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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
John Stock, LL. D.
From the book, A Handbook of Revealed Theology, 1883
We have now to consider that great change which is in Scripture designated, a being born again (John 3:3), a quickening from death (Eph. 2:1), and a new creature (Gal. 6:15).
I. If the doctrine of the Fall and of man's consequent depravity be true, the necessity of regeneration to salvation is its logical corollary; and, vice versa, if the doctrine of regeneration be true, man's natural depravity is proved.—If man has lost the life of godliness by his fall, only a divine power can restore it; and if he needs to be quickened by the Holy Spirit, he cannot be naturally "alive unto God." Thus the various doctrines of the orthodox faith prove each other.
These solemn facts the doctrine of the new birth assumes. Because "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23); because "the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jer. 17:9); and because "every imagination of the thoughts of man's heart is only evil continually" (Gen. 6:5, compared with 8:21); therefore man must undergo a great moral and spiritual change in order to salvation.
2. Moreover, the thoroughness of the change required is commensurate with the radical character of the evil to be overcome. As we have already seen, man has sustained a terrible blow by his voluntary rebellion against his Maker. He has become morally dead; "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1). He is altogether “as an unclean thing;” and all his “righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (Isa. 64:6). "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God" (Rom. 8:7).
Hence, if man is to be recovered from his natural state of alienation from his Maker, it must be by a change as radical and complete as the depravity of which he is the subject. The change, to be effectual, must go to the very root of the evil. As man's heart and soul are vitiated, they must be renewed. As the fountain of action is corrupt, the only way in which the streams can be purified is by making their source holy. Hence we see how insufficient are science, philosophy, and secular education to accomplish this great work. These may soften the manners, but they cannot change the heart or renew the moral nature.
3. The Scripture references to this great work are in harmony with the foregoing observations; for they represent it as being a complete change in the whole of the moral tastes, dispositions, habits, and actions. They speak of it as "a new birth." "Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). They describe it as "a quickening of the dead." "And you hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephes. 2:1).
They call it a new creation: "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). They style it a renewal in the spirit of our mind (Rom. 12:2): Ye “have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him" (Col. 3:10).
Now these and similar figures convey most emphatically the idea of a thorough, radical, and universal change. The truly holy man is called a new man. The child of God is born again, or from above (John 3:3). He has received what may figuratively be called a new life.
It is quite true that the new birth communicates no new mental faculties. The human soul is, as to its natural powers, the same after conversion as before. We love God after regeneration with the same powers wherewith we hated Him before that great change.
The man is the same as to all that constitutes a man; the same rational responsible agent. But he has undergone a great moral and spiritual change, nevertheless. As to his inclinations, his preferences, and aversions, he is a new creature. Here old things have passed away, and all things have become new.
It is sometimes said that we must not expound figures too literally or rigorously. Granted; but a figure is intended to give instruction, and a metaphor is often full of meaning. The question is—What do these figures of a new birth, a new creation, a quickening from death, and the communication of a new life mean? Of course, they refer not to natural powers, or essential functions. They describe a spiritual change, which makes the man, so far as his habits and inclinations are concerned, a new creature. He is, to all intents and purposes, morally, a new man.
4. And we are told in Holy Writ that this change is in all cases absolutely necessary. For "in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation" (Gal. 6:15). The Papist and the Puseyite, with all their magical ceremonies, must fail here.
The mere moralist who has reformed his past excesses, and is now trusting in an altered and decent life, has neither part nor lot in this matter. This great work must be wrought, or our salvation is impossible. For, "except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven" (John 3:3). Nothing will do as a substitute for the new birth. "We must be born again" (verse 7).
5. This glorious work is described as being emphatically
and primarily a change of heart. These are the terms in which it is presented to us:
"I will give them an heart to know me that I am the LORD; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God; for they shall return to me with their whole heart" (Jer. 24:7).
"I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me for ever" (Jer. 32:39a).
