Beseech sinners to ask the Lord to enable them to believe or just to believe?

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MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Thomas Boston, Works, 1:543: "Pray earnestly for the Spirit, Luke 11:13. God has made a promise of the Spirit, and gives that as a ground of your prayer for him; Ezek. 36:27, 37, “A new Spirit will I put within you… I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them.” And although God regard not prayer as performed by one without the Spirit, yet he regards it as a means and ordinance of his own appointment, whereby the Spirit is conveyed into the hearts of his elect."

Works, 2:561-562: "Objection. But it is needless for them to pray, since they cannot pray acceptably. Answer. No: for it is a mean of grace, and an ordinance of God; and though God have no respect to it as it is their performance, yet he may have respect to it as it is his own ordinance, and do good to them by it. The matter lies here: they are neither to continue in their sinful state, nor to satisfy themselves with their praying in that condition, but come out of it, and join themselves to God’s family, and so they will come to pray acceptably."
 

Mushroom

Puritan Board Doctor
So much peering into the secret things of God seems pointless. Preach the Gospel. Call sinners to repentance. Proclaim Christ.

1Co 2:1-2 And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. (2) For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Should we beseech sinners to ask the Lord to enable them to believe or just beseech sinners to believe?

Last month I received a mild critique of one of my sermons. Here is it in paraphrase:

At the end of the sermon when you were appealing to the lost you told them to "pray and ask God for a new heart" or something like that. I know what you mean by saying it, I have said it to people to probably, but Brother T-- has pointed out to our church that this isn't actually found in the scriptures. He actually said that it is a wrong conclusion from God's sovereignty. He said that in the scriptures they never say, ask the Lord to save you, they say to believe immediately.

Acts 16:31 And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."
Another example of a call to immediate response it

Acts 2:37-38
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"
38 And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Mark 1:15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."

brother T-- was actually teaching us that to tell the sinner to ask God to save them, or something of that nature can give the person an excuse not to come to Christ or can hinder them from it. The sinner supposedly prays for the Lord to save them and then when he doesn't he blames the Lord for not saving them. Or they are made to feel that they have time to repent because they are waiting on the Lord to save them since they've heard it's a sovereign work of God. He was saying that we are to call people to immediate believe as we see in the new testament. To press people with their responsibility to believe immediately.

What do you think? My mind goes immediately to the man in the Gospels that says, "O Lord I believe, but help my unbelief..." Would the correct response have been to have simply said, "Well..then just believe then!"

Is there anything wrong with imploring sinners in a sermon to pray that the Lord grants them saving faith or should we just tell them then and there to believe savingly?
It seems that "awakening" or conviction of sin often occurs prior (and sometimes for a protracted period) prior to the conversion of some people. As such, it is appropriate to speak of some people as "awakened sinners" or "inquirers" that the Lord may be dealing with and drawing them to salvation. It is not necessary to assume that all of these must be considered already born again to gain such an interest or curiosity.
This is a subject that's been on my mind a lot in the past few months because I know the church you attended and I heard some messages preached by "Brother T--" on this matter.

As I thought on the comments made in his messages I've come to agree more. John 3:18 says, "He who believes is not condemned; he who believes not is condemned already." As long as a sinner is not believing and repenting they are living in sin whether or not God has given them a new heart; therefore they are to flee immediately to Christ. The stage of "seeking" is not a safe one, assuming the one labeled a seeker is not converted yet, but the wrath of God abides on them.

I do believe God uses preparatory work. He did it with me. He did it with the crowds in Acts 2 who murdered Christ by convicting them with the law first before the way of salvation was opened to them.

However, knowledge of the Puritan doctrine of preparation for grace is dangerous if it gets in the wrong hands. What often happens is an awakened sinner or Christian lacking assurance gets hold of the Puritan teachings on preparation and they interpret them as steps they need to take before they may trust on Christ. They say "I haven't had the John Bunyan style conversion" or "I never felt like I was living in hell above ground", and so their efforts turn into getting this experience. And when they find that their conviction of sin is small, their repentance isn't as deep as others (or they don't see any), that there is still pride in their hearts, or they haven't wept enough they conclude they are not saved. They then focus their efforts on trying to exercise those graces so God might reward them with salvation. They try to increase their sincerity, resignation to God's sovereignty, humility, etc. They catch at everything but the finished work of Christ. If they would look to Christ they would be saved immediately, yet that's the one thing they are not doing.

I wonder if the seeker's praying for a new heart is similar. It's not that they trust Christ, but they trust the new heart. "Well, these graces of resignation, humility and sincerity come with a new heart; so if I get the new heart I will have grounds to trust Christ!" But until they look to Christ, regardless what they see in their hearts, they are not safe.
Great explanation.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Thomas Boston, Works, 1:543: "Pray earnestly for the Spirit, Luke 11:13. God has made a promise of the Spirit, and gives that as a ground of your prayer for him; Ezek. 36:27, 37, “A new Spirit will I put within you… I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them.” And although God regard not prayer as performed by one without the Spirit, yet he regards it as a means and ordinance of his own appointment, whereby the Spirit is conveyed into the hearts of his elect."

Works, 2:561-562: "Objection. But it is needless for them to pray, since they cannot pray acceptably. Answer. No: for it is a mean of grace, and an ordinance of God; and though God have no respect to it as it is their performance, yet he may have respect to it as it is his own ordinance, and do good to them by it. The matter lies here: they are neither to continue in their sinful state, nor to satisfy themselves with their praying in that condition, but come out of it, and join themselves to God’s family, and so they will come to pray acceptably."
Yes! Thank you so much for that quote.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
This link also contains many quotes on a sinner's preconversion experience of conviction:

Quotes about Conviction | Puritan Paperbacks & Reformed Quotes

This bruising is required before conversion that so the Spirit may make way for himself into the heart by leveling all proud, high thoughts, and that we may understand ourselves to be what indeed we are by nature. We love to wander from ourselves and to be strangers at home, till God bruises us by one cross or other, and then we `begin to think’, and come home to ourselves with the prodigal (Luke 15:17). It is a very hard thing to bring a dull and an evasive heart to cry with feeling for mercy. Our hearts, like criminals, until they be beaten from all evasions, never cry for the mercy of the judge.
Again, this bruising makes us set a high price upon Christ. Then the gospel becomes the gospel indeed; then the fig leaves of morality will do us no good. And it makes us more thankful, and, from thankfulness, more fruitful in our lives; for what makes many so cold and barren, but that bruising for sin never endeared God’s grace to them?
Likewise this dealing of God establishes us the more in his ways, having had knocks and bruisings in our own ways. This is often the cause of relapses and apostasy, because men never smarted for sin at the first; they were not long enough under the lash of the law. Hence this inferior work of the Spirit in bringing down high thoughts (2 Cor. 10:5) is necessary before conversion. And, for the most part, the Holy Spirit, to further the work of conviction, joins with it some affliction, which, when sanctified, has a healing and purging power. ~ The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes


