How John Witherspoon Relates to
Heresy of Decisional Regeneration
Following the introduction is the complete text of Witherspoon's Practical Treatise On Regeneration
If you want to go directly to the Treatise, scroll down the 'THE TREATISE".
Witherspoon taught William Graham (1746-1799), and Graham taught Archibald Alexander (1772-1851) Scottish common Sense Realism, and Alexander taught George Washington Gale (1789-1861), and George Washington Gale taught Charles Finney (1792-1875) to prepare him for the ministry. Finney rejected the idea that regeneration was not immediately discernable and questioned the lack of supernatural activity (apart from the energizing of Scripture) of the Holy Spirit inherent in Scottish Common Sense Realism. This rejection caused him to form his own theology more in line with that of Samuel Hopkins that stressed the immediate experience of regeneration. Unfortunately, almost all moden Calvinists do not know that Finney based his expectation on immediate experience of regeneration on a predeterminist premise with consecutional saving faith.
Witherspoon’s Practical Treatise On Regeneration, published in Scotland in1764 before he came to America, is typical Scottish Common Sense Realism. 150 years later, Billy Sunday will proclaim everyone a “convert” because of their “faith” in coming forward in an altar call. If you take the time to read this, you will understand the how and why decisional regeneration was the inevitable evolutionary result of Scottish Common Sense Realism.
The intent of Witherspoon was noble and good. William Graham thought regeneration was merely a psychological process helped along by “truth impressions”. He thought all the problems with “religious affections” would be eliminated if ministers disregarded any so-called evidence of regeneration except the moral persuasion of the rational mind by facts about God and His covenant. He truly believed that psychology, hopefully in his lifetime, would unlock the mysteries of regeneration and provide, like the small pox vaccine, a rational way of curing a sinner of his lost condition.
Scottish Common Sense Realism salvation is similar to Eastern Orthodox salvation in two respects that common grace is seamless to saving grace and original sin does not prevent the sinner from moving toward God. In fact, Witherspoon thought saving grace was no different than common grace, so if common grace were the only consideration, you could say that Witherspoon was a hyper-Pelagian, or a consistent Pelagian, because like Pelagius, he saw common grace as influential before regeneration, but he goes further than Pelagius and says that regeneration is also the result of common grace. But in addition to Witherspoon acknowledging common grace at every step of salvation (yes, he uses that terminology), he does not say that God gives everyone grace to be saved, keeping him barely in the orthodox camp. Scottish Common Sense Realism salvation is not Pelegian or even semi-Pelagian. I would call it Reformed Psychology, because while other metaphysical theories have both pneumatology (study of spirits) and psychology (study of the human soul), Scottish Common Sense Realism deals only in Psychology.
Within orthodoxy, Reformed salvation theology has different ways of explaining how different types of grace relate to different types of faith, but before Scottish Common Sense Realism, it is was always in the context of the immediate activity of the Holy Spirit, which usually is expressed in God-Relational terms like “in Christ”, “in the Spirit”, etc.. But after the Enlightenment, these did not fit the new methodology of everything having to be empirically proved. “Christ in you” could no longer be seen as a mystery. Reformed metaphysics before the Enlightenment had varying degrees of two ingredients, pnuematology (study of spirits) and psychology (study of the human soul). Scottish Common Sense Realism eliminated the embarrassing pnuematology and dealt only with psychology, thus making it, what I call, Reformed Psychology.
In the reformation, Protestant theology had moved the emphasis of saving faith away from mysterious trusting the Person of Christ to empirical trusting facts about God and His covenant. While this was a necessary polemic weapon to elevate empirical Scripture above mysterious church tradition and “divine rights”, it started Reformed theology down the rational road. Within 250 years, Scottish Common Sense Realists would formulate the “truth impression” theory, a psuedo-scientific theory that made saving faith a “tipping point” when the changeable rational mind accepted enough facts about God and His covenant to serve Him over self. Gone was the Biblical emphasis of ”saving faith” being a product of the regenerate heart that only God could supernaturally change.
Confusing form and substance has been the cause of heresies throughout Christian history. Water baptism being confused with regeneration is the most familiar heresy that required the introduction of “saving faith” as the caveat. Up until the nineteenth century, candidates were asked for evidence of regeneration. Augustine called a sacrament, “an outward sign of an inward grace”. Today, most evangelical ministers ask baptism candidates, “do you believe in Jesus Christ as your savior?”. Reformed theology started us down this rational road when it made “saving faith” the new emphasis, confusing the form (trusting in facts about God and His Covenant) with the substance (trusting in the Person of God), confusing common faith with relationship with God. The new sacrament is actually more dangerous than an incorrect view of circumcision or water baptism. “Saving faith” is faith that you have faith in the truth of Scripture.
At least with circumcision we have the qualifier of saving faith: “Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith” (Romans 3:30). How many people see saving faith as having a qualifier? “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Most evangelicals today believe “For by faith you are saved through grace; and that of yourselves: it is the gift of God: by your decision, lest any man complain”. Today, most evangelicals see saving faith as causing saving grace; a decision for Christ as causing regeneration, the ultimate confusion of form and function, the ultimate expression of Man-Mechanical faith and the elimination of God-Relational faith. Salvation is no longer mysterious, and man has made god in his own image.
The Sword and Trowel, October, 1887: “This is a very covert form of skepticism, which is more to be feared than all the other forms combined…what is the root of this kind of skepticism?… the desire to naturalize, as far as possible, everything in religion.”
Charles Spurgeon left his Baptist Association in the 1880’s because members would not agree to orthodox doctrinal standards. Unlike his counterparts, Spurgeon saw salvation as a supernatural change wrought by the immediate influence of the Holy Spirit. Spurgeon taught salvation as experiencing God, not merely being morally persuaded by the facts about God and His covenant. At his death in 1892, he had more in common with orthodox Arminian ministers than his liberal Calvinist brethren. Liberal Calvinism used predetermination as the excuse for abandoning supernatural regeneration and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. When Scottish Common Sense realism eliminated the distinction between common grace and saving grace, there was no need for the immediate activity and indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the embarrassing “religious affections”. Spurgeon was seen as an uneducated, purveyor of irrational superstition by his liberal contemporaries who thought the only way for Christianity to survive was to bend with the new ideas of science and psychology being the explanation for why man was a sinner an how to stop sinning.
Throughout Christian history, theologians formulated metaphysical theories of how the free will of man and the sovereignty of God could be true at the same time. These theories, because they were based on the Bible, always involved pnuematology (the study of spirits) and psychology (the study of souls). Metaphysical theories, if they are based on the Bible, must rest on these two Persons, the Spirit of God and the soul of man. Up until the Enlightenment, metaphysical theories had the a priori basis of the Holy Spirit acting immediately on and in the natural soul. The reason is obvious…the Bible says so. The best example is the 25 metaphysical statements of “The Metaphysical Chapter”, Romans 8. Romans 8:1-16 contains 12 soul statements in black and 13 spirit statements in red.
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, (1) but after the Spirit (1).
2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free (2) from the law of sin and death (2).
3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh (3), God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:
4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit (3).
5 For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh (4); but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit (4).
6 For to be carnally minded is death (5); but to be spiritually minded is life and peace (5).
7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God (6): for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
8 So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God (7).
9 But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you (6). Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his (8).
10 And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; (9) but the Spirit is life because of righteousness (7).
11 But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you (8), he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you (9).
12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh (10).
