Arthur W. Pink
Regeneration is that which alone fits a fallen creature to fulfill his one great and chief duty, namely, to glorify his Maker. This is to be the aim and end in view in all that we do: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31). It is the motive actuating us and the purpose before us which gives value to each action: “When thine eye [figure of the soul looking outward] is single [having only one object in view—the glory of God], the whole body is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, the body is full of darkness” (Luke 11:34). If the intention be evil, as it certainly is when the glory of God is not before us, there is nothing but “darkness,” sin, in the whole service.
Now fallen man has altogether departed from what ought to be his chief end, aim, or object, for instead of having before him the honor of God, himself is his chief concern; and instead of seeking to please God in all things, he lives only to please himself or his fellow creatures. Even when, through religious training, the claims of God have been brought to his notice and pressed upon his attention, at best he only parcels out one part of his time, strength, and substance to the One who gave him being and daily loadeth him with benefits, and another part for himself and the world. The natural man is utterly incapable of giving supreme respect unto God, until he becomes the recipient of a spiritual life. None will truly aim at the glory of God until they have an affection for Him, none will honor Him supremely whom they do not supremely love. And for this, the love of God must be shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5), and this only takes place at regeneration. Then it is, and not till then, that self is dethroned and God is enthroned; then it is that the renewed creature is enabled to comply with God’s imperative call, “My son, give me thine heart” (Prov. 23:26).
The salient elements which comprise the nature of regeneration may, perhaps, be summed up in these three words: impartation, renovation, and subjugation. God communicates something to the one who is born again, namely, a principle of faith and obedience, a holy nature, eternal life. This, though real, palpable, and potent, is nothing material or tangible, nothing added to our essence, substance, or person. Again, God renews every faculty of the soul and spirit of the one born again, not perfectly and finally, for we are “renewed day by day” (II Cor. 4: 16), but so as to enable those faculties to be exercised upon spiritual objects. Again, God subdues the power of the sin indwelling the one born again. He does not eradicate it, but He dethrones it, so that it no longer has dominion over the heart. Instead of sin ruling the Christian, and that by his own willing subjection, it is resisted and hated.
Regeneration is not the improvement or purification of the “flesh,” which is that principle of evil still with the believer. The appetites and tendencies of the “flesh” are precisely the same after the new birth as they were before; only they no longer reign over him. For a time it may seem that the “flesh” is dead, yet in reality it is not so. Often its very stillness (as an army, in ambush) is only awaiting its opportunity or a gathering up of its strength for a further attack. It is not long ere the renewed soul discovers that the “flesh” is yet very much alive, desiring to have its way. But grace will not suffer it to have its sway. On the one hand the Christian has to say, “For to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not” (Rom. 7:18). On the other hand, he is able to declare, “Christ liveth in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
Some people find it very difficult to conceive of the same person bringing forth good works who before brought forth nothing but evil works, the more so when it be insisted upon that no new faculty is added to his being, that nothing substantial is either imparted or taken from his person. But if we rightly introduce the factor of God’s mighty power into the equation, then the difficulty disappears. We may not be able to explain, in fact we are not, how God’s power acts upon us, how He cleanses the unclean (Acts 10:15) and subdues the wolf so that it dwells with the lamb (Isa. 11:6), any more than we can thoroughly understand His working upon and within us without destroying our own personal agency; nevertheless, both Scripture and experience testify to each of these facts. It may help us a little at this point if we contemplate the workings of God’s power in the natural realm.
In the natural realm every creature is not only entirely dependent upon its Maker for its continued existence, but also for the exercise of all its faculties, for “in him we live, and move [Greek “are moved”] and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Again, as the various parts of creation are linked together, and afford each other mutual support—as the heavens fertilize the earth, the earth supplies its inhabitants with food, its inhabitants propagate their kind, rear their offspring, and cooperate for the purpose of society—so also the whole system is supported, sustained, and governed by the directing providence of God. The influences of providence, the manner in which they operate on the creature, are profoundly mysterious; on the one hand, they are not destructive of our rational nature, reducing us to irresponsible automatons; on the other hand, they are all made completely subservient to the divine purpose.
