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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Regeneration

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REGENERATION . In the language of theology, ‘regeneration’ denotes that decisive spiritual change, effected by God’s Holy Spirit, in which a soul, naturally estranged from God, and ruled by sinful principles, is renewed in disposition, becomes the subject of holy affections and desires, and enters on a life of progressive sanctification, the issue of which is complete likeness to Christ. The term, however, to which this word corresponds (Gr. palingenesia ), occurs only twice in the NT ( Matthew 19:28 , Titus 3:5 ), and in the first instance denotes, not the renewal of the individual, but the perfected condition of things at the Parousia (cf. Acts 3:21 , 2 Peter 3:13 ; see Restoration). In the other passage ( Titus 3:5 ), the expression ‘the washing [laver] of regeneration’ connects ‘the renewing of the Holy Ghost’ with the rite of baptism, which is its outward symbol and seal (see below). The doctrine, nevertheless, is a thoroughly Scriptural one, and the change in question is expressed by a great variety of terms and phrases: ‘born,’ ‘born anew,’ ‘a new creation,’ ‘renewed,’ ‘quickened,’ etc., to which attention will immediately be directed. The fundamental need of regeneration is recognized in the OT as well as in the NT ( e.g. Psalms 51:10-11 ), though, necessarily, the prophecies speak more frequently of national renewal ( Jeremiah 31:31 ff; Jeremiah 32:38-40 , Ezekiel 36:25-28 , Hosea 6:1-3 etc.) than of individual.

The classical passage on the need of regeneration is John 3:3 ff. Spiritual life, it is taught, can come only from a spiritual source, and man, naturally, has not that life ( John 3:6 ). Hence the declarations: ‘Except a man be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God’; ‘Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.… Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born anew’ ( John 3:3 ; John 3:5 ). The miracle is wrought by the Spirit of God, whose action is sovereign ( John 3:8 ). Many do marvel, like Nicodemus, at the strangeness and universality of this demand of Christ; yet the strangeness will disappear, and the need of a supernatural agent to effect the change will be felt, if due consideration is given (1) to the vastness of the change, and (2) to the condition of the human nature in which the change is to be made.

(1) It is sufficient, to show the vastness of this change, to reflect that here, and elsewhere, regeneration means nothing less than a revolution of such a kind as results in the whole man being brought round from his ordinary worldly way of feeling, and thinking, and willing, into harmony with God’s mind and will; truly brought round to God’s point of view, so that he now sees things as God sees them, feels about things as God feels about them, judges of things as God judges of them, loves what God loves, hates what God hates, sets God’s ends before him as his own. Who can doubt, if this is the nature of the change, that it does not lie in man’s own powers to produce it; that it can be effected only through a higher power entering his being, and working the change?

(2) The need of a supernatural agency in the change is further evident from the condition of the human nature in which the change is wrought. The testimony of Scripture is uniform that man has turned aside from God (Psalms 14:1-3 , Romans 3:9 ff.), and that his nature has undergone a terrible depravation ( Genesis 6:5 ; Genesis 8:21 , Psalms 51:5 , Isaiah 1:2-4 , Romans 7:14 ff., Ephesians 2:1-3 ; Ephesians 4:17-18 etc.); that the bent of the will is away from God ( Romans 8:7-8 ); that the love of God has been replaced by love of the world, and the self-seeking principles connected therewith ( 1 John 2:15-16 , cf. John 5:42 ; John 5:44 ); that the better nature is in bondage to a law of sin, which works lawlessness in thought, feeling, and desire ( Romans 7:22-23 , 1 John 3:4 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ). Is it not obvious, leaving out of account altogether the darker forms in which evil manifests itself, that this is a condition of soul which only a Divine power can rectify?

Nothing, therefore, is more plainly taught in Scripture than that this spiritual change we call regeneration is one which nothing short of Divine power can effect. It is spoken of as a being born of God (John 1:12-13 ; John 3:5 , 1 John 3:9 etc.); as a new creation ( 2 Corinthians 5:21 ); as a being raised from the dead ( Ephesians 2:5-6 ). It is compared to that great work of the omnipotence of God in raising Christ Himself from the dead ( Ephesians 1:19 ; Ephesians 1:22 ; Ephesians 2:1 ; Ephesians 2:6 ). It is a complete renewal, transformation, of the inner man ( Romans 12:2 , Ephesians 4:23 , Colossians 3:10 , Titus 3:15 , 1 Peter 1:22-23 ). Yet, while so distinctively a supernatural work, it is made equally clear that it is not a magical work; not a work bound up with rites and words, so that, when these rites and ceremonies are performed, regeneration is ipso facto effected. This is the error of sacerdotalism, which binds up this spiritual change with the rite of baptism . It would be wrong to say that baptism has no connexion with the change, for it is often brought into most intimate relation with it ( Romans 6:4 , Titus 3:5 , 1 Peter 3:21 ; perhaps even in Christ’s words, John 3:5 ; with the historical examples of the connexion of the receiving of the Spirit with baptism, Acts 2:38 ; Acts 19:2-8 etc.). Baptism is connected with regeneration as outwardly representing it, and being a symbol of it; as connected with profession ( 1 Peter 3:21 ), and pledging the spiritual blessing to faith; but it neither operates the blessing, nor is indispensable to it, nor has any virtue at all apart from the inward susceptibility in the subjects of it. In some cases we read of those on whom the Spirit of God fell, that they were baptized afterwards ( Acts 10:44 ; Acts 10:48 ), and in all cases faith is presumed to be already present before baptism is administered; that is, the inward decisive step has already been taken.

