Regeneration -- By: John M. Williams

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 044:176 (Oct 1887)
Article: Regeneration
Author: John M. Williams


Rev. John M. Williams

There are few important truths more generally accepted than the divine declaration, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The sceptic, the atheist, men of every shade of opinion, admit that Adam’s race, individually and collectively, need radical transformation to meet even their lowest ideal of perfect society. This truth permeates the sacred volume. “It is,” says Professor Phelps, “one of the constructive ideas of inspiration. It is pervasive, like the life-blood in the body. It is like caloric in the globe. If a tortuous exegesis shall evade it in one text, it is inevitable in the next. Wrench it from any text, where the theologians have found it, and its echo reverberates from one end of the Bible to the other.1 It is also a basal doctrine in theological science. Its true nature is decisive of the controversy between the two great schools of theology, and determines the logical mode of presenting the claims of God and the truths of the gospel.

I propose, in this paper, to enquire, What is regeneration, or what change in the human soul is designated by the word?

There are but two theories worthy our attention.2 One— the Calvinistic—is presented by E. H. McIntosh thus: “Let us see clearly what regeneration is. It is a new birth; the implanting of a new life; the implantation of a new nature;

the formation of a new man. The old nature remains in all its distinctness, and the new nature remains in all its distinctness. Regeneration is to the soul what the birth of Isaac was to the household of Abraham. Ishmael remained the same Ishmael, but Isaac was introduced.”3

As to the author of this new nature, the writer is equally explicit: “Regeneration is God’s own work from first to last. God is the operator, man is the privileged subject. Man’s cooperation is not sought in a work which must ever bear the impress of one Almighty hand. God was alone in creation, alone in redemption, and he must be alone in the mysterious glorious work of regeneration.’’

This definition, which probably strikes no one as satisfactory, has the sanction of many great names. It is substantially the one given by President Dwight; though, clothed in his elegant diction, we hardly recognize it. “A change of heart,” he says, “is a relish for spiritual objects communicated to it by the power of the Holy Ghost.” Of the “metaphysical nature” of this relish, he acknowledges himself ignorant, but illustra...

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