Biblical Teaching from a Reformed Perspective

I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy
name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou
hast magnified thy word above all thy name. Ps. 138:2

                               HOME  |  REFORMED THEOLOGY  |  E-BOOKS  |  STUDIES  |  SERMONS  |  MY PAGE  |  LINKS  |  CONTACT
regeneration by John Owen



Description of the state of nature necessary unto a right understanding of the work of the Spirit in regeneration—No possibility of salvation unto persons living and dying in a state of sin—Deliverance from it by regeneration only—The Holy Ghost the peculiar author of this work—Differences about the manner and nature of it—Way of the ancients in explaining the doctrine of grace—The present method proposed—Conversion not wrought by moral suasion only—The nature and efficacy of moral suasion, wherein they consist—Illumination preparatory unto conversion—The nature of grace morally effective only, opened; not sufficient for conversion—The first argument, disproving the working of grace in conversion to be by moral suasion only—The second—The third—The fourth—Wherein the work of the Spirit in regeneration positively doth consist—The use and end of outward means—Real internal efficiency of the Spirit in this work—Grace victorious and irresistible—The nature of it explained; proved—The manner of God's working by grace on our wills farther explained—Testimonies concerning the actual collation of faith by the power of God—Victorious efficacy of internal grace proved by sundry testimonies of Scripture—From the nature of the work wrought by it, in vivification and regeneration—Regeneration considered with respect unto the distinct faculties of the soul; the mind, the will, the affections.

UNTO the description we are to give of the work of regeneration, the precedent account of the subject of it, or the state and condition of them that are to be regenerated, was necessarily to be premised; for upon the knowledge thereof doth a due apprehension of the nature of that work depend. And the occasion of all the mistakes and errors that have been about it, either of old or of late, hath been a misunderstanding of the true state of men in their lapsed condition, or of nature as depraved. Yea, and those by whom this whole work is derided do now countenance themselves therein by their ignorance of that state, which they will not learn either from the Scripture or experience; for, “natura sic apparet vitiata ut hoc majoris vitii sit non videre,” as Austin speaks. It is an evidence of the corruption of nature, that it disenables the minds of men to discern their own corruption. We have previously discharged this work so far as it is necessary unto our present purpose. Many other things might be added in the explication of it, were that our direct design. Particularly, having confined myself to treat only concerning the depravation of the mind and will, I have not insisted on that of the affections, which yet is effectual to retain unregenerate men under the power of sin; though it be far enough from truth that the whole corruption of nature consists therein, as some weakly and atheologically have imagined. Much less have I treated concerning that increase and heightening of the depravation of nature which is contracted by a custom of sinning, as unto all the perverse ends of it. Yet this also the Scripture much insists upon, as that which naturally and necessarily ensues in all in whom it is not prevented by the effectual transforming grace of the Spirit of God; and it is that which seals up the impossibility of their turning themselves to God, Jer. xiii. 23; Rom. iii. 10-19. But that the whole difficulty of conversion should arise from men's contracting a habit or custom of sinning is false, and openly contradictory to the Scripture. These things are personal evils, and befall individuals, through their own default, in various degrees. And we see that amongst men, under the same use of means, some are converted unto God who have been deeply immersed in an habitual course of open sins, whilst others, kept from them by the influence of their education upon their inclinations and affections, remain unconverted. So was it of old between the publicans and harlots on the one hand, and the Pharisees on the other. But my design was only to mention that which is common unto all, or wherein all men universally are equally concerned, who are partakers of the same human nature in its lapsed condition. And what we have herein declared from the Scriptures will guide us in our inquiry after the work of the Holy Spirit of grace in our deliverance from it.

It is evident, and needs no farther confirmation, that persons living and dying in this estate cannot be saved. This hitherto hath been allowed by all that are called Christians; nor are we to be moved that some who call themselves so do begin to laugh at the disease, and despise the remedy of our nature. Among those who lay any serious and real claim unto Christianity, there is nothing more certain nor more acknowledged than that there is no deliverance from a state of misery for those who are not delivered from a state of sin. And he who denies the necessary perishing of all that live and die in the state of corrupted nature, denies all the use of the incarnation and mediation of the Son of God: for if we may be saved without the renovation of our natures, there was no need nor use of the new creation of all things by Jesus Christ, which principally consists therein; and if men may be saved under all the evils that came upon us by the fall, then did Christ die in vain. Besides, it is frequently expressed that men in that state are “enemies to God,” “alienated from him,” “children of wrath,” “under the curse;” and if such may be saved, so may devils also. In brief, it is not consistent with the nature of God, his holiness, righteousness, or truth, with the law or gospel, nor possible in the nature of the thing itself, that such persons should enter into or be made possessors of glory and rest with God. A deliverance, therefore, out of and from this condition is indispensably necessary to make us meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.

This deliverance must be and is by regeneration. The determination of our Saviour is positive, both in this and the necessity of it, before asserted: John iii. 3, “Except a man be born again,” or from above, “he cannot see the kingdom of God .” Whatever sense the “ kingdom of God ” is taken in, either for that of grace here or of glory hereafter, it is all the same as unto our present purpose. There is no interest in it to be obtained, no participation of the benefits of it, unless a man be born again, unless he be regenerate. And this determination of our Saviour, as it is absolute and decretory, so it is applicable unto and equally compriseth every individual of mankind. And the work intended by their regeneration, or in being born again, which is the spiritual conversion and quickening of the souls of men, is everywhere ascribed unto them that shall be saved. And although men may have, through their ignorance and prejudices, false apprehensions about regeneration and the nature of it, or wherein it doth consist, yet, so far as I know, all Christians are agreed that it is the way and means of our deliverance from the state of sin or corrupted nature, or rather our deliverance itself; for this both express testimonies of Scripture and the nature of the thing itself put beyond contradiction, Tit. iii. 3-5. And those by whom it is exposed unto scorn, who esteem it a ridiculous thing for any one to inquire whether he be regenerate or no, will one day understand the necessity of it, although, it may be, not before it is too late to obtain any advantage thereby.

