christian graces: God has given them all to all his people, even if we don’t always discover them or notice all these graces at once.

So what?  Why is this important?  Well, as Gurnall noted, knowing this fact gives relief to the Christian when he’s in doubt of his salvation.  Just because a Christian can’t immediately discern godly fear doesn’t mean he should “unsaint” himself.  If you don’t have godly fear but you do have a sincere desire to please him, be assured that God’s grace is at work in you, and in time you’ll notice godly fear.  Or if your faith is seemingly gone but you have a hearty sorrow when you sin against God, don’t despair.  Know that you are a new creation in Christ, and you will again see your faith – it is there!  Here’s Gurnall again:

“As by taking hold of one link you may draw up the rest of the chain that lies under water, so by discovering one grace, you may bring all to sight.  …This holy kindred of graces go ever together, they are knit, as members of the body, one to another.  Though you see only the face of a man, yet you do not doubt that the whole man is there.”

Here’s a good quote to end on:

“Moses would not go out of Egypt with half his company (Ex. 10).  Either all must go or none shall stir.  Neither will the Spirit of God come into a soul with half his sanctifying graces, but with all his train.”

(These slightly modernized and edited quotes are found in the beginning of “Direction Ninth” in Gurnall’s The Christian in Complete Armor.)

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI


The Lord Opened Her Heart (Acts 16:14)

One of the places in Scripture that teaches effectual calling (irresistible grace) and the sovereignty of God in regeneration is Acts 16:14, where Luke writes this about Lydia: “The Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul (NASB).”  I appreciate Richard Sibbes’ comments on this text:

“…As our hearts are shut and closed up naturally, so God, and God alone, opens the heart, by his Spirit in the use of the means. God opened Lydia’s heart.

God hath many keys. He hath the key of heaven to command the rain to come down. He hath the key of the womb; the key of hell and the grave; and the key of the heart especially. ‘He opens, and no man shuts; and shuts and no man opens’ (Rev. 3:7). He hath the key of the heart to open the understanding, the memory, the will, and affections. God, and God only, hath the key of the heart to open that. It is his prerogative. He made the heart, and he only hath to do with the heart. He can unmake it, and make it new again, as those that make locks can do. And if the heart be in ill temper, he can take it in pieces, and bring it to nothing as it were, as it must be before conversion; and he can make it a new heart again.

It is God that opens the heart, and God only. All the angels in heaven cannot give one grace, not the least grace. Grace comes merely (only) from God. It is merely (only) from God. All the creatures in the world cannot open the heart, but God only by his Holy Spirit. For nature cannot do above its sphere, as we say, above its own power. Natural things can do but natural things. For nature to raise itself up to believe heavenly things, it cannot be. Therefore as you see vapors go as high as the sun draws them up, and no higher, so the soul of man is lift up to heavenly things by the power of God’s Spirit. God draws us and then we follow. God, I say, only openeth the heart.

Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 6 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson, 1863), 523–524.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Hammond, WI

Effectual Calling and Regeneration in the 2nd Century

Apostolic Fathers, The, 3rd ed.: Greek Texts and English Translations (This is a repost from February, 2013)

2 Clement is an early sermon or “word of exhortation” that was written around 100 AD (or possible around 130 AD).  It was probably not written by Clement, but by an anonymous presbyter.  Michael Holmes calls it “the oldest surviving complete Christian sermon outside the New Testament.”

The sermon opens with an exhortation to “think of Jesus Christ as we do of God.”  The preacher then states that since Christ has suffered so greatly for us to save us, we owe him our praise.  Here’s how he explains this salvation (in 1:7-8).

“Our minds were blinded, and we worshiped stones and wood and gold and silver and brass, things made by humans; indeed, our whole life was nothing but death.  So while we were thus wrapped in darkness and our vision was filled with this thick mist we recovered our sight, by his will laying aside the cloud wrapped around us.”

“For he had mercy upon us and in his compassion he saved us when we had no hope of salvation except that which comes from him, even though he had seen in us much deception and destruction.  For he called us when we did not exist, and out of nothing willed us into being.”

These are great phrases that describe God’s sovereign grace in effectual calling and regeneration.  The Apostle put it this way: God…gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist (Rom 4.17).  Even when we were dead in our trespasses [he] made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved (Eph 2:5).  We can’t be 100% sure, but it does seem like the author of 2 Clement was thinking about Romans 4:17 when he wrote these words.