Also of interest is this article by Dr. William Young entitled "Conversion" (Fall 1993, PRC Magazine)

Preparation for Conversion

By Dr. William Young


"The confessional declaration that the natural man is not able, by his own strength, to prepare himself for conversion has been taken by some to exclude any preparation for conversion. A careful reading of the Confession, however, will show that this inference is unwarranted. That a man cannot prepare himself for conversion certainly does not imply that God, with whom all things are possible, cannot by his common grace prepare an elect person for conversion while that person is yet in a state of nature. It does not even mean that an unconverted person may not perform duties, with the help of God, which may, in the course of providence be preparatory to his conversion. A failure to recognize this may be due to a one-sided preoccupation with the important truth of the radical difference in the state of a sinner before and after the great change.

One contributing factor in this mistake is a confusion of conversion with regeneration. A person is either spiritually dead or alive. There is no intermediate state here, but only an instantaneous change. Conversion, however, may be a process with distinguishable stages, and in a sense may admit of repetition, which is not the case with regeneration. The Apostle Peter was no doubt a converted person when the Lord said to him, “When thou art converted strengthen the brethren.” Luke 22:32. Among Reformed theologians, Maccovius (1588-1644) in his controversy with Amesius (1576-1633)[26] denied preparations to regeneration as being inconsistent with total depravity. More commonly, Calvinistic writers, and especially the Presbyterians and Puritans, have agreed with Amesius. Frequently today one hears loud repudiation of what is called “preparationism” by poorly informed Evangelicals who often fail to make the most elementary distinctions in connection with the subject. Among writers that have recognized the fact of preparations, there have been diverse views expressed, while there is basic agreement in doctrine and practice.

Samuel Rutherford has discussed the question in minute detail (see pp. 275-301 of Christ Dying and Drawing Sinners to Himself, 1803 edition). Negatively, preparations are not the improvement of our natural abilities with a certain issue in conversion: even if “wrought in us by the common and restraining grace of God” they cannot produce our conversion. All such humiliation and displeasure with sin cannot please God and “can be no formal parts of conversion.” They are not moral preparation with any promise of Christ annexed to them. These antecedents to conversion do not detract from the omnipotency of free grace. One may be not far from the kingdom of God, (Mark 12:34), and yet not enter in. Protestant divines do not “make true repentance a work of the law going before faith in Christ.” Rutherford is especially concerned to defend preparations against Antinomian objections, particularly those of the Saltmarsh. Several pages of controversy are followed by a more positive exposition in which a number of interesting observations are made. First, a distinction is made as to whether one’s reason for believing is that one is a needy sinner or because one is fitted for mercy and humbled. The way of humiliation is sweetly subordinate to free pardon. Examples are given from Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, from Paul’s conversion and the argument in Romans 3. Rutherford summarizes in characteristic fashion: “Preparations are penal, to subdue; not moral to deserve a merit; nor conditional to engage Christ to convert, but to facilitate conversion.” (p. 297)

Rutherford grants that in regard of time sinners cannot come too soon to Christ, but adds “in regard of order many come too soon, and unprepared.”

A distinctive representation of preparation to conversion is found in the works of the 17th century New England Puritans. The sermons of Thomas Shepard and Thomas Hooker abound in minute descriptions of the stages of the experience of the awakened sinner prior to conversion. Detailed directions are given to those who are burdened with a sense of sin, including warning against “catching at Christ” prematurely and resting in the carnal security of the evangelical hypocrite.

The most important account of conversion in colonial New England theology is that of Jonathan Edwards, whose extensive experience of conversion in the Great Awakening is reflected in his balanced treatment of the subject. In his masterpiece on The Religious Affections, Part 2, Sec. 8, he argues for the necessity of preparation, while cautioning against misconceptions. After an exhaustive consideration of Scripture instances, he concludes: “If it be indeed God’s manner, (and I think the foregoing considerations show that it undoubtedly is) before he grants men the comfort of deliverance from their sin and misery, to give them a considerable sense of the greatness and dreadfulness of those evils, and their extreme wretchedness by reason of them; surely it is not unreasonable to suppose, that persons, at least oftentimes, while under these views, should have great distress and terrible apprehensions of mind.”

On the other hand, in agreement with Thomas Shepard, Edwards states: “It is no evidence that comforts and joys are right, because they succeed great terrors, and amazing fears of hell.” In a footnote he observes: “Mr, Stoddard, who had much experience of things of this nature, long ago observed that converted and unconverted men cannot be certainly distinguished by the account they give of their experience; the same relation of experiences being common to both.” Edwards, like Norton, also points out, “nothing proves it to be necessary, that all those things which are implied or presupposed in an act of faith in Christ, must be plainly and distinctly wrought in the soul, in so many successive and distinct works of the Spirit, that shall be each one manifest, in all who are truly converted.” Although Shepard is repeatedly cited with approval, yet Edwards appears to propose a correction to prevalent views, when he writes: “Nor does the Spirit of God proceed discernable in the steps of a particular established scheme, one half so often as is imagined.” Edward’s concluding remark is worthy of serious consideration:

“Many greatly err in their notions of a clear work of conversion; calling that a clear work, where the successive steps of influence and method of experience is clear; whereas that indeed is the clearest work, (not where the order of doing is clearest, but) where the spiritual and divine nature of the work done, and effect wrought, is most clear.” The study of Edward’s writings on the Great Awakening will prove rewarding, but especially the careful discrimination between the saving work of God’s spirit and all else, so admirably set forth in the Treatise Concerning Religious Affections. In similar fashion, Thomas Boston in Human Nature in Its Fourfold State describes minutely twelve stages in the breaking off of a branch from its natural stock. Yet he observes that he does not desire to rack or distress tender-consciences, of whom he found but few in his day. He explains: “But this I assert as a certain truth, that all who are in Christ have been broken off from these several confidences; and that those who were never broken off from them, are yet in their natural stock. Nevertheless, if the house be pulled down, and the old foundation razed, it is much the same, whether it was taken down stone by stone, or whether it was undermined, and all fell down together.” (Part 3, Head 2., p. 190 Sovereign Grace Book Club ed.)[28].

