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Home arrow Griffin's History arrow Interpreting the Scriptures-The Error of Denial of a Change of the Soul in Regeneration
Interpreting the Scriptures-The Error of Denial of a Change of the Soul in Regeneration PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sylvester Hassell   

The Gospel Messenger—September, 1894
Heathens ignore or deny the necessity of a fundamental Divine change in the soul, but represent a superficial, self made change in the moral nature and the outward conduct as sufficient to ensure happiness after death. Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians regard regeneration as nothing deeper than a change of purpose on the part of a sinner. Two-Seedism also does away with a change in the soul in regeneration, representing that the new birth is but the coming down of an eternal holy spirit (not the Spirit of God) into the elect. And a very few Primitive Baptists, who are otherwise sound, hold that the new birth is the begetting of a holy spirit (not the Spirit of God) in our persons or souls or spirits; but I have never seen where they have told us what finally becomes of this imaginary spirit, whether it goes to heaven or becomes extinct at death; if, however, by such a spirit they do not mean a separate substance or entity, but a holy principle or disposition begotten by the Holy Spirit in our souls in the new birth, their statement on this subject is not unscriptural.

Regeneration, the first infusion of Divine life and grace in the soul, is described by many striking figures in the Scriptures. It is called, first, the being begotten or born again (these are the same words in the original), not of our sinful earthly parents, but of our Holy Heavenly Father, God, or of the Spirit of God (John i. 13; iii. 3, 5, 7, 8; 1 Pet. i. 3, 23; James i. 18; 1 John v. 1). Second, the being born, not from below, but from above, as the phrase in John iii. 3, may also be rendered (James i. 17; iii. 17). Third, the new birth, making one a new babe, a new man, a new creature in Christ Jesus, renewed after the image of Him that created him, created unto good works (1 Pet. ii. 2; Eph. iv. 24; ii. 10; 2 Cor. v. 17, 18). Fourth, the being quickened, a passing from death to life, a resurrection from the dead, the receiving of eternal life from Christ (Eph. ii. 1; John v. 25; x. 28; xvii. 2; 1 John iii. 14; v. 11; Ezek. xxxvii. 12). Fifth, the calling out of darkness into marvelous light, God shining in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. ii. 9; 2 Cor. iv. 6). Sixth, the taking away the stony heart and giving a heart of flesh, the writing the law of God in the heart, the circumcising of the heart in the spirit (Ezek xxxvi. 26; Jer. xxxi. 33; Heb. viii. 10; Rom. ii. 29). Seventh, Christ formed and living in us, the hope of glory (Gal. iv. 19; ii. 20; Colos. i. 27). Eighth, the being made partaker of the Divine nature, not of the incommunicable Divine essence or personality of God, but of His holy likeness and character (2 Pet. i. 4; Colos. iii. 10; 2 Cor. iii. 18). Ninth, the implantation of the seed of God, the incorruptible seed, containing, in the germ, all the graces, fruits, effects, and acts of the spiritual life, just as the natural seed contains virtually in itself all that proceeds from it, the blade, stalk, ear and full corn in the ear (1 John iii. 9; 1 Pet. i. 23). Tenth, the putting and indwelling in us of the Spirit of God, leading us and bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Ezek. xxxvi. 27; xxxvii. 14; Rom. vii. 9-11, 14-17).