On the other hand, when we look to the means the instrumentality by which the Holy Spirit effects this change, we find it always in Scripture declared to be one thing, namely, the word . This is what is meant by saying that regeneration is effected, not magically, but by the use of. rational means. It is connected with the outward call of the gospel (hence the older divines were wont to treat of this subject under the head of ‘vocation,’ or ‘effectual calling’). We speak, of course, only of adults, of those who are capable of hearing and understanding the call, and are far from limiting the grace of God in infants, or others whom this call does not or cannot reach. What is affirmed is, as regards those who have come to years of intelligence, that God’s dealing with them is through the word, and this is the constant representation. The OT equally with the NT extols the saving, converting, quickening, cleansing, sanctifying power of the word of God ( e.g. Psalms 19:7 ff., Psalms 119:1-176 ). Jesus declares the word to be the seed of the Kingdom ( Luke 8:11 ). He prays: ‘Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth’ ( John 17:17 ). Conversion, regeneration, sanctification, are connected with the word ( Acts 11:19-21 , Ephesians 1:13 , Colossians 1:5 , 1 Thessalonians 2:13 , 2 Thessalonians 2:13 , James 1:18 , 1 Peter 1:23-25 [‘Begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God,’ etc.])

If this is the nature, generally, of regeneration, then it has what may be termed a psychology; that is, there is a process which the mind goes through in the experience of this spiritual change. The Spirit of God, doubtless, has innumerable ways of dealing with human souls; still, if we look closely, it will be found that there are certain elements which do in some degree enter into all experience in regeneration, and furnish, so far, a test of the reality of the change. There is first, of necessity, the awakening of the soul out of its customary spiritual dormancy out of that deep insensibility to spiritual things in which ordinarily the natural mind is held ( Ephesians 5:14 , cf. Romans 14:11-12 ). Especially there comes into view here the peculiar awakening of the soul through the conscience, which takes the form of what we call conviction of sin towards God (cf. Acts 16:29-30 ). Probably no one can undergo this spiritual change without in some degree being brought inwardly to the realization of his sinful condition before God, and to the sincere confession of it ( Psalms 51:4 ). The law of God has its place in producing this conviction of sin; but law alone will not produce spiritual contrition. See Repentance. For this there is needed the exhibition of mercy. Hence the next stage in this spiritual process is that described as enlightenment growing enlightenment in the knowledge of Christ, This also, like the preceding stages, is a Divine work ( John 16:14-15 , 2 Corinthians 4:4 ). Even with this, however, the work of regeneration is not complete. The will of God for man’s salvation has not only to be understood, it has also to be obeyed. There is the will to be laid hold of the will, the centre and citadel of the being. So the work of the Holy Spirit is directed, finally, to the renewing of the will. It is directed to the renewing of the will, first of all, in the form of persuasion , for the Holy Spirit does none of His work by violence. Everything that God accomplishes is accomplished in accordance with the nature He has given us; but God most graciously, most lovingly, brings His persuasions to bear upon our wills, and by the power of appropriate motives draws us to the acceptance of Christ ( John 6:44 ). With this there goes what, in the next place, may be called the potentiation of the will the enabling of it, or imparting to it the power needful in order to lay hold on Christ with full and fast faith ( Ephesians 4:16 ). Last of all, this work of regeneration is completed when the soul is brought to the point of absolute surrender of itself to Christ when, drawn and persuaded, and at length enabled by the Spirit, it yields itself up entirely to Christ as its Saviour, and lays hold on Christ for a complete salvation. There is now union with Christ by faith, and, with that, entrance into the life the experience of the newborn child of God. ‘If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new’ ( 2 Corinthians 5:17 ).

James Orr.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Regeneration'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/r/regeneration.html. 1909.

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