Hardshells say that no exhortations or appeals to the minds of unregenerate people can possibly be a means in creating new hearts and minds, in circumcising the heart, in quickening the dead. Yet, many verses show that they are wrong. In the verses I will be citing, it will be seen how God commands unregenerate people to become regenerate. Elder W. S. Craig, recognized Hardshell apologist, wrote the following years ago:
"Conversion, while often used otherwise, should be used with reference to a change of mind, views, intentions or purposes; while regeneration is a creative work and means to quicken, "born again," or give spiritual life...So while there may be earthly means used in conversion, nothing short of heavenly-means of the divine power can possibly regenerate...Exhortations, persuasions and arguments may very often affect and change the mind, but such feeble means cannot change any one from nature to grace, for this is a radical change. A change of mind or intentions is very far different from giving life to the dead...Conversion may in some respects be considered a moral act; but regeneration never. Exhortations to morality and right living are certainly commendable; but regeneration is not a duty, for men are not commanded to be "born again."" ("Conversion and Regeneration" - see here)
The particular statement of Craig that I wish to fully examine is the one where Craig says "regeneration is not a duty, for men are not commanded to be born again." But, let me first make a few comments on some of his other assertions.
By Craig's definition of "conversion" and "born again" it is clear that Craig believes that being born again or regenerated does not change one's mind, views, intentions, or purposes. All he says is that being born again gives a man spiritual life. But, it is a "life" that is undefinable, something physical. Yet, this is not the way the new testament writers define spiritual "life." Rather, they define spiritual life as involving the very things that Craig puts under the word conversion. It is hard to imagine, in view of the new testament writings, how anyone could be said to be spiritually alive but who still has the same thinking, the same views, the same purposes, that he had before he was born again. Craig's definition is a "hollow log" definition of what it means to be born again. Further, Craig would say that a man does not have to undergo a change in his direction, in his thinking and views, in his purpose, to be eternally saved. He does not have to be converted. Craig says there is no change of mind in being born again, for that comes later when one is converted. He says that being born again is a "radical change," but how can it be such if one's mind and heart are not changed? If his will and purpose are not changed? If his thinking is not changed?
"For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." (Rom. 8: 6)
Notice how Paul defined spiritual life with being spiritually minded, the very thing that Craig denies.
Craig also says that the means God uses in conversion are "feeble" and "earthly" "means," and yet there is more change to the person in his definition of "conversion" than in his definition of "born again." Conversion he says is a moral act, but regeneration never is. Imagine that! A man is regenerated or born again and yet he has not experienced a moral transformation! Is he not saying that regeneration is a physical change of the soul? Of course, I overthrew this false idea in my series on "Hardshell Pelagianism."
Now let us look at verses which show that men are indeed commanded and exhorted to save themselves, to be regenerated, or to ask God to regenerate them.
"Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" (Eze. 18: 31)
"A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh." (Eze. 36: 26)
No Hardshell will deny that God's promise in Ezekiel 36. to give people a new heart and spirit. is a reference to regeneration or to being born again. But, notice that the same language is used in chapter 18. How can they deny that regeneration is also the subject of that verse? But, I have no doubt that the Hardshells will want to make the new heart and spirit of Ezekiel 18: 31 to be different than that of Ezekiel 36: 26. And why would they not want to think that regeneration was alluded to in the first passage? Is it not because the verse demolishes their presuppositions about how the unregenerate are not to be exhorted in order to their regeneration, as Craig asserted? And, who can doubt that it is the unregenerate who are being addressed in the passages? Why would the Lord exhort people for the purpose of obtaining what they already have?
Further, the Hardshells argue that it is useless and foolish to so exhort those who are unregenerated and have only natural minds. They say that to do so would imply that regeneration can be accomplished by appealing to the carnal mind. But, in such a presupposition, do they not indict the Lord? Does the Lord not do in the above passage what they condemn? Was God acting foolishly in appealing to the natural minds of the unregenerate? Was God promoting Arminianism or Pelgianism? Further, to have a new heart and mind obviously is not to be understood of a physical change to the substance of the soul, but is a change in the disposition and thinking of the soul. To have a new mind is to have new views, new thinking, new purposes.
