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 Issues | Five Fundamentals | Regeneration

Five Fundamentals of the Faith

by the Rev J. W. Hayes.

The Church Book Room 1924


The (3) Third Fundamental of the Faith is Regeneration, a word with two meanings, each distinct, but in certain cases one implies the other, as we shall see.

Again. What saith the Scripture?

  • Ezek. 11.,19. - “I will put a new spirit within you."
  • Titus 3.5 - “According to His mercy He saved us by the washing of Regeneration and Renewing of the Holy Ghost.”
  • Matt. 19.28 - “In the Regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of His Glory.”
  • 1 Pet. 3.21 - “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth now save us, not the putting away of the filth of the flesh (the outward symbol), but the answer of a good conscience toward God by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
  • Col. 2.12 - “Buried with Him in baptism wherein also ye are risen with Him, through the faith of the operation of God . . . you hath He quickened.”
  • Matt. 3.11 - “He shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost.”
  • 1 Pet. 1.3 - “Hath begotten us again unto a lively hope.”
  • John 3.6. - “Born of water and of the Spirit . . . so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”
  • 1 John 3.9 - “Born of God.” (and ch. 4.7)

All these passages must be taken together if we want to understand what Regeneration means. As an illustration. In the natural birth of any creature we observe, in the first place, an entire change of surroundings (as in the new-born bird Secondly, we observe new tastes, a new atmosphere, and: new-born freedom of action. Nourishment is derived from other sources, and the creature walks in newness of life, with new companions, and new experiences, towards progress. Even so it is with the truly regenerated soul. As the buried seed breaks away from the clod and rises, evermore to be nourished by the rain and sunshine from above; so the Apostles tell us the regenerated soul rises from the death of sin to the life of righteousness. The Holy Ghost is the quickening cause as He was in the Creation. In all such cases as professed regeneration, however, we must assume the reality of the great change until we see the inevitable signs or fruits of good living in every genuine case. These signs, according to the late Bishop Ryle, are six, viz. : (a) a hidden, silent secret beginning; (b) a change no man can give himself; (c) a change not always given to believers at the same time in their lives; (d) nor in the same way; (e) a change absolutely necessary to salvation (John 3.3-7). “Except a man be born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God . . . ye must be born again”; (f) a change which can be discerned only by its effects.

A careful examination of the teaching given by the Reformers shows that the Bishop is correct in his six-fold definition. How then, is the effect of regeneration in Infant baptism to be described ? The formularies of our Church are all based on the common sense idea of charitable presumption, that the soul is in reality what it appears to be by profession ; and a little consideration will show that it could not be otherwise in the Church of Christ. Lightfoot, Edersheim and others, familiar with the old Jewish rites for the admission of proselytes and their children into the Abrahamic covenant when they renounced heathendom, were well aware that the proselyte and his children were formally baptised by the Rabbis or Masters of Israel, and this ceremony was popularly called Regeneration (Palingenesia). See Lightfoot's “Harmony of the Four Evangelists.”  It indicated to the onlooker that the baptised ones had for ever cut free from old pagan associations, and had thrown in their lot with the Patriarchs as heirs to the promises. It was charitably presumed that a change of heart and affections had taken place in them, or otherwise they would not have been baptised or admitted.  This is what Our Blessed Lord meant when He asked Nicodemus, viz.: “Art thou a Master of Israel and knowest not these things?” (John 3.10).

The natural man, in order to become incorporated with Christ, must be “born again”; born “of God”; born “from above”; and then baptised into a newer and better covenant than that of Abraham, being found loyal.

The later Fathers of our grand old Church of England teach exactly the same, and the Evangelical Bishops of to-day. It is a question of presumptive and continuous loyalty to Christ on the part of the soul during its growth in grace; not an infusion, or a germ of goodness infused in baptism, as some would have us believe.

One more illustration will suffice. During the Great War it was necessary to arrest, try by Court Martial, and publicly execute certain high officers of an allied army for treachery. These men obtained commissions in, and wore the full uniform of, the French army, but were traitors in their hearts all the time; and at last, in the hour of crisis, their falsity was evident to all men. In the same way, many, alas, are enlisted as soldiers of Christ; wear His uniform; appear to the Church and to the world as loyal, converted, regenerated persons, and yet have only the form of godliness. It is, then, in the sense of charitable presumption that we must understand the words in the Baptismal service, viz.: “Seeing that this child is regenerate,” and in other cases where the word occurs.

Hooker, in Book V., Sec. 288, in speaking of Baptism, and its effects, makes all plain thus, viz.: “Sacraments contain in themselves no vital efficacy, they are not physical, but moral instruments of salvation . . . which, unless performed as the Author of Grace requireth, are unprofitable. For all receive not the grace of God who receive the sacraments of His grace . . . which grace they that receive, by or with sacraments, receive it from Him, and not from them . . . the use whereof is in our hands, the effect in His : for the use we have His express command; for the effect His conditional promise;  so that without our obedience to the one, there is of the other no apparent assurance .”

See the word Regeneration in Article XXVII. Also the phrase: “that we being regenerate and made Thy children by adoption” . . . as well as the words in the Baptismal Service, viz.: “Seeing this child is regenerate and grafted into the body of Christ's Church.”

The following definition by Bishop Knox, of the chief Evangelical doctrines, will be found of much value:-

Justification - The act of God's free grace by which the sinner is reconciled and counted righteous, entirely for the merits of Christ Jesus.

Regeneration - The creation by the Holy Spirit of the new man who surrenders himself to the reconciling and indwelling Saviour of his soul.

Sanctification - The daily increasing control of the whole being by the indwelling Spirit of Christ causing our will to become more and more one with the will of God.

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