13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: (11) but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. (10)
14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. (11)
15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; (12) but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. (12)
16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: (13)
After the Enlightenment, Protestants especially became afraid that the supernatural explanations in the Bible were merely ancient man’s way of explaining the unknown. The Presbyterian Church of Scotland, being a State church and not a seceded group like the Pilgrims and Puritans, or a noncomformist group like the Baptists, had more reason to jettison supernatural explanations than most denominations. Another aspect of the Church of Scotland was the sacramental view of infant baptism (although the pilgrims and puritans had this also). Charles Spurgeon referred to this unique combination of factors when explaining the Down-Grade:
The principle cause of the quicker descent on the down grade among the Presbyterians than among other Nonconformists, may be traced, not so much to their scholarly ministry, nor altogether their renunciation of Puritan habits, but to their rule of admitting to the privileges of Church membership. Of course their children received the rite of baptism, according to their views of baptism, in infancy. They were thereby received – so the ministers taught, and so the people believed – into covenant with God, and had a right to the Lord’s table, without any other qualification than a moral life. Many such children grew up unregenerate, and strangers to the work of renewing grace; yet they claimed to be Christians, and to be admitted to all the privileges of the church, and their claim was not disavowed… To such the earnest appeals of faithful ministers of Christ would be irksome and unpalatable. The broader road and easier way of the “men of reason and culture,” which admitted of laxity of discipline and pliancy of sentiments and habits, was far more agreeable to their tastes and ideas, while the homage paid to reason and understanding, at the expense of revelation, gratified their pride and left them free to walk after their own hearts in things pertaining to religion.
Before the Enlightenment, metaphysical theories dealt with the Biblical antimony of man’s free will and God’s sovereignty with a holistic marriage of pneumatology, the science of spirits and psychology, the science of the rational soul. But the Enlightenment challenged the premise that God deals immediately with man, so “saving faith” increasingly was seen from a rational view of man understanding facts about God and His covenant with de facto regeneration, as apposed to “saving faith” as spiritual fruit of relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ by the indwelling Holy Spirit after supernatural regeneration. John Locke wrote that “bare faith” in Jesus as the Christ was all that God required to grant salvation (whether Locke was a Calvinist, so salvation came before “bare faith”, or an Arminian so “bare faith” came with salvation is irrelevant to this discussion).
Metaphysical speculations after Locke increasingly dealt just with psychology.
Scottish Common Sense Realism jettisoned the spiritual half of metaphysics and explained the activities of the soul as moral persuasion by accumulation of facts about God and His covenant.
Orthodox salvation is based on a natural problem with a supernatural solution. The natural problem is people naturally think and feel and act like selfish animals, which God calls sin. The Bible says people think and feel and act according to their sin nature because it is natural for them to do so. This sin nature is called the “old man” in the Bible. The Bible describes the “Old Man” as a carnal or fleshly “nature”. “Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others” (Ephesians 2:3). This “nature” is a “kind”, or group of living things that think, feel and act in certain ways. The same word is used in two variations in James 3:7, “or every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind”. Just as a cat can not become a dog even if it were raised with dogs and was always treated like a dog, so an “old man” can not become a “new man”, even if it were raised with “new men” and was always treated like a “new man”.
The Bible calls the “old man” a “carnal nature”. The word “carnal” means “flesh” as in the carcass of an animal that has been stripped of fur. It is the instinctive, selfish, animal man. “I am carnal, sold under sin” (Romans 7:14), “the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7), “For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? (1 Corinthians 3:3). “Abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:10. Even though the “old man” thinks and feels and acts a certain way, the “old man” in NOT merely a state of mind. A cat thinks and feels and acts like a cat because it has a cat nature. A cat is not a cat just because it thinks it is a cat. Just as a cat nature is more than thinking cat thoughts, so the “old man” nature is more than thinking “old man” thoughts.
Witherspoon thought man was different than cats. He agreed with John Locke, that man can become whatever is in his mind. This would be like a cat becoming a dog by thinking like a dog. But the Bible does not support that idea. The Bible says that only God can create a “new man”. “When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?
But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:25-26). “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8).
The Greek word for “created” is “ktizo”. See how the word is used without qualifier or distinction for creation of the physical world and creation of the spiritual “new man”. There is never a hint that the spiritual is subservient to the physical, but rather that the seen is subservient to the unseen workings of God. “God, who created all things by Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 3:9). “Put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: (Colossians 1:16). “Put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: (Colossians 3:10).
BUT HOW DOES GOD CREATE A “NEW MAN”? Up until the Enlightenment, since the time of Pelegius, Christians agreed that God made the “new man” by supernatural means sometimes called “saving” or “special” grace. God gives common grace to all living things through natural, physical means, but saving or special grace is supernatural, given only to those God had ordained to salvation.
Common grace comes to all living things metaphysically, through natural, physical means. Metaphysical is the word theologian’s use for the common events of cause and effect of the natural world. All living things metaphysically benefit from common grace, for God “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). But saving or special grace is always by the immediate activity of the Holy Spirit, for “that which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6), and “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Pelagius and Augustine fought over whether of not man was able to come toward God without regeneration. Pelagius argued that if sinners were not able to come toward God without regeneration, then God is responsible not only for sending helpless sinners to hell, but for their continued sinful state. This seemed to Pelagius a blot on the character of God, so he argued that every man has the ability to come to God without regeneration. Augustine argued that sinners can not come toward God unless God regenerates.
Augustine said it is impossible for any one to occupy a position of absolute indifference to good and evil which Pelagius declared was the essence of freedom. Augustine argued that as an intelligent, active moral agent, man must possess a moral nature; that is, he must either be determined towards that which is good or towards that which is evil. He affirmed that man must have some moral bent or bias of his mind; that he must be either inclined towards God or away from him, and this metaphysical reality (regenerate or unregenerate nature) causes a dispensation that thinks, feels and acts in revealing ways. But Pelagius understood man as working in a different way with different operations than Augustine.
Pelagius believed two theories from Eastern Church theology: 1) that man is born with a rational spirit that is not inherently evil and a carnal nature which tempts the rational spirit to sin. Man’s rational spirit has the power to resist the carnal nature, and is morally guilty only when it sins by yielding to the carnal nature. 2) This a priori position gives unregenerate man the ability to move toward God before regeneration, as apposed to the Western Church view of the inability of man to move toward God without regeneration.
There were two schools of thought regarding the relationship of this supernatural grace in the Western church. The Augustinian school of thought goes all the way back to the debate between Pelegius and Augustine. The Augustinian school believes that God must regenerate in order for man to move toward God. The other school, now defined as Arminian, holds the view that regeneration is not necessary for man to move toward God because all men are given supernatural grace before regeneration that enables them to have what is called “instrumental” faith.
Please note the difference between the Arminian view and the Pelegian view. The Pelegian view is that man can move toward God without supernatural grace. The Arminian view is all men are given supernatural grace to move toward God. Calvinists identify the Arminian view of unregenerate man moving toward God with supernatural grace as “synergism”, because in order for God’s supernatural grace to have an effect, man must synergistically allow it. Calvinists see this position as an insult to the sovereignty of God, while Arminians believe it relieves God of responsibility not only for sending helpless sinners to hell, but for their continued sinful state.
Peleganism is not synergism. Pelegianism says man in his natural state, without special grace, can move toward God, but Synergism says man in his natural state, without special grace, can not move toward God. Synergism says all men are given special grace to move toward God, but only those God has predetermined (by foreknowledge) will take advantage of that supernatural grace and move toward God. Arminians believe in synergism, Calvinists believe in monergism, that is, that regeneration is necessary for man to move toward God. Those are the historic parameters of the debate in the Western Church over how and why people are saved and lost.
Up until the Enlightenment, both monergistic and synergistic theories acknowledged that the Holy Spirit is the agent of salvation, and both distinguished between the nature of faiths before and after regeneration. The monergists saw all faith before regeneration as common faith. The Arminians saw faith before regeneration two ways. Those that would never be regenerated had only common faith. Those that would be regenerated had to allow special grace to have its way by means of “instrumental” faith. The reason Arminians make a big deal out of calling it “instrumental” faith instead of “saving” faith is “instrumental” means “no merit in itself” versus “saving” could mean “the thing that saves”. Arminians are sensitive to the claim that their theology denies that saving grace is unmerited and a gift that can not be purchased by faith. Orthodox Arminians know that saving faith is the result of unmerited grace. Please be aware that not all Arminians and Calvinists are orthodox. Charles Spurgeon had more in common with orthodox Arminian ministers than liberal Calvinist ministers.
