In the concluding entry of my three part review of Hardshell apologist Joe Holder's commentary on Romans 6: 19-22, I cited some comments from Holder in which he affirmed that regeneration or new birth involved having God write his word upon the heart. I promised to examine this proposition in light of what Hardshells have historically taught relative to it, and this I will do in the conclusion of this two part entry for Hardshell Hermeneutical Problem VI. First, however, I will look at the Scriptures on the subject and see whether they are consistent with neo Hardshellism's understanding of it. As we will see, to say that regeneration involves having God's word written in the inner being gives modern Hardshells great difficulty, representing another hermeneutical problem.
A Truth Proposition
It is indeed a truth taught clearly in Scripture that God, in that work called "regeneration" or being "born again," writes upon, or puts within man's inner being his word, law, statutes, etc., but chiefly the Gospel.
For Holder and the Hardshells to affirm this proposition is good, and is a place to "take the battle to the gate," (Isa. 28: 6) for as we will see, such an affirmation is inconsistent with their other statements on the nature of the new birth experience. It represents a point of discussion that, when pressed, ought to convict every Hardshell of his error on the nature of regeneration. Keep in mind also, that the error the Hardshells have regarding the nature of regeneration is a result of another error regarding the denial of means used to effect it. The first Hardshells who believed in means, in the 1830s, for instance, believed that regeneration and conversion could not be divorced, but those Hardshells who forsook the means view were forced to alter their description of regeneration.
What is the Hardshell View?
This is not always an easy question to ask - "what is the Hardshell view?" This is because there is not unanimity of opinion on certain issues. Also, the first generation of Hardshell leaders, in the 1830's, believed much differently on certain things than do today's Hardshells.
Let us now look at the chief passages involved in this discussion.
"But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jer. 31: 33-34)
Notice the two expressions "I will put" and "I will write." God puts or places his law in the "inward parts" and writes his words in the heart. There is no need to ascertain the precise distinction between "inward parts" and "heart." Both denote the very core of being, the soul and its spiritual, moral, and rational faculties.
Other similar prophecies, as we shall see, speak of this same work being done in the "mind" as well as in the heart. In fact, Paul's citation of Jeremiah's prophecy has "mind" for "inward parts."
What Is The Intended Effect?
The effect of this work of God in the inward parts, in the heart, and in the soul, is to cause people to "know" Lord God. Knowing God, in this context, implies understanding and cognition. This represents a great difficulty or hermeneutical problem for the Hardshells. Another effect is to know the truth, about God, and the scheme of salvation through the work of Christ. What did David mean when he said - "Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom"? (Psa. 51: 6) Notice that having the truth in the heart of the soul involves knowledge, or cognition. It involves conscious thought.
What is the intended effect of God's work of putting his law into the inward parts and of writing his word upon the tablet of the heart? This is a very difficult question for a Hardshell. All that they can do is to retreat to that common way of speaking of the purpose of regeneration, which is to simply give an "ability" to act spiritually and righteously. But, this is hardly what is intended by the Lord. He does not merely make sinners capable of learning, by writing his word upon the heart, but actually teaches them. They are not only given ability to know God, but they actually come to know him.
To write something upon the heart is the same thing as to write it in the memory. When something is written on paper, an impression is made in the paper. Job spoke of a pen of iron writing on stone as on paper. It is a kind of engraving. God engraves his word upon the heart and mind by impressing his word upon the thinking faculties. We might say, in keeping with Scriptural metaphor, that he "burns" his word into the moral fiber of our rational and spiritual being. Notice these verses:
"Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart." (Prov. 3: 3)
"My son, keep my words, and lay up my commandments with thee. Keep my commandments, and live; and my law as the apple of thine eye. Bind them upon thy fingers, write them upon the table of thine heart." (Prov. 7: 1-3)
In these verses people are commanded to write God's word upon their hearts, the very thing he promised to do himself. Is there a contradiction? How do the Hardshells solve the difficulty?
It is not uncommon for God to command the people to do what he promises to do himself. For instance, God promises, and actually does, "circumcise" the heart (Rom. 2: 29; Phi. 3: 3; etc.), yet he also says to people - "Circumcise yourselves to the Lord" (Jer. 4: 4: Deut. 10: 16). Also, he promises to give a "new heart" and to put a "new spirit" within people (Eze. 36: 26-27), yet he also says to them - "make you a new heart and a new spirit" (Eze. 18: 31). Only Hardshells see these things as contradictory. Because of their unscriptural presuppositions and false premises they cannot admit that the same thing is being denoted. Doing so would force him into giving up his anti means view.
So, what is our intended effect when we do as commanded and write God's word upon our hearts? Is it not that we will have God's word "always in remembrance"? (II Peter 1: 12) That it will be burned into our conscious memory? Of course. Is it any different when God writes his word upon our hearts or places in our minds his teachings? Further, Peter said this was his assigned work, to keep the saints reminded, to keep writing things upon the mind's memory. Remember too that God was working through Peter so that it was the work of God to keep the believer always in remembrance, and this is in fulfillment of his promise to write his word continuously in hearts and minds.
"Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You" (Psalm 119:11).
David placed God's word in his heart! The very thing God said he would do! When will the Hardshells understand that one does not exclude the other? They think that if God writes, then this excludes any writing done by the apostles in their teaching ministries, and also excludes the writing the believer himself does. But, this is just illogical and also against plain scripture.
How Does One Come To Know?
