zaterdag 30 augustus 2014

The Divine Initiative in Applying Grace 2 (end)

The content of regeneration
The Reformation was in the first place a rediscovery of the biblical gospel of free grace. For the Reformers the Scriptures were their final authority. Having said the Reformation can also be seen as an Augustinian revival. In Augustine the Reformers found a faithful guide with regard to the sovereign working of the Holy Spirit in renewing man.
By nature man is unable and unwilling to serve the living God with his whole heart. In regeneration men inward being is completely renewed by the Holy Spirit. Among the Reformed confessional standard the Canons of Dort speak not only explicitly but also quite extensive on the manner of regeneration.
The third and fourth canon deal with the total depravity of man and the irresistible work of the Holy Spirit. They make clear that the fact the Holy Spirits works irresistibly does not mean that mean is renewed against his will. Just the reverse is the case in regeneration man is made able and willing to flee to Christ and to glorify and honour God.
His mind is enlightened so that he heartily approves with the way of salvation revealed in the gospel. He desires are cleansed so that God as revealed in Christ becomes his chief joy and desire. His will that was first rebellious is made new. By the working of the Holy Spirit man is transformed. He does not serve the Lord against his will, but with his whole heart. Regeneration is the same thing as effectual calling.
By nature man can at best serve the Lord outwardly just as the rich young ruler and as the apostle Paul before his conversion. The maximum natural man can achieve that he is blameless with regard of the righteousness that is in the law, whereby the law is only taken in its outward sense. The Lord commands us not just to serve him outwardly but with all whole heart. Children can obey commands of their parents just because they love them but for the commands themselves. For example they go to a shop in obedience to a command of their parents although they preferred other activities.
When we are made new by the Holy Spirit in regeneration we not only begin to love God but also his commandments. The image of God is restored in us. We began to desire what God desires and to hate what God hates. William Cowper aptly stated the reality in a hymn from which I quote three stanzas:
How long beneath the law I lay,
In bondage and distress!
I toiled the precept to obey,
But toiled without success.
Then to abstain from outward sin
Was more than I could do;
Now, if I feel its power within,
I feel I hate it too.
Then, all my servile works were done
A righteousness to raise;
Now, freely chosen in the Son,
I freely choose his ways.

The total transformation brought about by regeneration
In regeneration the outward call of the gospel that reaches our ears transforms our heart by the inward working of the Holy Spirit. The fathers of Dort described this change in the following words. ‘It is evidently a supernatural work, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, astonishing, mysterious, and ineffable; not inferior in efficacy to creation or the resurrection from the dead, as the Scripture inspired by the Author of this work decla-res; so that all in whose heart God works in this marvellous manner are certainly, infallibly, and effectually regenerated, and do actually believe. Whereupon the will thus renewed is not only actuated and influenced by God, but in consequence of this influence becomes itself active. Wherefore also man himself is rightly said to believe and repent by virtue of that grace received.’
Being effectually called we hear the voice of the good Shepard with joy and gladness. We begin to know his voice as the voice of our Master. We listen again how the fathers of Dordt made clear how we can know that we are regenerated by the powerful operation of Holy Spirit. They testified: ‘The manner of this opera-tion cannot be fully comprehended by believers in this life. Nevertheless, they are satisfied to know and experience that by this grace of God they are enabled to believe with the heart and to love their Saviour.’
By nature man willingly serves the sinful desires of the flesh. His will is directed to sin. In regeneration the will that was bound is made free. Man, who first willingly lived a life of sin, begins to live for God. The opening of the ten commandments ‘I am the Lord thy God which have brought thee out of Egypt, out of the land of bondage’ is very significant in this respect.
A Christian is translated from the power of sin and darkness into the realm of light and grace. Therefore God’s commandments are longer grievous for him. A Christian is made free to serve to Lord. Serving the living Lord by faith in Jesus Christ is real freedom.
The desires of a Christian are essentially different form the desires of a natural man. Our hearts are set on Christ and on the things of above. Things we once hated, we begin to love and things we once loved, we begin to hate and despise. At the same time we must say that the putting off of the old man and the putting on of the new man begun in regeneration is a lifelong struggle. Until our death we have a sinful nature. We never can serve the Lord is this life as we really desire to do.
A Christian is not longer what he once was, but he is at the same time not yet what he once will become. A Christian has a delight in the law of God, because the Holy Spirit dwells in him. For that reason he abhors himself because of the remainders of indwelling sin. In the power of the Holy Spirit we learn to fight against our sinful nature and the desires of our sinful flesh. That is the reason that a Christian longs to be with Christ and expects the second coming of his Lord. William Cowper testified:
But when this lisping, stammering tongue
Lies silent in the grave,
Then, in a nobler, sweeter song,
I’ll sing thy power to save.