The Holy Ghost is the immediate author and cause of this work of regeneration. And herein again, as I suppose, we have in general the consent of all. Nothing is more in words acknowledged than that all the elect of God are sanctified by the Holy Ghost. And this regeneration is the head, fountain, or beginning of our sanctification, virtually comprising the whole in itself, as will afterward appear. However, that it is a part thereof is not to be denied. Besides, as I suppose, it is equally confessed to be an effect or work of grace, the actual dispensation whereof is solely in the hand of the Holy Spirit. This, I say, is in words acknowledged by all, although I know not how some can reconcile this profession unto other notions and sentiments which they declare concerning it; for setting aside what men do herein themselves, and others do towards them in the ministry of the word, I cannot see what remains, as they express their loose imaginations, to be ascribed unto the Spirit of God. But at present we shall make use of this general concession, that regeneration is the work of the Holy Ghost, or an effect of his grace. Not that we have any need so to do, but that we may avoid contesting about those things wherein men may shroud their false opinions under general, ambiguous expressions; which was the constant practice of Pelagius and those who followed him of old. But the Scripture is express in testimonies to our purpose. What our Saviour calls being “born again,” John iii. 3, he calls being “born of the Spirit,” verses 5, 6, because he is the sole, principal, efficient cause of this new birth; for “it is the Spirit that quickeneth,” John vi. 63; Rom. viii. 11. And God saveth us “according to his mercy, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost,” Tit. iii. 5. Whereas, therefore, we are said to be “born of God,” or to be “begotten again of his own will,” John i. 13, James i. 18, 1 John iii. 9, it is with respect unto the especial and peculiar operation of the Holy Spirit.

These things are thus far confessed, even by the Pelagians themselves, both those of old and those at present, at least in general; nor hath any as yet been so hardy as to deny regeneration to be the work of the Holy Spirit in us, unless we must except those deluded souls who deny both him and his work. Our sole inquiry, therefore, must be after the manner and nature of this work; for the nature of it depends on the manner of the working of the Spirit of God herein. This, I acknowledge, was variously contended about of old; and the truth concerning it hath scarce escaped an open opposition in any age of the church. And at present this is the great ball of contention between the Jesuits and the Jansenists; the latter keeping close to the doctrine of the principal ancient writers of the church; the former, under new notions, expressions, and distinctions, endeavouring the reenforcement of Pelagianism, whereunto some of the elder schoolmen led the way, of whom our Bradwardine so long ago complained. But never was it with so much impudence and ignorance traduced and reviled as it is by some among ourselves; for a sort of men we have who, by stories of wandering Jews, rhetorical declamations, pert cavillings, and proud revilings of those who dissent from them, think to scorn and banish truth out of the world, though they never yet durst attempt to deal openly and plainly with any one argument that is pleaded in its defence and confirmation.

The ancient writers of the church, who looked into these things with most diligence, and laboured in them with most success, as Austin, Hilary, Prosper, and Fulgentius, do represent the whole work of the Spirit of God towards the souls of men under certain heads or distinctions of grace; and herein were they followed by many of the more sober schoolmen, and others of late without number. Frequent mention we find in them of grace, as “preparing, preventing, working, co-working, and confirming.” Under these heads do they handle the whole work of our regeneration or conversion unto God. And although there may be some alteration in method and ways of expression,—which may be varied as they are found to be of advantage unto them that are to be instructed,—yet, for the substance of the doctrine, they taught the same which hath been preached amongst us since the Reformation, which some have ignorantly traduced as novel. And the whole of it is nobly and elegantly exemplified by Austin in his Confessions; wherein he gives us the experience of the truth he had taught in his own soul. And I might follow their footsteps herein, and perhaps should for some reasons have chosen so to have done, but that there have been so many differences raised about the explication and application of these terms and distinctions, and the declaration of the nature of the acts and effects of the spirit of grace intended in them, as that to carry the truth through the intricate perplexities which under these notions have been cast upon it, would be a longer work than I shall here engage into, and too much divert me from my principal intention. I shall, therefore, in general, refer the whole work of the Spirit of God with respect unto the regeneration of sinners unto two heads:— First, That which is preparatory for it; and, secondly, That which is effective of it. That which is preparatory for it is the conviction of sin; this is the work of the Holy Spirit, John xvi. 8. And this also may be distinctly referred unto three heads:— 1. A discovery of the true nature of sin by the ministry of the law, Rom. vii. 7. 2. An application of that discovery made in the mind or understanding unto the conscience of the sinner. 3. The excitation of affections suitable unto that discovery and application, Acts ii. 37. But these things, so far as they belong unto our present design, have been before insisted on. Our principal inquiry at present is after the work itself, or the nature and manner of the working of the Spirit of God in and on the souls of men in their regeneration; and this must be both negatively and positively declared:— FIRST, The work of the Spirit of God in the regeneration of sinners, or the quickening of them who are dead in trespasses and sins, or in their first saving conversion to God, doth not consist in a moral suasion only. By suasion we intend such a persuasion as may or may not be effectual; so absolutely we call that only persuasion whereby a man is actually persuaded. Concerning this we must consider,—