"And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh; that they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God" (Ezek. 11:19, 20).
"A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments and do them" (Ezek. 36:26, 27).
These promises evidently relate to the times of the gospel. They describe what the blessed Spirit does when He renews a man in the spirit of His mind. The heart is the fountain of action. As is the heart, so is the man; if that be not right with God, everything else must be wrong. Hence the spirit of God changes the heart; He makes it "a new heart," "a heart of flesh," "one heart." He makes the spirit of the mind "a right spirit." Thus the very fountain of character and conduct is cleansed. The root of depravity is reached. And, as the result of this inward and spiritual change, the whole life is transfigured, and becomes radiant with moral beauty.
6. Every mental faculty is influenced by this important work. It is not confined to the heart, but reaches to every power of the soul. The Understanding is enlightened (Eph. 1:18; Col. 1:9; 1 John 5:20). The Imagination is purified, so that instead of revelling in iniquity, it delights to meditate in God's law (Psa. 63:6; Psa. 77:12; Psa. 143:5). The Memory is sanctified, and it loves to treasure up the precious truth of God, and to chronicle His merciful works (Psa. 92:6; Psa. 77:10, 11; Psa. 119:55).
The Conscience is made a good conscience, approving of that which is holy, and condemning that which is corrupt (Heb. 9:14; Heb. 10:22; Gen. 39:9). The Will is brought into harmony with the will of God: hence it chooses what He commands, and refuses what He forbids (Psa. 84:10; Heb. 11:25; Luke 10:42). Thus every mental and moral faculty participates in the renewing of the Holy Spirit.
It is unprofitable to dispute as to which mental faculty is the first to feel the converting influence, whether the intellect or the affections. Into the metaphysics of regeneration we decline to enter. It is enough to know that the Divine Spirit operates upon the whole mental and moral man. Besides, though we speak of the faculties of the soul, we must not forget that the soul itself is one. It is a simple, indivisible spirit. It is not, like the body, compounded of various elements, and possessed of various members. Hence the regeneration of the soul involves the regeneration of all its powers—of the whole soul.
It is, consequently, absurd to dispute whether the Holy Spirit does first enlighten the understanding or purify the heart; for, in truth, when He operates upon one, He operates upon the other. "The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple" (Psa. 119:130); and by the same act by which He flashes His illuminations upon the intellect, He changes the heart. By the same mental process wherewith we perceive the loveliness of Christ and the attractions of holiness, we love them. To appreciate that which is lovely, is to love it.
Faculties are but the various functions of the one soul. The Affections are the soul loving or hating; the Understanding, the soul perceiving; the Imagination, the soul musing; the Memory, the soul remembering; the Conscience, the soul approving or condemning; the Will, the soul choosing or rejecting. To renew the soul, is to renew it in ALL its powers.
7. The instrument in connection with which the regenerating influences of the Spirit are exerted, is the Word of God. It is for this reason that we are said in Holy Scripture to be born of the Word. "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures" (James 1:18). "Born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever" (1 Pet 1:23). "That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word" (Eph. 5:26).
In these and in other parallel passages, regeneration is ascribed to the truth which the Holy Spirit leads us to receive. It is in connection with the hearing, reading, or remembering of the Word of God, or of the general truths which it makes known, that the Holy Ghost puts forth His power. It is to induce us to receive this truth that the Divine Spirit is imparted. Hence it is that "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." The word is the occasion of the new birth. The Holy Spirit works by the truth. The Word of God is His sword (Eph. 6:17). It is the fire with which He burns up our dross, and the hammer with which He breaks our rocky hearts in pieces (Jer. 23:29).
