John Murray (1898-1975) on regeneration

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“‘A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you’ (Ezek. 36:26). God effects a change which is radical and all-pervasive, a change which cannot be explained in terms of any combination, permutation, or accumulation of human resources, a change which is nothing less than a new creation by him who calls the things that be not as though they were, who spake and it was done, who commanded and it stood fast. This, in a word, is regeneration.”

“The regenerate person cannot live in sin and be unconverted. And neither can he live any longer in neutral abstraction. He is immediately a member of the kingdom of God, he is spirit, and his action and behaviour must be consonant with that new citizenship. I the language of the apostle Paul, ‘if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things have passed away, behold they have become new’ (2 Cor. 5:17). There are numerous other considerations derived from the Scripture which confirm this great truth that regeneration is such a radical, pervasive, and efficacious transformation that it immediately registers itself in the conscious activity of the person concerned in the exercises of faith and repentance and new obedience. Far too frequently the conception entertained of conversion is so superficial and beggarly that it completely fails to take account of the momentous change of which conversion is the fruit. . . . Regeneration is at the basis of all change in heart and life. It is a stupendous change because it is God’s recreative act.”

“The Holy Spirit is the controlling and directing agent in every regenerate person. Hence the fundamental principle, the governing disposition, the prevailing character of every regenerate person is holiness—he is ‘Spiritual’ and he delights in the law of the Lord after the inward man (1 Cor. 2:14, 15; Rom. 7:22). This must be the sense in which John speaks of the regenerate person as not doing sin and as unable to sin (1 John 3:9; 5:18).”

– John Murray (1898-1975), Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, p. 96, 104-105, 142

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Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892): The most daring feat in all the world

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“To come to Christ as a saint is very easy work. To trust to a doctor to cure you when you believe you are getting better is very easy. But to trust to your physician when you feel as if the sentence of death were in your body, to bear up when the disease is rising in your skin and when the ulcer is gathering its venom, to believe even then in the efficacy of the medicine–that is faith.

And so, when sin gets the master of you, when you feel that the law condemns you–then, even then, especially then–as a sinner, to trust Christ is the most daring feat in all the world. The faith that shook down the walls of Jericho, the faith that raised the dead, the faith that stopped the mouths of lions, was not greater than that of a poor sinner who dares to trust the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ when he is in the jaws of all his sins.”

– Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), Faith, p. 20-21

Jerome (c. 347-420), Fulgentius of Ruspe (c. 465-533), Theodoret (c. 393–457), John Chrysostom (c. 347-407), Marius Victorinus (4th century) and Ambrosiaster (c. 366-384) on Ephesians 2:8-9

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9

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“Paul says this in case the secret thought should steal upon us that ‘if we are not saved by our own works, at least we are saved by our own faith, and so in another way our salvation is of ourselves.’ Thus he added the statement that faith too is not in our own will but in God’s gift. Not that he means to take away free choice from humanity… but that even this very freedom of choice has God as its author, and all things are to be referred to his generosity, in that he has even allowed us to will the good.”

– Jerome (c. 347-420), Epistle to the Ephesians, 1.2.8-9

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“The blessed Paul argues that we are saved by faith, which he declares to be not from us but a gift from God. Thus there cannot possibly be true salvation where there is no true faith, and, since this faith is divinely enabled, it is without doubt bestowed by his free generosity. Where there is true belief through true faith, true salvation certainly accompanies it. Anyone who departs from true faith will not possess the grace of true salvation.”

– Fulgentius of Ruspe (c. 465-533), On the Incarnation, 1.

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“’You are saved by grace’. For it is not because of the excellence of our lives that we have been called but because of the love of our Saviour.”

– Theodoret (c. 393–457), Epistle to the Ephesians, 2.4.5.

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“So that you may not be elated by the magnitude of these benefits, see how Paul puts you in your place. For ‘by grace are you saved’, he says, ‘through faith.’ Then, so as to do no injury to free will, he allots a role to us, then takes it away again, saying ‘and this is not of ourselves.’ Even faith, he says, is not from us. For if the Lord had not come, if he had not called us, how should we have been able to believe? ‘For how’, he says, ‘shall they believe if they have not heard?’ So even the act of faith is not self-initiated. It is, he says, ‘the gift of God’.”

