Archibald Alexander, in an article titled "The Inability of Sinners," in Theological Essays (New York & London: Wiley and Putnam, 1846), 265–268, 272-275, 277-280, and, 281-282, wrote:
"8. When it is said that regeneration consists in giving a new heart, or in implanting a new principle or disposition, what is meant by the terms "heart," "principle," or "disposition"?
President Edwards says, "By a principle of nature in this place, I mean that foundation which is laid in nature, either old or new, for any particular kind or manner of exercise of the faculties of the soul. So this new spiritual sense is not a new faculty of understanding, but it is a new foundation laid in the nature of the soul for a new kind of exercise of the same faculty of understanding. So that new holy disposition of heart that attends this new sense is not a new faculty of will, but a foundation laid in the nature of the soul for a new kind of exercise of the same faculty of will." Edwards on "Religious Affections," Pt. 3., sec. 1." (Chapter 29 Outlines of Theology by A.A. Hodge - Regeneration, see here)
In chapter 93 of my book on "The Hardshell Baptist Cult," I wrote:
"Regeneration took on a strictly physical or metaphysical definition. Regeneration became a change of the substance of the heart, mind, or soul. It was no longer viewed as a strictly moral change. Regeneration now became vaguely defined as simply giving ability or powers to the soul, a kind of empowerment. There was no change in beliefs, for regeneration became "non-cognitive" and a "sub-conscious" experience."
As will be shall shortly seen, this is true as regards much of present day ideas among Hardshells regarding the nature of man's inability and as regards the nature of the change wrought in regeneration. It may be truly said that many present day Hardshells do not believe that regeneration is a "change" but an "exchange." Instead of God changing a man's present heart and mind, it is rather that he gives a person a totally new heart and mind, one that has no connection with the old one. By the way it is taught one is led to believe that regeneration is a physical change of the substance or essence of the soul, similar to the Lord making living beings out of stones.
The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith reads,
"Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation, so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able by his own strength to commit himself, or to prepare himself thereto." (Section 9 on "Free Will")
The Old Baptists who wrote this Confession were clear on the nature of the inability that has come to all men as a result of the fall of man. Man has not lost any natural or physical ability to spiritual good but has "lost all ability of will." He has lost his "strength" of "will," or his moral strength.
Elder Bernard Gowens wrote the following in his Internet article "Refuting the Hollow Log Doctrine" (see here):
"This erroneous doctrine is used by some to describe the act of regeneration in the new birth of the elect. The analogy is that the new birth does not provide a change of essence or substance in the soul of the regenerate...It is the nature of the soul substance in the inner man that needs changing.
It is the Holy Spirit that accomplishes this nature change in the spirit essence of the inner man of God's elect when they are translated into Divine Life. The soul substance of the inner man needs changing.
The inner-sanctum of this "soul essence" can no longer commit sin (1st John 3:9)."
From these words of Elder Gowens, a present day Hardshell leader, regeneration involves a "change of essence or substance in the soul." Twice he says "it is the nature of the soul substance in the inner man that needs changing." But, in saying this, he puts himself into opposition with Elder Oliphant who believed that man's inability was strictly moral and denied that it was in any way physical, natural, or constitutional. But, he does reflect, as we shall see, what was taught by Elder Sarrels, who was from Texas as Elder Gowens. Sarrels published his "Systematic Theology" in the 1970s when Gowens was a teenager in Texas.
In a separate article Gowens also wrote (emphasis mine):
"If by the word 'free,' however, one means free without any limitation, then the answer is 'no.' People are not free to act contrary to their nature. I cannot choose to fly. Yes, I can choose to travel by airplane, but I cannot choose to sprout wings or become a bird. My will, you see, is not entirely free. It is bound by the limits of my nature. We do not have the freedom to be anything we are not.
Man, in other words, is not free to act outside the boundaries of his human nature. He cannot live the life of a fish in the ocean or fly like a bird in the air without external resources enabling him to duplicate his natural environment. Just as that is true on a natural level, it is also true on a spiritual level. In his fallen state, man cannot choose to be righteous. The Ethiopian cannot by his own sheer will power, change the color of his skin, nor the leopard his spots. Neither can those whose nature is depraved voluntarily do good Jer. 13:23). Man's will is enslaved to his sinful nature. Left to himself, his only capacity is fleshly."
From these words of Gowens it is clear that he does not believe that man's inability is strictly moral, but that his inability is physical and constitutional as well. Yet, again, this is not the teaching of Elder Oliphant. It seems to me, from years of research into the writings of leading Hardshells, that the older Hardshells of the 19th century were much more clear on this topic than are their descendents.
