In the "Princeton Review" for 1830, I will be citing from a lengthy article titled "Regeneration, and the Manner of its Occurrence. Sermon from John v. 24. Preached at the Opening of the Synod of New York, in the Rutgers street Church, on Tuesday Evening, Oct. 20, 1829. By Samuel H. Cox, D.D. Pastor of the Laight Street Presbyterian Church. New York. 1829. Pp. 42." It is published under this heading: BIBLICAL REPERTORY AND THEOLOGIGAL' REYIEW. EDITED BY AN ASSOCIATION OF GENTLEMEN IN PRINCETON AND ITS VICINITY. In this article the editors take issue with the statements of Dr. Cox in which he misrepresents the views of older Calvinists on the nature of the inability of sinners and on the nature of regeneration. The editors say (emphasis mine):
"It is not probable that Dr Cox, in writing these paragraphs, had any one class of theologians exclusively in his eye; because some of “these dogmas” are inconsistent with each other. We have no doubt however that most of what is here stated, was intended as an exhibition of the doctrines of the old Calvinists (sit venia verbo). Our reason for thinking so is, that we are accustomed to see such, and even still more gross misrepresentations of these doctrines, though we acknowledge not often, from such men as Dr Cox. It is however notorious that this class of theologians are constantly represented as maintaining that “man has no ability, even if he had the inclination, to believe the Gospel and be saved,”—that man’s depravity “is a physical defect”—that regeneration is “a physical change,” &c."
As was intimated in the previous chapters in this series, the error that makes man's depravity a physical defect, or what is more than moral defect, also leads to the error that makes man's regeneration a physical change rather than a strictly moral change. The question is, can a man believe if he will?
The Princeton Review editors continue:
"Belonging as we do to the class, which for the sake of convenience and distinction, we have called old Calvinists, we feel ourselves aggrieved by such representations, and called upon to show that no such doctrines can be fairly imputed to the elder Calvinists. It will not be expected that in a single article we should go over the formidable list presented by Dr Cox. We shall, for the present at least, confine ourselves to the doctrine of this sermon, and show that the old standard Calvinistic authors expressly disclaim the opinions here imputed to them, and that they are not fairly deducible from any of the principles which they avow. Should we entirely fail as to the second point, it would still be very unjust to charge men with holding doctrines, which they constantly disclaim, because we consider them as flowing from their principles. Our object is to show that Dr Cox has misrepresented the views of his brethren on this subject; that they hold to no change in the substance of the soul nor in any of its essential properties, but uniformly teach that the change is a moral one, and takes place in a manner perfectly congruous to the nature of a rational and active being. We appeal to the language and doctrines of all the old Calvinistic divines, in support of this assertion. Charnock, in his discourse on regeneration, contained in Vol. II. of the folio edition of his works, proposes in the first place to state in reference to the nature of this change, what it is not. On page 72, he says,
“It is not a removal or taking away of the old substance or faculties of the soul. Some thought that the substance of Adam’s soul was corrupted when he sinned, therefore suppose the substance of his soul to be altered when he is renewed. Sin took not away the essence but the rectitude; the new creation therefore gives not a new faculty but a new quality.”
As we shall see, the errors that both man's depravity and his regeneration involve changes in the soul's essence or substance are prevalent, though thankfully not universal, among Hardshells.
The editors continue:
"Who the "some” were, to whom Charnock refers, as holding that the substance of Adam’s soul was corrupted by the fall, we know not; all we know is that such is not the doctrine of any respectable body of Calvinists, nor of any standard writer on the subject. On the 73d page, Charnock says expressly,
“the essence and faculties remain the same.” “The passions and affections are the same as to the substance and nature of the acts; but the difference lies in the objects.” “When a man loves God, or fears God,'or loves man, or fears man, it is the same act of love and the same act of fear; there are the same motions of the soul, the same substantial acts simply considered,” doc. “This new creation is not a destruction of the substance of the soul, but there is the same physical being, and the same faculties in all, and nothing is changed in its substance as it respects the nature of man.” P. 85.
There is perhaps no primitive Calvinistic writer who was more correct on the subject of regeneration than the great Stephen Charnock (pronounced as Harnock). Charnock says "nothing is changed in its substance as it respects the nature of man." It is true that the Scriptures speak of regeneration as changing the "nature" of a man, but it is his moral nature, not the constitutional nature of the soul.