“God’s mission was not to save people in order that they may remain barren or inert. For Scripture says that faith has saved us. Put better: God willed it, faith has saved us. Now in what case, tell me, does faith save without itself doing anything at all? Faith’s workings themselves are a gift of God, lest anyone should boast. What then is Paul saying? Not that God has forbidden works but that he has forbidden us to be justified by works. No one, Paul says, is justified by works, precisely in order that the grace and benevolence of God may become apparent!”

– John Chrysostom (c. 347-407), Homily on Ephesians, 4.2.8, 9

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“The fact that you Ephesians are saved is not something that comes from yourselves. It is the gift of God. It is not from your works, but it is God’s grace as God’s gift, not from anything you have deserved. Our works are one thing, what we deserve another.”

– Marius Victorinus (4th century), Epistle to the Ephesians, I.2.9

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“All thanksgiving for our salvation is to be given only to God. He extends his mercy to us as to recall us to life precisely while we are straying, without looking for the right road. And thus we are not to glory in ourselves but in God, who has regenerated us by a heavenly birth through faith in Christ.”

– Ambrosiaster (c. 366-384), Epistle to the Ephesians, 2.10

Gottschalk of Orbais (c. 804-869): An important link between Augustine and Calvin

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Gregory the Great (c. 540-604) was in the Augustinian tradition, but his Augustinianism was somewhat attenuated. He taught that through the sin of the first man all men became sinners and as such all are subject to condemnation. This sounds rather Augustinian, but Gregory did not carry these ideas through consistently. He regarded sin as a weakness or disease rather than as guilt, and taught that man had not lost the freedom but only the goodness of the will. At the same time he stressed the fact that without grace there can be no salvation nor any human merits. The work of redemption is begun by the grace of God. Prevenient grace causes man to will the good, and subsequent grace enables him to do it. The change in man is begun in baptism, which works faith and cancels the guilt of past sins. The will is renewed and the heart is filled with the love of God, and thus man is enabled to merit something with God.

Gregory thus retained the Augustinian doctrine of predestination only in a modified form. While he speaks of the irresistibility of grace, and of predestination as the secret counsel of God respecting the certain and definite number of the elect, this is after all only a predestination based on foreknowledge. God appoints a certain definite number unto salvation, since He knows that they will accept the Gospel. But no one can be certain of his own election or of that of anyone else.

Augustine (354-430) had occasionally spoken of a double predestination, and Isidore of Seville (c. 560-636) still wrote of it as being twofold. But many of the Augustinians in the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries lost sight of this double character of predestination, and interpreted it as Gregory had done. Then came Gottschalk of Orbais (c. 804-869), who found rest for his soul only in the Augustinian doctrine of election (as we Reformed Protestants still do today), and contended earnestly for a double predestination, that is, a predestination of the lost as well as of the saved. He was careful, however, to limit the divine efficiency to the redemptive line and the production of holiness, and to regard sin merely as the object of a permissive decree which nevertheless rendered it on foreknowledge, since this makes the divine decree dependent on the acts of man. Prescience merely accompanies predestination and attests to the justice thereof.

Gottschalk met a great deal of unwarranted opposition. His opponents did not understand him and lodged against him the familiar accusation that his teachings made God the author of sin. At the Synod of Mainz in 849, he was condemned as a heretic and disturber of the public peace, deposed, beaten, obliged to burn his confession of faith (posted below) and detained in a monastery at Hautvillers. A debate ensued, in which several influential theologians, such as Prudentius of Troyes, Ratramnus of Corbie, Remigius, and others, defended the doctrine of double predestination as Augustinian, while especially Rabanus and Hincmar of Rheims opposed it. The Church itself was split: The Council of Quiercy (853) stood behind the views of the opponents, the Council of Valence (855) stood behind the views of the defenders. The statement at the Council of Valence reads as follows:

“We confess a predestination of the elect to life, and a predestination of the wicked to death; but that, in the election of those who are saved, the mercy of God precedes good merit, and in the condemnation of those who will perish, evil merit precedes the righteous judgment of God. But that in predestination God has determined only those things which He Himself would do, either from gratuitous mercy or in righteous judgment… But that in the wicked He foreknew the wickedness because it comes from them; and does not predestinate it, because it does not come from Him.”

