Let There Be Light: How Charles Spurgeon Preached Regeneration (Thomas Nettles)
In the new issue of Credo Magazine, “Born Again: The Sovereignty of God in the Miracle of Regeneration,” Thomas Nettles has contributed an article called, “Let There Be Light: How Charles Spurgeon Preached Regeneration.”
Thomas Nettles is Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Among his many books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, which he co-authored with L. Russ Bush; James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman; and most recently Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
Here is the introduction to Nettles’ article:
As a preacher of the gospel, Charles H. Spurgeon not only knew of his personal dependence on the work of the Spirit for the success of his preaching, he felt it right to explain to his hearers how and why both they and he were so dependent.
Preach in Biblical Proportions
Spurgeon gave special attention to achieving truthful integration of biblical doctrine in his preaching ministry. He believed this was a special stewardship for the preacher. “One point of difficulty, “ Spurgeon advised, “will be to preach the whole truth in fair proportion, never exaggerating one doctrine, never enforcing one point, at the expense of another, never keeping back any part, nor yet allowing it undue prominence.” Relating the work of Christ for us, and outside of us, to the operations of the Spirit within us calls for such fair proportion. “Justification by faith is a matter about which there must be no obscurity, much less equivocation; and at the same time we must distinctly and determinately insist upon it that regeneration is necessary to every soul that shall enter heaven,” for Christ himself has made it essential. Spurgeon feared that “Some zealous brethren have preached the doctrine of justification by faith not only so boldly and so plainly, but also so baldly and so out of all connection with other truth, that they have led men into presumptuous confidences, and have appeared to lend their countenance to a species of Antinomianism.” A dead, inoperative faith should be dreaded and special attention must be given to avoiding it. To proclaim, “Believe,” with no attention to the nature of faith, to stress salvation as deliverance without showing that it means “deliverance from the power as well as from the guilt of sin,” may satisfy the fervent revivalist as a proper thing for his task, but those that reap the result of such teaching see as much hurt as good in the outcome.
Spurgeon saw an equal danger in the other extreme. To emphasize the necessity of the new creature is clearly biblical. Some, however, focus so ardently and exclusively on this truth and its fruits that they make short work of the “glad tidings that whosoever believeth on Christ Jesus hath everlasting life.” The effect often is so “exacting as to the marks and signs of a true born child of God, that they greatly discourage sincere seekers, and fall into a species of legality.” Both legalism and antinomian fideism must be avoided. The sinner, deeply aware of his damnable failings, must never receive the impression that he is to look within for the ground of his acceptance before God. We must not allow a contorted emphasis on the glory of the Spirit’s internal work to hold in legal bondage many who should presently enjoy peace and the liberty of the children of God.
The third chapter of John gives the perfectly proportioned treatment in the connection of these doctrines. Both the necessity and secret sovereignty of the Spirit and the powers of simple faith in Christ have clear emphasis. In calling the attention of his congregation to this chapter, Spurgeon showed its repeated insistence upon a man’s being born of God, and at the same time ascribes wondrous efficacy to faith. Faith, in fact, is the index of our being born again. It overcomes the world, possesses the inward witness, and brings eternal life. In the passage, so Spurgeon preached, Jesus could not “heap honour enough upon believing, while at the same time he insists upon the grave importance of the inward experience connected with the new birth.” As a discreet Pastor-Theologian, Spurgeon insisted, “I earnestly long that these two doctrines may be well balanced in your souls.”
Read the rest of this article today:
Born Again: God’s Sovereign Grace in the Miracle of Regeneration
While doctrines such as election, justification, and sanctification typically receive all of the attention in theological conversations, the doctrine of regeneration is often forgotten. Yet, it is this doctrine that undergirds the entire order of salvation. It is the initiatory change in regeneration that results in everything else, from faith and repentance to justification, sanctification, and perseverance. All of these other doctrines owe their existence to that first moment when God breaths new spiritual life into the sinner’s dead corpse.
Regeneration, or the new birth, was certainly important to Jesus. In John 3 Jesus tells Nicodemus that unless he is born again he cannot enter the kingdom of God! Jesus goes on to highlight the sovereignty of the Spirit in the new birth as well, comparing him to the wind which blows wherever it pleases. This reminds us that since Jesus’ interaction with Nicodemus there has been a long history of debate over exactly what it means to be “born again,” a debate that has preoccupied the best theological minds, including Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, the Synod of Dort, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, and many, many others. The key questions in this controversial matter are these: Does God work alone (monergism) to create new spiritual life in depraved sinners, or does God and man cooperate with one another (synergism), man having the final say in whether God’s grace will be accepted or rejected? Also, does regeneration precede and cause conversion (faith and repentance), or is the Spirit’s supernatural work in regeneration conditioned upon man’s will to believe? We believe Scripture overwhelmingly supports the former. Anything else would compromise the sovereignty of God and rob him of his glory in salvation.
Join us in this issue as we explore the doctrine of regeneration, a doctrine so important that Jesus himself felt it was the first thing he needed to address on that dark night when Nicodemus approached him with the most piercing of spiritual questions.
Contributors include Matthew Barrett, Thomas Nettles, Jonathan Leeman, Douglas Sweeney, Leonardo De Chirico, Andy Naselli, and Tom Ascol.
Matthew Barrett, Executive Editor