1. What it is that is intended by that expression, and wherein its efficacy doth consist; and, 2. Prove that the whole work of the Spirit of God in the conversion of sinners doth not consist therein. And I shall handle this matter under this notion, as that which is known unto those who are conversant in these things from the writings of the ancient and modern divines; for it is to no purpose to endeavour the reducing of the extravagant, confused discourses of some present writers unto a certain and determinate stating of the things in difference among us. That which they seem to aim at and conclude may be reduced unto these heads:— (1.) That God administers grace unto all in the declaration of the doctrine of the law and gospel. (2.) That the reception of this doctrine, the belief and practice of it, is enforced by promises and threatenings. (3.) That the things revealed, taught, and commanded, are not only good in themselves, but so suited unto the reason and interest of mankind as that the mind cannot but be disposed and inclined to receive and obey them, unless overpowered by prejudices and a course of sin. (4.) That the consideration of the promises and threatenings of the gospel is sufficient to remove these prejudices and reform that course. (5.) That upon a compliance with the doctrine of the gospel and obedience thereunto, men are made partakers of the Spirit, with other privileges of the New Testament, and have a right unto all the promises of the present and future life. Now, this being a perfect system of Pelagianism, condemned in the ancient church as absolutely exclusive of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, will be fully removed out of our way in our present discourse, though the loose, confused expressions of some be not considered in particular; for if the work of our regeneration do not consist in a moral suasion,—which, as we shall see, contains all that these men will allow to grace,—their whole fabric falls to the ground of its own accord:—

1. As to the nature of this moral suasion, two things may be considered:— (1.) The means, instrument, and matter of it, and this is the word of God; the word of God, or the Scripture, in the doctrinal instructions, precepts, promises, and threatenings of it. This is that, and this is that alone, whereby we are commanded, pressed, persuaded, to turn ourselves and live to God. And herein we comprise the whole, both the law and the gospel, with all the divine truths contained in them, as severally respecting the especial ends where-unto they are designed; for although they are distinctly and peculiarly suited to produce distinct effects on the minds of men, yet they all jointly tend unto the general end of guiding men how to live unto God, and to obtain the enjoyment of him. As for those documents and instructions which men have concerning the will of God, and the obedience which he requires of them from the light of nature, with the works of creation and providence, I shall not here take them into consideration: for either they are solitary, or without any superaddition of instructive light by revelation, and then I utterly deny them to be a sufficient outward means of the conversion of any one soul; or they may be considered as improved by the written word as dispensed unto men, and so they are comprised under it, and need not to be considered apart. We will, therefore, suppose that those unto whom the word is declared have antecedaneously there-unto all the help which the light of nature will afford.

(2.) The principal way of the application of this means to produce its effect on the souls of men is the ministry of the church. God hath appointed the ministry for the application of the word unto the minds and consciences of men for their instruction and conversion. And concerning this we may observe two things:— [1.] That the word of God, thus dispensed by the ministry of the church, is the only ordinary outward means which the Holy Ghost maketh use of in the regeneration of the adult unto whom it is preached. [2.] That it is every way sufficient in its own kind,—that is, as an outward means; for the revelation which is made of God and his mind thereby is sufficient to teach men all that is needful for them to believe and do that they may be converted unto God, and yield him the obedience that he requires. Hence two things do ensue:— 1 st. That the use of those means unto men in the state of sin, if they are not complied withal, is sufficient, on the grounds before laid down, to leave them by whom they are rejected inexcusable: so Isa. v. 3-5; Prov. xxix. 1; 2 Chron. xxxvi. 14-16.

2 d. That the effect of regeneration or conversion unto God is assigned unto the preaching of the word, because of its efficacy there-unto in its own kind and way, as the outward means thereof, 1 Cor. iv. 15; James i. 18; 1 Pet. i. 23.

2. We may consider what is the nature and wherein the efficacy of this moral work doth consist. To which purpose we may observe,— (1.) That in the use of this means for the conversion of men, there is, preparatory unto that wherein this moral persuasion doth consist, an instruction of the mind in the knowledge of the will of God and its duty towards him. The first regard unto men in the dispensation of the word unto them is their darkness and ignorance, whereby they are alienated from the life of God. This, therefore, is the first end of divine revelation,—namely, to make known the counsel and will of God unto us: see Matt. iv. 15, 16; Luke iv. 18, 19; Acts xxvi. 16-18, xx. 20, 21, 26, 27. By the preaching of the law and the gospel, men are instructed in the whole counsel of God and what he requires of them; and in their apprehension hereof doth the illumination of their minds consist, whereof we must treat distinctly afterward. Without a supposition of this illumination there is no use of the persuasive power of the word; for it consists in affecting the mind with its concernment in the things that it knows, or wherein it is instructed. Wherefore we suppose in this case that a man is taught by the word both the necessity of regeneration, and what is required of himself thereunto.

