That regeneration so highly celebrated in Scripture
Reformed Free Publishing Association
What follows is an extract from Grace and Assurance: The Message of the Canons of Dordt, by Martyn McGeown, pages 243-246, published by the RFPA.
ARTICLE 12: THAT REGENERATION SO HIGHLY CELEBRATED IN SCRIPTURE
And this is the regeneration so highly celebrated in Scripture and denominated a new creation: a resurrection from the dead, a making alive, which God works in us without our aid. But this is in no wise effected merely by the external preaching of the gospel, by moral suasion, or such a mode of operation that after God has performed His part it still remains in the power of man to be regenerated or not, to be converted or to continue unconverted; but it is evidently a supernatural work, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, astonishing, mysterious, and ineffable; not inferior in efficacy to creation or the resurrection from the dead, as the Scripture inspired by the Author of this work declares; so that all in whose heart God works in this marvelous manner are certainly, infallibly, and effectually regenerated and do actually believe. Whereupon the will thus renewed is not only actuated and influenced by God, but in consequence of this influence becomes itself active. Wherefore also, man is himself rightly said to believe and repent by virtue of that grace received. (Canons of Dort, 3-4, 12)
Article 12 is really the centerpiece of heads three and four, for everything leads up to this magnificent statement on regeneration. Article 12 is not only a statement, a doctrinal explanation, but it is also a doxology, a word of praise to God for his wonderwork of grace. It begins with these words: “And this is the regeneration so highly celebrated in Scripture.”
The article sets forth the following truths about regeneration. First, regeneration is the work of God alone: “Which God works in us without our aid” (emphasis added). We call that truth concerning our regeneration monergism or monergistic regeneration, which comes from two Greek words, mono (one) and ergon (work), the one work being the work of God. Second, scripture likens God’s work of regeneration to other great works of God: a new birth (John 3:3–8); a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17); and a resurrection from the dead (Rom. 6:4, 13; 8:11; Eph. 2:1, 5). Since these three works are sovereign works of God in which man has no part, regeneration is also a sovereign work of God in which man plays no part. Man does not perform regeneration, he does not cooperate in regeneration, and he does not contribute to regeneration.
Third, the Canons describe this work both positively and negatively.
Negatively, God does not perform regeneration merely by the preaching: “This is in no wise effected merely by the external preaching of the gospel.” God does not perform regeneration by “moral suasion,” which is a kind of external persuasion or convincing (Ps. 58:4–5). God does not perform regeneration in such a way that the final decision is left to man: “Or such a mode of operation that after God has performed His part, it still remains in the power of man to be regenerated or not, to be converted or to continue unconverted.” This statement is a direct assault on Arminianism, which maintains that God is trying to persuade everyone through the preaching, but that he is not able to convince everyone who hears to believe.
Positively, the work of regeneration is supernatural: “It is evidently a supernatural work.” Supernatural means above or beyond nature: regeneration is the birth from heaven, it is birth to a life not of this earth, it is birth to the life of God, and therefore it remains outside the capacity of man to perform this work.
Fourth, because it is supernatural, the Canons pile up adjectives to describe it: “most powerful” (only divine omnipotence can raise the dead); “delightful” (it is sweet, pleasant, and wonderful—no one is forcibly regenerated against his will, but the elect sinner is made willing in the day of God’s power); “astonishing”; “mysterious”; and “ineffable” (it cannot be expressed in words).
Of course it is! Can you explain God’s work of creation; can you fathom the wonder of God’s forming of a child in his mother’s womb; can you comprehend the resurrection of the dead? Similarly, we cannot understand the wonder of regeneration—we marvel at it and we worship God because of it, but we cannot understand it.
Fifth, regeneration is “not inferior in efficacy to creation or resurrection from the dead.” Notice the use of the word “efficacy,” for God accomplishes regeneration everywhere he determines to regenerate sinners. He is never unsuccessful in regenerating his people. Notice, too, the strong statement on the inspiration of scripture: “As the Scripture inspired by the Author of this work declares.”
The conclusion is obvious: “So that all in whose heart God works in this marvelous manner are certainly, infallibly, and effectually regenerated.” The result is that they “do actually believe.” Regeneration is the infallible cause of faith, and faith is the infallible fruit of regeneration. Without regeneration no man believes. With regeneration no man fails to believe (John 1:13; Eph. 1:19; 1 John 5:1). Moreover, by this power of the Holy Spirit the will of man becomes active: the will, declare the Canons, is “renewed,” and it is not merely “actuated” and “influenced,” but it becomes “active.” This activity is faith, so that “man is himself rightly said to believe and repent by virtue of that grace received.”
Therefore, we can answer the question, “Do we believe or does God believe for us?” The answer is that we do believe, but we only believe because God first worked in us to regenerate us, and by virtue of that work of regeneration, which is entirely the work of God, we believe.
Have you believed? Ascribe all the glory to God alone.