Enter the Enlightenment. John Locke, in his attempt to stop religious persecution, said “saving faith” causes salvation, and “saving faith” is the belief in the facts about Christ being the Messiah. He laid a pernicious foundation in Western thought called the “blank slate” theory of psychology, that is, that the mind of man is a “blank slate” on which anything can be written, making man merely the sum total of electrical pulses in the brain received from experiences received from the five senses.
Witherspoon was a psychological metaphysician because he did not believe in the immediate activity of the Holy Spirit.
Witherspoon wrote: “I cannot help thinking, that for a sinner truly and sincerely to desire a change of nature, would be an evidence of a change begun.” That is not a synergistic statement, because synergism involves on “instrumental” faith, not common faith. Witherspoon’s statement can only be understood to mean that regeneration is a continuum of common faith. A Monergist sees a move toward God as the result of regeneration. A synergist sees a move toward God as a possible indication that God will regenerate. But Witherspoon sees a move toward God as “evidence of a change begun”. This makes Witherspoon a hyper-synergist, that is, a synergist that not only believes the initial move toward God God as “instrumental” faith, but faith of the same kind as the regenerate.
Witherspoon reminds me of what Pelagius did when examined for orthodoxy: “By the use of ambiguous phraseology, and by abstaining from giving any definition of what he really meant by "grace" and "free will," he easily convinced them that his views were quite in accordance with the doctrines of the Church.”
The first disagreements between Pelagius and Augustine was, is man able to move toward God without regeneration?
The second disagreement between Pelagius and Augustine was, does God ordain who will move toward God, or put another way, does everyone have the ability to be saved with common faith? This question is a shift of focus from the first question about the reason God regenerates to the way regeneration is made evident.
Question 1 relates to metaphysical reality: Does God regenerate when man has common faith?
Question 2 relates to immediate experience: Is common faith evidence that God regenerated?
The word regeneration is in the King James Version of the Bible just two times. The Greek word is “paliggenesia”, thought to come from the Greek word, “palin” which means, “new”, and the Greek word, “genesis”, which means “birth”, but it contains the idea of a “new man” or “new creation”. The word regeneration means “new man” or “new creation”C REGENERATION IS NOT RENEWAL. Anytime someone uses the term renewal as if it refers to regeneration, you can be sure they have abandoned the pre-Enlightenment view of regeneration.
The Bible does, however, say once God has supernaturally created a “new man”, the “old man” and “new man” compete for supremacy. God tells everyone in which He has created a “new man”, “put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him” (Colossians 3:9-10).
THIS IS THE SOURCE OF A GREAT DEAL OF CONFUSION. Enlightenment man equated the struggle after regeneration with the process of regeneration, which according to the Bible is not a process, but an instant supernatural act of God.
The Bible calls the “new man” a “divine nature”. “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:3-4).
When God has created a new nature, God lives inside that person, “he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:17) and the indwelling Holy Spirit is immediately available at all times to help the person. “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Galatians 5:16-17).
Up until the European Enlightenment, Christians were content to take these ideas at face value. But after the Enlightenment, ministers who did not believe in supernatural regeneration and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit changed the emphasis of salvation from regeneration as a sovereign gift of God to salvation as an act of faith which indicates that God has regenerated. This paradigm shift appealed to worldly, faithless ministers because it removed two embarrassing aspects of Biblical Christianity. 1) Supernatural regeneration and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit was replaced with metaphysical workings in rational minds and 2) God sending helpless people to hell was replaced with people refusing to accept salvation. This paradigm shift could be described as a change from God-Relational faith to Man-Mechanical faith.
Witherspoon expressed the paradigm shift in the closing paragraph of this treatise: “If you perish, it is of yourselves”
There are many places in the Bible that taken in a mechanical way seem to imply that if man does A, then B is the result. This is contrary to the context of Bible faith which is ALWAYS A MATTER OF RELATIONSHIP WITH THE PERSON OF GOD.
after a new nature beacuse ir . The But the supernatural solution can be easily mistaken for a natural solution, which causes confusion. The supernatural solution is “by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Saving faith is a supernatural gift that looks like common faith. How can we tell the difference between common faith and saving faith? Common faith trusts in the way things work, which means it also trusts in the way God works, but it does not know God as a Person, so it can not trust God as a Person. Saving faith can only be trust in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. For this reason, we say saving faith is God-Relational faith, while common faith is Man-Mechanical faith. The best example of God-Relational faith is King David. The best example of Man-Mechanical faith is King Saul. King Saul had faith in the way things work, including the ways of God, but he did not have a relationship with God as a Person. His Man-Mechanical faith was condemned by the Priest Samuel as “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry” (1 Sam 15:23). King Saul, like all people who do not know God as a Person, find out the truth in the end. Man-Mechanical faith can never save a person from the wrath of God. When a person dies with Man-Mechanical faith, he will hear the Lord Jesus Christ provide testimony of the bad things he did because he did not have a relationship with Christ, after which Christ will say to the person with Man-Mechanical faith, “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:23).
When a person dies with God-Relational faith, he will hear the Lord Jesus Christ provide testimony of the good things he did because of his relationship with Christ, after which Christ will say to the person with God-Relational faith, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).
Charles Spurgeon described the struggle between the Old and New nature this way: ‘In every believer's heart there is a constant struggle between the old nature and the new. The old nature is very active, and loses no opportunity of plying all the weapons of its deadly armoury against newborn grace; while on the other hand, the new nature is ever on the watch to resist and destroy its enemy. Grace within us will employ prayer, and faith, and hope, and love, to cast out the evil; it takes unto it the "whole armour of God," and wrestles earnestly. These two opposing natures will never cease to struggle so long as we are in this world.”
Here is some of the “embarrassing” things Spurgeon taught:
“ In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in Him"-(Colossians 2:9). All the attributes of Christ, as God and man, are at our disposal. All the fulness of the Godhead, whatever that marvellous term may comprehend, is ours to make us complete. He cannot endow us with the attributes of Deity; but He has done all that can be done, for He has made even His divine power and Godhead subservient to our salvation. His omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, immutability and infallibility, are all combined for our defence. Arise, believer, and behold the Lord Jesus yoking the whole of His divine Godhead to the chariot of salvation! How vast His grace, how firm His faithfulness, how unswerving His immutability, how infinite His power, how limitless His knowledge! All these are by the Lord Jesus made the pillars of the temple of salvation; and all, without diminution of their infinity, are covenanted to us as our perpetual inheritance. The fathomless love of the Saviour's heart is every drop of it ours; every sinew in the arm of might, every jewel in the crown of majesty, the immensity of divine knowledge, and the sternness of divine justice, all are ours, and shall be employed for us. The whole of Christ, in His adorable character as the Son of God, is by Himself made over to us most richly to enjoy. His wisdom is our direction, His knowledge our instruction, His power our protection, His justice our surety, His love our comfort, His mercy our solace, and His immutability our trust. He makes no reserve, but opens the recesses of the Mount of God and bids us dig in its mines for the hidden treasures. "All, all, all are yours," saith He, "be ye satisfied with favour and full of the goodness of the Lord." Oh! how sweet thus to behold Jesus, and to call upon Him with the certain confidence that in seeking the interposition of His love or power, we are but asking for that which He has already faithfully promised.
I hope you drank deeply at the Spurgeon oasis … you will not find Living Waters in the desert of Witherspoon’s Practical Treatise on Regeneration. When you feel faint, return to the Spurgeon oasis and drink deeply before returning to the desert of Scottish Common Sense Realism.
Here are 10 FALSE PREMISES of Witherspoon:
FALSE PREMISE 1: There is no difference between common and saving grace.
Witherspoon wrote: “There were … great debates whether special and common grace differ essentially in their nature, or if
they differ only in degree… I embrace the last of these opinions”.
FALSE PREMISE 2: There is no difference between common and saving faith.
Witherspoon wrote: “What is faith? Is it any more than receiving the record which God hath given of his Son, believing the testimony of the Amen, the true and faithful Witness?”
FALSE PREMISE 3: Regeneration is assured if you have common faith in the truth of Scripture.