(2.) On this supposition, that a man is instructed in the knowledge of the will of God, as revealed in the law and the gospel, there is accompanying the word of God, in the dispensation of it, a powerful persuasive efficacy unto a compliance with it and observance of it. For instance, suppose a man to be convinced by the word of God of the nature of sin; of his own sinful condition, of his danger from thence with respect unto the sin of nature, on which account he is a child of wrath; and of his actual sin, which farther renders him obnoxious unto the curse of the law and the indignation of God; of his duty hereon to turn unto God, and the way whereby he may so do,—there are in the precepts, exhortations, expostulations, promises, and threatenings of the word, especially as dispensed in the ministry of the church, powerful motives to affect, and arguments to prevail with, the mind and will of such a man to endeavour his own regeneration or conversion unto God, rational and cogent above all that can be objected unto the contrary. On some it is acknowledged that these things have no effect; they are not moved by them, they care not. for them, they do despise them, and live and die in rebellion against the light of them, “having their eyes blinded by the god of this world.” But this is no argument that they are not powerful in themselves, although, indeed, it is that they are not so towards us of themselves, but only as the Holy Spirit is pleased to act them towards us. But in these motives, reasons, and arguments, whereby men are, in and from the word and the ministry of it, urged and pressed unto conversion to God, doth this moral persuasion whereof we speak consist. And the efficacy of it unto the end proposed ariseth from the things ensuing, which are all resolved into God himself:— [1.] From an evidence of the truth of the things from whence these motives and arguments were taken. The foundation of all the efficacy of the dispensation of the gospel lies in an evidence that the things proposed in it are not “ cunningly-devised fables,” 2 Pet. i. 16. Where this is not admitted, where it is not firmly assented unto, there can be no persuasive efficacy in it; but where there is, namely, a prevalent persuasion of the truth of the things proposed, there the mind is under a disposition unto the things whereunto it is persuaded. And hereon the whole efficacy of the word in and upon the souls of men is resolved into the truth and veracity of God; for the things contained in the Scripture are not proposed unto us merely as true, but as divine truths, as immediate revelations from God, which require not only a rational but a sacred religious respect unto them. They are things that the “mouth of the LORD hath spoken.”

[2.] There is a proposal unto the wills and affections of men in the things so assented unto, on the one hand as good, amiable, and excellent, wherein the chiefest good, happiness, and utmost end of our natures are comprised, to be pursued and attained; and on the other of things evil and terrible, the utmost evil that our nature is obnoxious unto, to be avoided: for this is urged on them, that to comply with the will of God in the proposals of the gospel, to conform thereunto, to do what he requires, to turn from sin unto him, is good unto men, best for them,—assuredly attended with present satisfaction and future glory. And therein is also proposed the most noble object for our affections, even God himself, as a friend, as reconciled unto us in Christ; and that in a way suited unto his holiness, righteousness, wisdom, and goodness, which we have nothing to oppose unto nor to lay in the balance against. The way, also, of the reconciliation of sinners unto God by Jesus Christ is set out as that which hath such an impress of divine wisdom and goodness upon it, as that it can be refused by none but out of a direct enmity against God himself. Unto the enforcing of these things on the minds of men, the Scripture abounds with reasons, motives, and arguments; the rendering whereof effectual is the principal end of the ministry. On the other hand, it is declared and evidenced that sin is the great debasement of our natures,—the ruin of our souls, the only evil in the world, in its guilt and punishment; and that a continuance in a state of it, with a rejection of the invitation of the gospel unto conversion to God, is a thing foolish, unworthy of a rational creature, and that which will be everlastingly pernicious. Whereas, therefore, in the judgment of every rational creature, spiritual things are to be preferred before natural, eternal things before temporal, and these things are thus disposed of in infinite goodness, love, and wisdom, they must needs be apt to affect the wills and take the affections of men. And herein the efficacy of the word on the minds and consciences of men is resolved into the authority of God. These precepts, these promises, these threatenings are his, who hath right to give them and power to execute them. And with his authority, his glorious greatness and his infinite power come under consideration; so also doth his goodness and love in an especial manner, with many other things, even all the known properties of his holy nature ;—all which concur in giving weight, power, and efficacy unto these motives and arguments.

(3.) Great power and efficacy is added hereunto from the management of these motives in the preaching of the word. Herein with some the rhetorical faculty of them by whom it is dispensed is of great consideration; for hereby are they able to prevail very much on the minds of men. Being acquainted with the inclinations and dispositions of all sorts of persons, the nature of their affections and prejudices, with the topics or kinds and heads of arguments meet to affect them and prevail with them, as also the ways of insinuating persuasive motives into their minds, they express the whole in words elegant, proper, expressive, and suited to allure, draw, and engage them unto the ways and duties proposed unto them. Herein do some place the principal use and efficacy of the ministry in the dispensation of the word; with me it is of no consideration, for our apostle rejects it utterly from any place in his ministry: 1 Cor. ii. 4. “My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” Some of late have put in faint and weak exceptions unto the latter clause, as though not an evidence of the powerful presence of the Spirit of God in the dispensation of the gospel were intended therein, but the power of working miracles, contrary to the whole scope of the place and consent of the best expositors; but that, by the first clause, the persuasive art of human oratory is excluded from use and efficacy in the preaching of the gospel, none as yet hath had the impudence to deny. But let this also be esteemed to be as useful and efficacious in this work, as to the end of preaching in the conversion of the souls of men, as any can imagine, it shall be granted; only I shall take leave to resolve the efficacy of preaching into two other causes:—

[1.] The institution of God. He hath appointed the preaching of the word to be the means, the only outward ordinary means, for the conversion of the souls of men, I Cor. i. 17-20; Mark xvi. 15, 16; Rom. i. 16. And the power or efficacy of any thing that is used unto an end in spiritual matters depends solely on its divine appointment unto that end.

[2.] The especial gifts that the Spirit of God doth furnish the preachers of the gospel withal, to enable them unto an effectual discharge of their work, Eph. iv. 11-13, whereof we shall treat afterward. All the power, therefore, that these things are accompanied withal is resolved into the sovereignty of God; for he hath chosen this way of preaching for this end, and he bestows these gifts on whom he pleaseth. From these things it is that the persuasive motives which the word abounds withal unto conversion, or turning to God from sin, have that peculiar efficacy on the minds of men which is proper unto them.