8. The regenerating influences of the Spirit are, nevertheless, exerted, not upon the Word, but directly upon the human soul. The Word of God undergoes no change when a soul is born again. It is not in such a case the Word that is converted, but the man who receives it. The truth, as it is in Jesus, is immutable; it liveth and abideth for ever, the same glorious revelation of divine mercy. In popular phraseology, we speak of "power as being put into the Word." In prayer we often ask God to "clothe His Word with power." And in Holy Scripture the gospel is said to come unto the saved, "For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance" (1 Thess. 1:5).
But manifestly such allusions do not imply any alteration in the ever-living and unchangeable truth of Jehovah. The man's perceptions of the truth are altered, not the truth itself. To him the revelation has become like a new book, for he sees in it beauties and blessed adaptations which he did not perceive before. If a man born blind were suddenly to be endowed with the power of vision, he would, as it were, enter upon a new world; and yet the external world would not be affected by his endowment with sight; it would still be the same; the change would be in the man's perceptions, and emotions, and impressions.
So, when a man is quickened to the possession of spiritual life, it is not the gospel of our Saviour that has any fresh elements of beauty put into it, but the man wakens up to act entirely new apprehension of its glory and suitability to his case as a sinner. No additional power is put into God's truth, but, by divine influence, "the heart is opened to attend unto it and to receive it" (Acts 16:14).
What we want is “an heart to perceive", "eyes to see” and “ears to hear” (Deut. 29:4) the glories which are ever in that blessed system of saving truth. In the parable of the sower and the seed, the different results of the seed sown were attributed to the different character of the soil, that is to say, heart, on which it fell. It was the same kind of seed, as good in one case as in another; but the ground on which it fell was very diversified. "But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience." (Luke 8:15).
In the effects of God's Word, then, everything depends upon the state of the heart that hears it. Hence it is manifest that the regenerating influences of the Holy Spirit are exerted upon the human soul.
The power of the Spirit of God, though imparted in connection with the Word, and in order to its reception, is not in the Word, but is altogether distinct from it. Some of our modern theologians tell us that the Spirit is in the Word, and that there is no presence or power of the Spirit vouchsafed to the saved, but that which is already and necessarily in revealed truth. The power of the Spirit is, with them, simply the influence which His truth exerts over those who receive it. Any direct operation upon the mind they deny.
This theory is, however, both irrational and unscriptural. We say it is irrational, because, obviously, if there be any influence exerted at all, it must be exerted upon the mind of the man who is to be changed, and not upon the truth, which is in its nature unchangeable. We affirm, further, that this theory is unscriptural. God opens hearts to attend to, and to embrace His own truth (Acts 16:14); He prepares hearts to receive the seed of the kingdom (Luke 8:15); and when His gospel is believed to salvation, it is because it "comes not in word only," as it does in many cases; "but in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance" ( 1 Thess. 1:5).
But if the Spirit were in the Word, that Word could never come in word only. In such a case it would always come with power. How clear is it from this passage that the power is not in the Word, but in a sovereign influence which is altogether distinct from it, though operating through it as a medium. It is the presence or absence of this free and gracious influence over the heart which makes all the difference as to the results of our preaching the truth as it is in Jesus.
In the belief of this great truth David breathed the prayer, "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law" (Psa. 119:18). If all the gracious influences which God intends for the Church are in the Bible, on what principle could David pray for an operation of God's grace upon his mind, to enable him better to understand and appreciate the wondrous glories of that word? This was clearly prayer for an influence extraneous to the truth, and by which the latter was to be understood.
Thus regenerating and sanctifying grace is not the mere in-dwelling of the Spirit in the Word, but is the divine influence which works upon the soul, inclining it "to receive the love of the truth" (2 Thess. 2:10).
It is quite true that, in a popular sense, the Holy Spirit may be said to be in His own Word, just as we say the thoughts and sentiments of an author live in a book in which he has fully and earnestly expounded them. The Bible contains "the mind of the Spirit" as truly as if it were only just inspired. His voice will be heard addressing the nations in its doctrines, promises, precepts, and prophecies, through all the ages of time.