Below is Gottschalk’s confession which he presented in his defence at the Synod of Mainz in 849. I have put the sources he quoted in bold to show clearly where he was drawing from Augustine and other early church leaders (which the Reformers also did):

“I believe and confess that God, omnipotently and unchangeably, has graciously foreknown and predestined holy angels and elect men to eternal life, but that He like manner (pariter) has, by his most just judgment, predestined head of all the demons, with all his apostate angels and also with reprobate men, who are his members, on account of their foreknown particular future evil deeds, to merited eternal death: this the Lord Himself affirms in His Gospel: ‘The prince of this world is already judged’ (John 14:11).

Augustine, beautifully explaining these words to the people (Augustine on John, tract. 95), has spoken as follows: ‘That is, he has been irrevocably destined to the judgment of eternal fire.’ Likewise concerning the reprobate, the same is true: ‘Who then believeth not is already judged’ (John 3:18), that is (as the aforesaid author explains), (tract. xii), already is damned: ‘Not that judgment now is manifest, but that judgment is already wrought.’ Likewise explaining these words of John the Baptist: ‘man has received’ (John 3:32), he speaks in this wise (tract. xiv): ‘is a certain people prepared to wrath by God, damned with the Devil.’ ‘Those dead scorners, predestinated to eternal death.’ Again (tract. xlviii): Why did the Lord say to the Jews: (John 10:26), ‘Ye believe not because ye are not of my sheep’ (John 10:26), unless he saw that they were predestinated to everlasting destruction and not to life eternal by the price of his own blood. Also, explaining these words of the Lord (ibid): ‘My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me and I give to them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand: My Father who gave them to me is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand’ (John 10:27-29), and he says this: ‘What can the wolf do? What can the thief and robber do? They destroy none, except those predestined to destruction.’ Speaking in like manner concerning the two worlds (tract. lxxxvii) he says: ‘The whole world is the church, and the whole world hates the church; the world, therefore, hates the world, the hostile that which is reconciled, the damned that which is saved, the polluted that which is cleansed.’ Likewise (tract. cx) he says: ‘There is a world concerning which the Apostle says: ‘that we should not be condemned with this world’ (1 Cor 11:32). For that world that the Lord does not pray, for he certainly cannot ignore that for which it is predestinated. Likewise (tract cvii): ‘Judas the betrayer of Christ is called the son of perdition as the one predestinated to be the betrayer.’ Likewise in Enchiridion (cap. 100): ‘To their damnation whom he has justly predestinated to punishment.’ Likewise in the book On Manichaeus’ Perfection in Righteousness he says (cap. 13): ‘This good, which is required, there is not anyone who does it, not even one; but this refers to that class of men who have been predestinated to destruction: indeed, upon those the foreknowledge of God looks down and pronounces sentence.’ Likewise in the books de Civitate Dei (lib. xxii, c. 24): ‘Which is given to those who have been predestinated to death.’ Likewise blessed Gregory the Pope (Moral. lib. xxxiv, c.2): ‘Leviathan with all his members has been cut off for eternal torment.’ Likewise holy Fulgentius in the third book Concerning the Truth of Predestination and Grace (lib. iii, c. 5) says: ‘God has prepared punishment for those sinners (at least) who have been justly predestinated to the suffering of punishment.’ And blessed Fulgentius has composed one whole book for his friend Monimus concerning this tantamount question, that is: Concerning the Predestination of the Reprobate to Destruction, (lib. i).

Whence also holy Isidore says (Sentent. 2. cap. 6): ‘Predestination is double (gemina) whether of election to peace, or of reprobation to death.’ The same thing, therefore, (with others) I believe and confess, though whatever may happen, with those who are the elect of God and true Catholics, according as I am helped by divine inspiration, encouragement and provision. Amen.

False, indeed, is the witness, who in speaking of any aspect of those things, corrupts them either superficially or with respect to their essential sense.”