This passage from 2 Clement is a great reminder that the Protestant Reformers didn’t make up the doctrines of grace; they stood in line with the historic Christian church, and on the shoulders of the Apostle Paul.

The above quote from 2 Clement can be found in The Apostolic Fathers, 3rd edition, edited and translated by Michael W. Holmes.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Regeneration: An Act of Sovereign Grace

Systematic Theology, 3 Volumes  When a sinner who is dead in sin comes to saving faith in Christ, it is a sovereign and gracious work of God.  We cannot take even 1% of the credit for coming to Christ; we cannot pat ourselves on the back or seek an award for coming to Christ.  Instead, we stay at the feet of Jesus where we first came, realizing that from first to last it is all of grace, love, mercy, and the sovereignty of God.  In his grace, by the power of the Holy Spirit, he has drawn the Christian to Christ, enlightened the Christian’s mind, renewed his will and made him willing and able to answer the call and embrace Christ (Titus 3:5, John 6:44-45, Acts 16:14, 2 Cor. 4:6, Ezek. 36:26-27, etc; see also WLC Q/A 67).  I like how Charles Hodge noted that regeneration is an act of sovereign grace:

“No believer ever ascribes his regeneration to himself. He does not recognize himself as the author of the work, or his own relative goodness, his greater susceptibility to good impression, or his greater readiness of persuasion, as the reason why he rather than others, is the subject of this change. He knows that it is a work of God; and that it is a work of God’s free grace. His heart responds to the language of the Apostle when he says: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (Tit. 3:5.) Paul says of himself that God, having separated him from his mother’s womb called him by his grace. (Gal. 1:15.) There was nothing in him, who was injurious and a persecutor, to demand the special intervention of God in his behalf. So far from his referring his vocation to himself, to his greater readiness to yield to the influence of the truth, he constantly represents himself as a monument of the wonderful condescension and grace of God” (p. 707).

“…Regeneration is an act of sovereign grace. If a tree must be made good before the fruit is good; the goodness of the fruit cannot be the reason which determines him who has the power to change the tree from bad to good. So if works spiritually good are the fruits of regeneration, then they cannot be the ground on which God exerts his life-giving power. If, therefore, the Scriptures teach the doctrine of efficacious grace in the Augustinian sense of those terms, then they teach that regeneration is a sovereign gift. It cannot be granted on the sight or foresight of anything good in the subjects of this saving change. None of those whom Christ healed, pretended to seek the exercise of his almighty power in their behalf on the ground of their peculiar goodness, much less did they dream of referring the restoration of their sight or health to any cooperation of their own with his omnipotence” (p. 688-689).

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 2, p. 688–689.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Hammond, WI

The Struggles of Sanctification

Systematic Theology, 3 Volumes Charles Hodge does a fine job of explaining regeneration, sanctification, and the Christian’s ongoing struggle with sin.  In the following quote, Hodge is implicitly responding to the unbiblical teaching of perfectionism and explicitly refuting the teaching of Rome, which teaches that baptismal regeneration removes the nature of sin in the soul.  It is also an explanation of the fact that Christians are saints and sinners at the same time.

“The truth which lies at the foundation of all the Scriptural representations of this subject is, that regeneration, the quickening, of which believers are the subject, while it involves the implanting, or communication of a new principle or form of life, does not effect the immediate and entire deliverance of the soul from all sin. A man raised from the dead may be and long continue to be, in a very feeble, diseased, and suffering state. So the soul by nature dead in sin, may be quickened together with Christ, and not be rendered thereby perfect. The principle of life may be very feeble, it may have much in the soul uncongenial with its nature, and the conflict between the old and the new life may be protracted and painful. Such not only may be, but such in fact is the case in all the ordinary experience of the people of God.”

“…With the teachings of the Scriptures the experience of Christians in all ages and in all parts of the Church agrees. Their writings are filled with the account of their struggles with the remains of sin in their own hearts; with confessions; with prayers for divine aid; and with longings after the final victory over all evil, which is to be experienced only in heaven. The great lights of the Latin Church, the Augustines and Bernards and Fénélons, were humble, penitent, struggling believers, even to the last, and with Paul did not regard themselves as having already attained, or as being already perfect. And what the Bible and Christian experience prove to be true, history puts beyond dispute. Either there is no such thing as regeneration in the world, or regeneration does not remove all sin from those who are its subjects.”