"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."
This verse is sufficient to overthrow Craig's Hardshell reasoning. Here is regeneration. Even Craig would admit this as do all Hardshells. Yet, Paul says that it is in being regenerated or born again that "all things become new." But, Craig denies this, leaving new thinking, new views, new direction, new purposes, etc., all left for a later experience of conversion. Paul did not say that only a change in the substance of the soul occurs in being regenerated, it being the only thing made new. He did not say a few things become new in the new birth, but most things become new later in conversion.
Notice how God commands the people to be regenerate, to make themselves a new heart and spirit. This is the very thing that Craig and the Hardshells deny to be a truth of Scripture! On Ezekiel 18: 31 Dr. Gill comments:
"...and make you a new heart and a new spirit; which the Lord elsewhere promises to give, and he does give to his own elect; (See Gill on Ezekiel 11:19); and if here to be understood of a regenerated heart and spirit, in which are new principles of light, life, and love, grace and holiness, it will not prove that it is in the power of man to make himself such a heart and spirit; since from God's command, to man's power, is no argument; and the design of the exhortation is to convince men of their want of such a heart; of the importance of it: and which, through the efficacious grace of God, may be a means of his people having it, seeing he has in covenant promised it to them." (commentary)
Notice that Gill says that such exhortations to men for them to make themselves new hearts and spirits, or to be regenerated, do not imply ability in them to do what he commands. He also says that the design of such an exhortation is to convince men of their want of such a heart and spirit and that such exhortations are means towards the creating of the new heart and spirit. There can be no other explanation of the passage. Thus, I call upon my Hardshell brothers to come forward and explain how their doctrinal presuppositions harmonize with God's exhorting the unregenerate to regeneration.
Now notice a similar verse. God said by Moses:
"Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked." (Deut. 10: 16)
On this verse Dr. Gill wrote:
"Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart - Content not yourselves with, nor put your confidence in outward circumcision of the flesh, but be concerned for the circumcision of the heart; for removing from that whatever is disagreeable to the Lord, even all carnality, sensuality, hypocrisy, and superfluity of naughtiness, and for having that put there which is well pleasing in his sight; and which though it is the work of God, and he only can do it and has promised it, yet such an exhortation is made to bring men to a sense of their need of it, and of the importance of it, and to show how agreeable it is to the Lord, and so to stir them up to seek unto him for it."
And notice how the same thing is said through Jeremiah.
"Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings." (Jer. 4: 4)
On this verse Dr. Gill wrote:
"...this is the true spiritual circumcision; and they that are possessed of it are the circumcision, the only truly circumcised persons; and they are such who have been pricked to the heart, and thoroughly convinced of sin; who have had the hardness of their hearts removed, and the impurity of it laid open to them; which they have beheld with shame and loathing, and have felt an inward pain on account of it; and who have been enabled to deny themselves, to renounce their own righteousness, and put off the body of the sins of the flesh: and though men are exhorted to do this themselves, yet elsewhere the Lord promises to do it for them, (Deuteronomy 30:6), and indeed it is purely his own work; or otherwise it could not he called, as it is, "circumcision without hands", and "whose praise is not of man, but of God", (Colossians 2:11) (Romans 2:29), and the reason of this exhortation, as before, is to convince those Jews, who were circumcised in the flesh, and rested and gloried in that, that their hearts were not circumcised, and that there was a necessity of it, and they in danger for want of it; as follows: lest my fury come forth like fire; to which the wrath of God is sometimes compared, (Nahum 1:6) and is sometimes signified by a furnace and lake of fire, even his eternal wrath and vengeance: and burn that none can quench it; such is the fire of divine wrath; it is unquenchable; it is everlasting, (Mark 9:43 Mark 9:44) (Matthew 3:12) (25:41): because of the evil of your doings; which are so provoking to the eyes of his glory; the sins of men are the fuel to the fire of his wrath, and cause it to burn to the lowest hell, without the least degree of mercy."