But this is a very different thing from that powerful influence by which souls are brought to God, and are saved from death. The Holy Spirit must open the human heart to receive His own word. It never converts, per se, but only as a medium or occasion for the impartation of the power of the Spirit.
The Scriptures distinguish between the truth by means of which men are renewed in the spirit of their minds, and the Spirit by whose power and grace the truth is made effectual to the accomplishment of its destined end. The Word of God is "the sword of the Spirit" (Ephes. 6:17). His influence is as distinct from the truth by means of which He operates as is a human hand from the sword which it grasps. "The weapons of our warfare are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds "(2 Cor. 10:4). The weapon is one thing; the power that applies it is another.
To us it appears that the direct agency of the Spirit in regeneration is a truth implied in the doctrine of His personality; and that the resolving of His influences into the mere effect of the truth upon the mind is the first step towards a denial of His personality. Such a view tends to Socinianism.
If there be no influence of the Holy Ghost in regeneration, above and beyond that of the effects of revealed truth upon the mind of man, we may well inquire whether there be any Holy Spirit at all. But the Scriptures affirm that there is on the part of the Divine Spirit in regeneration the exertion of a positive and direct influence, emanating from Himself, extraneous to the Word, and effectuating all the sanctified impressions which revealed truth produces.
9. In the impartation of regenerating grace the Holy Spirit acts with absolute and uncontrollable sovereignty. The Holy Ghost is the great agent in the accomplishment of this work and in its production acts freely and graciously. The sovereignty of the Divine Spirit in this transformation appears from two things:
a. It is apparent from the nature of the case. Nothing can deserve the Divine favour but holiness. This is a truism. But regeneration is itself the beginning of holiness in a sinner's soul. Hence it is self-evident that there can be nothing in a sinner's soul antecedently to regeneration that can be to Jehovah an object of complacency or a ground of favour. And hence, that which implants in a man the first germs of genuine holiness must, from the very nature of the case, be an act of the most perfect free favour on the part of God.
b. But we are not left merely to a logical demonstration in this matter. The Scriptures plainly affirm the same truth. Of regenerate believers they testify that "they were born, not of blood (not of carnal descent from their parents, as Jews were born Jews), nor of the will of the flesh (not by their own efforts), nor of the will of man (not by the labours of ministers or other servants of the Lord), but of God" (John 1:13). This work is absolutely and entirely the work of the Holy Spirit, so far as the efficient power by which it is brought about is concerned, and is the result, not of the will of man, but of the will of God. "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth, so is every one that is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). How emphatic this testimony to the uncontrollable sovereignty of the Holy Spirit in the impartation of the divine life!
"The Son quickeneth whom He will" (John 5:21). The Holy Spirit comes as the representative of Jesus, to execute His sovereign will. We may address all the regenerate in those memorable words: "You hath He quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1).
10. The regenerating influences of the Spirit are personal and special. They are a gift peculiar to those who receive them, altogether different from that universal grace, the existence of which is asserted by some.
Undoubtedly there are portions of Scripture which teach that all men are more or less indebted to the Son of God. But for what? - That is the question. We read that "Christ is the true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (John 1:9). But what are those benefits which every man receives from Christ Jesus? We apprehend they include the following things:
The entire world is spared for the sake of Christ's atonement; all men derive natural life, with its various endowments, from the Saviour, as the Creator of all things;
by His Providence, as the Sustainer of the universe, they are preserved in being; He is the Creator and the Actuator of the conscience, which leads men to distinguish right from wrong; and
He is the Giver of that blessed Spirit, by whose inspiration the records of the New Testament were penned for the instruction of all the nations of the earth.
There is not a passage in the Holy Scriptures usually quoted by the advocates of universal grace which may not be explained as having reference to some or all of the blessings which we have mentioned. Such an exposition of these portions does no violence to their obvious import, and renders them harmonious with other passages that clearly teach the existence of a personal and special grace.
