ART. 15. THE GRACE OF REGENERATION IS AN UNMERITED GIFT
The grace of regeneration is a gift of God. That is wonderful. The wonder increases for us, however, in proportion to our realization of our unworthiness of the gift. God who is in no wise obligated to save us, saved us! Without obligation on God’s part, without merit on their part, God saves his own. “Grace is never obligation because then grace is no longer grace” (Feenstra). We deserve nothing but the wages of sin, which is death. “He, therefore, who becomes the subject of this grace owes eternal gratitude to God, and gives Him thanks forever.”
The greater our conception of God, the greater will be our realization of our sinfulness. The greater the realization of our sinfulness, the greater the realization of our unworthiness. The greater the conception of our unworthiness, the greater our conception of the gift of God. The greater our conception of the gift of God, the greater our gratitude.
One who is not really partaker of the grace, say the writers of the Canons, either falsely claims to be partaker, or sees no danger in not being partaker, or is satisfied with his status quo outside of this grace without any regard of these spiritual gifts. How terrible it must be to lay false claim to a grace one really does not possess, or to reject it as if it were but refuse. Such, despite any claim they may make on the Great Day, will hear the awful words, “know you not.”
It is not for us to judge, however, among those who “profess their faith and mend their ways.” We are admonished to speak favorably of them, leaving the issue to the Great Judge. For those who have not yet heard the Gospel call, we must pray to him Who is able to speak the word “let there be light” to their souls. We must all the while realize that we have no right to boast of our spiritual possessions because they are gifts of grace. It isn’t because we are in ourselves better than those who reject the Gospel, those who falsely claim to being Christians. nor those who have never heard, but only because of God’s sovereign irresistible grace that we are saved. No Christian may carry a ,chip on his shoulder. All he can say is,
“Nothing in my hands I bring, Merely to Thy cross I cling.”
Because he has nothing to bring and yet becomes the object of God’s grace, he “owes eternal gratitude to God, and gives Him thanks forever.”
ART. 16. THE GRACE OF REGENERATION QUICKENS AND REDIRECTS UNTO WILLING OBEDIENCE THE PREVIOUSLY DEAD AND DEPRAVED HUMAN WILL
In this article we have a statement of what the fall effected and what it did not effect, and then of what grace does not do and what grace does do.
Negative and Positive Effects of Fall
When man fell he did not lose his understanding and his will, nor did he lose his human nature. Fallen man can reason, can will, can act as a human being. He is, however, a depraved human being who is spiritually dead, however much he may be alive physically and rationally. The spiritually dead man thinks only horizontally. His philosophy is a one circle philosophy. His gods are the gods within the one circle, the projections of man’s own imaginings, as limited as their worshippers and often more limited. How dead in his trespasses man is when he, having understanding and having a will, when he, being an image bearer of the true God, worships an object or objects utterly devoid of understanding and will. How dead in trespasses man is, when he worships the creature rather than the Creator, when he “does not like to retain God in his knowledge.” Note, sinful man wills not to retain God in his knowledge. Man did not cease to be man but man as man rebelled against him Who made him man so that man uses his human nature against his Creator Who gave him that human nature. “The devil is able to corrupt God’s creature, but he cannot annihilate it” (Feenstra). He can corrupt him to such an extent that all the issues of his heart—the rational, volitional, and emotional—are evil. This, for example, accounts for the fact that a highly educated scientist may insist on promoting evolution and rejecting creation because he will not make nature dependent on God even though he knows that his evolutionistic theories are based on unproven assumptions. It seems that today even some Christian scientists are not helping him to see the error of his thinking. This also accounts for the fact that natural man wants to profane the name of God even though he knows he is doing it. That he is anti-theistic is a voluntary attitude on his part.