Common to the doctrine of these and many other Reformed writers is the recognition of the fact that God’s ordinary method is to prepare his elect for conversion, employing the law and the gospel to produce conviction of sin and an enlightenment of the mind to see the way of salvation in Christ. This preparatory work is common to those who are eventually converted and others who are not. It neither merits salvation not guarantees conversion, but is ordinarily an antecedent to it. God’s sovereignty in the methods he uses in performing this work is acknowledged, while due emphasis is placed upon the work performed. To overlook or minimize the importance of preparation for conversion is to encourage superficial views and practices with respect to the translation of a sinner from darkness to God’s marvelous light. A solid foundation in conviction is indispensable to a sound and lasting conversion."
Here is John Owen, in his third volume of Works (the section, "Works of the Holy Spirit Preparatory Unto Regeneration").

Ordinarily there are certain previous and preparatory works, or workings in and upon the souls of men, that are antecedent and dispositive unto it [i.e. regeneration]. But yet regeneration doth not consist in them, nor can it be educed out of them.
John Owen, Works, vol. 3 (Edinburgh: Banner, repr. 1966), p. 229
Trevor,
in my opinion, one must consider the order in relation to this subject. The distinction, if not considered can cause one to misinterpret what the men you quote are saying. For instance, many use the terms 'regeneration' and 'conversion' interchangeably. I have been guilty of this at times. When discussing this subject however, it must be considered. For instance:

That a man cannot prepare himself for conversion certainly does not imply that God, with whom all things are possible, cannot by his common grace prepare an elect person for conversion while that person is yet in a state of nature.
Do the scriptures show us this? John 3 tells us no. 1 Cor 1:18 tells us that the gospel is 'foolishness' too them who are not regenerate. 1 Cor 1 tells us that God uses 'foolishness', but not in the way you intend. If man is yet unconverted, is he at enmity w/ God? In the compound sense, he may be elect; in the divided, he remains an enemy. Did God use the torment of Paul's persecution of believers in the regeneration and conversion of Paul? Well, yea in his witness after his conversion; but prior to that, it played no part in the decree to regenerate and convert Paul on that Damascus road. I believe Young is speaking about regeneration vs conversion specifically. This is why, in my personal walk, I have struggled when men tell me that the order is not chronological; in some instances, it can be. For example, a child regenerated in the womb......
It is hard for me to hold this position for it seems to entail that there are some who are regenerate who lack faith or that the new birth comes first and then a long time afterwards belief may lag behind and finally catch up.

I suppose some difficulty is relieved if we posit infant faith (which I am somewhat ready to accept). Faith is the bridge that links us to Christ. Therefore, no faith=no regeneration.
 

Scott Bushey

Puritanboard Commissioner
It is hard for me to hold this position for it seems to entail that there are some who are regenerate who lack faith or that the new birth comes first and then a long time afterwards belief may lag behind and finally catch up.

I suppose some difficulty is relieved if we posit infant faith (which I am somewhat ready to accept). Faith is the bridge that links us to Christ. Therefore, no faith=no regeneration.
Did John the Baptist have 'faith' in the womb or did he acquire it under the preached word later? I guess one could argue that John's situation is not typical or God could preach to Him Himself in the womb and convert him right there, but thats not the standard we can draw from. The Presbyterian believes some of our infants are elect. Many have what is called 'seeds of faith'. Are these seeds a form of conversion? I believe that the gospel must be preached to all for conversion to occur. I say this as a general mandate. Infants dying in the womb are not saved any differently x for the fact that it is Christ Himself who delivers that message.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
It is hard to argue anything from John the Baptist's womb scenario, but I know John the Baptist leapt in there....which seems to be a volitional act. Luke 1:44 says that he did this out of "joy."
 

Scott Bushey

Puritanboard Commissioner
It is hard to argue anything from John the Baptist's womb scenario, but I know John the Baptist leapt in there....which seems to be a volitional act. Luke 1:44 says that he did this out of "joy."
Not to belabor my point, but the scriptures do say that he was 'filled with the Holy Spirit' from the womb. The point being, even John would have needed to hear the gospel to be converted as that is exactly what the scriptures tell us. He was regenerated in the womb and later, under the preached word, converted. Men must see first before spiritual things are relevant; otherwise, they are indeed, foolishness to them.

Thanks for the interaction, brother.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
God bless Scott. Thanks for the comments. I will go back through and re-evaluate later this week and re-read your comments.
 

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
Great explanation.
Glad to help you.

I was in a church very guarded against presumption- totally toxic...... God delivered me to a more faithful one!

The Old Life | SermonAudio.com
What do you do with a person who has been "seeking" forty years and they still haven't come to the faith? Or worse, a church full of lifelong "seekers?" From John 3:18 it seems to be presumption to not come.

So much peering into the secret things of God seems pointless. Preach the Gospel. Call sinners to repentance. Proclaim Christ.

1Co 2:1-2 And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. (2) For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
The discussion is far more practical than it might first appear to be. The Gospel message is indeed simple as you show, but the human heart is so corrupt that if it can't get away with blatant ways to disobey the Gospel, it will catch at subtle ways. Satan is also a master of deceit, and so pastors have the hard work of untangling the mess of corrupt thoughts imposed by the flesh and by the devil. Discussing whether we should counsel an unconverted man to "ask God for a new heart" sounds like a hair-splitting distinction, but it's the difference between evangelical Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism in a very subtle form.

Just to give an example, I do know individuals who have been "seeking" God for forty years of their lives and they are either still lost or have thick scales covering their eyes. They will say to you, "Yeah I know I have to believe," but they make a wrong application of God's sovereignty. "Because I don't have a new heart I will be presuming if I trust on Christ and deceive myself; and I know God must give me the heart so all I can do is wait." Their logic leads them to keep away from Christ, keeps them from obedience, and therefore they never attain salvation, or any real joy and peace. That makes an eternal difference; therefore, goal of discussions like this is to smoke out their refuges from obedience.

There are further ramifications, but could you take this as food for thought my brother?
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
For the long term "seeker" who is wavering in his resolve and not "closing with Christ" despite a long time period, I would urge them to come to Christ and to "close with Christ" like anyone. Praying that God would finally remove those obstacles seems also appropriate. Asking them point-blank why they have not yet believed and repented also seems appropriate, reminding them that there is no hindrance outside of themselves to coming to Christ (God is ready to receive them at any moment if they are willing).

