Saturday, January 16, 2016

Regeneration and the means of grace

If regeneration is an immediate act of creative power it cannot be said to be wrought through the instrumentality of the Word of God in the sense of the gospel. For when we use the term the Word of God in such a sense we mean the Word of God proclaimed to us, addressed to our consciousness, operative in our consciousness, and engaging our consciousness with the appropriate effects. In other words, we do not meant the word of divine fiat, for that we must posit as the action of regeneration. (John Murray, "Regeneration," in John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray, 196)

In an earlier post, I pointed out the problems with trying to do away with the term "regeneration" by attempting to subsume regeneration under the category of effectual calling. But while I agree regeneration is a distinct (note: not separate) act from effectual calling, I agreed that it was through God's Word in effectual calling that regeneration happens.

In his article on the topic however, John Murray goes further, trying to distinguish between two types of regeneration. The first is unmediated by the proclaimed Word but purely of divine fiat. The second is mediated by the proclaimed Word (pp. 196-7). In a certain sense, we can say that some people seem to show signs of regeneration prior to the proclamation of the Gospel, but is that a real example of someone who is regenerated by divine fiat alone apart from the proclaimed Word?

It is my contention that Murray is wrong here. While certainly there is a distinction between the divine fiat Word, and the proclaimed Word, yet, inasmuch as the proclaimed Word is faithful to the Scriptures, it is the very Word of God. God has instituted means to lead people unto salvation, and those include especially the preaching of His Word (WSC Q89). Thus, in the matter of salvation, there is a tight relation between the divine fiat and the proclaimed Word. Certainly, equating them is ridiculous since no preacher is God, but since God is pleased to work through His ordained means, then the divine fiat always works in conjunction with the preached Word.

Seeing the tight relation between the fiat Word and the proclaimed Word, we can and should say that the divine fiat Word in the effectual call accompanies (either before, contemporaneous, or after) the divine fiat Word. Thus, contra Murray, regeneration is an immediate act of creative power (in the sense that God did it by fiat), and yet regeneration can be said to be wrought through the instrumentality of the Word of God (in the sense that God ordained the preached Word to accompany the fiat Word). Practically, we should expect regeneration to happen co-extensively with the proclaimed Word, with no particular choice in the temporal order of these events. Thus, we might see some people who were initially disinterested in the Christian faith yet they come to faith after hearing the proclamation of the Gospel, while others might show a tender heart and were already receptive to Christ even prior to hearing the Gospel.

There are therefore not two senses of regeneration, but one. God's speech is one, therefore there is one sense of regeneration. Regeneration is unmediated by creaturely agency, yet God is pleased to use the means of grace for it.

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