The Boundaries Of Regeneration
In discussing what regeneration does for a child of God, and what it does not do, we are entering a field of age-long controversy. Some religious teachers allege that, barring a reasonable growth in grace, this experience is all that is accorded to Christians in this life. Others, and among that number the writer enrolls himself, declare that regeneration is a limited experience; and that beyond it, but still in this life, there is to be had another and greater work of grace that ushers in the complete cleansing of the soul from even the principle of sin.
We can comprehend this better, perhaps, by considering first what the experience of regeneration does do, and then by ascertaining what it does not do. As we have noticed in Chapter Four, regeneration means the implantation of life. This initial step, then, in the Christian life, means that the soul has in it, the life of God. This brings a peace to which a sinful soul is a stranger. Life always manifests itself in some way. Growth is one evidence of it. To the newly converted person, there begins at once a marvelous development in the things of Christ. Prayer becomes a gracious habit, and takes on fresh and delightful significance. The Bible becomes more and more a source of light and strength. Its perusal is, to the soul, somewhat as food to the body. Passages hidden away in the heart, and conned over in memory, yield rich spiritual flavor, and new views of truth. Testimony takes on enhanced importance, and becomes increasingly a channel for revealing to others the dealings of the Lord. Providences are filled with new meaning, and the blessings and mercies of God become a matter of daily gratitude and joyful meditation. Fellowship is real, and the delight of conversing on spiritual things grows with the passage of the days.
Another mark of life is appetite and assimilation. That is, to eat and digest food. Spiritually we feed on God. But God is administered to us through the Word, Worship, Fellowship and Meditation. A truly regenerated soul will hunger for the Word of God. To read it, or to hear it read and expounded becomes a source of genuine pleasure. One’s appetite for the Bible and one’s ability to assimilate it, will increase with use and exercise. Worship, to a true Christian, will be as natural as to think; private worship in one’s home, and public worship with one’s fellow Christians, and the constant sense of communion that a person can have, moment by moment, whether at work, in times of recreation, or in the midst of pressing business. Meditation, the art of “talking to one’s self” about things divine, will become a great pleasure, a rich source of profit, and one of the greatest defenses against loneliness that any mortal can have.
The forgiveness of sins, or the justification side of regeneration, is always a part of the experience of one who has been truly born again. This is a marvelous comfort and relief, and one should walk very carefully before the Lord in order to prevent the possibility of forfeiting that sweet sense of pardon and relief which justification brings from the harassing wolves of sin.
In the Old Testament we are told that God has a book in which He has written all the names of those who belong to Him. Also in the New Testament Jesus assures His disciples that their names were written in heaven. Again in revelation there is reference made to our names being enrolled in the “Lamb’s book of life.” This blessed enrollment of our names on God’s heavenly record takes place at the moment of regeneration, and becomes a matter for thanksgiving and gratitude. While it is, like justification, a transaction that takes place in heaven, yet its gracious comfort is felt in the heart of the believer, that he, too, is now enrolled among the blood washed in the book of God.
Adoption, also, is an accompaniment of regeneration. While the experience of justification brings the pardon of all one’s sins, and takes place in the mind of God toward a sinner, and regeneration is a work of God’s grace, recognizing that fact by planting the new life of Christ in the penitent’s heart, adoption is an act of God recognizing that soul as legally a part of His blessed family, and according him the rights and privileges of a child. He is now a member of God’s household both by being begotten of the Spirit, and also by being legally adopted and enrolled in the roster of heaven. There is enough in a genuine case of conversion to keep the redeemed soul shouting for ages. The glorious fact of forgiveness, the thrilling new life that witnesses in his soul, the consciousness of being enrolled in the book of God, and adopted in the heavenly family, is a step toward the estate which he lost in Eden, that is great enough and real enough to keep him rejoicing as he pushes on toward still better things. “Then was my mouth filled with laughter and my tongue with singing.”
