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REGENERATION ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURE
AND THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND.
141. k. 561.
THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND.
DEFINITION AND PRELIMINARY REMARKS.
The importance of a thorough consideration of what is meant by Regeneration in the Scripture, and in the documents of the Church of England, is sufficiently manifest, and has become more so, on account of the diversity of opinions existing on the subject, especially in the present day.
Regeneration being commonly described in Scripture as an effect produced - something actually existing, it may be defined to be a HOLY NATURE, implanted in the soul by the Spirit of God. We call it a nature, because it is a vital, active, abiding principle in the soul. It is a holy nature; by which we do not mean a mere employment of mind about holy and spiritual things; but a holy, spiritual disposition – a godlike, gracious inclination of heart-a mind delighting in God and conformed to His Image. Whether, therefore, this nature be conversant about things natural or spiritual, its prevailing character is that of holiness, and all its tendencies are spiritual and heavenly.
With respect to the mind imbued with this holy disposition, it is truly changed and made new. Not indeed as to its natural powers, or rational and accountable faculties, but with reference to the moral, controlling principle, which directs those powers to their proper ends. We cannot therefore wholly approve of such language as the following, as applied to Regeneration, when it is said to be" limited to a single occurrence" - to be “ the commencement, and the commencement only, of the Christian life,”. an act which begins and ends,”—and to be “ in its own nature incapable of repetition,” and “ the same in all, and wholly incapable of increase.”
It is indeed admitted, that we frequently describe Regeneration as
“ the commencement of the Christian life;" but we cannot allow that the term itself, or its synonyms, is applied, either in Scripture or by the Church of England, to the commencement only of the Christian life. Nor do we adinit that Regeneration in its very nature is incapable of repetition,” except on the consideration of its being a continued act, or an act continually repeated. If the same power which renewed the soul at first were withdrawn, the effect would no more continue, than natural life would continue, were the power that first gave life withdrawn. We can no more live spiritually without God, than we can live naturally without Him. The Homily for Whitsunday very wisely states this matter : when speaking of the Holy Ghost, it says :-“ Neither doth He think it sufficient inwardly to work the spiritual and new birth of man, unless he do also dwell and abide in Him." This abiding of the Holy Ghost in the regenerate mind, is the spiritual life of the soul : and there is quite as much necessity for the Holy Spirit to continue in the regenerate soul, as there is that He should at first give divine life. “ Abide in me, and I in you,” says Christ; “ for without me,” or severed from me, “ye can do nothing.” Hence it is, that in our church-catechism the present and not the past tense is used with regard to sanctification. It says,
“God hath made me-Christ hath redeemed me :" but it does not say, “the Holy Ghost hath sanctified me,” but “who sanctifieth me." It is an operation always being performed: the time is ever the present time.
We consider the term, Regeneration, to be essentially of the same import with numerous other phrases used in Scripture,-such as being “ born again"-"born of God”
begotten again ”—“ renewed in the spirit of the mind” “ created in Christ Jesus “a new heart" La new life" La circumcised heart," &c. &c. All which modes of speaking convey the notion of a new and holy nature. Hence this holy change itself, which thus takes place in the soul, is not improperly called regeneration. We would observe, that it may be admitted as proper to call the spiritual mind, or the new heart, a regenerate mind: but if it should be contended, as it probably may be, that the new heart and the
new life are more properly the effect of regeneration, there lies no particular objection against that notion; only we must understand that such theoretical nicety is quite unnecessary, and therefore better avoided, as no evil can arise in practice from a more comprehensive definition of the term.
In this sense we conceive the term, regeneration, or new birth, is used by our church. She defines the “inward and spiritual grace," or regeneration, to be “a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness.” This is no unsuitable definition of the new birth. For if it be allowable to call the sanctification, or holiness, which is produced in the mind, regeneration, then that holy state of mind is very properly described by a “ death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness. It is indeed true that, according to the definition
a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness," are properly the effects of regeneration ; but, according to the definition of our church, they are of its very essence. If a "new heart," and a "right spirit,” be regeneration, “a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness,” is regeneration. Death unto sin is not so properly the effect of a new nature, as implied in its very existence: and new birth unto righteousness is not the effect of a new nature; but it is the new nature itself. A new nature is a holy nature; and a new heart is a holy heart. But a holy nature is a righteous nature ; and a holy heart is a heart cleansed and purified from sin. That is to say, the new nature is " a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness.”
To prevent mistake, or objection, it may be observed, that regeneration, according to the meaning here given of it, is essentially the same as the beginning of sanctification, and that the preserving and upholding of a regenerate state of mind, is strictly the same thing as the progress of sanctification. The sum therefore of all we have to say on the meaning of regeneration, and which we shall endeavour to prove to be the true meaning, is this,—that the most extended use of the term, regeneration, as employed either by our church, or by the general body of scriptural divines, applies to the beginning or the progress of holiness.
It would be useless to examine all the variety of meanings which have been attached to this term. They are all, or nearly all, referrible to a change of nature, or a change of state. To these two ideas the views of all who have written on the subject may fairly and justly be reduced.