The editors continue:
"We have here a most explicit disavowal of the doctrine of physical regeneration in the sense in which Dr Cox represents the old Calvinists as holding it. As to the manner in which this work is effected, he (Charnock) remarks, in the first place, that
“it is a secret work, and therefore difficult to explain.” “Yet, secondly, this is evident, that it is rational, that is, congruous to the essential nature of man. God does not deal with us as beasts, or as creatures destitute of sense, but as creatures of an intelligent order. Who is there that believes in Christ, as heavy things fall to the earth, or as beasts run at the heck of their sensual appetites without rule or reason!” P. 217. "God that requires of us a reasonable service, would work upon us by a reasonable operation. God therefore works by the way of a spiritual illumination of the understanding, in propounding the creature’s happiness by arguments and reasons; and in the way of a spiritual impression on the will, moving it sweetly to embrace that happiness, and the means to it which he doth propose; and indeed without this work preceding, the motion of the will could never be regular.” P. 218.
The instrumentality of the truth in regeneration is strongly asserted by all old Calvinists. Charnock says,
“that to make an alteration in us according to our nature of understanding, will and affections, it is necessary there should be some declaration of things under those considerations of true, good and delightful, in the highest manner, to make a choice change in every faculty of the soul; and without this a man cannot be changed as a rational creature,” &.c. P. 233. “The word operates, first, objectively, as it is a declaration of the will of God, and presenting the objects of all holy acts; and secondly, it has an active force. It is operative in the hand of God for sanctification.” “The spirit doth so edge the word that it cuts to the quick, discerns the very thoughts, insinuates into the depths of the heart,” &.c. P. 235. “To conclude, the promise in the word breeds principles in the heart suitable to itself; it shows God a father and raises up principles of love and reverence; it shows Christ a Mediator, and raises up faith and desire. Christ in the word conceives Christ in the heart, Christ in the word the beginning of grace conceives Christ in the heart the hope of glory.” P. 236.
Charnock was by no means singular in the views here expressed. Living as he did in the days of the Puritan ascendancy in England, the companion of Owen, Goodwin, Burgess, Bates, and many others of the same class, he was united with them in opinion as well as in labours. Owen, in his work on the Spirit, when speaking of regeneration, lays down the following proposition, (p. 270 of the folio edition).
“In whom or towards whomsoever the Holy Spirit puts forth his power, or the acts of his grace for their regeneration, it removes all obstacles, overcomes all opposition, and infallibly produces the effect intended.”
But how is this done? Is it by changing the substance of the soul or violating any of the laws of its being? The words which immediately follow, and which are intended to explain this general proposition contain the answer.
“The power which the Holy Spirit puts forth in our regeneration, is such in its actings or exercise, as our minds, wills and affections are suited to be wrought upon, and to be affected by, according to their natures and natural operations. He doth neither act in them any otherwise than they themselves are meet to be moved and to move, to be acted and to act, according to their own nature, power and ability. He draws us with the cords of a man, and the work itself is expressed by a persuading; ‘God persuade Japhet; I will allure her into the wilderness and speak comfortably:’ for, as it is certainly effectual, so it carries no more repugnancy to our faculties than a prevalent persuasion doth.”
It is interesting to note the date of this article by the Princeton Review - 1830. It was about this time that the most heated debates were occurring among Baptists, Reformers (Campbellites), and Presbyterians regarding the nature and means of regeneration. This debate gave rise to three views on the subject. One view affirmed that regeneration was by the Spirit alone, apart from any medium of truth. This view was espoused by some in the new "anti mission movement" and who became known as "Old School" or "Primitive" Baptists. Another view affirmed that regeneration was by the word alone, that there was no separate work or power other than the word needed to effect regeneration. This view was espoused by the followers of Alexander Campbell. The third view was the traditional view, especially of the Baptists, and the one expressed in their articles and confessions of faith, that it was by both the Spirit and the word that regeneration was effected. If one reads the writings of Campbell in his papers "The Christian Baptist" and "The Millenial Harbinger" he will see how Campbell attacked the Spirit alone view and the view that makes regeneration a physical or metaphysical change to the substance of the soul. In this debate was the question of what part, if any, did moral persuasion via Gospel preaching play.