(4.) We do not therefore, in this case, suppose that the motives of the word are left unto a mere natural operation, with respect unto the ability of them by whom it is dispensed, but, moreover, that it is blessed of God, and accompanied with the power of the Holy Spirit, for the producing of its effect and end upon the souls of men. Only, the operation of the Holy Ghost on the minds and wills of men in and by these means is supposed to extend no farther but unto motives, arguments, reasons, and considerations, proposed unto the mind, so to influence the will and the affections. Hence his operation is herein moral, and so metaphorical, not real, proper, and physical.

Now, concerning this whole work I affirm these two things :—

1. That the Holy Spirit doth make use of it in the regeneration or conversion of all that are adult, and that either immediately in and by the preaching of it, or by some other application of light and truth unto the mind derived from the word; for by the reasons, motives, and persuasive arguments which the word affords are our minds affected, and our souls wrought upon in our conversion unto God, whence it becomes our reasonable obedience. And there are none ordinarily converted, but they are able to give some account by what considerations they were prevailed on thereunto. But,—

2. We say that the whole work, or the whole of the work of the Holy Ghost in our conversion, doth not consist herein; but there is a real physical work, whereby he infuseth a gracious principle of spiritual life into all that are effectually converted and really regenerated, and without which there is no deliverance from the state of sin and death which we have described; which, among others, may be proved by the ensuing arguments.

The principal arguments in this case will ensue in our proofs from the Scriptures that there is a real physical work of the Spirit on the souls of men in their regeneration. That all he doth consisteth not in this moral suasion, the ensuing reasons do sufficiently evince:—

First, If the Holy Spirit work no otherwise on men, in their regeneration or conversion, but by proposing unto them and urging upon them reasons, arguments, and motives to that purpose, then after his whole work, and notwithstanding it, the will of man remains absolutely indifferent whether it will admit of them or no, or whether it will convert itself unto God upon them or no; for the whole of this work consists in proposing objects unto the will, with respect whereunto it is left undetermined whether it will choose and close with them or no. And, indeed, this is that which some plead for: for they say that “in all men, at least all unto whom the gospel is preached, there is that grace present or with them that they are able to comply with the word if they please, and so believe, repent, or do any act of obedience unto God according to his will; and if they will, they can refuse to make use of this assistance, aid, power, or grace, and so continue in their sins.” What this grace is, or whence men have this power and ability, by some is not declared. Neither is it much to be doubted but that many do imagine that it is purely natural; only they will allow it to be called grace, because it is from God who made us. Others acknowledge it to be the work or effect of grace internal, wherein part of the difference lay between the Pelagians and semi-Pelagians of old. But they all agree that it is absolutely in the power of the will of man to make use of it or not,—that is, of the whole effect on them, or product in them, of this grace communicated in the way described; for notwithstanding any thing wrought in us or upon us thereby, the will is still left various, flexible, and undetermined. It is true, that notwithstanding the grace thus administered, the will hath power to refuse it and to abide in sin; but that there is no more grace wrought in us but what may he so refused, or that the will can make use of that grace for conversion which it can refuse, is false.

For,— 1. This ascribes the whole glory of our regeneration and conversion unto ourselves, and not to the grace of God; for that act of our wills, on this supposition, whereby we convert unto God, is merely an act of our own, and not of the grace of God. This is evident; for if the act itself were of grace, then would it not be in the power of the will to hinder it. 2. This would leave it absolutely uncertain, notwithstanding the purpose of God and the purchase of Christ, whether ever any one in the world should be converted unto God or no; for when the whole work of grace is over, it is absolutely in the power of the will of man whether it shall be effectual or no, and so absolutely uncertain: which is contrary to the covenant, promise, and oath of God unto and with Jesus Christ. 3. It is contrary to express testimonies of Scripture innumerable, wherein actual conversion unto God is ascribed unto his grace, as the immediate effect thereof. This will farther appear afterward. “God worketh in us both to will and to do,” Phil. ii. 13. The act, therefore, itself of willing in our conversion is of God's operation; and although we will ourselves, yet it is he who causeth us to will, by working in us to will and to do. And if the act of our will, in believing and obedience, in our conversion to God, be not the effect of his grace in us, he doth not “work in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”