Negative and Positive Effects of Grace
Just as man did not become a stock and a block when he fell into sin, so also when the “grace of regeneration” operates, men are not treated “as senseless stocks and blocks.” His will is not taken away nor are the properties of the will withdrawn. No violence is done to them. Jt isn’t this way that when one becomes a Christian by the mighty work of the Holy Spirit, he doesn’t want to be one, nor that one wants to be a Christian but he cannot be one. God does not force the will. No, the grace of regeneration “spiritually quickens, heals, corrects, and at the same time sweetly and powerfully bends” the will in such a way that it no longer wants to rebel against God or resist him, but it wants to do God’s will however far short it comes in this life of doing it perfectly. The new heart reveals a will bent toward God, a mind directed God-ward, a transfer of the affections from Satan to God. When man is set free from the bondage of sin, he is free indeed. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye are free indeed” (John 8:36). This freedom involves the freedom of the will that had been in bondage to Satan. The will is now free to choose the good, the true, the beautiful.
This glorious deliverance from the bondage of Satan is wrought not by mall in his unregenerate state, but by the only One Who is greater and stronger than Satan, even by the triune God Whose Spirit comes to dominate the reborn soul from which Satan has been cast out so that that soul is no longer in bondage to Satan however hard Satan may still seek to recapture him.
“Man plunged himself into ruin.” He cannot extricate himself from the ruin. Satan will not release his grip on the sinner voluntarily. Only the Almighty God can make Satan give up his victim. When the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within, one experiences glorious freedom from the bondage of Satan. The child of God is free!
ART. 17. THE CLOSE INTER-RelATION BETWEEN THE GRACE OF REGENERATION AND THE INSTRUCTION IN THE GOSPEL
God Provides Means The question is not whether God needs means to support our physical and spiritual life. The fact is that God uses means to support life both physical and spiritual, and that he wants us to use the means he provides thereto. We must plant and water but God must give the increase. Ezekiel had to preach to the dry bones in the vision recorded in chapter 37 while God was working upon the dry bones causing breath to enter into them, laying sinews upon them, bringing flesh upon them, covering them with skin, causing them to live. God the Cause, Ezekiel the preacher, the Word the means.
We Must Use the Means
God upholds you but you must use the means God provides to uphold you. Food, exercise, and air are necessary to your physical well being. Neglect these means and your body will suffer accordingly. This is true of your talents too. Are you an accomplished musician? an excellent cook? a clever dentist? Did you become that without the use of means?
Spiritual life also comes into being and is maintained by means God has ordained. It is in the milieu of the Gospel that regeneration takes place. It is only in that milieu that the new life can live. It is the Gospel upon which the new life has to feed. Jesus is the bread of life. It is through the Gospel that we feed upon the Christ. The new life must be taught, admonished, strengthened with the Word and the sacraments, and it must be disciplined by the Word. The church is the God-given institution in which all this can be done for the soul. Woe to the church that fails to provide the means God had given to her. Woe to the apostate church which provides the wrong means, or provides the right means wrongly with the result that its members are robbed of the milieu in which regeneration takes place and in which the reborn soul is properly nurtured.
The last article of Parts III–IV ends with a significant sentence. “For grace is conferred by means of admonitions…” “The Word of God is full of admonitions. The more heed we give to them by carrying out the admonitions, the more God performs His work in us.” The more he performs his work in us the more the sanctifying process will manifest itself, and the more we are sanctified the more fruit we bear, and the more fruit we bear the more God is glorified Who provides the means and gives the fruit. How glorious is this teaching that gives all credit and all glory to the triune God. How dare man take any credit to himself. Soli Deo Gloria!
1. Examine this statement: “If man will believe, God will regenerate.” If this be true, where does the initiative in salvation lie?
2. How can one know that one truly possesses saving grace?
3. How does regeneration affect the direction life takes?
4. In what milieu does regeneration normally take place?
5. What bearing do the means of grace have upon individual life, family life, church life? Is it of any concern whether a Christian home is regular or irregular in its family worship, or whether a Christian church is neglectful in its spiritual ministrations? For example, is it nothing to you whether or not your son or daughter regularly attends catechism classes and thoroughly masters every lesson? Is it nothing whether you and your children read the Bible just once or whether you read it three times a day? Is God indifferent to the manner in which or the frequency with which you use the means of grace he provides?
