Category Archives: Regeneration

“Stop and listen” by Scott Swain

“Exegesis is loving God enough to stop and listen carefully to what He says.”

–Scott R. Swain, Trinity, Revelation, and Reading: A Theological Introduction to the Bible and Its Interpretation (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2011), 128.

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“The most precious promise that exists for the reader of Holy Writ” by Scott Swain

“It is striking how many times in Psalm 119—an extended meditation on God’s written Word, the Torah—the psalmist begs for divine assistance in order that he might understand and obey God’s word.

The following list is merely representative, not exhaustive:

  • Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes (Psalm 119:5).
  • Let me not wander from your commandments (Psalm 119:10).
  • Blessed are you, O Lord, teach me your statutes (Psalm 119:12).
  • Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word (Psalm 119:17).
  • Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law (Psalm 119:18).
  • Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law (Psalm 119:29).
  • I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart (Psalm 119:32).
  • Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end (Psalm 119:33).

The psalmist prays for an obedience that is steadfast (Psalm 119:5) and consistent (Psalm 119:10), that excels (Psalm 119:32) and perseveres (Psalm 119:33).

He also acknowledges his dependence upon divine grace for spiritual perception (Psalm 119:18), receptivity (Psalm 119:32), and understanding (Psalm 119:12, 29, 33).

Prayer is the most rational possible course of action for the Christian reader of Holy Scripture. After all, in Holy Scripture we face a grand and glorious terrain of revealed truth, so wonderful that the possibility of taking it all in is immediately ruled out.

And yet, we are called to meditate on this Word (Josh. 1:8; Ps. 1:2), to walk in it (Ps. 119:1), and to praise it (Ps. 56:4, 10). The sheer magnitude of scriptural teaching alone makes our calling impossible apart from divine assistance.

Add to this our innate blindness, our fallen will and passions, and our tendency toward sloth in this calling and the desperate nature of our situation as readers becomes quite clear.

If there is to be any possibility of success in reading Holy Scripture, the Spirit of truth and light must shine upon us: opening our eyes, renewing our wills, and awakening us to action.

The good news is that God has promised to bless our reading. Thus Paul encourages Timothy: “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Tim. 2:7).

This is perhaps the most precious promise that exists for the reader of Holy Writ. We may confidently apply ourselves to this otherwise impossible task because God has promised to grant us success—“the Lord will give you understanding.”

According to Whitaker:

“He that shall be content to make such a use of these means, and will lay aside his prejudices and party zeal, which many bring with them to every question, will be enabled to gain an understanding of the scriptures, if not in all places, yet in most; if not immediately, yet ultimately.”

In prayer, exegetical reason takes its proper place and, like Mary, sits at the feet of Jesus (Lk. 10:39). And because it is confident in God’s fatherly generosity, exegetical reason asks, seeks, knocks—and finds (Lk. 11:10–13).”

–Scott R. Swain, Trinity, Revelation, and Reading: A Theological Introduction to the Bible and Its Interpretation (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2011), 125–127.

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“Regeneration enables the act of reading as covenant friendship” by Scott Swain

“Just as the Spirit laid the foundation for the church in the writings of prophets and apostles, so He builds upon that foundation through, among other things, the reading of the saints.

The same Spirit who publishes God’s Word through inspiration and writing creates an understanding of God’s Word through illumination and interpretation (1 Cor. 2:14–16). The reading of Holy Scripture is a creaturely activity that corresponds to, and is also sustained and governed by, the Spirit’s work of regeneration and renewal.

The Christian life begins with regeneration (John 3:3, 5; Eph. 2:5; James 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:3, 23–25). When the Spirit brings the gospel effectually to bear upon the sinner’s heart, He breaks our relation to the Old Man and creates a relation to the New Man (Rom. 6:1–7; Gal. 5:24).

In so doing, He also implants a new principle of life (1 John 3:9). This new principle of life enables a new vision. Apart from this new vision, the gospel of Jesus Christ—and therefore the ultimate meaning of Scripture—remains hidden from us (2 Cor. 3:14–18).