If they continue under conviction for a long time, we can point them to the promises of God that sin can finally be done away with and can remove the guilt. For our age, lengthy periods of time spent under conviction of sin are ab unusual problem...as soon as someone feels troubles or guilty a little bit, dozens of religious counselors are there to assure them that their souls are not truly in danger or give them some sort of false remedy to quiet their consciences. I am glad when I see those at pain over their sins, for so many in America can never be saved because they have never been lost.
 

The Narrator

Puritan Board Freshman
This question is not so easily answered as some suppose. Notice, in Pilgrim's Progress, that Christian was pointed to the wicket gate. Why? I assume he already knew it was his immediate duty to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, but was also aware of his utter inability to do so. Whole books were written just to give counsel. The Anxious Inquirer, John Angell James, chapter 6 of William Spragues, "Lectures on Revival." TREATMENT DUE TO AWAKENED SINNERS - Or consider the various sermons in the Morning Exercises and Cripplegate... What Sinners Must and Can Do Towards Their Conversion-William Greenhill. I have three lectures on this subject on Sermon Audio called, Did the Puritans Teach Preparationism? Thomas Sullivan Is preparatory law-work necessary? and other titles. But here is the rub. God can and often does save people without any extended LEGAL conviction of sin prior to conversion. But until 1850, it appears to me - and I have studied this for 30 years, these type of conversions were more exceptional than normal like they are in our day. See Timothy Dwight's sermons, The Antecedents to Regeneration, or William Shedd's Dogmatic Theology - Witsius (Covenants, III. vi. 27), says:
<,
“Let none think it absurd that we now speak of means of regeneration,
when but a little before (III. vi. 10, 12) we rejected all preparatives for it.”
Owen, on the other hand, denies “means,” and asserts “preparatives” of
regeneration. Yet Owen and Witsius agree in doctrine. In the Calvinistic system, a
“preparative” to regeneration, or a “means” of it, is anything that demonstrates
man’s total lack of holy desire and his need ofregeneration. It is consequently not
a part of regeneration, but something prior and antecedent to it. There is a work
performed in the soul previous to the instantaneous act of regeneration, as there is
a work performed in the body previous to the instantaneous act of death. A man
loses physical life in an instant, but he has been some time in coming to this instant.
So man gains spiritual life in an instant, though he may have had days and months
ofa foregoing experience ofconviction and sense ofspiritual death. This is the
ordinary divine method, except in the case of infants. - Regeneration Note...it is worthwhile reading what John Owen wrote on this...
John Owen Works Volume 3, Chapter 5... The Nature, Causes and MEANS of regeneration.
That the use of those means unto men in the state of sin, if they are
not complied withal, is sufficient, on the grounds before laid down, to
leave them by whom they are rejected inexcusable: so Isaiah 5:3-5;
Proverbs 29:1; 2 Chronicles 36:14-16.
 

The Narrator

Puritan Board Freshman
This question is not so easily answered as some suppose. Notice, in Pilgrim's Progress, that Christian was pointed to the wicket gate. Why? I assume he already knew it was his immediate duty to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, but was also aware of his utter inability to do so. Whole books were written just to give counsel. The Anxious Inquirer, John Angell James, chapter 6 of William Spragues, "Lectures on Revival." TREATMENT DUE TO AWAKENED SINNERS - Or consider the various sermons in the Morning Exercises and Cripplegate... What Sinners Must and Can Do Towards Their Conversion-William Greenhill. I have three lectures on this subject on Sermon Audio called, Did the Puritans Teach Preparationism? Is preparatory law-work necessary? Thomas Sullivan and other titles. But here is the rub. God can and often does save people without any extended LEGAL conviction of sin prior to conversion. But until 1850, it appears to me - and I have studied this for 30 years, these type of conversions were more exceptional than normal like they are in our day. See Timothy Dwight's sermons, The Antecedents to Regeneration, or William Shedd's Dogmatic Theology - Witsius (Covenants, III. vi. 27), says:
<,
“Let none think it absurd that we now speak of means of regeneration,
when but a little before (III. vi. 10, 12) we rejected all preparatives for it.”
Owen, on the other hand, denies “means,” and asserts “preparatives” of
regeneration. Yet Owen and Witsius agree in doctrine. In the Calvinistic system, a
“preparative” to regeneration, or a “means” of it, is anything that demonstrates
man’s total lack of holy desire and his need ofregeneration. It is consequently not
a part of regeneration, but something prior and antecedent to it. There is a work
performed in the soul previous to the instantaneous act of regeneration, as there is
a work performed in the body previous to the instantaneous act of death. A man
loses physical life in an instant, but he has been some time in coming to this instant.
So man gains spiritual life in an instant, though he may have had days and months
ofa foregoing experience ofconviction and sense ofspiritual death. This is the
ordinary divine method, except in the case of infants. - Regeneration Note...it is worthwhile reading what John Owen wrote on this...
John Owen Works Volume 3, Chapter 5... The Nature, Causes and MEANS of regeneration.
That the use of those means unto men in the state of sin, if they are
not complied withal, is sufficient, on the grounds before laid down, to
leave them by whom they are rejected inexcusable: so Isaiah 5:3-5;
Proverbs 29:1; 2 Chronicles 36:14-16.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
This question is not so easily answered as some suppose. Notice, in Pilgrim's Progress, that Christian was pointed to the wicket gate. Why? I assume he already knew it was his immediate duty to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, but was also aware of his utter inability to do so. Whole books were written just to give counsel. The Anxious Inquirer, John Angell James, chapter 6 of William Spragues, "Lectures on Revival." TREATMENT DUE TO AWAKENED SINNERS - Or consider the various sermons in the Morning Exercises and Cripplegate... What Sinners Must and Can Do Towards Their Conversion-William Greenhill. I have three lectures on this subject on Sermon Audio called, Did the Puritans Teach Preparationism? Thomas Sullivan Is preparatory law-work necessary? and other titles. But here is the rub. God can and often does save people without any extended LEGAL conviction of sin prior to conversion. But until 1850, it appears to me - and I have studied this for 30 years, these type of conversions were more exceptional than normal like they are in our day. See Timothy Dwight's sermons, The Antecedents to Regeneration, or William Shedd's Dogmatic Theology - Witsius (Covenants, III. vi. 27), says:
<,
“Let none think it absurd that we now speak of means of regeneration,
when but a little before (III. vi. 10, 12) we rejected all preparatives for it.”
Owen, on the other hand, denies “means,” and asserts “preparatives” of
regeneration. Yet Owen and Witsius agree in doctrine. In the Calvinistic system, a
“preparative” to regeneration, or a “means” of it, is anything that demonstrates
man’s total lack of holy desire and his need ofregeneration. It is consequently not
a part of regeneration, but something prior and antecedent to it. There is a work
performed in the soul previous to the instantaneous act of regeneration, as there is
a work performed in the body previous to the instantaneous act of death. A man
loses physical life in an instant, but he has been some time in coming to this instant.
So man gains spiritual life in an instant, though he may have had days and months
ofa foregoing experience ofconviction and sense ofspiritual death. This is the
ordinary divine method, except in the case of infants. - Regeneration Note...it is worthwhile reading what John Owen wrote on this...
John Owen Works Volume 3, Chapter 5... The Nature, Causes and MEANS of regeneration.
That the use of those means unto men in the state of sin, if they are
not complied withal, is sufficient, on the grounds before laid down, to
leave them by whom they are rejected inexcusable: so Isaiah 5:3-5;
Proverbs 29:1; 2 Chronicles 36:14-16.
Yes, thanks for the comments:

This question is not so easily answered as some suppose. Notice, in Pilgrim's Progress, that Christian was pointed to the wicket gate. Why? I assume he already knew it was his immediate duty to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, but was also aware of his utter inability to do so. Whole books were written just to give counsel. The Anxious Inquirer, John Angell James, chapter 6 of William Spragues, "Lectures on Revival." TREATMENT DUE TO AWAKENED SINNERS - Or consider the various sermons in the Morning Exercises and Cripplegate... What Sinners Must and Can Do Towards Their Conversion-William Greenhill.
I had The Anxious Inquirer and also some of Sprague's lectures on revival in mind.
 

Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
I agree with Spurgeon's "criticism" of Christian being pointed to the Wicket Gate first instead of the Cross. He mentions this in a few places, one of which is contained in this sermon: http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols58-60/chs3332.pdf.

All of this lends itself to easy misunderstanding and creates a whole category of "awakened sinner" in which one remains for years. There is no proper biblical precept (or even example) of such. To be sure, law and gospel need to be preached: the law to show us our sin in the light of God's holiness and the gospel to show us our Savior as the only hope for sinners who see their need. And we can certainly look back as Christians and see all that God brought us through in our coming to Him, all preparatory, we might say, to faith and repentance.

And yet, that's all quite different than creating this category of persons ("awakened sinners") in which people may stay for some time while we urge them to Christ. If they are not truly trusting Christ, they need to be urged to to do so at once (in terms, as I've argued herein, of "Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy"). Perhaps they are trusting Him (and they are if they are looking to Him and Him alone) and need to be assured. It is the case that it is no humility on our parts to question His love for us, or the like--it's simply unbelief. All of us need to be challenged in this unbelief and to receive Him and His love, simply resting and trusting in Him.

I call all sinners (all those who see their desparate condition) to look away from all that they are and have and do to the only One who can do their souls any good and to receive Him, whether for the first or the ten-thousandeth time. This is what needs to be preached to this needy, dying world.

Peace,
Alan
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Dr. Strange,

Thanks so much for the link on Spurgeon's criticism of this portion of Pilgrim's Progress. I am reading it now. Spurgeon's criticism makes a lot of sense. Though, I hate to think there is any major theological flaw in Pilgrim's Progress since I love it so and have read it so much to my son.

About the "awakened sinner."...

Are you saying that there is no such category as an "awakened sinner" who is awakened to his sense of sinfulness and yet remains in this state for a time? Are you saying that all such "awakened sinners" really have the seed of regeneration in them already or else they would not seek? (i.e. sinners do not seek)...

Right now, I still believe there is such a category called "awakened sinners" and I even believe there exist "seekers" or "inquirers" who have their minds awakened to the truthfulness of the facts of the Gospel and who feel their sinfulness, and yet who are not saved. I even believe there are some of these who will be lost after having tasted/nibbled of the truth of the Gospel (Hebrews 6). Does this place me into the camp of those who hold to "preparationism" then? And how serious of an error is such preparationism? It seems a lot of Puritans expressed preparationist sentiments.

What are we to make of Jonathan Edwards sermons on "pressing into the kingdom of God" and "What Seeking Sinners Can and Must Do": What Seeking Sinners Can and Must Do: Pressing Into the Kingdom of God 1 of 2 | SermonAudio.com



Do you have any reviews of this book by Joel Beeke? Prepared by Grace, for Grace: The Puritans on God’s Way of Leading Sinners to Christ - Reformation Heritage Books

A final note: Also, there seems to be a difference in positing that the sinner can do preliminary steps to more greatly dispose himself to the grace of God (which is how some define preparationism), and the view (mine) that there is often a "pre-conversion ploughing of the Spirit" by which the sinner is awakened and becomes interested in the things of God prior to conversion.
 

Scott Bushey

Puritanboard Commissioner
Dr. Strange,

Thanks so much for the link on Spurgeon's criticism of this portion of Pilgrim's Progress. I am reading it now. Spurgeon's criticism makes a lot of sense. Though, I hate to think there is any major theological flaw in Pilgrim's Progress since I love it so and have read it so much to my son.

About the "awakened sinner."...

Are you saying that there is no such category as an "awakened sinner" who is awakened to his sense of sinfulness and yet remains in this state for a time? Are you saying that all such "awakened sinners" really have the seed of regeneration in them already or else they would not seek? (i.e. sinners do not seek)...

Right now, I still believe there is such a category called "awakened sinners" and I even believe there exist "seekers" or "inquirers" who have their minds awakened to the truthfulness of the facts of the Gospel and who feel their sinfulness, and yet who are not saved. I even believe there are some of these who will be lost after having tasted/nibbled of the truth of the Gospel (Hebrews 6). Does this place me into the camp of those who hold to "preparationism" then? And how serious of an error is such preparationism? It seems a lot of Puritans expressed preparationist sentiments.

What are we to make of Jonathan Edwards sermons on "pressing into the kingdom of God" and "What Seeking Sinners Can and Must Do": What Seeking Sinners Can and Must Do: Pressing Into the Kingdom of God 1 of 2 | SermonAudio.com





Do you have any reviews of this book by Joel Beeke? Prepared by Grace, for Grace: The Puritans on God’s Way of Leading Sinners to Christ - Reformation Heritage Books
If I can answer for Dr. Strange; I do not believe anyone, outside of God giving sight, i.e. John 3 see anything spiritual; it is 'foolishness' to them....

I even believe there exist "seekers" or "inquirers" who have their minds awakened to the truthfulness of the facts of the Gospel
The scriptures tell us that no one seeks after God, outside of regeneration.