Secondly, This moral persuasion, however advanced or improved, and supposed to be effectual, yet confers no new real supernatural strength unto the soul; for whereas it worketh, yea, the Spirit or grace of God therein and thereby, by reasons, motives, arguments, and objective considerations, and no otherwise, it is able only to excite and draw out the strength which we have, delivering the mind and affections from prejudices and other moral impediments. Real aid, and internal spiritual strength, neither are nor can be conferred thereby. And he who will acknowledge that there is any such internal spiritual strength communicated unto us must also acknowledge that there is another work of the Spirit of God in us and upon us than can be effected by these persuasions. But thus it is in this case, as some suppose: “The mind of man is affected with much ignorance, and usually under the power of many prejudices, which, by the corrupt course of things in the world, possess it from its first actings in the state of infancy. The will and the affections likewise are vitiated with depraved habits, which by the same means are contracted. But when the gospel is proposed and preached unto them, the thinks contained in it, the duties it requires, the promises it gives, are so rational, or so suited unto the principles of our reason, and the subject-matter of them is so good, desirable, and beautiful, unto an intellectual appetite, that, being well conveyed unto the mind, they are able to discard all the prejudices and disadvantages of a corrupt course under which it hath suffered, and prevail with the soul to desist from sin,—that is, a course of sinning,—and to become a new man in all virtuous conversation.” And that this is in the liberty and power of the will is “irrefragably proved” by that sophism of Biel out of Scotus and Occam, which contains the substance of what they plead in this cause. Yea, “thus to do is so suitable unto the rational principles of a well-disposed mind, that to do otherwise is the greatest folly and madness in the world.” “Especially will this work of conversion be unquestionably wrought if the application of these means of it be so disposed, in the providence of God, as that they may be seasonable with respect unto the frame and condition of the mind whereunto they are applied. And as sundry things are necessary to render the means of grace thus seasonable and congruous unto the present frame, temper, and disposition of the mind, so in such a congruity much of its efficacy doth consist. “And this,” as it is said, “is the work of the Holy Ghost, and an effect of the grace of God; for if the Spirit of God did not by the word prevent, excite, stir up, and provoke the minds of men, did he not help and assist them, when endeavouring to turn to God, in the removal of prejudices and all sorts of moral impediments, men would continue and abide, as it were, dead in trespasses and sins, at least their endeavours after deliverance would be weak and fruitless.”

This is all the grace, all the work of the Spirit of God, in our regeneration and conversion, which some will acknowledge, so far as I can learn from their writings and discourses. But that there is more required thereunto I have before declared; as also, it hath been manifested what is the true and proper use and efficacy of these means in this work. But to place the whole of it herein is that which Pelagius contended for of old; yea, he granted a greater use and efficacy of grace than I can find to be allowed in the present confused discourses of some on this subject. Wherefore it is somewhat preposterous to endeavour an imposition of such rotten errors upon the minds of men, and that by crude assertions, without any pretence of proof, as is the way of many. And that the sole foundation of all their harangues,—namely, the suitableness of gospel principles and promises unto our wisdom and reason, antecedently unto any saving work of the Spirit on our minds,—is directly contradictory to the doctrine of our apostle, shall afterward be declared. But, it may be, it will be said that it is not so much what is Pelagian and what is not, as what is truth and what is not, that is to be inquired after; and it is granted that this is, and ought to he, our first and principal inquiry; but it is not unuseful to know in whose steps they tread who at this day oppose the doctrine of the effectual grace of Christ, and what judgment the ancient church made of their principles and opinions.

It is pretended yet farther, that “grace in the dispensation of the word doth work really and efficiently, especially by illumination, internal excitations of the mind and affections; and if thereon the will do put forth its act, and thereby determine itself in the choice of that which is good, in believing and repenting, then the grace thus administered concurs with it, helps and aids it in the perfecting of its act; so that the whole work is of grace.” So pleaded the semi-Pelagians, and so do others continue to do. But all this while the way whereby grace, or the Spirit of God, worketh this illumination, excites the affections, and aids the will, is by moral persuasion only, no real strength being communicated or infused but what the will is at perfect liberty to make use of or to refuse at pleasure. Now this, in effect, is no less than to overthrow the whole grace of Jesus Christ, and to render it useless; for it ascribes unto man the honour of his conversion, his will being the principal cause of it. It makes a man to beget himself anew, or to be born again of himself—to make himself differ from others by that which he hath not in an especial manner received. It takes away the analogy that there is between the forming of the natural body of Christ in the womb, and the forming of his mystical body in regeneration. It makes the act of living unto God by faith and obedience to be a mere natural act, no fruit of the mediation or purchase of Christ; and allows the Spirit of God no more power or efficacy in or towards our regeneration than is in a minister who preacheth the word, or in an orator who eloquently and pathetically persuades to virtue and dehorts from vice. And all these consequences, it may be, will be granted by some amongst us, and allowed to be true; to that pass are things come in the world, through the confident pride and ignorance of men. But not only it may be, but plainly and directly, the whole gospel and grace of Christ are renounced where they are admitted.