However, being born again, we are enabled to “see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). This new principle of life not only enables new vision, it also issues forth in new desires, new thirsts, and new hungers.

Chief among these is a longing for the word of truth (see 1 Pet. 1:22–2:3). God’s word is “sweeter than honey” to the regenerate taste (Ps. 19:10; 119:103).

The awakening of spiritual organs of perception and taste is essential to a profitable reading of Scripture.

“He who is deaf must first be healed from his deafness in order to be placed in true touch with the world of sounds. When this contact has been restored, the study of music can again be begun by him.” (Kuyper, Principles of Sacred Theology, 580).

This goes for biblical interpretation as well. The point is not that the “natural man” is unable to understand anything that Scripture says.

The point instead is that a profitable reading of Holy Scripture, one that receives Scripture’s words as the words of God, that ponders Scripture’s words as a way of pondering God, and that reveres Scripture’s words as a way of revering God, this sort of reading is only possible where the Spirit has caused the eyes of our hearts to be enlightened (Eph. 1:18; 1 Cor. 2:14).

Regeneration enables the act of reading as covenant friendship.

The Christian life begins with regeneration and continues along the path of renewal (Rom. 12:1–2; Eph. 4:21–24; Col. 3:10; 2 Pet. 3:18).

Because the regenerate life begins as the Spirit breaks our natural bond to the Old Man and forms a spiritual bond to the New Man, the growth and renewal of this life unfolds as a battle between the remaining impulses of our fallen human nature and the new reign of Christ through the Spirit.

“The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh” (Gal. 5:17). In this battle, we are summoned to put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit’s power and to put on the New Man, Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:13; Eph. 4:22–24).

In this battle, we are commanded not to be conformed to the pattern of this world but to be transformed, and this by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2).

God renews and restores the whole man in sanctification, including the mind (cf. Rom. 12:2). The mind darkened by sin (Eph. 4:17–18) is made alive with Christ (Eph. 4:20–24).

The Spirit who searches the depths of God, and who sheds abroad the knowledge of God, gives us “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).

By the “unified saving action and presence of Word and Spirit, reason’s vocation is retrieved from the ruins: its sterile attempt at self-destruction is set aside; its dynamism is annexed to God’s self-manifesting presence; it regains its function in the ordered friendship between God and human creatures.” (Webster, “Biblical Reasoning,” 742–43)

Within the context of this “ordered friendship between God and human creatures,” reason plays what is first and foremost a receptive role. Reason is not the fountain of saving wisdom.

As Benedict Pictet states: “reason cannot and ought not to bring forth any mysteries, as it were, out of its own storehouse; for this is the prerogative of scripture only.” Instead, reason is an organ for receiving saving wisdom.

Reason, regenerated and renewed, understands “the things freely given us by God” (1 Cor. 2:12). However, in this receptive activity, reason is not wholly passive.

God’s word “evokes the works of reason”: “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Tim. 2:7). God’s living Word animates and answers the humble, suppliant work of reason.

Because God’s word unfolds itself in writing, one of the principal ways in which renewed reason fulfills its calling is through reading.”

–Scott R. Swain, Trinity, Revelation, and Reading: A Theological Introduction to the Bible and Its Interpretation (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2011), 96–98.

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“With Your Word You pierced my heart” by Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-430)

“With Your Word You pierced my heart, and I loved You.”

–Augustine of Hippo, Confessions trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 183. (10.6.8)

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“I’d turned into a boy again” by C.S. Lewis

“They went to the rocks and sat down looking out across the bay while the sky got paler and paler and the stars disappeared except for one very bright one low down and near the horizon.

“I won’t tell you how I became a—a dragon till I can tell the others and get it all over,” said Eustace. “By the way, I didn’t even know it was a dragon till I heard you all using the word when I turned up here the other morning. I want to tell you how I stopped being one.”

“Fire ahead,” said Edmund.

“Well, last night I was more miserable than ever. And that beastly arm-ring was hurting like anything—”

“Is that all right now?”