Note – If time permits devote a lesson to the errors refuted by the Synod of Dordt as found at the end of Parts III–IV If not, try to incorporate a consideration of some of the errors as they are related to the articles treated.
PART FIVE THE PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS
ART. 1. THE REGENERATE DELIVERED FROM THE BONDAGE OF SIN ALTHOUGH NOT FROM SIN
The Centrality of God
Observe how God-centered this article is. It is God Whose purpose is fulfilled in election. It is God Who “calls to the communion of His Son.” It is God Who “regenerates by the Holy Spirit.” It is God Who as surely as he calls and regenerates so surely “He delivers from the bondage and slavery of sin.” It is also God Who does not in this life deliver his children completely “from the body of sin and from the infirmities of the flesh.”
Still Sinning but not in Bondage to Sin
The regenerate still sin in this life but they are not in bondage to sin. They are not enslaved to it, not chained to it. They “delight in the law of God after the inward man” but they see a different law in their members warring against the law of their minds and bringing them into captivity under the law of sin which is in their members (Rom. 7:22–23). They do not want to sin. The evil that they would not, they still practice. Acknowledging this, Paul adds “But if what I would not, that I do, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me” (Rom. 7:20). One who claims to be a Christian but still wants to sin, still delights in it, still walks in the counsel of the wicked, still stands in the way of sinners, still sits in the seat of the scornful (Psalm 1:1)—such a one may well doubt that he is a reborn soul, and unless he is reborn, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Like the five foolish virgins he will experience the awful finality of Jesus’ words when he said, “I know you not.”
Sensitivity to Sin Varies
Although reborn people are no longer in the bondage of sin, they are not all equally sensitive to what is sin and what is not. Therefore their attitudes toward various situations in life differ. A Christian’s attitude toward sin, his measure of keenness in recognizing sin, his degree of abhorrence of sin, his amount of effort in fighting against sin—all come to light in his daily walk. Jesus said, “If ye love Me keep my commandments.” Doesn’t the measure of our love of Christ show itself in the extent to which we keep his commandments? Those, however, who claim the possibility of leading a perfect life here, must have a very limited concept of what sin is. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (I John 1: 8). Our secret concepts of God and of sin, our apprehension of sin, our attitude toward sin—all this we proclaim from the housetops in our daily actions. Any relaxing of the concept of sin reflects a relaxing of the concept of God’s holiness. God’s holiness does not change. The depth of God’s holiness does not vary with man’s concept of God nor with man’s concept of what sinning against God is. There is no new morality in the economy of God. Today, as ever, Jesus says, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”
ART. 2. THE PERSISTENCE OF SIN IS A PERPETUAL REASON:
1. To humiliate oneself
2. To flee to Christ
3. To mortify the flesh
4. To press on to the goal
Surely the “daily sins of infirmity. and blemishes cleave even to the best works of the saints.” Our faith falters again and again; so does our love of God, of fellow Christians, and of our neighbor. At times we sinfully question the wisdom of God’s dealings, and we dare question his justice by placing our own sense of justice above his. We fail to trust him explicitly, placing mare confidence in our human devices for security than on the security God promises in his Word. Who of us would sell all that he has and follow Jesus? Who of us really loves his neighbor as himself? Do you, all the time? Who of us loves God above all, all the time? Who of us can point at any virtue he can say he never fails to manifest? We find blemishes all over. “All, our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.”