Dr. Gill gives the only explanation of these verses that is possible. Both Arminians and Calvinists agree with this explanation. The only ones who will deny it are the Pelagians and the Hardshells. But, I doubt we will ever see a Hardshell even attempt to deal with these verses. This is probably why they do not want to discuss or debate their views with others any more. If called upon in debate to harmonize these verses with their Hardshell aberrant views, how will they do it?
Now, let us look at some other verses that are really no different from the ones already looked at. Wrote Paul:
"Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." (Eph. 5: 14)
How is the command to the spiritually dead to raise themselves from the dead any different from the commands for unregenerate sinners to circumcise their hearts and to make themselves new hearts and minds?
"Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord." (Acts 3: 19)
The Greek verb "repent" is from "metanoeō" and means to change one's mind, and in context generally means in regard to one's views about God, sin, and salvation. "Be converted" may be better translated as simply "convert." In other words, "repent and convert." The Greek verb for "convert" is "epistrephō" means to "turn." What is to be turned is the heart, mind, and conduct.
When one sees the truth about Ezekiel 18: 31, Deuteronomy 10: 16, Jeremiah 4: 4, then he will have no problem seeing that the command to repent (change your mind) and convert (turn away from your sins and to the Lord) are a command to become new creatures by calling upon the Lord.
"And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation." (Acts 2: 40)
On this verse Elder R. W. Thompson, writing in the "Primitive Monitor and Church Advocate" (Vol. 9, 1894) said: "This cannot mean eternal salvation..." (page 462 - see here)
But, he only asserts his case and gives no proof as to why the words "save yourselves" cannot have reference to final or eternal salvation. Would he also say that Ezekiel 18: 31, Deuteronomy 10: 16, Jeremiah 4: 4, and Ephesians 5: 14 cannot have reference to regeneration and eternal salvation? Why? Because his presupposition will not allow him to say so, his presupposition that says that men do not have a duty to circumcise their hearts to the Lord, to make them new hearts and minds, to raise themselves from the dead. Yet, clearly, we have shown how this presupposition is against the plain statements of Scripture.
Present day Hardshell elder Michael Gowens wrote:
"Old Baptists are virtually alone in their ability to reconcile apparently contradictory texts like Ephesians 2:8 (a text that teaches that salvation is not of ourselves) and Acts 2:40 (a text that exhorts us to save ourselves from this untoward generation), because they understand that the first verse has eternal ramifications and the second does not." ("Why I Am A Primitive Baptist" - see here)
Gowens thinks that Acts 2: 40 (save yourselves) cannot be the same salvation of Ephesians 2: 8 because one says that God does the saving and the other says that people save themselves. But, the contradiction is all in Gowen's head. There is no contradiction. By the logic of Gowens he must say that God does not do the saving of Acts 2: 40. Gowens is saying that he converted himself. God did not do it! He says this because his logic forces him to say it. When Gowens reads a text that says God saves a man, it excludes saying at the same time that a man saves himself. So, likewise, when a text says men save themselves, this excludes saying at the same time that God saved the man.
The Scriptures say that God hardened Pharaoh's heart, but it also says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. Obviously it is possible for an action to be ascribed to both God and the sinner.
"And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple..." (Rev. 7: 14-15)
Notice that this being washed in the blood is said to be a work that the saved did for themselves. Yet, the Hardshells will not allow that such language is Scriptural. I am sure that they will try to go to work on such verses as these, trying to make them deal with only temporal deliverance, yet the task is an impossible one. Notice that the result of washing their robes in the blood of the Lamb is that they are in Heaven, before the throne. Come on, my Hardshell brethren, deal with these verses! Come teach us!
"And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live." (Num. 21: 8)
Look and live! Hardshellism uprooted!
"Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David." (Isa. 55: 3)
Hear and live! Hardshellism uprooted!
"And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life." (John 5: 40)
Come to Christ for life! Hardshellism uprooted!
"And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth...That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us." (Acts 17: 26-27)
All men are commanded to repent and seek the Lord! Again, Hardshellism uprooted! Craig says men do not have such duties! And, what is the purpose for repenting and seeking the Lord? That they might "find him." What is regeneration but to find the Lord?