Eustace laughed—a different laugh from any Edmund had heard him give before—and slipped the bracelet easily off his arm.

“There it is,” he said, “and anyone who likes can have it as far as I’m concerned. Well, as I say, I was lying awake and wondering what on earth would become of me. And then—but, mind you, it may have been all a dream. I don’t know.”

“Go on,” said Edmund, with considerable patience.

“Well, anyway, I looked up and saw the very last thing I expected: a huge lion coming slowly toward me. And one queer thing was that there was no moon last night, but there was moonlight where the lion was. So it came nearer and nearer. I was terribly afraid of it. You may think that, being a dragon, I could have knocked any lion out easily enough. But it wasn’t that kind of fear. I wasn’t afraid of it eating me, I was just afraid of it—if you can understand. Well, it came close up to me and looked straight into my eyes. And I shut my eyes tight. But that wasn’t any good because it told me to follow it.”

“You mean it spoke?”

“I don’t know. Now that you mention it, I don’t think it did. But it told me all the same. And I knew I’d have to do what it told me, so I got up and followed it. And it led me a long way into the mountains. And there was always this moonlight over and round the lion wherever we went. So at last we came to the top of a mountain I’d never seen before and on the top of this mountain there was a garden—trees and fruit and everything. In the middle of it there was a well.

“I knew it was a well because you could see the water bubbling up from the bottom of it: but it was a lot bigger than most wells—like a very big, round bath with marble steps going down into it. The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe, it would ease the pain in my leg. But the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don’t know if he said any words out loud or not.

“I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.

“But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.

“Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.

“Then the lion said—but I don’t know if it spoke—‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know—if you’ve ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” said Edmund.

“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off—just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt—and there it was, lying on the grass, only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me—I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on—and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. You’d think me simply phony if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they’ve no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian’s, but I was so glad to see them.

“After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me—”

“Dressed you? With his paws?”

“Well, I don’t exactly remember that bit. But he did somehow or other, in new clothes—the same I’ve got on now, as a matter of fact. And then suddenly I was back here. Which is what makes me think it must have been a dream.”

“No. It wasn’t a dream,” said Edmund.

“Why not?”

“Well, there are the clothes, for one thing. And you have been—well, undragoned, for another.”

“What do you think it was, then?” asked Eustace.

“I think you’ve seen Aslan,” said Edmund.

“Aslan!” said Eustace. “I’ve heard that name mentioned several times since we joined the Dawn Treader. And I felt—I don’t know what—I hated it. But I was hating everything then. And by the way, I’d like to apologize. I’m afraid I’ve been pretty beastly.”

“That’s all right,” said Edmund. “Between ourselves, you haven’t been as bad as I was on my first trip to Narnia. You were only an ass, but I was a traitor.”

“Well, don’t tell me about it, then,” said Eustace. “But who is Aslan? Do you know him?”

“Well—he knows me,” said Edmund. “He is the great Lion, the son of the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea, who saved me and saved Narnia. We’ve all seen him. Lucy sees him most often. And it may be Aslan’s country we are sailing to.”

–C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: The Chronicles of Narnia (New York: Harper, 1952), 473-475.

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“None but He who spoke all nature into existence can triumph over the opposition of the heart” by Lemuel Haynes

Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. I would consider the agent, or who it is that effects this great work.

If we consider the state that mankind are by nature, as has been described above, we need not stand long to know who to attribute this work to. It is a work too great to attribute to men or angels to accomplish.

None but He who, by one word’s speaking, spoke all nature into existence, can triumph over the opposition of the heart. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, who is represented in Scripture as emanating from the Father and the Son, yet co-equal with them both.

It is God alone that slays the native enmity of the heart– that takes away those evil dispositions that govern man– takes away the heart of stone and gives a soft heart– and makes him that was a hater of God, an enemy to God, to become friendly to His divine character.

This was not wrought by any efficiency of man, or by any external motives, or by any light let into the understanding, but of God. Hence we read that those that receive Christ are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:13).