When a man is truly regenerated, this fact is the result of a peculiar and gracious operation of the Spirit upon his mind, and not of the man's laudable improvement of a universal grace communicated to all men equally. " But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour " (Titus 3:4-6).
"We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk therein" (Eph. 2:10). "So, then, it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy…Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth.” (Rom 9:16, 18)
What if God, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory, even us whom He hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles" (Rom. 9:16-24)? Those who perish are fitted by their own sins for destruction; those who are saved are made ready for glory by a peculiar and preparatory influence from heaven. The latter are "vessels which He (God) prepared beforehand for the glory" to which they are destined.
The doctrine of special grace has its difficulties, but need we be surprised at this? Are our faculties so vast; are our perceptions so comprehensive, have we so thoroughly grasped the whole of truth in its infinite forms and combinations that we are warranted in making our ability to strip a doctrine of all difficulty the test of its truth or falsehood? Are the evidences of the inspiration of the Bible conclusive? If they are, and if the book proved to be divine teaches the truth of special grace, then our business is to receive it, and wait for further light in the solution of its difficulties.
The doctrine is not unreasonable—it is simply in some respects above reason. The analogy of nature and providence seems rather to confirm it. We find that in the economy of Divine Providence Jehovah gives us innumerable illustrations of His special favour to men, altogether irrespectively of their own works. Some are born with vigorous and healthy bodies, others bring disease into the world with them; some are endowed with strong and acute mental powers, others have minds characterized by feebleness and obtuseness; some are brought into existence in the lap of luxury, others in the haunts of poverty; some have every opportunity of polishing their minds, and others are born in the wilderness, among savages, and are surrounded with almost insuperable hindrances to the attainment of the lowliest mental cultivation.
And in all these cases the original condition of the individual is quite irrespective of any conduct of his own, whether good or bad. The volume of Providence contains multitudes of such facts, and if we are to reject the doctrine of special grace BECAUSE it has its difficulties, for the same reason we must reject a special Divine Providence, and, in fact, turn Atheists. Rather let us say with our Great Teacher, as we survey God's free and sovereign grace in regeneration, "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight."
11. Regeneration is not a gradual but a complete work. In this respect it differs from sanctification, which is progressive. Regeneration is the implantation of spiritual life, sanctification is its development, and glorification is its consummation. The moment the heart opens to receive Jesus it is alive unto God. The germ of heaven is in that soul, and glory itself will invest it with no new moral elements.
It is made a new creature in Christ Jesus at once; and as the acorn contains the germ of the oak, and the infant of the full-grown man, so the soul just born from above has in it the seeds of all holiness, and of heaven itself. It has life, and that life must expand into the perfect man in Christ Jesus! (Ephes. 4:13)
12. The great difficulty in this doctrine, however, yet remains; we mean the question whether regeneration precedes faith in the Saviour, or faith in the Saviour precedes regeneration, or whether the two are simultaneous? Two things are clear:
First—That the reception of Christ by the sinner is ascribed to a divine influence. Hence faith is styled "the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8), and "a fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22); "the heart is opened" to receive Christ (Acts 16:14); "flesh and blood do not reveal Jesus to the soul, but our Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 16:17); "God reveals these things unto babes" (Matt. 11:25); "They are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14). But another truth is as clearly asserted in Holy Scripture, viz.:
Secondly—That until a man has received the Saviour, he has no life in him. Thus our Lord testified, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of man, ye have no life in you" (John 6:53). Until a man by faith receives the sacrifice of Christ, he has no life, not even its first elements, in his soul. There are several other passages which are in the same strain. "To as many as received Him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God" (John 1:12). "Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:26). "If a man eat of this bread he shall live for ever" (John 6:51). "He that eateth me, shall live by me" (John 6:57). Thus Christ is emphatically our life, while without faith in Him we have no life.