Gowens says that man's inability in spiritual things is due to a physical impossibility, much like a human cannot fly or live like a fish. Is this not saying that man's "cannot" is physical, natural, and constitutional? That his inability is not strictly moral? Also, if man is physically unable to do spiritual things, then how can God justly require this of him or hold him accountable for not doing them? This is what the leading Calvinists that I have cited previously have stated. If man's inability is physical, then it is unjust for God to punish him for not doing what he is unable to do. But, if his inability is strictly moral, then God indeed can justly hold him accountable.
Also, as previously intimated, such erroneous views on the nature of man's inability has led Hardshells into false views on the nature of the change wrought in his regeneration. Men like Gowens would not see regeneration strictly as a moral transformation but also as a physical transformation. It would be like changing a fish or bird into a man.
The passage that Gowens alludes to about the Ethiopian changing his skin or the leopard his spots is not intended to teach that the change effected in regeneration is a physical change, but simply to say that the degree of moral inability is equal to the degree of physical inability. Regeneration of the soul does not make a man something more than a man, or into a superman. In many ways it is a restoration of what was lost by sin. The fall did not make Adam into less than a man and regeneration does not make a man something more than a man. No new faculties are added to the nature of man in his regeneration, but his faculties are renewed.
"By nature, man's will is a "will not" (Ps. 10:4; Ps. 58:3; Jno. 5:40; Is. 26:10). His only inclination is toward carnality. The natural man will never choose anything but sin, because he cannot operate outside the parameters of his sinful nature (Rom. 8:7). The nature of man's will is not free.
Not until his nature is changed does he have the desire or the capacity to choose righteousness. Prior to God's work of regeneration in the soul, therefore, man's will is bound by the old nature. In regeneration, the fallen sinner is made "willing in the day of God's power" (Ps. 110:3). He is given a new nature, a righteous nature, capable of responding to God." ("Born Again; The Doctrine of Effectual Calling" - see here)
While Gowens allows that moral inability, or inability of will, is part of man's fallen condition, he does not limit his inability to the moral faculties or to the will. While I do agree that man's nature is "changed" in regeneration, I do not believe it is "exchanged." However, when Gowens speaks of God changing man's nature in regeneration, he does not believe that this is confined to man's moral nature, but extends it to man's physical nature, to a change in the substance, essence, constitution, or make up of the soul. By his definitions the nature of the soul is physically different as a result of the fall and regeneration, like a fish is different from a bird. According to Gowens, new faculties are added to the physical substance of the soul, just as it must be if a man is given the ability to fly like a bird.
Another Hardshell, Elder Jeff Winfrey, wrote:
"According to the Bible the problem with natural man goes beyond a lack of willingness to come. The problem is even greater than a fallen will that is compelled to follow a fallen nature, for the Bible in many places plainly declares that natural man simply cannot come to God. So past a “will not” come in fallen man, there is even a “cannot” come in fallen man. Thus even if a fallen nature were to suddenly release a fallen will, the problem with fallen man still remains. According to the scriptures he yet would have no ability in his fallen state to come to God."
It is clear that his Hardshell apologist disagrees with Elder Oliphant and advocates that man's "cannot" is more than a moral cannot, that it is a physical cannot, due to some inability in the substance or make up of the soul itself. Even if a man wanted to please God, he would be unable to do so due to his lacking of a physical ability in his soul substance.
"So even if you in error imagine that man might want to do that which he by nature considers to be foolishness, or if you really believe that man would choose to befriend the one he so hates, or if you still think that man would decide to dwell with a perceived enemy, or if you deny that Jesus said that man will not come, then there is still an insurmountable problem with the idea of natural man coming to God. For besides being unwilling to come, the Bible says that unregenerate man is unable to come to God. Therefore even if fallen man were to find the “want to” and against his very nature will to do what he will not do, the scriptures still declare that he cannot do it. Fallen man cannot come, because the fallen nature has no ability to function in the spiritual realm."
Again, it is clear that this elder views the inability of fallen man to be more than moral. If a man had a will to come to Christ, he still could not.
"We have seen that the fallen nature has much power in the realm of nature, even the power to overpower the will. Yet the fallen nature has no power in the realm of the spirit, not even the power to come to God. Thus the root of the problem with natural man lies in his very nature. The real source of the problem in fallen man is a fallen nature that results in a complete unwillingness to come to God and a total lack of ability to come to God. Unregenerate man does not come to God, because he will not come to God. Furthermore, unregenerate man does not come to God, because he cannot come to God."
Again, man's inability is not simply moral but physical. Winfrey's understanding of "natural" inability is "physical" inability.
"So prior to God’s life giving work in regeneration, a man cannot know any thing concerning God. Thus we can begin to see that the problem goes beyond a man not being willing to receive spiritual things because of the perceived foolishness of such things. Beyond an unwillingness to receive, there is an inability to truly know the things of the real God who is a Spirit, unless the individual has the real Spirit of that real God in him."