And that is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8). Also it is God which worketh in us (Phil. 2:13).”

–Lemuel Haynes, “A Sermon on John 3:3,” in Black Preacher to White America: The Collected Writings of Lemuel Haynes, 1774-1833, Ed. Richard Newman (Brooklyn, NY: Carlson Publishing, 1990), 34.

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“Seeing is a gift” by John Piper

“No one decides to see glory. And no one merely decides to experience the Christian Scriptures as the all-compelling, all-satisfying truth of one’s life.

In the end, seeing is a gift. And so the free embrace of God’s word is a gift.

God’s Spirit opens the eyes of our heart, and what was once boring, or absurd, or foolish, or mythical is now self-evidently real.

You can pray and ask God for that miracle. I ask daily for fresh eyes for His glory.”

–John Piper, A Peculiar Glory (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 283.

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“A truly illuminated man” by John Newton

“A man, truly illuminated, will no more despise others, than Bartimeus, after his own eyes were opened, would take a stick, and beat every blind man he met.”

–John Newton, The Works of John Newton, Volume 1 (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 105. As quoted in Tony Reinke, Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015), 16.

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“The plants of grace shall ever live” by Archibald Alexander

“The implantation of spiritual life in a soul which is dead in sin, is an event the consequences of which will never end.

When you plant an acorn, and it grows, you do not expect to see the maturity, much less the end of the majestic oak, which will expand its boughs and strike deeply into the earth its roots. The fierce blasts of centuries of winters may beat upon it and agitate it—but it resists them all.

Yet finally this majestic oak, and all its towering branches, must fall. Trees die of old age, as well as men. But the plants of grace shall ever live. They shall flourish in everlasting verdure.

They will bear transplanting to another climate—to another world. They shall bloom and bear fruit in the paradise of God. At such an hour one is born in Zion unto God. Few know it. Few care for the event, or consider it of much importance.

But, reader, this feeble germ, this incipient bud, will go on to grow and flourish for infinitely more years than there are sands upon the seashore.

To drop the figure—this renewed soul will be seen and known among the saints in heaven, and assisting in the never-ceasing songs of those who surround the throne of God and the Lamb, millions of ages hereafter. Pure and holy shall it be—’without spot or wrinkle or any such thing’. (Eph 5:27)

Bright as an angel, and as free from moral taint— but still distinguished from those happy beings, to whom it is equal, by singing a song in which they can never join; in wearing robes made white in the blood of the Lamb; and claiming a nearer kindred to the Son of God than Gabriel himself.

Can that event be of small import, which lays a foundation for immortal bliss?—for eternal life?”

–Archibald Alexander, Thoughts on Religious Experience (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1844), 35-36.

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“Religious affections” by J.C. Ryle

“The second caution that we learn from the parable of the sower, is to beware of resting on mere temporary impressions when we have heard the word. Our Lord tells us that the hearts of some hearers are like rocky ground.

The seed of the word springs up immediately, as soon as they hear it, and bears a crop of joyful impressions, and pleasurable emotions. But these impressions, unhappily, are only on the surface. There is no deep and abiding work done in their souls.

And hence, so soon as the scorching heat of temptation or persecution begins to be felt, the little bit of religion which they seemed to have attained, withers and vanishes away.

Feelings, no doubt, fill a most important office in our personal Christianity. Without them there can be no saving religion. Hope, and joy, and peace, and confidence, and resignation, and love, and fear, are things which must be felt, if they really exist.

But it must never be forgotten that there are religious affections, which are spurious and false, and spring from nothing better than animal excitement. It is quite possible to feel great pleasure, or deep alarm, under the preaching of the Gospel, and yet to be utterly destitute of the grace of God.

The tears of some hearers of sermons, and the extravagant delight of others, are no certain marks of conversion. We may be warm admirers of favorite preachers, and yet remain nothing better than stony-ground hearers.

Nothing should content us but a deep, humbling, self-mortifying work of the Holy Ghost, and a heart-union with Christ.”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (vol. 1; New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1879), 1: 251–252.

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