Witherspoon wrote: “Is not your peace and reconciliation with God, and the sanctification of your natures, expressly provided for … either that you do not give credit to the promise he hath made, or that you are not willing that he should do it for you”.
FALSE PREMISE 4: Anyone who believes the gospel with common faith is said to be regenerate.
Witherspoon wrote: “through the glorious gospel the new nature is effectually produced, and cannot be produced in any other way”.
FALSE PREMISE 5: Having common faith in Scriptures (not the Person of God) is the only means of salvation (Man-Mechanical faith).
Witherspoon wrote: “I praise thee for this message of peace. I think I see, in some measure, its necessity, truth and beauty.
I see it, I trust to such a degree, that it is the sole foundation of my hope”.
FALSE PREMISE 6: Since there is no change of nature in regeneration, “true” or “sincere” repentance and faith are relative and subjective.
Witherspoon wrote: “an unregenerate person is said to have no true love to God or his neighbour only because it is not the most dominant love, and only the most dominant love will be accepted as true or sincere”.
FALSE PREMISE 7: Since “true” or “sincere” repentance and faith are relative and subjective, regeneration is also relative and subjective, not objective and absolute.
Witherspoon wrote: “every holy disposition must be examined, not by its absolute, but its comparative strength; and the true knowledge of our state arises from the conclusion and result of the whole”.
FALSE PREMISE 8: Regeneration is merely a gradual psychological process, not an immediate, supernatural change.
Witherspoon wrote: “I cannot help thinking, that for a sinner truly and sincerely to desire a change of nature, would be an evidence of a change begun.”
FALSE PREMISE 9: Regeneration is merely the moral persuasion of the rational mind.
The psychological chimera of Scottish Common Sense Realism was a “truth impression” would change a sinner into a saint without the need of supernatural regeneration and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Witherspoon wrote: “A just view of the glory of God, and the obligation upon every rational creature to love and imitate him, would effectually cure them of all self-righteousness and self-dependence.”
FALSE PREMISE 10: The nature of fallen man is merely polluted, so does not have to be supernaturally replaced.
Witherspoon wrote: “No nature (is) so polluted; but infinite power is sufficient to renew it."
Unlike the American versions of New Light Calvinism that came from Jonathan Edwards’ theology, Scottish Common Sense Realism placed salvation wholly in the rational processes of man. According to Witherspoon, saving faith is a metabolic function of the mind in no way different from common faith. In the same way a child learns to trust his parents through experience, so he thought saving faith consists merely of the natural process of trusting ideas about Christ for salvation.
In order to retain the orthodox label, Scottish Common Sense Realism had the pseudo-scientific theory that God MUST energize scripture to the mind with immutable “truth impressions”. This would become the rational basis for the BIST system that would slowly replace the BEST system after the Civil War.
Scottish Common Sense Realism determines whether or not someone is regenerated by his rational preferences instead of his religious affections. Religious affections were considered by American New Light Calvinists to be possible evidence of regeneration having changed the character, but Witherspoon put religious affections in the “animal motives” category. This put more weight on voluntary decisions than involuntary emotions as possible evidence of regeneration.
This would fundamentally change the significance and meaning of the “decision for Christ” from a possible change of heart to be examined in the Inquiry Room for Biblical Evidence of Salvation (BEST) to the “decision for Christ” being a possible change of mind to be examined in the inquiry room with a Belief In Scripture Test (BIST). If the seeker had a “truth impression”, this was considered possible “saving faith”. This was not far from today’s understanding of the significance and meaning of the decision for Christ, which treats regeneration as the de facto result of faith in scripture.
Throughout this printing of Withespoon’s Treatise, I have capitalized and made bold the word MUST wherever Witherspoon insists on a characteristic being necessary to regenerate man. According to Witherspoon’s theory, regeneration consists of these MUSTS. In the same way the Jew thought he was a child of Abraham because of his circumcision and some Christians think they are regenerate because of their water baptism, Witherspoon thinks certain psychological characteristics are not only possible evidence of regeneration, but regeneration itself.
This is similar to the implicit faith of Catholics, whereby if a person does this and this and this action, he is assumed to be saved. Witherspoon’s implicit regeneration was if a person has this and this and this psychological characteristics, he is assumed to be regenerate. This was generically different from the evidences of regeneration of Hopkins and Bellamy. Hopkins and Bellamy saw regeneration as a change of nature and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that caused Godly characteristics. Witherspoon saw certain psychological characteristics as the sum total of regeneration. In other words, the psychological change was regeneration, and regeneration was the psychological change.
A typical example of a Witherspoon MUST is “In order to a saving change there MUST be a discovery of the real nature of the one only, the living and true God.” Witherspoon’s MUSTS are not the result of regeneration, but regeneration itself – a Man-mechanical salvation from a psychological point of view. An orthodox minister might say it from a God-relational point of view: ““Regeneration is a saving change in which God reveals Himself to the man.”
Another example: “In regeneration, therefore, the sinner MUST be restored to the image of God”. An orthodox minister might say it from a God-relational point of view: “In Regeneration, God restores the sinner to His image”.
Another example: “However concealed the inward principle may be, the practical effects MUST of necessity appear.” An orthodox minister might say it from a God-relational point of view: “However concealed the inward principle may be, there will be practical effects. But these practical effects are not to be confused with the inward principle, which only God can change.”
Another example: “(Regeneration’s) change MUST be entire and universal.” An orthodox minister might say it from a God-relational point of view: “When God regenerates, the change is entire and universal”.
Another example: “The favour of God MUST appear to the believer as absolutely necessary to his comfort”. An orthodox minister might say it from a God-relational point of view: “Because the believer knows God, the favour of God appears to the believer as necessary to his comfort”.
Another example: “Believers have peace from the challenges of an evil conscience through Christ as they have absolute assurance of being delivered from the power of sin… This MUST be the earnest desire of every convinced sinner”, and “this is inseparable from genuine convictions”. According to Witherspoon, regeneration happens when a sinner becomes a “convinced sinner”. ”. An orthodox minister would never equate mere conviction with saving faith, and certainly not de facto regeneration.
Let not modern Calvinists think Witherspoon’s man-mechanical salvation was his way of addressing the issue of the sovereignty of God versus man’s free will. On that issue, Witherspoon was almost identical to the American New Light Calvinist: “I make the short answer of the same apostle, "Nay, but O man! who art thou that repliest against God?" This is but making or imagining an inconsistency between two things, both of which God hath clearly established, and inseparably joined in his word. These are, his (God’s) own power necessary to the change, and our duty, in the use of the means; or rather, our sin while continuing at enmity with him, and refusing his mercy”.
But Witherspoon was profoundly different from American New Light Calvinists because he did not believe the Holy Spirit affects sinners and saints immediately. This caused him to formulate psychological reasons for spirituality. He made ten fundamental mistakes: 1) He taught religious affections can not be seen as possible evidence of regeneration. 2)He taught the belief of scripture through a “truth impression” is a possible evidence of regeneration. 3) He taught there is no difference between common and saving grace. In other words, moral persuasion is the means of regeneration (with the orthodox sop of “energizing scripture to the mind”). 4) He taught that sincerity of being is defined by the most prominent tendency of the mind. In other words, a regenerate person is someone who serves God more than self and an unregenerate person is someone who serves self more than God. 5)
These differences made the evolution of decisional regeneration inevitable. Moral persuasion by Scripture truth became the means of regeneration, not God instantly changing the character and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The third mistake is “every holy disposition MUST be examined, not by its absolute, but its comparative strength; and the true knowledge of our state arises from the conclusion and result of the whole.
Witherspoon started American Christian theology down the path of subjective moralism. The Biblical view of man is either he is of God and is good or is of Satan and is evil. Since the garden of Eden, all men have been of Satan except those few that God saves. God saves man by changing his evil nature into a good nature. But Enlightenment man could not accept the idea of Original Sin or supernatural regeneration. Enlightenment man did not believe what Jesus said:
“Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things” (Matt 12:31-35).