Thirdly, This is not all that we pray for , either for ourselves or others, when we beg effectual grace for them or ourselves. There was no argument that the ancients more pressed the Pelagians withal than that the grace which they acknowledged did not answer the prayers of the church, or what we are taught in the Scripture to pray for. We are to pray only for what God hath promised, and for the communication of it unto us in that way whereby he will work it and effect it. Now, he is at a great indifferency in this matter who only prays that God would persuade him or others to believe and to obey, to be converted or to convert himself. The church of God hath always prayed that God would work these things in us; and those who have a real concernment in them do pray continually that God would effectually work them in their hearts. They pray that he would convert them; that he would create a clean heart and renew a right spirit in them; that he would give them faith for Christ's sake, and increase it in them; and that in all these things he would work in them by the exceeding greatness of his power both to will and to do according to his good pleasure. And there is not a Pelagian in the world who ever once prayed for grace, or gracious assistance against sin and temptation, with a sense of his want of it, but that his prayers contradicted his profession. To think that by all these petitions, with others innumerable dictated unto us in the Scripture, and which a spiritual sense of our wants will engage into, we desire nothing but only that God would persuade, excite, and stir us up to put forth a power and ability of our own in the performance of what we desire, is contrary unto all Christian experience. Yea, for a man to lie praying with importunity, earnestness, and fervency, for that which is in his own power, and can never be effected but by his own power, is fond and ridiculous; and they do but mock God who pray unto him to do that for them which they can do for themselves, and which God cannot do for them but only when and as they do it themselves. Suppose a man to have a power in himself to believe and repent; suppose these to be such acts of his will as God doth not, indeed cannot, by his grace work in him, but only persuade him thereunto, and show him sufficient reason why he should so do,—to what purpose should this man, or with what congruity could he, pray that God would give him faith and repentance? This some of late, as it seems, wisely observing, do begin to scoff at and reproach the prayers of Christians; for whereas, in all their supplications for grace, they lay the foundation of them in an humble acknowledgment of their own vileness and impotency unto any thing that is spiritually good, yea, and a natural aversation from it, and a sense of the power and working of the remainder of indwelling sin in them, hereby exciting themselves unto that earnestness and importunity in their requests for grace which their condition makes necessary (which hath been the constant practice of Christians since there was one in the world), this is by them derided and exposed to contempt. In the room, therefore, of such despised prayers, I shall supply them with an ancient form that is better suited unto their principles. The preface unto it is, “Ille ad Deum digne elevat manus, ille orationem bonâ conscientiâ effundit qui potest dicere.” The prayer followeth:—“Tu nosti Domine quam sanctæ et puræ et mundæ sint ab omni malitta, et iniquitate, et rapina quas ad te extendo manus: quemadmodum justa et munda labia et ab omni mendacio libera quibus offero tibi deprecationes, ut mihi miserearis.” This prayer Pelagius taught a widow to make, as it was objected unto him in the Diospolitan synod, that is at Lydda in Palestine , cap. vi.; only he taught her not to say that she had no deceit in her heart, as one among us doth wisely and humbly vaunt that he knoweth of none in his, so every way perfect is the man! Only to balance this of Pelagius, I shall give these men another prayer, but in the margin, not declaring whose it is, lest they should censure him to the gallows. Whereas, therefore, it seems to be the doctrine of some that we have no grace from Christ but only that of the gospel teaching us our duty, and proposing a reward, I know not what they have to pray for, unless it be riches, wealth, and preferments, with those things that depend thereon.

Fourthly, This kind of the operation of grace, where it is solitary, —that is, where it is asserted exclusively to an internal physical work of the Holy Spirit,—is not suited to effect and produce the work of regeneration or conversion unto God in persons who are really in that state of nature which we have before described. The most effectual persuasions cannot prevail with such men to convert themselves, any more than arguments can prevail with a blind, man to see, or with a dead man to rise from the grave, or with a lame man to walk steadily. Wherefore, the whole description before given from the Scripture of the state of lapsed nature must be disproved and removed out of the way before this grace can be thought to be sufficient for the regeneration and conversion of men in that estate. But some proceed on other principles. “Men,” they say, “have by nature certain notions and principles concerning God and the obedience due unto him, which are demonstrable by the light of reason; and certain abilities of mind to make use of them unto their proper end.” But they grant, at least some of them do, that “however these principles may be improved and acted by those abilities, yet they are not sufficient, or will not eventually be effectual, to bring men unto the life of God, or to enable them so to believe in him, love him, and obey him, as that they may come at length unto the enjoyment of him; at least, they will not do this safely and easily, but through much danger and confusion: wherefore God, out of his goodness and love to mankind, hath made a farther revelation of himself by Jesus Christ in the gospel, with the especial way whereby his anger against sin is averted, and peace made for sinners; which men had before only a confused apprehension and hope about. Now, the things received, proposed, and prescribed in the gospel, are so good, so rational, so every way suited unto the principles of our being, the nature of our intellectual constitutions, or the reason of men, and those fortified with such rational and powerful motives, in the promises and threatenings of it, representing unto us on the one hand the chiefest good which our nature is capable of, and on the other the highest evil to be avoided that we are obnoxious unto, that they can be refused or rejected by none but out of a brutish love of sin, or the efficacy of depraved habits, contracted by a vicious course of living. And herein consists the grace of God towards men, especially as the Holy Ghost is pleased to make use of these things in the dispensation of the gospel by the ministry of the church; for when the reason of men is by these means excited so far as to cast off prejudices, and enabled thereby to make a right judgment of what is proposed unto it, it prevails with them to convert to God, to change their lives, and yield obedience according to the rule of the gospel, that they may be saved.”

And no doubt this were a notable system of Christian doctrine especially as it is by some rhetorically blended or theatrically represented in feigned stories and apologues, were it not defective in one or two things: for, first, it is exclusive of a supposition of the fall of man, at least as unto the depravation of our nature which ensued thereon, and, secondly, of all real effective grace dispensed by Jesus Christ; which render it a fantastic dream, alien from the design and doctrine of the gospel. But it is a fond thing to discourse with men about either regeneration or conversion unto God by whom these things are denied.

Such a work of the Holy Spirit we must, therefore, inquire after as whereby the mind is effectually renewed, the heart changed, the affections sanctified, all actually and effectually, or no deliverance will be wrought, obtained, or ensue, out of the estate described; for notwithstanding the utmost improvement of our minds and reasons that can be imagined, and the most eminent proposal of the truths of the gospel, accompanied with the most powerful enforcements of duty and obedience that the nature of the things themselves will afford, yet the mind of man in the state of nature, without a supernatural elevation by grace, is not able so to apprehend them as that its apprehension should he spiritual, saving, or proper unto the things apprehended. And notwithstanding the perception which the mind may attain unto in the truth of gospel proposals, and the conviction it may have of the necessity of obedience, yet is not the will able to apply itself unto any spiritual act thereof, without an ability wrought immediately in it by the power of the Spirit of God; or rather, unless the Spirit of God by his grace do effect the act of willing in it. Wherefore, not to multiply arguments, we conclude that the most effectual use of outward means alone is not all the grace that is necessary unto, nor all that is actually put forth in, the regeneration of the souls of men.