Not by moral persuasion only
Many of the old Calvinist writers were careful to say that it was not by moral persuasion alone that regeneration was effected. In saying this, however, they were not denying the necessity of moral suasion, but simply stating that something more was needed. They believed that the power of the Holy Spirit, separate from the word, was necessary to effect regeneration. The power of the most high must attend the preaching to make it effectual. When they denied that moral suasion alone could regenerate they were denying that the word alone was sufficient. They believed that both were necessary to effect regeneration, just as the old London Confession had affirmed - "by his Word and Spirit." Still, if regeneration is a moral work, rather than a physical work, it is necessary that there be a moral instrument, and this is what the truth is.
The editors continue:
"One can hardly imagine how men who use such language can be charged with holding a “physical regeneration,” by which, “the connatural diseases of the texture of soul” are cured. Owen proceeds to say, secondly, that the Holy Spirit
“doth not in our regeneration possess the mind with any cnthusiastical impressions; but he works on the minds of men in and by their own natural actings, through an immediate influence and impression of his power. ‘Create in me a clean heart, 0 God.’ He worketh to will and to do. Thirdly, he therefore offers no violence or compulsion to the will. This that faculty is not naturally capable to give admission unto. If it be compelled it is destroyed.”
And again on the next page,
“the Holy Spirit who in his power and operation is more intimate, as it were, unto the principles of our souls than they are to themselves, doth, with the preservation and in the exercise of the liberty of our wills, effectually work our regeneration and conversion unto God. ‘This is the substance of what we have to plead for in this cause, and which declares the nature of this work of regeneration, as it is an inward spiritual work.” (251-260)
We hope however that our labour will not be regarded as altogether unnecessary; because when an imputation comes from a source in every way so respectable, and in fact so highly respected, the inference will be, that in sober truth old Calvinists do hold, that the texture of the soul is diseased; that its substance is changed in regeneration; that some unknown violence to its faculties is suffered under the Spirit’s influence. It is proper, therefore, that it should be shown, that the direct reverse of all this is distinctly declared by them to be their opinion; that they profess to believe regeneration to be a moral and not a physical change; and that it takes place without any violence being done to the soul or any of its laws."
In operating upon the mind or understanding in regeneration, God is doing a moral work, not a physical work. It is the nature of the truth to effect such a work through the power of the Spirit. So Paul taught in many places. For instance he says that believers were "chosen to salvation through" a "belief of the truth." (II Thess. 2: 13)
The editors continue:
"We are perfectly willing to admit, that old Calvinists, when treating on the subject of regeneration, often speak of a direct and physical influence of the Spirit on the soul. But in what sense? In the sense in which Dr Cox represents them as holding physical regeneration? Far from it. He says that physical regeneration and physical depravity stand together. He thus uses the word as qualifying the effect produced. They use it to qualify the influence exerted in producing the effect.. But what do they mean when they speak of a physical influence being exerted on the soul in regeneration? They mean precisely what we suppose Dr Cox means; when he speaks of "the agency of the Spirit, apart from the power of the truth, which is his instrument.” P. 27. They mean to assert that regeneration is not effected by mere moral suasion; that there is something more than the simple presentation of truth and urging of motives. The idea of Calvinists uniformly was, that the truth, however clearly presented or forcibly urged, would never produce its full effect without a special influence of the Holy Spirit. This influence they maintained was supernatural, that is, above the mere moral power of the truth, and such as infallibly to secure the result, and yet, to use their own illustration, did the soul no more violence than demonstration does the intellect, or persuasion the heart." (261-265) (The New Princeton Review, Volume 2, 1830, see here)
"Physical regeneration and physical depravity stand together"! How true! The error in the latter leads to the error of the former. Notice how the reviewing editors say that "mere moral suasion" is not enough, yet it is necessary in conjunction with the special influence of the Spirit.
It seems that some of the older Hardshell writers of the 19th century understood these things, but, as we shall see, later Hardshells became, almost universally, advocates for a physical regeneration.
Elder J. H. Oliphant, in his book "Thoughts on the Will," wrote:
"And I think too, that if the inability of men to obey God is physical, it would furnish a perfect excuse for disobedience. But let us consider the nature of the inability of men to serve God, or let us again consider the nature of moral inability.