Enlightenment man could not accept 1) That man is evil from birth. 2) That man can not change himself. 3) That man needs a new nature. 4) That man can only get a new nature supernaturally from God. 5) That salvation consists of knowing the Person of God and not just facts about God. 6) That the Holy Spirit affects man immediately, and not just through common grace. 7) That man does not define his state, but God. 8) That God is just according to His standard, and not man’s. 9) That God is sovereign according to His standard, and not man’s. 10) That God is omnipotent according to His standard, and not man’s. THAT IS HOW CHRIST COULD SAY THERE IS AN UNPARDONABLE SIN.
Witherspoon saw “sincerity” and “truth” and “character” as shades of gray on a subjective sliding scale, saying “an unregenerate person has no true love to God or his neighbour… only because no love but that which is supreme and prevalent is true, or will be accepted as sincere”. Translation: “an unregenerate person is said to have no true love to God or his neighbour only because it is not the most dominant love, and only the most dominant love will be accepted as true or sincere”.
This is subjective psychology, not the objective Biblical truth “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:5), “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature” (Galatians 6:15).
Just as uncircumcision was rectified by circumcision in the mind of the Jew, so unbelief was rectified with belief in the mind of Witherspoon. The Jew saw circumcision as obedience of God, while Witherspoon saw belief of ideas about Christ as faith in Christ. Both saw the heart as de facto saved, the Jew by supposed obedience of God and Witherspoon by supposed faith in Christ. But to paraphrase the apostle Paul, “For in Christ Jesus neither belief availeth anything, nor unbelief, but a new creature” (Galatians 6:15).
Witherspoon reduced the “new creature” to a subjective state of mind and the “Holy Spirit” to a metaphysical agent, not the Biblical indwelling Spirit of whom Paul said “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Romans 8:14). .
Here is witherspoon’s view of the evidence of regeneration as merely when the heart wants God’s interest more than the interests of self.
“I have explained at considerable length, and with all the care and accuracy in my power, the great and general evidences of regeneration, viz. the
superiority of the interest of God and the Redeemer in the heart, above the interest of inferior good.”
Witherspoon’s makes regeneration a subjective sliding scale on which rational man can determine his own unique version of “sincerity” and “truth” and “Character”. This is the opposite of “ye must be born again”, in which God changes the sinner into a saint.
Modern evangelicals have a hard time seeing decisional regeneration as a heresy because they have a Sophist view of man being the measure of all things. They see the supernatural workings of God as de facto, or nominal, a sop to orthodoxy, but without the Biblical necessity of immediate experience of the Holy Spirit. This is the evolutionary result of Scottish Common Sense realism introduced to New England by John Witherspoon.
Even among most Pentecostals, salvation is a de facto result of the “decision for Christ”, not an experience of the Holy Spirit. The rationale for the “decision for Christ” being evidence of salvation is the sincerity of the believer. But the sincerity of the believer is useless unless the believer is born again, unless you think a “believer” is merely someone that believes in scripture. Sincerity of the unregenerate is useless in determining the heart condition because the unregenerate are sincerely wrong. But Witherspoon presented sincerity as a subjective tipping point, not the objective state of being regenerate. Witherspoon did not understand sincerity to be fidelity between the hidden and exposed self, something possible only in the regenerate. He understood sincerity as being when the unregenerate reaches the tipping point of serving God over self. This would show up in Charles Finney’s idea of salvation being when the sinner changes direction from self to God. Finney was taught Witherspoon’s theories by George Washington Gale for two years.
But Finney rebelled against Witherspoon’s low expectations of immediate change in regeneration, and rebelled against Witherspoon’s belief that regeneration was merely a subjective “tipping point” when the unregenerate started to serve God over self, thus being considered regenerate. Finney had no problem with the Biblical truth that the Holy Spirit affected sinners and saints immediately, not just metaphysically. The so-called orthodoxy of Princeton Theological Seminary was much further from Biblical truth than Charles Finney. Finney merely made Witherspoon’s tipping point more logical from man’s perspective, but retained the Biblical truth that regeneration was of, by, and through the immediate activity of the Holy Spirit.
Surely believing in scripture is not the same thing as believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, but modern evangelicals can not see the distinction. This is the evolutionary result of Scottish Common Sense Realism. Modern evangelicals talk about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but decisional regeneration is based on a decision to believe scripture, not an experience of the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Belief as a God-relational experience of the Lord Jesus Christ is orthodox salvation.
Belief as a Man-mechanical acceptance of scripture truth is not orthodox salvation.
Belief as Man-mechanical acceptance of scripture truth is what the puritans called “duty faith”. It’s a good thing. Everyone should do it. But it’s not salvation. Scottish Common Sense Realism provided a rational bridge between duty faith and saving faith by saying that saving faith was merely a “truth impression” on the mind energized by the Holy Spirit.
Most Calvinists blame Charles Finney for this idea. While it is true Finney was trained for two years in Scottish Common Sense Realism, he never accepted the idea that saving faith is merely a “truth impression” energized by the Holy Spirit. In fact, when graduates of Princeton Theological Seminary were using the BIST system in the inquiry room, Finney continued to use the BEST system till the day he died.
This document will provide the theological reason for how American New Light Calvinist salvation evolved from a God-Relational experience to a Man-Mechanical choice; from the black and white natures of sinner and saint to the infinite grays of blank slate psychology; from immediately loving God with new affections to loving God slightly more than loving self, from a change of nature that was definite, complete and identifiable to the moral persuasion of scriptural truth; from spontaneous religious affections as the best evidence of regeneration to a rational belief of the truths of scripture as the best evidence of saving faith with de facto regeneration.
For those interested in how American evangelical salvation evolved from a supernatural change of nature to a decision of the will, this treatise will supply the answer. When Witherspoon brought the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment to the College of New Jersey in 17XX, he changed the direction of the only New Light Calvinist college in America from the “religious affections” theology of Jonathan Edwards to the rational decision psychology of Scottish Common Sense Realism.
After the First Great Awakening, Harvard was deist and Yale was anti-revival. When David Brainerd was kicked out of Yale for making revivalist comments, it inspired New Light ministers to finally replace the Log College that had been forced to close by the Old Lights in 1745 (the Old Lights did not honor Log Cabin diplomas). It is unfortunate that “the college Edwards’ theology built” was turned over to Witherspoon, causing Edwards’ son and other New Light instructors to leave Princeton, giving a clear field for Scottish Common Sense Realism to begin the transformation of American theology.
Scottish Common Sense Realism follows from the idiotic contention of John Locke that man is merely a blank slate on which anything can be written. The Biblical truth that man has a nature that needs to be changed supernaturally was replaced with the theory that man must comprehend Biblical truths by a permanent “truth impression”, a pseudo-scientific chimera that has been thoroughly discredited, but still survives today as the rational basis of the modern “decision for Christ”.
One of the main critics of Scottish Common Sense Realism was James Richards, a Bellamite minister that served as President of Auburn Theological Seminary in the critical years when the inquiry room was starting to change from BEST to BIST. If you read his specific criticisms, you will understand how New Light Calvinist theology changed in the nineteenth century to the point where Billy Sunday in 1914 could justify eliminating the inquiry room and calling everyone who came forward in an altar call a “convert”.
Witherspoon’s theology abandoned a supernatural change of nature for a rational understanding of God. This was a radical departure from orthodoxy. This is how “man is the measure of all things” became the basis for evangelical salvation (yes, the modern “decision for Christ” is Sophistry). If man could conceive of God as beneficial to self, then man must have had a “truth impression” on the mind, and de facto regeneration. This was the foundation of the BIST system and the modern altar call.
Edwards taught that the Holy Spirit is intimately, and more importantly, immediately involved in all spiritual advances and changes. Witherspoon taught the Holy Spirit is NOT immediately involved, that only the word of God (quickened to the heart by the Holy Spirit) can change the mind, which then in turn changes the direction of the person.