Having thus evidenced wherein the work of the Holy Spirit in the regeneration of the souls of men doth not consist,—namely, in a supposed congruous persuasion of their minds, where it is alone,—

SECONDLY, I shall proceed to show wherein it doth consist, and what is the true nature of it. And to this purpose I say,—

1. Whatever efficacy that moral operation which accompanies, or is the effect of; the preaching of the word, as blessed and used by the Holy Spirit, is of, or may be supposed to be of, or is possible that it should be of, in and towards them that are unregenerate, we do willingly ascribe unto it. We grant that in the work of regeneration, the Holy Spirit, towards those that are adult, doth make use of the word, both the law and the gospel, and the ministry of the church in the dispensation of it, as the ordinary means thereof; yea, this is ordinarily the whole external means that is made use of in this work, and an efficacy proper unto it it is accompanied withal. Whereas, therefore, some contend that there is no more needful to the conversion of sinners but the preaching of the word unto them who are congruously disposed to receive it, and that the whole of the grace of God consists in the effectual application of it unto the minds and affections of men, whereby they are enabled to comply with it, and turn unto God by faith and repentance, they do not ascribe a greater power unto the word than we do, by whom this administration of it is denied to be the total cause of conversion; for we assign the same power to the word as they do, and more also, only we affirm that there is an effect to be wrought in this work which all this power, if alone, is insufficient for. But in its own kind it is sufficient and effectual, so far as that the effect of regeneration or conversion unto God is ascribed thereunto. This we have declared before.

2. There is not only a moral but a physical immediate operation of the Spirit, by his power and grace, or his powerful grace, upon the minds or souls of men in their regeneration.' This is that which we must cleave to, or all the glory of God's grace is lost, and the grace administered by Christ neglected. So is it asserted, Eph. i. 18-20, “That ye may know what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead.” The power here mentioned hath an “exceeding greatness” ascribed unto it, with respect unto the effect produced by it. The power of God in itself is, as unto all acts, equally infinite,—he is omnipotent; but some effects are greater than others, and carry in them more than ordinary impressions of it. Such is that here intended, whereby God makes men to be believers, and preserves them when they are so. And unto this power of God there is an actual operation or efficiency ascribed,—the “working of his mighty power.” And the nature of this operation or efficiency is declared to be of the same kind with that which was exerted in the raising of Christ from the dead; and this was by a real physical efficiency of divine power. This, therefore, is here testified, that the work of God towards believers, either to make them so or preserve them such,— for all is one as unto our present purpose,—consists in the acting of his divine power by a real internal efficiency. So God is said to “fulfil in us all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power,” 2 Thess. i. 11; 2 Pet. i. 3. And hence the work of grace in conversion is constantly expressed by words denoting a real internal efficiency; such as creating, quickening, forming, giving a new heart, whereof afterward. Wherever this word is spoken with respect unto an active efficiency, it is ascribed unto God; he creates us anew, he quickens us, he begets us of his own will. But where it is spoken with respect unto us, there it is passively expressed; we are created in Christ Jesus, we are new creatures, we are born again, and the like; which one observation is sufficient to evert the whole hypothesis of Arminian grace. Unless a work wrought by power, and that real and immediate, be intended herein, such a work may neither be supposed possible, nor can be expressed. Wherefore, it is plain in the Scripture that the Spirit of God works internally, immediately, efficiently, in and upon the minds of men in their regeneration. The new birth is the effect of an act of his power and grace; or, no man is born again but it is by the inward efficiency of the Spirit.

3. This internal efficiency of the Holy Spirit on the minds of men, as to the event, is infallible, victorious, irresistible, or always efficacious. But in this assertion we suppose that the measure of the efficacy of grace and the end to be attained are fixed by the will of God. As to that end whereunto of God it is designed, it is always prevalent or effectual, and cannot be resisted, or it will effectually work what God designs it to work: for wherein he “will work, none shall let him;” and “who hath resisted his will?” There are many motions of grace, even in the hearts of believers, which are thus far resisted, as that they attain not that effect which in their own nature they have a tendency unto. Were it otherwise, all believers would be perfect. But it is manifest in experience that we do not always answer the inclinations of grace, at least as unto the degree which it moves towards. But yet even such motions also, if they are of and from saving grace, are effectual so far, and for all those ends which they are designed unto in the purpose of God; for his will shall not be frustrated in any instance. And where any work of grace is not effectual, God never intended it should be so, nor did put forth that power of grace which was necessary to make it so. Wherefore, in or towards whomsoever the Holy Spirit puts forth his power, or acts his grace for their regeneration, he removes all obstacles, overcomes all oppositions, and infallibly produceth the effect intended. This proposition being of great importance to the glory of God's grace, and most signally opposed by the patrons of corrupted nature and man's free-will in the state thereof, must be both explained and confirmed. We say, therefore,—

(Click Here for Page 2)

items of interest
Recommended Reading
Search the Scriptures
Statement of Faith
The Necessity of a New Birth
Need a Web Site Designed?
favorite blogs
Al Mohler
Old Truth
Together for the Gospel
favorite links
Christian Classics
Desiring God
One Place
Grace to You
The Spurgeon Archive
Truth For Life
Reformation Theology
notable quotes
Our business is to present the Christian faith clothed in modern terms, not to propagate modern thought clothed in Christian terms. Confusion here is fatal.
                                       --JI Packer

Site Designed & Developed by Mike Aldridge
Copyright (c) 2008 CMA Ministries, Smyrna, TN 37167 All rights reserved.