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. III pages 220-221.

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Regeneration: Irresistible and Inadmissible

Product Details Peter Van Mastricht (d. 1706) was an outstanding Dutch Reformed scholastic, theologian, and professor in Holland during the late 17th century.  His greatest work was Theologia Theoretico-Practica, which was essentially a systematic theology for the mind and heart.  Here’s one section of that work, which specifically has to do with regeneration.  I realize the language is a bit bulky, but if you read carefully you’ll realize Mastricht is speaking about God’s sovereign grace in giving new life to dead sinners – and keeping them in that new life.

In what sense regeneration is irresistible.

“We may hence determine that regeneration is irresistible, and in what sense this is to be understood.  For if you consider what the person who is to be regenerated is – a child of wrath who is dead in sin – he certainly has depravity enough to resist (Acts 7:51).  But if you consider that it is God who regenerates and quickens, the subject of regeneration can no more resist God than Lazarus of old could have resisted Christ when He raised him to a natural life (John 11:43-44).  Nor does he have a will to resist, for, by the spiritual life instantaneously produced, all inclinations or desire of resisting are suppressed or taken away (Ezekiel 36:25-27; Jeremiah 32:39-40; cf. Galatians 1:13, Acts 9:2-6; 22:5, etc.).”

In what sense regeneration is inadmissible.

“The grace of regeneration can never be lost, nor can the grounds upon which this inadmissibility is founded (1 John 3:9, Ezekiel 36:27, 11:19-20, Jeremiah 32:39-40).  In this, indeed, it differs from the first spiritual life effected in creation by the bestowing of original righteousness, through the loss of which, by sin, our first parents became spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1, 5), since the spiritual life bestowed by regeneration is never entirely lost.  However, the unfailing permanence of this life is by no means ascribed to the firmness and constancy of the regenerate [person], or the strength and perfection of the spiritual life; for there is, and always dwells in the regenerate [person], so much corruption that they are as likely, by their own conduct, to destroy this life as our first parents were – and indeed more so because they, before the loss of their spiritual life, were perfectly righteous and holy (Ecclesiastes 7:29).  But the impossibility of losing the grace of regeneration depends first on the grace of election and of the divine purpose; hence the gifts and calling of God are without repentance (Romans 11:29, Matthew 24:22).  Second, it depends upon preserving grace (1 Peter 1:5; John 10:28-29).

Peter Van Mastricht, A Treatise on Regeneration (Morgan: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2002), 29-30.

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The Work of the Holy Spirit in Regeneration

Redemption: Accomplished and Applied  John Murray’s book Redemption Accomplished and Applied is an outstanding biblical explanation of Christ’s work for us and in us.  I like this section where Murray talks about regeneration from John 3 – specifically 3:8: The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (NIV).

“…We are instructed by our Lord that for entrance into the kingdom of God we are wholly dependent upon the action of the Holy Spirit, an action of the Holy Spirit which is compared to that action on the part of our parents by which we were born into the world.  We are as dependent upon the Holy Spirit as we are upon the action of our parents in connection with our natural birth.  We were not begotten by our father because we decided to be.  And we were not born of our mother because we decided to be.  We were simply begotten and were born.  We did not decide to be born.”

“This is the simple but too frequently overlooked truth which our Lord here teaches us.  We do not have spiritual perception of the kingdom of God nor do we enter into it because we willed to or decided to.  If this privilege is ours it is because the Holy Spirit willed it and here all rests upon the Holy Spirit’s decision and action.  He begets or bears when and where he pleases.”

“Is this not the burden of [John 3] verse 8?  Jesus there compares the action of the Spirit to the action of the wind.  The wind blows – this serves to illustrate the factuality, the certainty, the effect of the Spirit’s action.  The wind blows where it wills – this enforces the sovereignty of the Spirit’s action.  The wind is not at our beck and call; neither is the regenerative operation of the Spirit.  ‘Thou canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth’ – the Spirit’s work is mysterious.  All points up the sovereignty, efficacy, and inscrutability of the Holy Spirit’s work in regeneration.”

John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p. 123.

shane lems