Here, then, is the difficulty; if men receive a divine influence in order to believe in Christ, are they not made alive to God by this influence, and are they not consequently regenerated before receiving Christ into the soul? But if they are regenerated before believing in the Saviour, and if they were to die in this state, they would assuredly go to heaven (for no regenerate soul can be lost), and would thus obtain eternal life without having believed in Christ, which is contrary to one of the first principles of revelation. Our Lord emphatically says that, except we eat His flesh and drink His blood, we have NO life in us.
Besides, regeneration is the implantation of a holy life, and no man can become holy until he has believed in Jesus. "Without faith it is impossible to please God" (Heb. 11:6). No action can be holy until it is performed under the influence of love to Jehovah; and no sinner can be brought to love the whole character of God, until he has learned to look upon that character as it is revealed in the death of Jesus. "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them" (2 Cor. 5:19). Hence, as no man can love God without faith in Jesus, no man can be holy without faith in Jesus, for love to God is the essential principle of holiness. As then, without faith in the Saviour, we cannot be holy and cannot please God, it is manifest that without faith we cannot be regenerated.
The explanation of this grave difficulty we apprehend to be simply this: The influence by which men are awakened and convinced, and made to see their need of Jesus, is only preliminary to regeneration. We are not regenerated or made holy until we are reconciled to God by the death of His Son. Then we receive Christ, "who is our life." To those who receive Christ He gives the privilege of becoming instantly the sons of God (John 1:12). We are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26). Faith purifies the heart (Acts 15:9), overcomes the world (I John 5:4), and works by love (Gal. 5:6). "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God" (1 John 5:1). The preparatory influence, though not regeneration, is absolutely necessary to its production.
Many are awakened by natural conscience who are never converted, and the only decisive evidence that our convictions are of God, is their leading us to a hearty reception of the gospel plan of redemption. Out of Christ there is no salvation (Acts 4:12); but if men are regenerated who have never been to Christ, they are in a state of salvation without faith in that precious name. The influence by which we are regenerated is the sovereign grace of the Holy Ghost; but the influence by which we are regenerated is one thing, regeneration itself is another. It is confounding the efficacious cause with the blessed result that has created the difficulty now under consideration.
The influences of the Spirit are not regeneration, but are simply the mighty power by which that stupendous work is wrought. In short, we are not regenerated until we believe; and we never believe until led to do so by the gracious and almighty influences of the Eternal Comforter, the glorifier of Christ in the hearts and consciences of men. Thus regeneration is, from beginning to end, the effect of the Spirit's power; though the change is wrought in us at the instant of closing in with the Messiah as the hope of Israel.
There is no evidence of the new birth in the mere dread of hell. The fear of punishment is an instinct of human nature. Many ungodly men are at times most terribly alarmed on account of the prospects lying before them. But, obviously, there is no moral excellence, and, consequently, no evidence of a renewed state of mind, in a mere conviction that the effects of our sins will be ruinous.
Many men who know this well enough persist in hugging the sins which are sinking them to hell. There is no proof of regeneration until we have learned to abhor and forsake sin at the foot of the cross. We must not confound a mere dread of the punishment of sin with the turning of the heart from sin itself. Conviction of sin, even when wrought by the power of the Spirit, is not to be confounded with the new birth, though all the people of God have to pass, more or less deeply, through this preparatory discipline. Some are much more powerfully agitated with these terrors than others, but all alike pass from death unto life, when through grace they believe in Jesus, "to the saving of the soul" (Heb. 10:39)
The regenerating grace of the Spirit is undoubtedly a great mystery. The fact of its existence we believe, but the mode of its operation we cannot explain. We receive it as a fact, upon the testimony of revelation and our own consciousness; but we confess our inability to unravel many questions arising out of its existence. "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth: so is everyone that is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8).
The influence is real, positive, and direct, notwithstanding its mysteriousness. The unlettered rustic, who is in perfect ignorance of all the physiological phenomena of inspiration and expiration, knows, nevertheless, that he breathes, and that by breathing life is sustained