Another gracious ability that is conferred upon a regenerated soul, is power to refrain from committing sin. While this is accomplished, as we shall see, by a great and almost continuous struggle, yet if the truly converted soul will make the struggle, and manfully wage a warfare against his spiritual foes, the worst of which he will find in his own heart, there will be accorded him a blessed sense of victory from time to time. Many believe that this continued struggle with interior enemies and the occasional victory that obtains is the best that can be hoped for in a Christian life here below. Many whole denominations claim that it is useless to look for anything greater or to hope for more. In this we are sure they are mistaken and their attitude only condemns untold thousands of sincere people to a Christian life of ceaseless struggle, and only occasional victory. However, we desire to say that regeneration is a mighty transaction, removing the guilt of all committed sins, and their pollution from the soul, and implanting so gracious a new life, as to enable the new born convert, with a manful effort to refuse to commit sin any more.
Some opponents of the second work of grace have alleged that holiness people must belittle regeneration, and minify the justifying power of God, in order to lay a suitable ground for the work of entire sanctification, or heart cleansing. This we frankly deny but claim that after allowing for regeneration everything that the Scriptures claim for it there is still much necessary ground that can only be covered by a second work of grace.
In fact, we allege that a soundly converted man will have as fine an attitude (according to all the light he has) toward all outward demands of righteousness, as he will ever have when he is sanctified wholly. Our relation to the demands of outward righteousness are fully met when we are regenerated. It is for something altogether different that sanctification equips us.
Having discussed what the experience of regeneration does for us, let us turn our attention to a consideration of what it does not do for us.
It does not remove from the heart the principle of sin. This is frankly admitted by almost all teachers of religion. Indeed, the presence of the principle of sin in the heart of Christian believers has never been seriously questioned, except by a small group of people a couple of centuries ago. All denominations admit and claim that it is to be found there. The war against holiness has never been waged over the fact of carnality or depravity existing in the human heart; all admit that. But the battle has been fought over the question whether or not it can be removed this side of the hour and instant of death.
Though the presence in the heart of a believing Christian of remaining native depravity, is admitted on all sides, yet it is pertinent to a theme of this sort to consider it somewhat at length.
Regeneration imparts a new Christ life to the soul of the candidate, but that life seems clearly to be limited and oftentimes fluctuating. Occasionally it will flow full, and then, under temptation or hardships, it will ebb and contract, until at times it will almost seem to be gone. Our divine Lord seemed to recognize this when He said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Here is a distinct recognition of the fact that there is such a thing as the impartation of life, and then it also recognizes that later, it is possible to have that life increased to an overflow. He also conveys somewhat the same idea when He speaks of a saved person having salvation in him like a “well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14). Then a short time thereafter, He states that with the coming of the Holy Ghost, a person should have His salvation pouring out of his heart, in “rivers of living water” (John 7:38).
Then again, the converted person is graciously pardoned, forgiven, justified. This is a real and conscious element in one’s salvation. Yet it seems extremely difficult to maintain that blissful condition. Soon after a splendid period of worship and prayer, the Christian often finds himself saying something, or doing some small deed that is a bit extreme, or doubtful, or off-color; when the sense of forgiveness vanishes, a cloud comes over the soul, and the joy of justification is not renewed until one has begged the pardon of his heavenly Father, and also very likely apologized to those among whom the offense was committed. This will happen, with some persons, several times in a week, and occasionally, two or three times in a day. Many of the bedside scenes of the justified are nothing more than an effort to pray back to forgiveness, after the small, but serious lapses of the day. This has been so generally the experience of justified people down through the ages, that one whole denomination, in preparing a ritual prayer for its people has inserted one that asks for daily forgiveness for sins which it seems to see no way to prevent the commission of; and in providing a prayer for those who are preparing to partake of the Lord’s Supper, it offers this: “We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness which we from time to time most grievously have committed.”
This writer frankly admits that against all men, no matter how holy, there lie at the close of every day offenses that have unconsciously been committed or omitted, against the perfect will of God. But these offenses, we do not understand to be sins, in the ordinary meaning of that term, but rather they are trespasses, that is, unconscious, unwitting, unintentional lapses from the perfect divine plan for us. But the above prayer does not contemplate such offenses as unintentional lapses from God’s will. Note that it states “manifold sins and wickedness,” and further adds that these terribly sounding acts and deeds have been “most grievously committed,” and the balance of the prayer adds “in thought, word and deed.”