Edwards taught the Calvinist view of regeneration as irresistible. Witherspoon sidestepped the question of irresistibility by describing the process and not the cause. Witherspoon’s regeneration was a process, not a supernatural event. The process would be Pelagian if he had said the process was available to all men, and if he did not have the forensic caveat of “truth impressions” having to be energized to the heart by the Holy Spirit. As it was, Witherspoon, like all New Light Calvinists, said the process is available to only the people God has drawn, and repentance and saving faith are responses to regeneration (consecutional), not causes of regeneration.
Of course, this distinction is blurred in Scottish Common Sense Realism, because there is no expectation of an immediate change of character by regeneration and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, so it is easy to confuse believing Scripture with evidence of saving faith. According to Witherspoon, saving grace is not an immediate experience, but only a de facto minimum requirement for compliance with orthodoxy.
According to Witherspoon, saving grace does not differ in nature to common grace, so how could saving grace cause a difference in the nature in the saint? According to Witherspoon, the love of God of the saint is just more than the love of self. The only difference between sinner and saint is the sinner loves self more than God. They both have the same love. It is just a matter of degree.
Scottish Common Sense Realism metaphysicalizes saving faith into common faith knowledge of scripture by the de facto “energy of the Holy Spirit”. Metaphysical rationalizations are the polemic device of skeptics that do not believe that God affects man immediately. If it was not for the de facto “energizing” of the Holy Spirit, Scottish Common Sense realism would be outright Pelagianism.
There is much labeling of semi-Pelagian and Pelegian among people concerned with the heresy of decisional regeneration. Scottish Common Sense Realism was Pelagian in that it denied the immediate activity of the Holy Spirit. Where it escapes the label of Pelagian is by acknowledging that there must be something the Holy Spirit does in order for it to be considered orthodox. That is why “truth impressions” must be made by the “energizing” force of the Holy Spirit. If you take away the “energizing” of the Holy Spirit, Scottish Common Sense realism would be Pelagian.
Scottish Common Sense realism nominalized saving grace. The term “nominal” means “in name only”. Scottish Common Sense Realism reduces saving grace to common grace except for the nominal acknowledgement of de facto regeneration.
In his fight with Pelagius, Augustine affirmed that it was impossible for any one to occupy a position of absolute indifference to good and evil which Pelagius declared was the essence of freedom; but that, on the contrary, as an intelligent, active moral agent, man must possess a positive character; that is, he must either be determined towards that which is good or towards that which is evil. He affirmed that man must have some moral bent or bias of his mind; that he must be either inclined towards God or away from him, and this before, in actual outer life, there is any manifestation of such a bias (saving faith is the consequence of regeneration).
Withespoon’s theories were more psychology than theology. Witherspoon “blank slate” human soul was more like the reactive human soul of Pelagius than the definitive human soul of Augustine. While Witherspoon acknowledged the self-service of the sinner versus the God-service of the Saint, the change from sinner to saint was not an orthodox supernatural change of nature, but rather a “truth impression” on the mind.
The “truth impression” was the cause of the change, which makes Witherspoon’s salvation dependent on his unorthodox view of “saving faith”, not supernatural regeneration. It was a short step to saving faith being considered evidence of regeneration, and another short step for belief of scripture to be considered saving faith, and another short step to Billy Sunday’s altar call where coming forward was an acknowledgement of saving faith with de facto regeneration.
All the material causation theories of modern psychology can be traced to the theories of Scottish Common Sense Realism. If you wonder how western civilization in 2016 can allow men into a women’s rest rooms because they think they are woman, look to blank slate psychology. Then realize that at least 80% of “decisions for Christ” are based on the same blank slate psychology.
Witherspoon placed affections in a subservient position to rational thoughts. In fact, he taught that most of the “religious affections” of the First great Awakening were counterfeit, being natural affections from “animal motives”. This was the blinding filter through which Scottish Common Sense Realists saw the human soul. They would look at a movement of the Holy Spirit sweeping over a crowd and saw “animal motives”. They taught that genuine religious affections MUST come from a rational response to the truth of scripture.
When reading Witherspoon, notice how many times he uses the words MUST and NECESSARY. This is because he does not believe in the immediate activity of the Holy Spirit. According to blank slate psychology, there is no way for the Holy Spirit to prevent a saint from committing a mortal sin except by a permanent “truth impression” on the mind that controls the saint through self-interest. So if a Scottish Common Sense Realists believes in the doctrine called Perseverance Of The Saints, the saint MUST have a permanent “truth impression” that prevents him from committing mortal sin.
According to the Calvinistic theory of regeneration, the soul is chosen by God from eternity, its conversion and regeneration are wholly the work of the Holy Spirit, and the work, having been begun by God for his own good pleasure, WILL NOT and CANNOT be abandoned by him. To quote the words of the Westminster Assembly's Confession of Faith, "This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free-will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing 'from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father: upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ; the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them; and the nature of the covenant of grace-from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.”
Scottish Common Sense Realism replaces the WILL NOT and CAN NOT of God with the MUST of blank slate psychology. Once the Holy Spirit “energizes” the truth of scripture on the heart, there is an immutable “truth impression” that MUST keep the saint from mortal sin. This is just one of many departures from orthodoxy by Scottish Common Sense Realism. When the Holy Spirit is removed as an immediate force, the chimera of psychological material causation fills the vacuum.
The regeneration of Pelagius and Scottish Common Sense Realism is MAN-RATIONAL.
The regeneration of Augustine and the Edwardsians is GOD-RELATIONAL. Augustine and Edwards saw evidences of regeneration as coming from religious affections caused by a supernatural change of character and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Here are 25 GOD-RELATIONAL evidences of regeneration from the first epistle of John:
1:3 Fellowship with God the Father an His Son Jesus Christ
1:3 Fellowship with God
2:3 We have come to know Him
2:4 We have come to know Him
2:5 We are in Him
2:6 We abide in Him
2:10 We abide in the light
2:13 We know Him and the Father
2:14 We know him
2:20 We have an anointing from the Holy One
2:27 We have an anointing from God abiding in us
2:27 His anointing teaches us about all things and you abide in Him
2:28 Abide in Him
3:6 We abide in Him and know Him
3:9 God’s seed abides in us
3:15 We have eternal life abiding in us
3:17 We have the love of God abiding in us
3:24 We abide in God and God in us by the Spirit he has given us
4:6 We are of God
4:7 We know God and are born of God
4:9 We live through Christ
4:12 God abides in us, His love is perfected in us
4:13 We know we abide in Him and He in us by His Spirit He has given us
5:10 We have the testimony of belief in the Son of God within us
5:20 The Son of God has given us understanding so that we may know God and His Son Jesus Christ
John Locke agreed with Pelagius, that man was a black slate on which anything could be written. Witherspoon agreed with Locke. Pelagius, Locke and Witherspoon saw man as a rational being that changed MERELY by experiences and rational decisions. Locke and Witherspoon thought psychology would eventually explain why men sinned and why some men stop sinning. They were wrong.
"THE TREATISE" Witherspoon's Practical Treatise On Regeneration
John 3:3. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
The condition on which ministers of the gospel hold their office, is extremely awful. “They must render an account unto God” of their fidelity to the souls committed to their charge. Their duty and danger, as servants of God, are jointly and
strongly expressed in the commission given to the prophet Ezekiel. "Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel, therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet, if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul" (Ezekiel 52:17-19).
It is natural for us, in such a situation, to be often revolving in our minds this great and weighty trust. It is at once our duty and interest, to consider with all possible care, in what way we may have the easiest and most effectual access to the hearts of sinners; what views of divine truth will be most convincing; what forms of address will make the strongest and most lasting impression: in one word, how we may acquit ourselves in our ministry, so as to be a "savour of life unto life," to many of those who hear us, and to “deliver our own souls" from the blood of those that perish.
Such indeed is the undeniable moment and importance of the truths of the gospel, that I am often ready to think it will be easy to set them in so clear and convincing a light, as no person of common understanding shall be able to resist. I am often ready to say within myself, Surely if they be warned, they will no more dare to rush on the thick bosses (mostly ornamental protrusion on a soldier’s shield) of the Almighty's buckler (soldier’s shield); surely the boldest sinner must tremble at the thoughts of death, judgment, and eternity fast approaching, and from which it is impossible to fly.
