Amongst the chaos of the Christmas season I managed to find some time to read three essays by one of my favourite Christian authors, J.C. Ryle. I love Ryle because he makes those spiritual giants, the Puritans, accessible. Writing when he did, in the 19th Century, he was strongly influenced by them. But writing as he did, in recognisable English, he makes them understandable!
The three essays that captured my attention were those on the subject of Regeneration. I guess I wanted to be reminded that missions, like our forthcoming ‘The God Confusion’ are worth the hard work. I wanted to know that the end result for which we’re hoping is worth all these sleepless nights, meetings, admin, early morning prep and last minute praying!
It was time well spent. Here are four of the essential things that I learnt about regeneration
1. the necessity of regeneration is our human depravity
The Bible’s teaching is unequivocal. We are depraved. Not one ounce of our being is unaffected by our sinful inclinations. In fact, we’re so pervasively depraved that regeneration depends entirely on God’s intervention. We simply cannot bring new spiritual life to ourselves. Ryle explains why this new birth is absolutely necessary in these words, ‘it is because of our sinful hearts, our inbred corruption; we are born from the very first with a disposition towards that which is bad; we have no natural readiness to serve God – it is all against the grain; we have no natural insight into the excellence of Christ’s spiritual kingdom, no natural love towards His holy laws or desire to obey them, no natural fitness for heaven; an unrenewed man would be miserable in the company of Jesus and the saints’. Unregenerate man cannot save himself.
2. the nature of regeneration is radical change
Regeneration or being ‘born again’, as Jesus described it, is essentially an instantaneous, supernatural implanting of new spiritual life that radically changes the whole person. Ryle says this change is, ‘a change so thorough, so searching, so radical, so complete, that he who has gone through it may be called born again, for he is to all intents and purposes a new man’. Regeneration isn’t turning over a new leaf; it’s receiving a new life.
3. the agent of regeneration is the Holy Spirit
We can no more bring this change upon ourselves as a dead man can resuscitate himself! We need God the Holy Spirit to be at work wielding the sword of His word to pierce our unbelief and kill it. As Ryle puts it, ‘the Spirit alone can make the seed that we scatter bear fruit: the Spirit alone can lay the first foundation of that holy kingdom we want to see established in your hearts’. And so we need to pray and ‘preach’.
4. the result of regeneration is new life
If we’re Christian we know what it is to be regenerate. But we may have forgotten. Perhaps Ryle will remind us, ‘to be born again is as it were to enter upon a new existence, to have a new mind and a new heart, new views, new principles, new tastes, new affections, new likings and new dislikings, new fears, new joys, new sorrows, new love to things once hated, new hatred to things once loved, new thoughts of God and ourselves and the world and the life to come and the means whereby that is attained’.
Regeneration is a truly wonderful thing, isn’t it? On balance I think ‘The God Confusion’, God willing, will be worth the effort!