The expression in John iii. 3, "Except a man be born again (or from above)," reads literally, "If one be not born again (or from above);" but that man is correctly supplied is shown not only by the words of Nicodemus in the 4th verse, "How can a man be born when he is old?" but also by the language of Christ in the 7th verse, "Ye must be born again (or from above)." The "ye" plainly means Nicodemus and all other men except Christ, the speaker, the sinless God-Man. And so the Apostles Paul, Peter, John, and James, in speaking of those born again, use the first personal pronouns "we" and "us" clearly designating themselves and the whole redeemed church of men and women as subjects of the new birth. Thus nothing can be more certain to the simple and unsophisticated believer in the Scriptures than that sinful human beings (for the Scriptures everywhere testify that, since the fall of Adam, all human beings are sinful) are the only creatures spoken of in the Scriptures as born again or born from above; holy eternal spirits do not need a new or second birth, and are never spoken of in the Scriptures as receiving it. Now a human being (that is, every subject of the new birth) is composed of two and only two elements or substances, a material body, and an immaterial part called soul or spirit or heart or mind or understanding or will; and the Scriptures declare that the Divine work of grace takes place directly in this immaterial part of man (Rom. ii. 29; viii. 16; Jer. xxxi. 33; Ezek xxxvi. 26; Heb. iv. 12; viii. 10; 2 Cor. iv. 6; Luke xxiv. 45; Acts xvi. 14; Eph. i. 18; iv. 23; Philip. ii. 13), and that, through the soul, the body is also indirectly affected, in its conduct, by the Divine work of grace in the soul (Rom. vi. 12, 19; xii. 1; 1 Cor. vi. 15-20; Eph. iv. 25-29; v. 1-5; Colos. iii. 5-25). The soul is not thoroughly purified from sin until it is separated from the body by death (1 Kings viii. 46; Joel ix. 2, 3; Psalm xiv. 3; cxliii. 2; Eccles. vii. 20; Rom. iii. 10; 1 John i. 8; iii. 2; Psalm xviii. 15); and the body is not made incorruptible until the resurrection (1 Cor. xv. 42, 52-54; Luke xx. 35, 36; 1 Pet. i. 4; Rom. viii. 23).

As shown by the Scriptures that I have cited, and by the Holy Spirit in our experience, regeneration is a Divine, supernatural, miraculous, irresistible, everlasting change, back of the will and below consciousness, not in the substance but in the state of the soul--a change in the prevailing and governing principles, disposition, tastes, and habits of the soul, which constitute character, and determine volitions and actions, by which change the understanding is illuminated, the affections consecrated, and the will rectified, so that the regenerated sinner habitually, though not always, hates and puts away sin, and loves and practices righteousness, and at the same time, the more grace he has in his heart, the more he feels and mourns over the remains of indwelling sin. It is the impartation of a new life, a new birth, a new heart, a new nature, an new will to the quickened sinner; and it is the gracious and glorious work, in our poor sinful souls, of the ever-blessed Spirit of God, the Spirit of life, and light, and love, and holiness, and grace, and truth, and wisdom, and conviction, and prayer, and revelation, and consolation, and adoption, the Glorifier of the Lord Jesus, our Witness, and Earnest, and Seal, the only Author and Upholder of the life of God in our souls, who alone works in us repentance, faith, humility, hope, patience, purity, and love. We have only one soul, with its threefold faculties or operations called the understanding, the affections, and the will; and the principles which we derive from our earthly parents, and which at all times control these faculties until we are born again or from above, are called, in the Scriptures, the flesh, the body of sin and death, the old man, the law in our members, the Canaanite, the natural, the carnal, the earthy; while the principles which we derive from our heavenly Father, in our birth again or from above, and which habitually control these faculties after we are born of God, are called, in the Scriptures, the seed of God, the new man, the law of our mind, the Israelite, the spiritual, the heavenly; and the perpetual conflict between these opposing principles in the regenerated soul, constitutes the Christian warfare (John iii. 6; Eph. iv. 22-24; Colos. iii. 9, 10; Rom. vii. 14-25; Gen. xii. 6; John i. 47; 1 Pet. i. 23; 1 John iii. 9; 1 Cor. xv. 48, 49; Gal. v. 16-26). The Spirit of God dwelling in us creates these spiritual, holy, and heavenly principles; and He wisely and mercifully commands us, both in the Scriptures and in our hearts, to put off, keep under, crucify, and mortify the old and sinful principles, and to put on (that is, put forth, elicit, draw from within the regenerate mind, and express, exhibit outwardly in our daily life) the new holy principles created in us by the Divine Spirit, obedience to which injunction will tend to our own happiness and the glory of God (Gal. v. 13-26; vi. 7-9; Eph. iii. 17-32; Colos. iii.; Matt. v. 16). Our old sinful nature will remain with us during the whole of the present life; we are not commanded to change and improve it, for that is impossible for us to do (John iii. 6; Rom. vii. 18; viii, 7; Job xiv. 4; 1 John i. 8), but we are commanded to watch it continually, and conquer it, and keep it in subjection (Matt. xxvi. 41; 1 Cor. ix. 27), and while we cannot do this in our own strength, we can do it through Christ who strengtheneth us by His indwelling Spirit (Rom. v. 21; vii. 25; xvi. 20; 1 Cor. xv. 57; Philip. iv. 13). Sin is not an essential part of man as he was originally created by a Most Holy God; neither man's soul nor body had any sin in them when they were first made; the human soul and body of Christ never had any sin in them; nor will there be any sin in the souls or bodies of Saints in heaven. The body of sin and death, the flesh, the old man, the law in our members, which God commands us to crucify and mortify, is not these physical material bodies, for God does not command us to commit suicide, to murder either ourselves or any other human being; but that which God commands us to crucify is these sinful principles which we inherit from our fallen forefather Adam, and which continually tempt us to yield to and manifest them through our fleshly bodies. All the organs of our physical bodies, as well as all the faculties of our souls, should, even in the present life, be continually employed in the service of God, and are at times so employed by the Holy Spirit.