A disinclination to obey, or an inclination to do the reverse would constitute a moral inability to obey. Or both, an inclination to do wrong, and an aversion to doing right, both taken together may constitute a moral inability to do right. If one has an inclination to do wrong, and no inclination to do right, he is morally unable to do right. The fact that this inclination to do wrong, springs from the natural corruption of the heart is no apology for it...let it be remembered that a preponderance of inclination to sin constitutes an inability to do right." (Chapter 14, see here)
Again he writes, under a different heading:
"3rd. The will (being determined and decided by the mind and affections) is perverted, and on this part of the subject I desire that the writer and reader should take great pains. In order that men serve God and come to him as a Savior, there are three things necessary: 1st. They must have physical power, sufficient strength and natural ability, and this, I presume, all living men have; but little strength of this kind is needed to come to Jesus, it requires no long journey to reach him, no gold nor silver, nor yet the consent or aid of our fellow creatures; all men have a sufficient amount of natural power to come to him. 2nd. A sufficient amount of mental power, and, fortunately, the "foolish" of this world have a sufficient amount of mental power to come to Christ. Often men of weak and ordinary minds have a saving knowledge of Christ, while some that are extremely wise know nothing of his love and are utter strangers to his gospel. 3rd. They must have a will to come, they will not be brought against their will, and, if they have no will to come, though they may have the necessary natural power and the mental ability, they can not come. God has given all men sufficient natural power and sufficient mental power, but all men have not the will to come to him. All men know that they should forsake their sins, and that God has a just claim upon their affections, yet they "will not come to him." Jesus says, John 6:65: "no man can come unto me except it were given him of my father." One reason why he "can not" is not for lack of mental power nor natural power, for all have that, but for want of will. There is a "great difference between natural and moral inability;" the sinner's inability to come is not natural but moral. If a man be commanded to look without eyes he is not responsible for not looking, because of his natural inability to look, but if he is commanded to compute the distance to the stars, he is not responsible for not obeying because of his mental inability; but if he have mental and natural ability and disobeys on account of his own unwillingness to obey, he is culpable. Now here is the ground upon which I rest the finally impenitent. God has made them able naturally and mentally to obey him; they have natural power to repent of their sins, to obey God's requirements, and they are sensible that they should, but they "will not.""
Oliphant wrote his book, from which these citations are taken, after having read the writings of Jonathan Edwards on the subject and he endorses the views of Edwards on the nature of depravity and regeneration, although Oliphant does not accept that the truth is a means in effecting man's moral regeneration. In this he was less consistent than later Hardshells, for he did not believe that the truth was a moral means to effect moral regeneration. Later Hardshells who would insist that regeneration was a physical change of the soul substance would argue that no moral means could effect a phsical regeneration. They would virtually deny that regeneration was a moral change.
"Porter in his Compendium of Methodism, page 238, says: "There is nothing in God, nothing in his election and reprobation, nothing in the sinner's infirmities of intellect, heart or will, to make it impossible for him to come to Christ and be saved." He adds, "No, nothing."
I grant that there is nothing in God, or election, or reprobation, that prevents, but I deny that there "is nothing in his will." "He will not come," and as long as he is unwilling to come just that long he can not come. The same writer, on page 239, argues that "God has made all men able to come to Christ; that there is a certain amount of grace given to every man which makes him able, and this supposed ability to come makes it just and right in God to condemn those who do not come." There is no criminality in not doing what we have no natural or mental power to do, but the sinner's inability is moral, and to cure this inability he must be made WILLING, and if all men are cured of their unwillingness what hinders the salvation of all? The courts of our land do not punish persons for not doing those things they have no power to do, naturally or mentally, neither do we suppose the Lord does, but a lack of will is no apology for sin among men. Nor do we believe that God owes it to his creature, man, to cure this species of inability. Did the prisoner at the bar ever plead that he should have been made willing to obey the laws, or would such an excuse be considered good ? Certainly not."
Oliphant agrees that man's "will not" is his "cannot." He also seems to affirm that regeneration is the changing of man's moral will. What is inconsistent in his views is that he rejects the idea that the truth can be a means of effecting this change of will. Oliphant says "the sinner's inability is moral" and "to cure this inability he must be made WILLING." So, the question is - "does the Spirit use the word as a means in effecting this change of will, this change of mind and understanding?"
"And so we say that men in nature are unwilling to come to Christ, to have him reign over them, and their inability to do these things lies principally in their unwillingness to do them. "If they were willing the things would be done." Nor is God under obligation to make them willing." (Principals and Practices of the Regular Baptists: Chapter III, see here)
Do today's Hardshells generally agree with Oliphant? In the next chapter, we shall see that many do not, but have embraced the old heresy that says that both depravity and regeneration are defects in the essence or substance of the soul. They will deny that any change is made to the will or mind or understanding of the sinner in his regeneration.