As stated, the prophecy of Jeremiah speaks of people coming to know the Lord and this via coming to know his word by the teaching work of God. He, like a teacher, will put within the mind of his students the lessons he has designed for them to learn and know. He, as a teacher, writes upon the heart and memory those lessons. Did not Jesus explain this?
“No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘and they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me." (John 6: 44-45)
Notice that it is the work of the Father to teach all the chosen people, so that they hear and learn from the Father. Who can doubt that this is the manner in which God puts his law in the inward parts and the manner in which he writes his word in the heart and mind? All this cries COGNITION. People do not hear and learn on the subconscious level. How can they know a God that they have heard and learned nothing about?
God's Continuous Writing
Further, the words "I will put," means "continually giving my laws." The Hebrew tense denotes what is an ongoing or continuous action rather than what is done in an instant. This is detrimental to the Hardshell idea that all the laws are written, or secretly encoded, in the soul's DNA, when it is regenerated or divinely begotten. The work of writing the word of God on the heart then, is not only what takes place in the instant of regeneration, but what takes place throughout the life after regeneration, being a part of sanctification.
It is doubtful that any Hardshell today would affirm that God is continually writing his word in the hearts of his covenant people after their regeneration, because 1) this would tend to overthrow their thesis that the word written in the heart is all done in the subconscious region of the heart and mind (since a continual writing would lend towards a writing that results in cognition of truth propositions), and 2) they do not believe that there is any work after regeneration in which the believer is passive.
The Covenant With God
The covenant that is the source or reason for the regenerating work of God is made between God and the people saved. In the text it is "I will make a covenant with the house of Israel." It is a covenant between God and people. This poses another difficulty for the Hardshells. Where, in their understanding of the experience of regeneration, does a person agree with God, and enter into covenant with him? Of course, the Hardshell can only respond by saying that Jesus, representing him, made the covenant with God (the Father) on his behalf. Of course this is true, the error of the Hardshell consists in his not seeing how people enter into the blessings of the new covenant (all which pertain to salvation) by faith, by agreeing with God, which is the chief meaning of homologeo, the Greek word for confess.
Entering the Covenant by Heartfelt Confession
"That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." (Rom. 10: 9)
Strong says that the Greek word means "to say the same thing as another, i.e. to agree with, assent." He also says it means "to concede, to promise." When two people get married, they each say the same thing, "I do." That is, I agree, I assent, I confess or acknowledge. They not only agree, but they make promises. So too when sinners join with Christ and become one with him.
Hardshells acknowledge that people make covenant with God, as literally, really, and personally, as did the Israelites on Mt. Sinai. In the making of that covenant, the terms were clear to both parties. So, also in the new. Christ agrees to save and lead and the sinner agrees for Christ to save and lead him. That is the covenant and it is entered into by a God given faith. But, the Hardshell insists that such a making of covenant with God, or being converted, is not necessary to be finally and eternally saved.
Vital Union With Christ
The adept Hardshell apologist will often attempt to solve many difficulties about the necessity of union with Christ for salvation by ignoring "vital union" and stressing representative or federal union through Christ. The latter does not require regeneration, conversion, faith, repentance, etc., as does the former. He will also affirm that a real "vital union" does occur in Hardshell definitions of "regeneration," but insist that faith and repentance are not means or conditions to such a union with Christ.
So, then, is that union with Christ, per Romans 7:4, an essential aspect of regeneration? Does one have to have a vital marital union with Christ to be eternally saved? How can the anti means Hardshell say yes without contradicting himself? Will he not hold on to his anti means proposition so that he will be forced to say that one does not have to have a marital union with Christ, or enter into covenant with him, to be saved? He will have to say that the "vital union" that occurs in a Hardshell "regeneration" does not include being joined to Christ as a spouse?
"But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit." (I Cor. 6: 17)
In the context of this verse Paul contrasts being joined in body versus being joined in heart and spirit. A man who has sexual intercourse with a whore, said Paul, becomes "one" with her, that is, one in body. How does one become united with, or one with, Christ? How does he enter into covenant with him? It is all by saying and confessing "I will" to the Spirit who testifies of Christ. There are many verses that speak of a faith union with Christ.
It is doubtful that Hardshells will deny that there is a union with Christ by faith, but they will insist that 1) this is no part of the "vital union" created in regeneration apart from faith, and that 2) this is not necessary for being eternally saved.
"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. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them." (Eze. 36: 26-27)
What does it mean to have a "new heart" and a "new spirit"? Does it represent a physical change in the soul and spirit, as many of today's Hardshells teach, rather than a moral change? Is it something that actually changes a man's thoughts and beliefs? Or, is it the mere giving of an ability to perhaps later change thought and belief? If a man was a pagan or polytheist before obtaining a new heart and spirit, will he remain such? That is the crucial question. Nearly all of today's Hardshells insist that many people who live and die believing in a false religion, and in false gods, nevertheless were people who had that new heart and spirit.
Whatever the precise nature of the new heart and spirit, it is given for the purpose of effecting a change in behavior. Belief always changes behavior. Behavior reflects belief. Notice the three links in the chain of causes and effects. God gives a new heart and spirit, which causes change in belief, which then causes change in behavior. The new heart and spirit signify a change in the moral nature, in character. It is simply absurd for the Hardshells to say that many have experienced this change and are yet "unbelievers." A regenerated unbeliever! The Bible knows of no such character. He is a figment of the Hardshell imagination.