Now, the operation of God’s power in regeneration is to be regarded as of the same kind with its operation in providence, although it be exercised with a different design. God’s energy is one, though it is distinguished by the objects on which, and the ends for which, it is exerted. It is the same power which creates as which upholds in existence: the same power which forms a stone and a sunbeam, the same power which gives vegetable life to a tree, animal life to a brute, and rational life to a man. In like manner, it is the same power, which assists us in the natural exercise of our faculties, as it is which enables us to exercise those faculties in a spiritual manner. Hence “grace” as a principle of divine operation in the spiritual realm is the same power of God as “nature” is His process of operation in the natural world.
The grace of God in the application of redemption to the hearts of His people is indeed mighty, as is evident from the effects produced. It is a change of the whole man: of his views, motives, inclinations, and pursuits. Such a change no human means are able to accomplish. When the thoughtless are made to think and to think with a seriousness and intensity which they never formerly did; when the careless are, in a moment, affected with a deep sense of their most important interests; when lips which were accustomed to blaspheme, learn to pray; when the proud are brought to assume the lowly attitude and language of the penitent; when those who were devoted to the world give evidence that the object of their desires and aims is a heavenly inheritance; and when this revolution, so wonderful, has been effected by the simple Word of God, and by the very Word which the subjects of this radical change had often heard unmoved, it is proof positive that a mighty influence has been exerted, and that that influence is nothing less than divine—God’s people have been made willing in the day of His power (Ps. 110:3).
Many figures are used in Scripture; various expressions are employed by the Spirit, to describe this saving work of God within His people. In II Peter 1:4 the regenerated are said to be “partakers of the divine nature,” which does not mean of the very essence or being of God, for that can neither be divided nor communicated—in heaven itself there will still be an immeasurable distance between the Creator and the creature, otherwise the finite would become infinite. No, to be “partakers of the divine nature” is to be made the recipients of inherent grace, to have the lineaments of the divine image stamped upon the soul: as the remainder of the verse shows, being “partakers of the divine nature” is the antithesis of “the corruption that is in the world through lust.”
In II Corinthians 3: 18 this transforming miracle of God’s grace in His people is declared to be a “changing” into the image of Christ. The Greek word there for “change” is the one rendered “transfigured” in Matthew 17:2. At Christ’s transfiguration no new features were added to the Saviour’s face, but His whole countenance was irradiated by a new light; so in II Corinthians 4:6 regeneration is likened unto a “light” which God commands to shine in us—note the whole context of II Corinthians 3:18 is treating of the Spirit’s work by the gospel. In Ephesians 2:10 this product of God’s grace is spoken of as His “workmanship,” and is said to be “created,” to show that He, and not man, is the author of it. In Galatians 4:19 this same work of God in the soul is termed Christ’s being “formed” in us—as the parents’ seed is formed or molded in the mother’s womb, the “likeness” of the parent being stamped upon it.
We cannot here attempt a full list of the numerous figures and expressions, which the Holy Spirit has employed to set forth this saving work of God in the soul. In John 6:44 it is spoken of as a being “drawn” to Christ. In Acts 16:14 as the heart being “opened” by the Lord to receive His truth. In Acts 26: 18 as an opening of our eyes, a turning us from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God. In II Corinthians 10:5 as the “casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” In Ephesians 5:8 as being “light in the Lord.” In II Thessalonians 2: 13 it is designated the “sanctification of the Spirit.” In Hebrews 8:10 as God’s putting His laws into our mind and writing them on our hearts—contrast the figure in Jeremiah 17:1! Thus it should be most apparent that we lose much by limiting our attention to only one figure of it. All we have given, and still others not mentioned, need to be taken into consideration, if we are to obtain anything approaching an adequate conception of the nature of that miracle of grace which is wrought in the soul and spirit of the elect, enabling them henceforth to live unto God.
As man was changed in Adam from what he was by a state of creation, so man must be changed in Christ from what he is by a state of corruption. This change, which fits him for communion with God, is a divine work wrought in the inclinations of the soul. It is a being renewed in the spirit of our minds (Eph. 4:23). It is the infusion of a principle of holiness into all the faculties of our inner being. It is the spiritual renovation of our very persons, which will yet be consummated by the regeneration of our bodies. The whole soul is renewed according to the image of God in knowledge, holiness, and righteousness. A new light shines into the mind, a new power moves the will, and a new object attracts the affections. The individual is the same, and yet not the same. How different the landscape when the sun is shining, than when the darkness of a moonless night is upon it—the same landscape, and yet not the same. How different the condition of him who is restored to fullness of health and vigor after having been brought very low by sickness; yet it is the same person.
