With regard to the historic Protestant doctrine of regeneration, a lot could be said, and I believe a lot more should be said. One of the things we will discover is that there is more careful nuance than might be found in the peroration of a hot gospel hedge preacher. At the same time, the central doctrine is clear.
For instance, a friend sent me this passage from Berkouwer, wanting to know what I thought of it.
Believers “… can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved” (WCF XVII, i). It is remarkable that the nature of this continuity, this impossibility of falling “totally,” is never fully treated. As in the Canons, one can recognize a reticence here…. [N]owhere do we get a petrified anthropological picture. The entire Confession moves along the chasms and precipices of moral guilt, fall, temptation, and the reappearing of the countenance of God in answer to penitence. Because a static view of the impossibility of total falling is lacking, it is all the more clear how little is based here on reasoning from any human continuity…. [N]o one [among the Reformed] was able to make this state of affairs absolutely clear, nor did anyone wish to try. This was in line with the Reformed confessions, such as the Canons of Dort, and no independent human stability usurped the place of the faithfulness of God. In denying the possibility of falling totally it was enough to point to the keeping hand of God. [G. C. Berkouwer, Faith and Perseverance (Studies in Dogmatics; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1958), 35 (italics original)]
Now I think that I agree with this, but more than that needs to be said. I completely agree that no human stability can be allowed to usurp the place of the faithfulness of God. The ground of our perseverance can never be found in our inherent constancy. It is all the faithfulness of God. But the faithfulness of God to whom? To what category of person?
I have been arguing that at the time of the effectual call, there is a transformation of a person’s nature. That transformation amounts to a “father transplant.” Prior to the effectual call, we all have the devil for a father — whether we are baptized or not. After that call, God is our Father.
We cannot do the math for the effectual call. We cannot look at it under a microscope. We cannot tell what chemicals went into it. But we can define certain key boundaries for it.
What is necessary is to affirm the fact of such a transformation — which is not the same thing as maintaining that we can know all the details about the nature of that transformation. Still less does it mean that we can make wild claims about the indefectible nature of the new man apart from Christ. Apart from Christ, there is no new man, still less one who is indefectible. That would be to allow human stability to usurp God’s faithfulness, vying for the position of savior.
Now when someone has been transformed through the effectual work of Christ, such a person cannot fail to persevere. But this is not because he has been given an indestructible nature, one that will necessarily persevere whether or not Christ sustains him. That would be nonsense. The reality is that the man will not fail to persevere because the one who began a good work in him will not fail to complete it in the day of Christ Jesus.
Because it is the sustaining work of Christ that does it, then why is it necessary to have a change of nature in the converted soul at all? This is necessary because the promise of final perseverance through the guarantee or earnest of the Spirit is a guarantee that is not vouchsafed to every baptized member of the covenant.
Not all baptized Christians persevere. If every baptized Christian were to possess the same spiritual things, but only the (top secret) elect persevere, then what this in effect does is subsume God’s promises under God’s sovereignty. And if God’s sovereignty trumps God’s promises, if He can have two sovereign fingers crossed behind His sovereign back, then only a chump would believe God’s promises.
I believe that God’s sovereignty is revealed and manifested in Word and sacrament, not hidden behind Word and sacrament. This means that a man may close with Christ by faith, knowing that he has done so. When he knows this, it becomes possible for him to stand on the walls of his salvation, and shout down at all the demons below — it is God who justifies. Who can lay a charge against God’s elect?
When a man knows that his nature has been renewed, this is a premise in an argument about his perseverance. It is not the ground of his perseverance. It is not renewed nature > perseverance. It is renewed nature > God began this work > God promised to finish what He began > perseverance
Nothing about this assumes that a new nature is by nature indefectible. All we need to know is that it is new. It doesn’t have to be perfect, which is good, because it isn’t. We are being shaped into the image of Christ by the ongoing work of the Spirit. We are not coming out of the forge of fate as cast iron Christians. If the Spirit were to remove Himself (as Paul might say, I am out of my mind to talk this way), a man with a new nature could sin his way into Hell as completely and as finally as anyone.
In short, some men within the covenant know that they are in present possession of eternal life (1 John 5:13). Other men within the covenant cannot have such assurance for the simple reason that it is not true. The Spirit of God will never put His seal to a lie.
Everything else follows.
Lord willing, tomorrow I will post another installment on this same general subject, this time showing how having a human nature, one capable of restoration through regeneration, is an essential element in our fight with same sex mirage and all attendant follies.