– Gottschalk of Orbais (c. 804-869), Confessio Brevior (Shorter Confession)

We see therefore that Gottschalk is an important Medieval witness of the fact that double predestination was not an invention of John Calvin in the 16th century. Indeed, Gottschalk turned to Augustine’s strong anti-Pelagian and ant-Semi-Pelagian views, which was a foreshadowing of the Neo-Augustinian renaissance which began before the Reformation and included a number of outstanding late Medieval theologians including Gregory of Rimini, from whom some of the Protestants also drew their doctrine of predestination.

John Chrysostom (c. 347-407), Jerome (c. 347-420), Marius Victorinus (4th century) and Fulgentius of Ruspe (c. 465-533) on Ephesians 1:4-6

“According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:  5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,  6 To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” – Ephesians 1:4-6

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“What he means [with ‘he hath chosen us in him’] is this: The one through whom he has blessed us is the one through whom he has elected us… Christ chose us to have faith in him before we came into being, indeed even before the world was founded. The word ‘foundation’ was well chosen, to indicate that it was laid down from some great height. For great and ineffable is the height of God, not in a particular place but rather in his remoteness [i.e. transcendence] from nature. So great is the distance between creature and Creator.”

“’You have been elected’, he says, ‘in order to be holy and unblemished before his face’… He himself has made us saints, but we are called to remain saints. A saint is one who lives in faith, is unblemished and leads a blameless life.”

“…to become virtuous and to believe and to advance, this too was the work of the One who called us…”

“So that our love for him may become more fervent, he desires nothing from us except our salvation. He does not need our service or anything else but does everything for this end. One who openly expresses praise and wonder at God’s grace will be more eager and zealous.”

– John Chrysostom (c. 347-407), Homily on Ephesians, 1.1.4, 5, 6.

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“It is asked how anyone can be saintly and unblemished in God’s sight… We must reply [that] Paul does not say he chose us before the foundation of the world on account of our being saintly and unblemished. He chose us that we might become saintly and unblemished, that is, that we who were not formerly saintly and unblemished should subsequently be so… So understood it provides a counter-argument to one who says that souls were elected before the world came to be because of their sanctity and freedom from any sinful vice.”

– Jerome (c. 347-420), Epistle to the Ephesians, 1.1.4.

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“God in his love has predestined us to adoption through Christ. How could God possibly have Christ for his Son by adoption?… We speak of ourselves as heirs of God the Father and heirs through Christ, being sons through adoption. Christ is his Son, through whom it is brought about that we become sons and fellow heirs in Christ.”

– Marius Victorinus (4th century), Against the Arians, I.2.

“We, being such as we are, are surrounded and held fast by vice and libidinous sin. When we are set free by him, acquitted of sin and pardoned for our sins, we are also adopted as his sons. All this is therefore to the praise of his glory and grace – his glory because he can do so much, and his grace because he offers this to us freely.”

– Marius Victorinus (4th century), Epistle to the Ephesians, I.I. (4) 5-6.

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“The eternal firmness and firm eternity of God’s predestinating will consist not only in the ordaining of works. God also knows in advance the number of the elect. No one of that number may lose his eternal grace, nor may any outside that total attain the gift of eternal salvation. For God, who knows all things before they come to pass, is not confused about the number of the predestined, any more than he doubts the effectiveness of the works he has ordained.”

– Fulgentius of Ruspe (c. 465-533), On the Truth of Predestination, 3.6.

Jacobus Koelman (1632-1696) on the insufficiency of external baptism and the need for conversion

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Jacobus Koelman (1632-1696) was a Dutch Nadere Reformatie minister who studied under the prominent Gisbertus Voetius as well as Andreas Essenius at the University of Utrecht. Koelman’s work The Responsibility of Parents to Raise their Children for God (De Pligten der Ouderen om Kinderen voor God op te Voeden) was addressed to the laity concerning baptism and the covenant. The most significant aspect of Koelman’s discussion in this regard is the way he makes it very clear that children of believers must be assumed not to be redeemed until proven otherwise, a complete reversal of the view hold by most of the other Dutch Reformed theologians. He begins by using terminology followed by many other leaders of the Dutch Nadere Reformatie: “Do not rest with the external baptism… Pray… that He will purify and renew them according to his image” (p. 9) While other Dutch theologian had gone that far – indeed it would become standard in the 18th century to stress that external baptism was not enough and that parents must therefore pray for their children’s conversion, Koelman goes yet further:

“Do not believe absolutely that all your children are loved by God, and certainly will be saved, or that they really are sanctified in Christ, and already regenerated and in a state of salvation; for this is unknown and uncertain. The Lord elects and chooses freely, whom He will… and rejects whom He will; and some he sanctifies from the womb, others He regenerates and converts when they are old, so that we must see them, as those who are still in danger of being lost, as guilty and depraved, and who are in need of being converted, and that you pray for them, teach them the faith and the Word and bring them up to godliness, so that they actually in person may agree to that covenant with God, and give themselves over to it in order to be saved.”

– Jacobus Koelman (1632-1696), The Responsibility of Parents to Raise their Children for God (De Pligten der Ouderen om Kinderen voor God op te Voeden), p. 12

For Koelman, God’s sovereignty is just as clearly in effect for covenant children as it is for the world. Though other theologians had said this, Koelman applied it. God can regenerate from the womb, he can also regenerate later, or never at all. While the vast majority of the other Dutch Reformed theologians had concluded from this that children of believers are to be viewed as redeemed until they prove otherwise, Koelman concluded the exact opposite.

Willem Teellinck (1579-1629) on the external holiness of covenant children

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Willem Teellinck (1579-1629) was one of the earliest leaders of the Dutch Nadere Reformatie. He placed a heavy emphasis on the absolute necessity of personal conversion. Teellinck is a direct link between English Puritanism and Dutch Reformed thought. He was himself converted in England and was deeply moved by the Puritan emphasis on God as the centre of one’s whole life. His wife was also English, and a Puritan. His first work was a translation of a work of William Perkins into Dutch. Teellinck’s Housebook (Huysboek ofte Eenvoudige verclaringhe ende toeeygheninghe van de voornaemste Vraegh-stucken des Nederlandtschen Christelijcken Catechism) is a commentary on the Compendium of the Catechism, showing how he viewed the Heidelberg Catechism as a worthy centre of family worship.

Teellinck argues that one must see baptism not as a seal of our faith toward God, but of his grace toward us, which precedes any response we give. One learns of God’s grace to the children of believers when one understands the Scripture as a whole. In the New Testament, it is as if Christ is saying:

“I have formerly made my grace to the Jewish people clear and caused my grace to be sealed on them through circumcision, which was performed on the covenant members and their children. Go now and teach all the nations that my grace also stands open for them as much as the Jewish people, and seal those who gladly receive your words and their children tough baptism.”

– Willem Teellinck (1579-1629), Huysboek ofte Eenvoudige verclaringhe ende toeeygheninghe van de voornaemste Vraegh-stucken des Nederlandtschen Christelijcken Catechism, p. 485-486

The believing parents must bring their children to Christ, for “the children still should be externally brought to the fellowship of the things of Christ” (p. 489) through baptism. The parents pledge their children to God in light of God’s giving this seal promising “as soon as they come to any degree of understanding to educate them in the Christian doctrine to which they were given over through baptism… so that they even at an early age can give a sweet and lovely confession of faith.” (p. 491-492)

Teellinck makes it clear that he does not mean by covenantal holiness that the infants of believers are in a state of redemption when he discusses 1 Cor. 7:14, which says that children of at least one believing parent are not unclean but holy:

“This cannot be understood to refer to the general impurity and depravity of nature, for all children are polluted with that, even the children of believers… So this refers to nothing other than that the children are not unclean, but holy… with respect to the covenant of grace… So that here these children are testified to be holy as the entire people of Israel were said to be holy, that is, set apart from other peoples and in a state to be permitted to use externally the holy things of God… even though there were many of them that are at the same time found to be unholy in themselves (Lev. 20:26).” (p. 501-502)

Here one sees a clear exposition of external holiness, emphasizing the continuity with the Old Testament in covenantal holiness. Many of the Old Testament Israelites were not internally holy, and the same applies to the children of believers. In this line, in another work of Teellinck titled Hemelsche Openinge van de Zeghelen des Verbonds der Ghenade, p. 22, he calls baptism “an external sign of conversion.”