But when we see how many are able to fit unmoved under the most awful threatening from the word of God; how many continue unchanged under the most alarming dispensations of providence, our thoughts are immediately carried to the unsearchable depth of the divine counsels, and we must say with our blessed Saviour, “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight" (Luke 10:21). or with the apostle Paul, "But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are loft; in whom the
God of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not, left the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them" (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
The secret counsel of the Most High, however, though we must adore with reverence, it is impossible for us to comprehend. What influence this has upon the final state of particular persons, no man in the present life is, and probably no created being shall ever be able fully to explain. This only we know, that it is not such as to take away the guilt of sin, or destroy the efficacy of means. A sense of duty therefore constrains us to resume the arduous and difficult task, entreating the assistance and blessing of God, under a firm persuasion that he will hear the prayer of faith, and make his own word “quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and the marrow, and a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."
The subject I have made choice of, and intend to handle in the ensuing treatise, immediately regards the substance of religion, and is happily as little entangled in controversy as any that could be named. We are told that "except a man be born again, he cannot fee the kingdom of God." In this all parties, every profession and denomination of Christians, do or ought to agree. By whatever name you are called, whatsoever leader you profess to follow, whatever ordinances you enjoy, if you are not "born again," you shall not enter into the kingdom of God.
That manner of preaching the gospel, explaining or recommending divine truth, appears to me most profitable, which brings oftenest into view, or rather never loses view of the great and essential difference between believers and unbelievers, saints and sinners, heirs of glory and heirs of hell. These are mixed together on earth. They have common privileges as men and citizens. They cannot be certainly distinguished by human observation; for though the image of God shines in a bright and sensible manner in some on the one hand, and some bear very plain and deadly symptoms on the other, whose state may be determined with little hazard of mistake, yet, in the intermediate degrees, there are multitudes whose real character is known only to God.
"What then can be said more awakening, and at the same time more certainly true, than that every hearer of the gospel, and every reader of such a treatise as this, is either reconciled to God, and the object of his love, or at enmity with God, having "neither part nor portion" in his favour; and as many as die in this last condition, shall be the everlasting monuments of divine wrath. How Important a distinction! And can any man refrain from saying, “Lord, thou knoweft all things — to which of these classes do I belong?”
But there is something, if possible, still more pressing in the passage of Scripture which I have placed at the head of this discourse. Not only are all men of two different and opposite characters now, but all men are originally of one character, unfit for the kingdom of God; unless a change has passed upon them they continue so; and unless a change do pass upon them hereafter, they must be for ever excluded.
This our Lord introduces with a strong asseveration (seriously assert), and signal note of importance: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." These words were spoken to Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This "master in Israel" came to Jesus by night. Convinced he seems to have been of the power which attended his ministry, but, under a still stronger attachment to his worldly interest, he durst not openly avow his conviction. Our Lord, at once to enlighten his mind with the most salutary of all truths, and level his pride of understanding by the manner of conveying it, saith to him, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
This appears to have been extremely astonishing, by his answer in the following verse: "Nicodemus saith unto him. How can a man be born when he is old? Can be enter the second time into his mother's womb and be born?" It is not my purpose to give a tedious explication of the passage, or entertain the reader with a profusion of criticism upon the words. This expression, the kingdom of God, hath various significations in Scripture, but chiefly two in the New Testament:
1. The gospel dispensation, or government of the Messiah, as distinguished from the preceding periods;
2. The kingdom of heaven, where the sincere disciples of Christ shall be put in full possession of the blessings of his purchase.
Witherspoon’s definition of “sincere” just means when a person reaches the tipping point of serving God over self. This is arrived at through “truth impressions” on the mind that convince the person that serving God is enlightened self-interest. Witherspoon does not believe there is any difference between common and saving grace, so sincerity can never mean truth or virtue as a characteristic of a new nature given by God in regeneration. Whenever Witherspoon refers to sincerity, truth or virtue, they will always be subjective tipping points, not objective characteristics of a changed nature. Judas was not a “sincere disciple of Christ” because he had not reached the tipping point of serving God over self.
I take it to be the last of these that is, either only, or chiefly intended in this place. Both of them indeed may be meant in their proper order, and for their different purposes.
An open profession and receiving the external badge, was necessary to a concealed friend and cowardly disciple, but a right to the spiritual privileges of the gospel, and the promise of eternal life, was the only thing that could make the profession valuable or desirable. Accordingly our Saviour seems to speak of both in his reply to Nicodemus's admission into the visible church by baptism, and renovation by the Holy Ghost. Jesus answered, "Verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."
I am sensible that regeneration, or the new birth, is a subject at present very unfashionable; or at least a style of language which hath gone very much into disuse. It is, however, a subject of unspeakable moment, or rather, it is the one subject in which all others meet as in a centre; the grand inquiry, in comparison of which every thing else, how excellent
soever, is but specious trifling.
What doth it signify, though you have food to eat in plenty, and variety of raiment to put on, if you are not born again! If after a few mornings and evenings spent in unthinking mirth, sensuality and riot, you die; your sins, and lie down in sorrow? What doth it signify, though you are well accomplished in every other respect, to act your part in life, if you meet at last with this repulse from the Supreme Judge, "Depart from me, I know you not, ye workers of iniquity?"
If this subject is indeed unfashionable and neglected, we are miserably deceiving ourselves. If a new nature is necessary, to attempt to repair and new model the old will be found to be lost labor. If the spring is polluted and continues so, what a vain and fruitless attempt is it to endeavor, by addition or by foreign mixture, to purify the streams. Just so, it is by no means sufficient, or, to speak more properly, it is altogether impossible to reform the irregularities and vicious lives of sinners, and bring them to a real conformity to the law of God, till their hearts are renewed and changed.
Witherspoon uses familiar language – the language of the Bible – but soon we will see he is not referring to supernatural regeneration and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. When he says “hearts are renewed and changed”, he is not talking about a change of nature, he’s talking about a mind being convinced.
It is like rearing up an old fabric (construction), adding to its towers, and painting its walls, while the foundation is gone. See what the prophet Ezekiel says of such foolish builders, "Wo to the foolish prophets — because, even because they have seduced my people, saying, Peace, and there was no peace; and one built up a wall, and lo, others daubed it with untempered mortar: say unto them which daub it with untempered mortar, that it shall fall: there shall be an overflowing
shower, and ye, O great hailstones, shall fall, and a stormy wind shall rent it" (Ezekiel 8:10-11).
But perhaps the substance of the doctrine is retained, while the language is held in derision. We are told it is but a figurative expression, and the same in its meaning with repentance or reformation. Doubtless it is so. And it were greatly to be wished, that many did thoroughly understand what is implied in repentance unto life. But the reader is entreated to observe, that it is a metaphor frequently used in the Holy Scripture. I think also it is a metaphor of peculiar propriety and force, well adapted to bring into view, both the nature of the change which it describes, and the means by which it is accomplished.
If there are any who, in writing or speaking on this subject, have introduced or invented unscriptural phrases, and gone into unintelligible mysticism, this is neither wonderful in itself, nor ought it to be any injury or disparagement to
the truth. There is no subject, either of divine or human learning, on which some have not written weakly, foolishly, or erroneously; but that ought not to excite any aversion to the doctrine itself which hath been perverted or abused, I pray that God may enable me to write upon this interesting subject in a clear, intelligible, and convincing manner; to support the truth from the evidence of Scripture and reason; to resolve, in a satisfying manner, any objections that may seem to lie against it; but, above all, to carry it home with a persuasive force upon the conscience and heart.
I contend for no phrases of man's invention, but for such as I find in the Holy Scriptures; from these I am resolved, through the grace of God, never to depart.
Witherspoon breaks this resolve throughout this treatise. Look for the word “impression”.
And in the mean time I adopt the words of the eminent and useful Dr Doddridge: "If this doctrine,cin one form or another, be generally taught by my brethren in the ministry, I rejoice in it for their own sakes, as well as for that of the people who are under their care."