Trevor,
I recommend that you read 'A Treatise on Regeneration' by Van Mastricht; the pothole you are hitting seems to be in the idea that regeneration and conversion are instantaneous.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Scott:

Yes, I believe that regeneration and conversion occur at the same chronological period of time. Otherwise, you would have to assert that there are regenerate folks who lack true faith and true repentance. Faith joins us to Christ; therefore, everywhere the New Birth is present, faith is also present. Are there any "New Creations in Christ" who are yet faithless? In a previous post this week I think we spoke of John the Baptist's faith (he leapt and had joy, even in the womb) such that I would say that even there, regeneration is joined to faith/repentance. God moves the wheel, but all the spokes move at once such that a logical priority of regeneration "before" faith does not entail a chronological gap.

Do you know where I can get Van Mastricht's work? A link?
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
How are we to understand this passage from John Owen from Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit (in the chapter "Works of the Holy Spirit Preparatory Unto Regeneration"):

"FIRST, in reference unto the work of regeneration itself, positively considered, we may observe, that ordinarily there are certain previous and preparatory works, or workings in and upon the souls of men, that are antecedent and dispositive unto it. ... But to return; I speak in this position only of them that are adult, and not converted until they have made use of the means of grace in and by their own reasons and understandings; and the dispositions I intend are only materially so, not such as contain grace of the same nature as is regeneration itself. A material disposition is that which disposeth and some way maketh a subject fit for the reception of that which shall be communicated, added, or infused into it as its form. So wood by dryness and a due composure is made fit and ready to admit of firing, or continual fire...


...First, There are some things required of us in a way of duty in order unto our regeneration, which are so in the power of our own natural abilities as that nothing but corrupt prejudices and stubbornness in sinning do keep or hinder men from the performance of them. ... A diligent intension of mind, in attendance on the means of grace, to understand and receive the things revealed and declared as the mind and will of God. For this end hath God given men their reasons and understandings, that they may use and exercise them about their duty towards him, according to the revelation of his mind and will. To this purpose he calls upon them to remember that they are men, and to turn unto him. And there is nothing herein but what is in the liberty and power of the rational faculties of our souls, assisted with those common aids which God affords unto all men in general. And great advantages both may be and are daily attained hereby. Persons, I say, who diligently apply their rational abilities in and about spiritual things, as externally revealed in the word and the preaching of it, do usually attain great advantages by it, and excel their equals in other things ...

...These things are required of us in order unto our regeneration, and it is in the power of our own wills to comply with them. ... Ordinarily, God, in the effectual dispensation of his grace, meeteth with them who attend with diligence on the outward administration of the means of it. ... ordinarily he dispenseth his peculiar especial grace among them who attend unto the common means of it: for he will both glorify his word thereby, and give out pledges of his approbation of our obedience unto his commands and institutions.

"Secondly, There are certain internal spiritual effects wrought in and upon the souls of men, whereof the word preached is the immediate instrumental cause, which ordinarily do precede the work of regeneration, or real conversion unto God. And they are reducible unto three heads: --

"1. Illumination; 2. Conviction; 3. Reformation. The first of these respects the mind only; the second, the mind, conscience, and affections; and the third, the life and conversation: --

"1. The first is illumination, of whose nature and causes we must afterward treat distinctly. At present, I shall only consider it as it is ordinarily previous unto regeneration, and materially disposing the mind thereunto. Now, all the light which by any means we attain unto, or knowledge that we have in or about spiritual things, things of supernatural revelation, come under this denomination of illumination. And hereof there are three degrees: -- (1.) That which ariseth merely from an industrious application of the rational faculties of our souls to know, perceive, and understand the doctrines of truth as revealed unto us; for hereby much knowledge of divine truth may be obtained, which others, through their negligence, sloth, and pride, are unacquainted with. And this knowledge I refer unto illumination, -- that is, a light superadded to the innate conceptions of men's minds, and beyond what of themselves they can extend unto, -- because it is concerning such things as the heart of man could never of itself conceive, but the very knowledge of them is communicated by their revelation ... (2.) There is an illumination which is an especial effect of the Holy Ghost by the word on the minds of men. With respect hereunto, some who fall totally from God and perish eternally are said to have been 'once enlightened,' Hebrews 6:4. This light variously affects the mind, and makes a great addition unto what is purely natural, or attainable by the mere exercise of our natural abilities.

"2. Conviction of sin is another effect of the preaching of the word antecedaneous unto real conversion to God. ... And sundry things are included herein, or do accompany it; as, -- (1.) A disquieting sense of the guilt of sin with respect unto the law of God, with his threatenings and future judgment. Things that before were slighted and made a mock of do now become the soul's burden and constant disquietment. 'Fools make a mock of sin;' they traverse their ways, and snuff up the wind like the wild ass; but in their month, when conviction hath burdened them, you may find them. (2.) Sorrow or grief for sin committed, because past and irrecoverable; which is the formal reason of this condemning sorrow. ... (3.) Humiliation for sin, which is the exercise or working of sorrow and fear in outward acts of confession, fasting, praying, and the like. This is the true nature of legal humiliation, 1 Kings 21:29. (4.) Unless by these things the soul be swallowed up in despair, it cannot be but that it will be filled with thoughts, desires, inquiries, and contrivances about a deliverance out of that state and condition wherein it is; as Acts 2:37, 16:30. 3. Oftentimes a great reformation of life and change in affections doth ensue hereon ... In their own nature they are good, useful, and material preparations unto regeneration, disposing the mind unto the reception of the grace of God.

"Again: What he worketh in any of these effectually and infallibly accomplisheth the end aimed at; which is no more but that men be enlightened, convinced, humbled, and reformed, wherein he faileth not. In these things he is pleased to take on him the management of the law, so to bring the soul into bondage thereby, that it may be stirred up to seek after deliverance; and he is thence actively called the 'Spirit of bondage unto fear,' Romans 8:15. ...