In John iii. 6, the expression, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh," means that every product of the flesh is of a fleshly nature; and "that which is born of the Spirit is spirit," means that every product of the Spirit is of a spiritual nature. The last word "spirit" in this verse does not mean a distinct substance, a separate created spiritual being in our spirits, any more than the language of Christ in John vi. 63, "The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life," means that the words of Jesus are a separate created spirit; the term "Spirit," in this last expression, and the last term "spirit" in John iii. 6, means, as shown in Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon, "The Divine afflatus or influence exercised on the thoughts and sentiments of men," "the grace of regeneration, which is called spirit, from its Author, the Spirit of God, its seat, the spirit of man, and its nature, which is spiritual, and constitutes men spiritual men." (See 1 Cor. vi. 17.)

"Is born" in 1 John v. 1 ("Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God,") should be "has been born," for the verb in the original is in the perfect tense, showing plainly that the new birth goes before and causes faith; just as in John i. 13 the verb "were born" is in the aorist or past tense. In John i. 12, the word rendered "power," should be rendered, as in the margin, "right" or "privilege," or "prerogative," as it is rendered in both the oldest and the newest versions; and the verb rendered "become," is, in a similar use, rendered "be" in Matt. v. 45; and "the privilege of being the sons of God given to believers in Christ," means the realizing or experimental sense of being adopted into the family of God (Rom. viii. 14, 15; Gal. iv. 6; 1 John iii. 1; Eph. i. 5-14); for believers in Christ are said in the 13th verse (John i.) to have been already born of God.

The term "water," in John iii. 5 ("Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,") refers to the reviving and purifying power of the Spirit, as shown by John vii. 38, 39; Isa. xliv. 3; Ezek. xlvii. 9; Eph v. 26, 27; Tit. iii. 5; 1 John v. 8; Rev. i. 5, 6; xxii. 1. In the three other places in this conversation with Nicodemus, where Christ mentions the new birth, He does not speak of water (John iii. 3, 6, 8); neither does John, in speaking of the new birth, in either his Gospel or his Epistles (unless the new birth is meant by the term "water" in 1 John v. 8); material water is no more necessary to the new birth than are material fire, air, oil, or doves, all of which are used in the Scriptures as emblems of the Holy Spirit (Matt. iii. 11; Acts ii. 3, 4; John iii. 8; Ezek xxxvii. 9; Exod. xxx. 25; Isa. lxi. 1; John i. 32). The word kai rendered "and" in John iii. 5, in the phrase "water and Spirit," means "even," like the Latin etiam, 103 times in the Greek New Testament, and so it seems to mean here, "water even the Spirit," "even the Spirit" being added as an explanation of the term "water"--Paul's language in Tit. iii. 5, "The washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost," being an inspired explanation of Christ's phrase, "being born of the water and the Spirit." "Being born again or from above" in the 3d verse (of John iii.) is the same as "being born of water and the Spirit" in the 5th verse; and "seeing the kingdom" in the 3d verse means experiencing, participating in, enjoying the kingdom of God, as the verb rendered to see has this meaning in John iii. 36; viii. 51; Luke xvii. 22; and 1 Pet. iii. 10; so that the meaning is really the same, in substance, as "entering into the kingdom of God," in the 5th verse.

