Is Regeneration Purity?
The question engaging many tongues and pens today is whether or not there is a principle or nature of sin left in the soul after regeneration.
It is beyond all doubt most important in its bearings upon the religious life. With it stands or falls the doctrine of a second work of grace; for if there be no “remainder of iniquity,” then is regeneration all that God does for the soul, and nothing more is to be looked for save a development or growth in grace on our part. If, on the other hand, there is an evil principle left in the heart of the person born of the Spirit, then should all converted people begin at once to groan for deliverance. The fact that such a nature is left in the regenerated heart was never denied, according to Mr. Wesley, until the rise, something over a hundred years ago, of a man named Zindendorf, who taught that regeneration was purity.
Some one, we believe it was Bramwell, said at the time of the propagation of this strange doctrine that he foresaw that it would be the “devil’s big gun,” and so it has proved. It is now as a piece of spiritual artillery being shot in many quarters, and its echoes fill the land. Satan certainly made a tremendous leap or change in tactics when, from a teaching of despair that sin could never be taken out of the heart, he swept to the position that in regeneration the soul is made holy.
The explanation of this is evident to the thoughtful. If the adversary persuades men that regeneration is purity, and that it is also all that God can and will do for the soul, then does he stop them short of the obtainment of the entire sanctification of their moral natures, and so has reached the same end that he did when he taught that sin had to stay in the heart. In either case sin is covered. A great change has been made in tactics, but the same end is reached. Sin is left in the soul.
A great stress is laid by the Zinzendorfian following of the Church today on the word “regeneration,” and the figure of birth which it stands for. Regeneration, they say, is the new or
spiritual birth. We are born of God, and such a birth precludes all idea of anything unclean, unholy, or carnal left in the soul. In this way they endeavor to get rid of the fact of carnality or inbred sin left in the regenerated man.
To establish what they contend for such reasoners are compelled to look to nature for a rule of analogy, to the Bible for proof of what they say; and finally to be able to summon human witnesses in further substantiation and confirmation of the doctrine. Strange it may appear to some, but no to all; neither nature nor the Bible nor human testimony will stand by them in the establishment of their hypothesis.
Let nature be examined first. What can we find in a physical birth that will bear us out in claiming, by way of analogy, purity or perfection for the spiritual birth or regeneration? To our surprise, on investigation we find that nothing is born perfect in the physical world. Let a careful examination be made, and the inquirer will find that no human frame is perfect, that one part does not exactly correspond to another part, and that one side of the skull is never the exact counterpart of the other. He will also see that it is the same way with the face: the two eyes are hardly ever on a straight line with each other, the ears frequently differ, one side of the face is not precisely similar to the other, and so on through all the members of the body. According to this we have no right to assume perfection in the spiritual birth from anything we see in the natural world.
In addition to this, we observe that every creature born into the natural world comes into it with the principle of death in its body. Life is there, but so is death. Is it more astonishing to say that goodness is planted in the regenerated man, and this goodness in the face of evil, than to say that a principle of life and one of death and decay is in every creature born into the world?
Going from the idea of perfection in physical birth to that of purity, we find on the very threshold of inquiry that nothing in nature is born clean. The calf after being born is licked clean by the tongue of its mother, while every child that is born has to be washed clean immediately after its birth. According to the testimony of nature, birth is one thing and cleanness is another.
To force the birth figure is to run into folly and absurdity! To say that to be born of God necessitates the experience of holiness, and ground this argument on the figure of natural birth,
throws such reasoning open to most absurd conclusions. For instance, to be born of man is to become human but can we say that to be born of God is to become divine? Are we ever gods? Evidently there is nothing in nature to give us a right to say, by way of analogical reasoning, that spiritual birth means purity or perfection.
Suppose we consider the second argument for purity in regeneration, based on the Bible, and lo! when we turn to the Word of God we discover at the first glance that regenerated people there are urged to go on to perfection. They are told that God wills their sanctification, and can sanctify them wholly and preserve them blameless. Paul told the Christian Hebrews that the object of their discipline as spiritual children was that they might become partakers of “his holiness.” All the Epistles are written with a recognition of something to be gotten rid of, and a state or condition to be reached. What the Scripture says positively on the subject will be treated in other chapters of this volume. Enough is seen here to reveal that the Bible gives no authority for claiming purity or
holiness at our spiritual birth.
When we look for the third argument, to be materialized in the person of human witnesses who claim purity and perfect love as the direct and immediate result of regeneration, without any
subsequent exercise of soul, and following experience, such witnesses cannot be found. Men indeed are found who will write such things on paper in controversy, but it is noticeable that they will not stand up in the great congregation and claim purity, perfect love, and holiness on the simple experience of regeneration. It is no trial to write very loftily with the pen, but, brought face to face
with men and God, the tongue stammers, the jaws lock, and the witness of the regenerated man to purity is difficult to be heard in the land.
It strikes the author that one trouble with the Zinzendorfian wing in the Church is in giving a meaning to the word “regeneration” that it does not possess. To get rid of a second work of grace many in the Church have made the word to include everything. The word, as found in English and Greek lexicons, means to be born again, to reproduce, to renovate, etc. In no place or book do we find the words “freedom,” “purity,” “perfection,” or “holiness” given as definitions of “regeneration.” Hence we affirm that a man has no more right to attach such meanings to the word than to say that a house means a building, and also a meadow, field, wood, and plain.
Another mistake with the Zinzendorfians is that, knowing but one experience in their souls, they have made all Scripture bend to describe what they possess. There are passages that describe a life and experience which they are strangers to; but, with an assurance that is amazing, they appropriate all; and, when driven to the wall in regard to these passages, say that they describe the life that they are not living but ought to live, but that still it is regeneration. A mere boy should here be able to answer them with the words: “If this is regeneration described in these lofty passages, and you are regenerated, you should have them; if you have them not, where are you, and what are you?”
Here I find in the Word of God statements of “heart circumcision,” “dead to sin,” “alive unto God,” “the body of sin destroyed,” “perfect peace,” “perfect love,” “pure in heart,” etc.; and yet here is a man about whose heart the divine circumcising knife has not come; the nails and thorns and death of the cross are an unknown spiritual experience; and perfect peace is unknown, and death to the world is unknown; and, marvelous to say, he claims it all with his pen, in controversy, while his conscience gives the flat denial, his best friends are skeptical, and there is no answering fire from heaven on the part of God.