"This work extends itself to the conscience also; but yet it doth not purge the conscience from dead works, that we should serve the living God. ... Two things it effects upon the conscience: -- (1.) It renders it more ready, quick, and sharp in the reproving and condemning of all sin than it was before. To condemn sin, according unto its light and guidance, is natural unto and inseparable from the conscience of man; but its readiness and ability to exercise this condemning power may, by custom and course of sinning in the world, be variously weakened and impeded. But when conscience is brought under the power of this work, having its directing light augmented, whereby it sees more of the evil of sin than formerly, and having its self-reflections sharpened and multiplied, it is more ready and quick in putting forth its judging and condemning power than it was. (2.) Conscience is assisted and directed hereby to condemn many things in sin which before it approved of; for its judging power is still commensurate unto its light, and many things are thereby now discovered to be sinful which were not so by the mere natural guidance under which before it was. But yet, notwithstanding all this, it doth not purge the conscience from dead works; that is, conscience is not hereby wrought unto such an abhorrency of sin for itself as continually to direct the soul unto an application to the blood of Christ for the cleansing of itself and the purging of it out. It contents itself to keep all things in a tumult, disorder, and confusion, by its constant condemning both sin and sinners."
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Also William Guthrie in The Christian's Great Interest speaks of the religious stirrings found in many, which he calls "preparatory work":

"It will be hard to give sure essential differences between the preparatory work on those in whom afterwards Christ is formed, and those legal stirrings which are sometimes in reprobates. ... I shall offer some things which rarely shall be found in the stirrings of reprobates, and which are ordinarily found in that law-work which hath a gracious issue."
Here is Joseph Alleine in his Alarm to the Unconverted [bolding is mine to emphasis how the quote relates to the OP]:

"Now mercy is wooing you; now Christ is waiting to be gracious to you, and the Spirit of God is striving with you.

... Oh! Strike in with the offers of grace. Oh! Now or never.

... Strike in with the Spirit when He begins to work upon your heart. When He works convictions, O do not stifle them, but join in with Him, and beg the Lord to give you saving conversion. 'Quench not the Spirit.' Do not reject Him, do not resist Him.

... Thus yield yourself to the working of the Spirit, and hoist your sails to His gusts.

... O what hopeful beginnings have these often stifled! ... How many poor sinners have been enlightened and convinced, and been just ready to escape the snare of the devil, and have even escaped it: and yet wicked company has pulled them back at last, and made them sevenfold more the children of hell! In a word, I have no hope for you, except you shake off your evil company. Your life depends upon it: forsake this, or you cannot live.

... And now, beloved, let me know your mind. What do you intend to do? ... Well, do not put me off with a dilatory answer; tell me not later. I must have your immediate consent. If you are not now resolved, while the Lord is treating with you and inviting you, much less likely are you to be later, when these impressions are worn off, and you are hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

... Will you set open the door and give the Lord Jesus the full and ready possession?

... Remember, you are now upon your good behavior for everlasting; if you do not make a wise choice now, you are undone for ever. What your present choice is, such must be your eternal condition. ... Now the Holy Spirit is striving with you. He will not always strive. Have you not felt your heart warmed by the Word, and been almost persuaded to leave off your sins and come to Christ? Have you not felt some motions in your mind, in which you have been warned of your danger, and told what your careless course would end in? It may be you are like young Samuel who, when the Lord called once and again, knew not the voice of the Lord, but these motions are the offers, and callings, and strivings of the Spirit.

... Now the Lord stretches wide His arms to receive you. He beseeches you by us. How movingly, how meltingly, how compassionately He calls.

... Behold, O ye sons of men, the Lord Jesus has thrown open the prison, and now He comes to you by His ministers, and beseeches you to come out. ... But it is a small matter that you turn me off; you put a slight upon the God that made you; you reject the compassion and beseechings of a Saviour, and will be found resisters of the Holy Ghost, if you will not now be prevailed upon to repent and be converted."
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
And yet, that's all quite different than creating this category of persons ("awakened sinners") in which people may stay for some time while we urge them to Christ.
As long as they are urged to come to Christ I don't see anything wrong with the category. It appears to be a necessary consequence of preaching the need to be awakened to a sense of sin and inability. To quote Thomas Boston again (Works, 6:372):

1st, Insensible sinners, come to a sense of your weakness, and under the sense of it come to Christ. Without it ye will not.

2ndly, Sensible sinners, let not your weakness scare you from Christ, but rather prompt you not to delay coming, Matt. 9:12, "They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick." They will perish in their weakness that come not.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Murray writing about Thomas Hooker here: http://www.puritansermons.com/pdf/murray4.pdf

Hooker and his brethren considered it vital that those who are
‘awakened’ and labouring under conviction of sin should not be treated as
already saved.

Conviction of sin, even when attended by manifest evidence
of the Spirit of God speaking to the conscience, is no evidence of a saving
conversion. The rich young ruler was ‘very sorrowful’ but he was not
converted [Luke 18.23]. Felix ‘trembled’ under the Word of God but he did
not become a Christian.

The New Testament gives clear indication of
general or common operations of the Holy Spirit which can be experienced
by the unregenerate man. Gospel hearers may be ‘made partakers of the
Holy Ghost’ and taste ‘the good word of God and the powers of the world
to come’ [Heb 6.4-5] and yet they may never experience the ‘things that
accompany salvation’ [Heb 6.9].

Thus when a person comes under conviction, what results from that
conviction is by no means a foregone conclusion. Any one of three different
conditions may follow in the experience of an awakened person:

(i) Conviction may be lost or thrown off, as Herod at last threw it off under
the preaching of John the Baptist. ‘Thus’, writes Hooker, ‘Millions of men
perish, go within the view of Canaan, and never possess it’.87 It is, he says
again, ‘a dangerous and desperate mistake’ to get no further than ‘a legal
reformation . . . and here millions perish’.88 Speaking of the same point, a
century later, Jonathan Edwards writes in his Treatise Concerning the
Religious Affections, ‘In times of great reviving of religion . . . it is as with
the fruit trees in the spring; there are a multitude of blossoms, all of which
appear fair and beautiful, and there is a promising appearance of young
fruits; but many of them are of short continuance; they soon fall off, and
never come to maturity.’

(ii) A person may get the burden of conviction off his back by a false belief
that he has received Christ. ‘Out of self-love to self-ends’ the sinner may
‘catch at that comfort and supply’ of which he hears in the gospel, imagine
he is converted, and thereafter ‘in a blind kind of boldness’ he pretends ‘to
hang upon Christ and free mercy’.89 This is the stony-ground hearer of the
gospel of whom Jesus says, he ‘heareth the word, and anon with joy
receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself’ [Matt 13.20-21]. Some in this
category will later fall away from their Christian profession under trials.
Others will remain in the church having the form of godliness without the
power: in the words of John Owen, ‘they become walking and talking
skeletons in religion – dry, sapless, useless, worldlings.’90 Describing this
same group, Robert Bolton says, they ‘hold on in a plodding course of
formal Christianity all their life long, and at last depart this life like the
foolish virgins.’91

The frequent warnings of Scripture, and their own experience, led the
Puritans to believe that there is indeed danger of men making a premature
and unsound profession of faith. Many, writes Hooker, are ‘still-born, not
“begotten again to a lively hope”, [1 Pet 1.3]. They heal themselves before
God heals them, make application before sound preparation; not that they
can apply too soon, if they apply truly; but they think they do apply when
they neither do nor can.’92

(iii) In the third instance there are those in whom conviction of sin is
accompanied with, or followed by, the experience of the saving power of
God in regeneration.