The very fact that the Holy Spirit has employed the figures of “begetting” and “birth” to the saving work of God in the soul, intimates that the reference is only to the initial experience of divine grace: “He which hath begun a good work in you” (Phil. 1:6). As an infant has all the parts of a man, yet none of them as yet mature, so regeneration gives a perfection of parts, which yet have need to be developed. A new life has been received, but there needs to be a growth of it: “grow in grace” (II Peter 3:18). As God was the Giver of this life, He only can feed and strengthen it. Thus, Titus 3:5 speaks of “the renewing” and not the “renewal” of the Holy Spirit. But it is our responsibility and bounden duty to use the divinely appointed means of grace which promote spiritual growth: “Desire the sincere milk of the word that ye may grow thereby” (I Peter 2:2); as it is our obligation to constantly avoid everything which would hinder our spiritual prosperity: “Make not provision for the flesh to the lusts” (Rom. l3:14; cf. Matt. 5:29-30; II Cor. 7:1).
God’s consummating of the initial work which we experience at the new birth, and which He renews throughout the course of our earthly lives, only takes place at the second coming of our Saviour, when we shall be perfectly and eternally conformed to His image, both inwardly and outwardly. First, regeneration; then our gradual sanctification; finally our glorification. But between the new birth and glorification, while we are left down here, the Christian has both the “flesh” and the “spirit,” both a principle of sin and a principle of holiness, operating within him, the one opposing the other (see Gal. 5:16-17). Hence his inward experience is such as that which is described in Romans 7:7-25. As life is opposed to death, purity to impurity, spirituality to carnality, so is now felt and experienced within the soul a severe conflict between sin and grace. This conflict is perpetual, as the “flesh” and “spirit” strive for mastery. From hence proceeds the absolute necessity of the Christian being sober, and to “watch unto prayer.”
Finally let it be pointed out that the principle of life and obedience (the new “nature”) which is received at regeneration is not able to preserve the soul from sins, nevertheless, there is full provision for continual supplies of grace made for it and all its wants in the Lord Jesus Christ. There are treasures of relief in Him, whereunto the soul may at any time repair and find necessary succor against every incursion of sin. This new principle of holiness may say to the believer’s soul, as did David unto Abiathar when he fled from Doeg: “Abide then with me, fear not; for him that seeketh my life, seeketh thy life; but with me thou shalt be in safeguard” (I Sam. 22:23). Sin is the enemy of the new nature as truly as it is of the Christian’s soul, and his only safety lies in heeding the requests of that new nature, and calling upon Christ for enablement. This we are exhorted to in Hebrews 4: 16. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”
If ever there be a time of need with the soul, it is so when it is under the assaults of provoking sins, when the “flesh” is lusting against the “spirit.” But at that very time there is suitable and seasonable help in Christ for succor and relief. The new nature begs, with sighs and groans, for the believer to apply to Christ. To neglect Him, with all His provision of grace, while He stands calling on us, “Open to me. . . . for my head is filled with dew and my locks with the drops of the night” (Song of Sol. 5:2), is to despise the sighing of the poor prisoner, the new nature, which sin is seeking to destroy, and cannot but be a high provocation against the Lord.
At the beginning, God entrusted Adam and Eve with a stock of grace in themselves, but they cast it away, and themselves into the utmost misery thereby. That His children might not perish a second time, God, instead of imparting to them personally the power to overcome sin and Satan, has laid up their portion in Another, a safe Treasurer; in Christ are their lives and comforts secured (Col. 3:3). And how must Christ regard us, if, instead of applying to Him for relief, we allow sin to distress our conscience, destroy our peace, and mar our communion? Such is not a sin of infirmity, which cannot be avoided, but a grievous affront of Christ. The means of preservation from it is at hand. Christ is always accessible. He is ever ready to “succour them that are tempted” (Heb. 2:18). O to betake ourselves to Him more and more, day by day, for everything. Then shall each one find, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13).