We do not care to enter into the discussion of this, further than to use it as an illustration to show that pardon is, seemingly, lost and renewed among millions of Christians almost daily. Does the religion of Jesus offer nothing better than this? Is this the “salvation from sin,” of which St. Paul boasted? Is salvation from sin to be a chronic state of sinning, and a chronic application of pardon? Would an earthly court count such a citizen as one that was desirable, if each day he was haled before the bar for offenses against the law of the land, and was pardoned each day, with the certain knowledge both in the mind of the judge and in the mind of the culprit that he would be up again the next day for the same offenses, making the same plea?
It is certainly true that the regenerated have a divine life imparted to them in conversion. Nevertheless, this new life is associated in that heart with an old sin nature, or principle of sin, or native depravity. These two natures war against each other. What one seeks to do, the other seeks to prevent. What one loves the other hates. The human soul thus becomes a battle ground between opposing forces, and while gracious ability is conferred upon the genuine Christian to win in this contest, yet there is a strife over almost every duty that is necessary to be done, and the battle is never really ended, but is renewed over the same things week after week. Many times there is a fight over prayer, over the daily reading of the Bible, over attendance on prayermeeting, over the plain preaching of the pastor, over one’s gifts to the Lord, over testimony, and, indeed, over practically everything almost that one is called on to do. The Christian warfare, in the regenerated life, is not so much against outside foes, as against that old carnal heart that came over with one from the walks and ways of sin.
A gracious ability not to commit sin, is, to be sure, granted to the genuinely converted soul, but with the presence in him, also, of that old tendency toward sin, that old carnal mind, there is an ever recurring disposition to yield and lapse again into the sins from which God’s Spirit rescued him. This throws a cloud over much of the justified life. This, many times, keeps one confessing when he should be rejoicing. It often makes his testimonies sound like tales of woe, when they ought to be paeans of victory. This puts thousands of people in the class with Jeremiah, when they ought to be shouting with St. John, “He that believeth on me, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). It imprisons him inside the Seventh of Romans lamenting “When I would do good, evil is present with me,” and “Oh, wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death,” when he ought to be in the Eighth of Romans shouting, “For the law of the Spirit of life . . . hath made me free from the law of sin and death.”
There is accorded to the justified man the ability to love God, but he soon finds that this love is imperfect. Instead of consuming his soul, and chaining his whole attention to the blessed things of the kingdom and of the life hid with Christ in God, he finds that, though love for God is there in his heart, yet it allows a love for the world to bid for his attention, a love of dress and adornment to cloud the sky of his soul, and a longing after the flesh pots of Egypt to contend for his affection for heavenly things. The “leeks” and the “onions” and the “garlic” of the world keep wafting their odors in his spiritual nostrils, and he finds that it is necessary to make a tremendous fight, in order to keep from following their odoriferous temptation back to where he once partook of their poisonous flavors. Temptation to peevishness, petulancy, crabbedness and ill-temper, constantly assail him, and he frequently finds that he has been overcome thereby, which sends him to his knees with heart cries for pardon when he bows at his bedside at night. “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” “For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.” Is there no complete cure for a soul thus harassed by the principle of sin?
Genuine conversion certainly drives the devil out of the human heart, and turns it over as a habitation of God through the Spirit. But it is certainly true, also, that there is a sinful nature left in that heart, and that nature will exude its sinful stench into that Christian heart until that nature is cast out. There will be a never-ending warfare until the sin nature is cleansed away. It is this heart corruption that is the wail of the regenerate. Indeed, it is frankly admitted and bemoaned by practically all denominations. “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God. For it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.”
Can such a carnal, God-antagonizing thing as this principle of sin be allowed to enter heaven? If it comes there, will not it break out sometime as did Satan, when he was there, and repeat the very revolution that took place then? It seems to be the teaching of Scripture, that this carnal mind will never be allowed to enter that blest abode. Regenerated people must be rid of it, if they plan to spend a happy eternity with God, in the hill of God’s heavenly Zion.