Reason to humble Oneself
The persistence to sin is a perpetual reason to humble oneself before God, the searcher of hearts. The essence of humility is found in David’s plea, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness; according to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgression.” For every evidence of grace God must receive the credit. For every evidence of sin the Christian himself is to blame. Where then is room for pride? Rather, the deepest sense of humility should characterize the Christian. The Rev. J. G. Feenstra is so right when he reminds us that one who has the proper self-knowledge cannot exalt himself above others because he knows so well that by nature he is not one hair better than the greatest sinner.
Reason to Flee to Christ
Our sins and blemishes give ample reason to flee to Christ Who only can deliver us and Who only can cover our unrighteousness with his righteousness.
“To Thee, O Lord, I fly And on Thy help depend;
Thou. art my Lord and King Most High Do Thou my soul defend.
A heritage for me Jehovah will remain;
My portion rich and full is He, My right He will maintain.”
We need to flee to Christ Who is our Refuge, our High Tower, our Fortress, our Defense, our Shield, our Rock, our Deliverer, our Advocate, our Shepherd. While our sins rise up against us, condemning us, we can find complete salvation and security in Christ Who nailed our sins to the Cross. Ours is a wonderful covenant Jehovah, a wonderful Saviour, a wonderful Comforter.
Reason to Mortify the Flesh
Because we, although no longer in sin’s bondage, are yet so prone to sin, there is every reason for mortifying the flesh. We have to put to death the deeds of the flesh. “For if ye live after the flesh, ye must die; but if by the Spirit ye put to death the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Rom. 8:5). In his commentary on this passage Prof. J. Murray explains that the “deeds of the body” implies those deeds “associated with, and registered by the body.” Again he says, “‘The deeds of the body’ are those practices characteristic of the body of sin (cf. 6;6), practices which the believer must put to death if he is to live” (p. 294). This is to be done “by the Spirit.” Prof. Murray explains that “by the Spirit” means by the activity of the Spirit. The putting to death must be done by the believer but is made possible only by the activity of the Spirit. “The activity of the believer,” says Murray, “is the evidence of the Spirit’s activity, and the activity of the Spirit is the cause of the believer’s activity” (p. 295). How dependent the believer is upon God, the Holy Spirit, for putting to death the deeds of the flesh. Another genuine reason for humility and for fleeing to Christ Who poured out his Spirit.
Precisely because of the dependence on the Spirit to mortify the flesh, the “spirit of prayer” should prevail. The more we sense our need of the Holy Spirit by Whom we mortify the flesh, the more we shall resort to prayer. “Holy exercises of piety” are means of mortifying the flesh. Such exercises involve prayer, singing of psalms and hymns, meditation upon God’s Word, faithful use of the means of grace, the practice of the communion of saints.
Reason to Press on to the Goal
The saints have, furthermore, a perpetual reason to press forward toward the goal of perfection until they reign with the Lamb of God in heaven. We must press forward, we must exert every effort to reach the “goal of perfection.” So precious is the goal, so thrilling the prospect of reigning with the Lamb of God in heaven, so many the foes that resist us that we should exert every effort to reach the goal. The effort may not be motivated by any consideration of meriting salvation, but the effort certainly reRects the measure of one’s love for God, and one’s eagerness to concentrate all one’s energies in running the Christian race with a view to reaching the highly coveted and longed for goal. “All, yes, all, I give to Jesus.” All the facets of a Christian’s life should center in God. All his energies should be directed toward the “goal of perfection.” Considering this, a Christian certainly must realize the vast discrepancy between the “is” and the “ought” of his strivings. The consciousness of this discrepancy should but spur him on to press ever harder toward the goal.
1. Discuss the difference between sinning and being in the bondage of sin.
2. Check Scripture passages that stress 1) humility, 2) fleeing to Christ, 3) mortifying the flesh, 4) pressing on to the goal (fighting the good fight, etc.).
3. What is the cause of the believer’s activity in “putting to death the deeds of the flesh”?
4. Evaluate the claim of the Perfectionists to be able to lead a perfect life.
5. How does a Christian press forward toward the “goal of perfection”? Mention as many evidences of this activity as you can.