3. The fact that the awakened sinner is unable to change his own heart, and
the danger that he may depend upon his own efforts for acceptance with
God, must not be allowed to weaken his obligation to act. There are things
to be done if he is to be converted. Reading, hearing, repenting, praying and
believing are not duties from which a man is excused until he is regenerate.
 

Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
1st, Insensible sinners, come to a sense of your weakness, and under the sense of it come to Christ. Without it ye will not.
2ndly, Sensible sinners, let not your weakness scare you from Christ, but rather prompt you not to delay coming, Matt. 9:12, "They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick." They will perish in their weakness that come not.
I heartily agree with the Boston quote. Boston urges those who have no sense of their sin to see their need, without which conviction of sin (at some level), they will not come to Christ. And he urges all those who see their sin to come to Christ, not to exist comfortably--note that I said I oppose the notion that this is a condition in which one may stay "for some time," not that there is such a thing as Boston calls a "sensible sinner"--in some category other than "resting and trusting in Christ alone."

So I agree with Boston, though I differ with Hooker (as D. Murray cites): I think that Hooker does create a category that Boston does not. Some of us have been a part of such churches that required something akin to a narrative of grace in order to convince ourselves and others that we are "truly saved": in such, the emphasis comes to be my religious experience and not Christ and Him alone. I do not find this emphasis in the WCF, either in its treatment of ordo salutis or God's decrees (see especially, and think about, the warning in WCF 3.8).

Item ii. in Murray's list is quite a delicate matter and can be easily mishandled to the detriment of sensitive souls. Is it true? Are those who say that they've received Christ who haven't? Yes, we encounter such not infrequently. But if you don't handle that truth carefully, it is the bruised reed that you are likely to break and the smoking flax to quench, and the presumptuous, and perhaps brutish, souls at which you aim these comments are likely to continue on in their ways, unheedful of such statements. It's not that this stuff is not true and it's not that we don't have religious experience. But we must always be careful to point people away from their religious experience to Christ. This is what the Bible does again and again.

Peace,
Alan
 

Scott Bushey

Puritanboard Commissioner
Forgive me, but call me stupid. How can anything done outside of the HS and regeneration (sight) be at all profitable? If the unbeliever, prior to regeneration sees and understands scripture as 'foolishness', how can one see this as a ramping up towards regeneration? This thinking that a preparatory work is of any value is a difficulty I cannot find supported in scripture. The only distinction I can see is that men, in their morality are pricked; however, this concious burden is not a burden from God but from a fleshly burden much akin to the repentance Judas felt.
 

Alan D. Strange

Puritan Board Senior
Scott:

I appreciate your conundrum.

Here is the answer, I think: we hold forth Christ as He is freely offered in the gospel. He is received by faith alone, i.e., only someone in the exercise of faith (the fruit of regeneration) will profitably receive Him.

What if someone says, however, "I do not yet see these things or trust in Him?" How do we counsel them? We tell them both to continue to place themselves under the means of grace and we urge upon them, as desparate sinners, their need of Christ. We try to convince them of their sin and need and of the sole remedy for such in Jesus Christ. We urge them not to rest until they rest in Him.

We understand that only the regenerate will believe and repent and so we keep urging that upon them, praying that God would bring them to Himself, always pointing to the only One who can do them any good. You are right, though, that only the regenerate can properly see any of these things, since the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, neither indeed can he, for they are spiritually discerned (I Cor. 2:14) and "no one seeks for God" (Romans 3: 10-18) apart from a saving work of the Spirit.

Peace,
Alan
 

Scott Bushey

Puritanboard Commissioner
Scott:

I appreciate your conundrum.

Here is the answer, I think: we hold forth Christ as He is freely offered in the gospel. He is received by faith alone, i.e., only someone in the exercise of faith (the fruit of regeneration) will profitably receive Him.

What if someone says, however, "I do not yet see these things or trust in Him?" How do we counsel them? We tell them both to continue to place themselves under the means of grace and we urge upon them, as desparate sinners, their need of Christ. We try to convince them of their sin and need and of the sole remedy for such in Jesus Christ. We urge them not to rest until they rest in Him.

We understand that only the regenerate will believe and repent and so we keep urging that upon them, praying that God would bring them to Himself, always pointing to the only One who can do them any good. You are right, though, that only the regenerate can properly see any of these things, since the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, neither indeed can he, for they are spiritually discerned (I Cor. 2:14) and "no one seeks for God" (Romans 3: 10-18) apart from a saving work of the Spirit.

Peace,
Alan
Amen Dr. Strange.

In regard to the ordo: The presbyterian holds that infants, much like John can be regenerated as God sees fit. In the womb, it would be what we call, 'seeds of faith'. It is akin to a form of faith; it is not absolute. When we consider John 3, men are given sight. Faith comes via the word: Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. This sight allows for the processing of spiritual data. If regeneration and conversion happens simultaneously, it would then follow what Pergamum is saying. The process would have had to start prior to regeneration and the data processed could not be considered 'foolishness' as it is being stored for future kingdom business. But that is not what scripture tells us. As Dr. Strange noted, ' the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, neither indeed can he'. The flesh profiteth nothing. As well, we know Romans tells us that men must have the gospel preached to them to be saved. If we hold to an idea that in every case, the order happens all at one time, that would exclude any hope of our infants being regenerated prior to them being able to comprehend the data preached, to which we firmly reject.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Spurgeon once said:

"Where there is no faith, there has been no quickening of the Holy Spirit, for faith is of the very essence of spiritual life."
(Faith Essential to Pleasing God, MTP, Sermon #2100, Vol. 35, 446).

Right now I believe he is correct. This seems to accord with I John, "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and everyone that loveth him that begot loveth him also that is begotten of him."—1 John 5:1. Regeneration and faith are not to be separated, even if regeneration logically (though not chronologically) "precedes" faith.

Spurgeon's view is that regeneration neither precedes faith nor follows after faith -- rather, regeneration is the very creation of faith itself. This is my current position as well.

Also, Calvin's comments on 1 Corinthians 13:13 seems to accord with my views, for he states, "In fine, it is by faith that we are born again, that we become the sons of God -- that we obtain eternal life, and that Christ dwells in us." All the Confessions as well speak of the instrumentality of the Word of God. To state that regeneration can occur where faith does not exist is to deny these instrumentalities.
 
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