But, the Scriptures do not teach that the natural man cannot "know any thing concerning God" even in his depraved moral state. Paul wrote of hiim - "Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened....Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them." (Rom. 1: 19-21, 32)
Winfrey is in error when he says "that the problem goes beyond a man not being willing" and "beyond an unwillingness to receive, there is an inability." Is the spiritually dead man unable then to receive life? By Winfrey's statement we must conclude that it is physically impossible for man to be saved.
"Thus it is not just that a man will not come to that which he sees as foolishness. Truly the difficulty goes far beyond a problem of will. There is an overwhelming inability in the natural man that prevents him from coming to God. The natural man cannot come to the God of heaven, because he cannot know Him to come to Him. If natural man cannot know God, how can he be able to come to that which he cannot know? He may come to something he has imagined in his mind. He may come to something someone has carved out of stone. He may come to some philosophy. Yet he cannot come to the true God, because he cannot know the true God to come to Him. There is no strength or ability in man that can enable him to approach unto the God that he cannot know."
When Jesus said "all that the Father gives to me shall come to me," was this a physical impossibility, like making a square circle? If we accept what has been written by Winfrey, we would say yes.
"In our sequence of Bible truths concerning the teaching that man by nature cannot come to God we now come to a fifth passage in God’s word. In this passage Jesus first asked this question. Why do ye not understand my speech? He then gave the answer to His own question. Even because you cannot hear my word. (John 8:43) The problem in this case was not that these men had put their hands over their ears in a rebellious refusal to hear. Jesus did not tell them that they were unwilling to listen to Him. He did not tell them that they were not paying any attention to Him. He said to them, “you cannot hear my word.” So their problem surpassed a reluctance to hear or a refusal to listen. Jesus plainly stated that they could not hear...Beyond unwilling, they were unable." ("Scriptural Defenses For Holy Spirit Unassisted Regeneration" by Elder Jeff Winfrey - see here)
"Beyond unwilling, they were unable"! How much clearer can one be on the point? Man is not simply morally unable to do good, but he is physically unable to do so! In upcoming chapters in this series I will deal with this question in greater detail. Does a man lack eyes and ears for hearing God and truth? Is regeneration the giving of eyes and ears or the regenerating of already existing faculties?
Elder W. H. Crouse, who I have cited already in this work, wrote:
"A large percent of the religious world today think of regeneration as but a moral change. If this be true, it can be brought about by moral force. And if this be true, the salvation of the world rests alone in the hands of men, and men are born again through the instrumentality of the church, her ministry and the preached word. This unscriptural teaching, introduced long ago among Baptists, now appears in full fruitage in the teaching of many Doctors of Divinity and ministers of lesser prominence."
Having admitted that regeneration can be accomplished by or through the instrumentality of moral forces (such as the ministry and the gospel), these men were led on to affirm regeneration to be but a moral change, and at last God and the supernatural are entirely discarded and they have launched out into the open sea of rationalism and infidelity.
They fail to understand the nature of regeneration. It is not a work done FOR man, but a work done IN man; not a reformation of life, but a change of heart; not a turning of man to God, but God dwelling in us; not the development of Adam life, but the implantation in man of the life of God; not a work done through or by human means and instrumentalities, but a work done alone by the irresistible creative power of an omnipotent God who speaks and it is done, who commands and it stands fast." (Regeneration, chapter IV, see here)
Elder Crouse is in agreement with Gowens and Winfrey that regeneration is more than a "moral change" and involves a physical change of the substance of the soul. He sees the inability as the same as a fish being unable to fly. He says that the idea that man's inability is strictly moral is an "unscriptural teaching" that was "introduced long ago among Baptists" along with the idea that regeneration is effected by moral means, by the hearing of the word of God. But, this is wrong. The reverse is true. The idea that man's inability is physical as well as moral is the new teaching, and so is the idea that there are no moral means used to effect man's regeneration, as I have already shown and will show further.
Elder Crouse realizes that if the change in regeneration is strictly moral, then it may be affected by moral means, such as by preaching the Gospel. He thinks that if he can show that regeneration is physical, like changing a fish into a bird, then he can disprove the use of moral means in the work.
Crouse denies that the "change of heart" in regeneration is a "turning of man to God." Imagine that! A heart that is changed but is not turned to God! Actually, Crouse believes that "regeneration" is strictly a physical change of soul substance and does not involve any moral change!
Who is right? Elder Oliphant or Crouse, Winfrey, and Gowens? Which view represents the views of today's Hardshells? In the next chapter I will look at the detailed writings of Elder Sarrels on this point. It is obvious that the elders who disagree with Oliphant are all post 19th century Hardshells.