Just as in 1 John ii. 29, "every one that doeth (every one doing) righteousness is born of Him," means, as shown by the present participle, "every one that habitually does righteousness is born of God;" so in 1 John iii. 6, 9, and v. 18, ("Whosoever is born of God sinneth not,") the present tense of the verbs translated "sin," as well as the words "abideth in Him," and "keepeth himself," show plainly that the meaning of the Apostle is that the human being who is born of God, and abides in Him by vital union, as a living branch in its living vine, does not live in the wilful, deliberate, habitual practice of sin; the seed of God remaining in him may mean the Living Word of God or the Holy Spirit as the germ and principle of the new life (Heb. iv. 12; 1 Pet. i. 23; Rom. viii. 2, 10). John, in this very Epistle, repeatedly declares that not only are we liable to sin, but that we do sin, and have sin, and continue sinners during the present life, a sinful nature remaining with us and defiling us till we die, and that we need the cleansing and propitiating blood of the Son of God applied to us by His Spirit to save us from our sins (1 John i. 8-10; ii. 1, 2, 20, 27; iii. 3, 5, 8; iv. 9, 13, 14; v. 4-12, 18, 21). The meaning of John in 1 John iii. 6, 9 and v. 18 is exactly the same as that of Paul in Rom. vi., that the child of God, who is dead to sin, crucified and risen with Christ, cannot live any longer in sin, in the habitual practice of known wickedness, in yielding his members as servants to uncleanness and iniquity, but, being made free from sin, and having become a servant to God, he delights to walk in newness of life, and to employ his members as instruments of righteousness.

The life imparted to the vessels of mercy in regeneration is the pre-existent, eternal, indestructible life of the Divine Father, Son, and Spirit, which was first clearly manifested in the man Christ Jesus when He was conceived of the Holy Ghost in the Virgin Many (Matt. i. 18; Luke i. 35; John i. 14; 1 John i. 2), and was completely manifested in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Life and Head, Representative and Surety of His Church, at and after His resurrection (Rom. i. 3, 4; Acts xiii. 33; Colos. 1. 18; John xi. 25), and is first manifested to His people when they are born of His Spirit (1 Pet. i. 3, 23; Philip. iii. 10; Eph. i., ii; John iii. 3-8 -- the only word translated "regeneration" in the Scriptures, paliggensia, Tit. iii. 5 and Matt. xix. 28, means re-birth, a new birth, a new life, and is defined resurrection by Liddell and Scott in Matt. xix. 28), and this new Divine life will be completely manifested in all the children of God, in both their souls and bodies, at and after their resurrection (John v. 21; vi. 63; 1 John v. 11, 12; Rom. viii. 11, 23; 1 Cor. xv. 12-58; Isa. xxvi. 19; Hos. vi. 2; 1 Thess. iv. 14-18; Psalm xvii. 15; 1 John iii. 2). Without this Divine change, no sinful son or daughter of Adam can ever see or enter into the kingdom of heaven, either the spiritual kingdom now on earth, or the triumphant kingdom of God in the Heaven of immortal glory (John iii. 3-8; Gal. vi. 15; Eph. ii.; Tit. iii. 4-7; 1 Pet. i.; 1 John ii. 29; Heb. xii. 14; Rev. xxi. 27; xxii. 11).

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