The plan of the following treatise is this:
1) To make some observations upon the metaphor used by the apostle John, “Except a man be born again;” and the same, or similar expressions, to be found in other parts of the word of God.
2) To show wherein this change doth properly and directly consist, together with some of its principle evidences and effects.
3) To show by what steps, or by what means, it is usually brought about.
4) In the last place, to improve the subject by a few practical addresses to persons of different characters.
Some general observations on the metaphor used by the apostle John, Except a man be born again, and
the same, or similar expressions, to he found in other parts of the word of God.
It deserves the serious attention of every Christian, that, as this declaration was made by our Saviour in a very solemn manner, and by a very peculiar metaphor, so this is not the single passage in which the same metaphor is used. We find it in the apostle Paul's epistle to Titus, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Titus 3:5).
We find one perfectly similar to it, in the same apostle's second epistle to the Corinthians, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are past away, behold all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17). It is elsewhere called a new creation, with reference to the power exerted in the production: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).
It is still a figure of the same kind that is used when we are exhorted "to put off, concerning the former conversation, the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and to be renewed in the spirit of our mind, and put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 6:22-24). To name no more passages, the real believer is said to be "born of God" (1 John 5:4) in which the very expression of the text is repeated, and the change attributed to God as his proper work.
Whoever believes in the perfection of the Scriptures, will readily admit that it is intended we should learn something from this very way of speaking itself. Let us therefore consider what may be safely deduced from it. And, as I would not willingly drain the metaphor, and draw from it any uncertain conclusion, so it is no part of my design to run it out into an extraordinary length. Many smaller resemblances might easily be formed between the image and the truth, but they would be more fanciful than useful.
The reader is only entreated to attend to a few leading truths, which seem naturally to arise from this metaphor, and may be both supported and illustrated from the whole tenor of Scripture doctrine.
1. From this expression, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God, we may learn the greatness of that change which must pass upon every child of Adam before he can become an heir of life.
No stronger expression could have been chosen to signify a great and remarkable change of state and character, whether we take the metaphor in a stricter or a looser sense. If we take the metaphor in a stricter sense, it may be intended to point out the change of state in an infant newly born, from what it was in immediately before the birth. The manner of its existence, of deriving its nourishment, the use and application of its faculties, and its desires and enjoyments, are all entirely different.
If we take the metaphor in a looser sense, being born may be considered as the beginning of our existence. To this sense we seem to be directed by the other expressions, of being created in Christ Jesus, and made new creatures. Does not this still teach us the greatness of the change? We must be entirely different from what we were before, as one creature differs from another, or as that which begins to be at any time, is not, nor cannot be the same with what did formerly exist.
This may also be well supported from a variety of other passages of Scripture, and is a consequence of different truths contained in the word of God. For example, our natural state is in Scripture compared to death, and our recovery to our being restored to life. Thus the apostle Paul, in writing to the Ephesians, say, "And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins." And a little after, "But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ" (Ephesians 2:1,4,5).
To the same purpose the apostle John says, "We know that we have passed from death to life" (1 John 3:14). The change is sometimes described by passing from darkness to light, than which two things, none can stand in greater opposition to one another. “Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord," (Ephesians 5:8). Every one must be sensible how easy it would be to multiply passages of the same kind. But this I forbear, and only wish we had all of us a deep impression of the meaning and importance of these upon our hearts.
It will not be improper, however, to observe how plainly the same truth appears from the power which the Scripture represents as exerted in bringing a sinner from a state of nature to a state of grace. It is constantly affirmed to be the work of God, the effect of his power, nay, the exceeding greatness of his power: "By grace ye are saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8).
"Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh in you to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12). "And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead" (Ephesians 1:19).
Now, is there any need of a divine agent to perform a work of no moment? Would it be celebrated as an effect of the power of God, if it were not truly great? Let me now, in the most earnest manner, beseech every person who reads these lines, to consider deliberately with himself what is the import of this truth, and how firmly it is established. It appears that regeneration, repentance, conversion, or call it what you will, is a very great change from the state in which every man comes into the world.
It is extremely important, while navigating theological waters to recognize that the words repentance and conversion should never be automatically associated with regeneration without some caveat that says the common grace versions of these words are not related to regeneration. Witherspoon does not believe there is a fundamental difference between common and saving grace, so he does not believe there is a fundamental difference between the common grace versions and saving grace versions of these words. This is where he lays a foundation for heresy.
When he says, “regeneration, repentance, conversion, or call it what you will, is a very great change from the state in which every man comes into the world”, it is analogous to saying “winning, running, racing or call it what you will, is a very great change from the state of those not competing. Regeneration has one meaning that changes the meaning of words associated with it. The word translated repentance is used 25 times in the New Testament. Often the term is used to mean a state of mind that leads to salvation. To identify repentance with regeneration is like saying everyone who runs a race wins it.
“Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain” (1 Corinthians 9:24).
The word translated “conversion” is used once in the New Testament, and in that case it is analogous to the phrase, “change direction”, not regeneration. The word translated “convert” is used 37 times in the New Testament, and in those places, it is analogous to the phrase “one who changed direction”. A familiar passage where the word is used is “When Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?” (John 21:20). Peter changed direction.
Everyone who goes forward in an altar call temporarily change direction. Probably most sincerely change direction. But for the unregenerate, sincerely changing direction does not have anything to do with regeneration.
I appears from our Saviour's assertion, that we must be "born again." It appears from a great variety of other Scripture phrases, and is the certain consequence of some of the most essential doctrines of the gospel. With what jealousy ought this to fill many of the slate of their souls! How slight and inconsiderable a thing is it that with multitudes passes for religion; especially in these days of serenity and sunshine to the church, when they are not compelled by danger to weigh the matter with deliberation!
This is a good point. When church people are at ease, they can delude themselves that God is complacent with sin and feigned obedience, and in some a cases “rebellion as witchcraft”.
A few cold forms, a little outward decency, some faint desires rather than endeavors, is all they can afford for securing their everlasting happiness. Can the weakness and insufficiency of these things possibly appear in a stronger light, than when true religion is considered as a new creation and a second birth? If the inspired writers be allowed to express themselves either with propriety or truth, it is painful to think of the unhappy deluded state of so great a number
of our fellow sinners.
Will so great a change take place, and yet have no visible effect? Had any great change happened in your worldly circumstances, from riches to poverty, or from poverty to riches, all around you would have speedily discerned it. Had any such change happened in your health, it had been impossible to conceal it. Had it happened in your intellectual accomplishments, from ignorance to knowledge, it would have been quickly celebrated - How comes it then to be quite indiscernible when it is from sin to holiness? I am sensible that men are very ingenious in justifying their conduct, and very successful in deceiving themselves.
If only Witherspoon feared God more than man he would have believed in supernatural regeneration and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who causes religious affections. This is the Biblical way of seeing regeneration, not “truth impressions” that are in no way distinguishable from the “bare faith” of the unregenerate. The great change of regenerstion is easy to see if you simply believe the Bible: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25). But of course, Witherspoon’s metaphysical rationalizations did not allow for the immediate activity of the Holy Spirit.
They will tell us that religion is a hidden thing, not to be seen by the world, but lying open to his view who judgeth the secrets of all hearts. And doubtless this is, in one view, a great truth. True religion is not given to ostentation; diffident (reticent) of itself, it is unwilling to promise much, lest it should be found wanting. But it ought to be considered that, however concealed the inward principle may be, the practical effect MUST of necessity appear.
This last statement is ridiculous. It is a regular practice of Scottish Common Sense Realism to assert that not only should there be evidence, but there MUST be evidence – the idiotic position of empiricism – this will become the foundation for the abandonment of the BEST system for the BIST system, and eventually, decisional regeneration. The Bible does not teach there MUST be evidence. In fact “as a man thinketh in his heart so he”, and all the rest of scripture teaches the exact opposite. “A tree is known by it’s fruit” is not an endorsement of rational choice equaling evidence of condition of the soul. Fruit is not produced by the rational choice of the tree; fruit is produced naturally, which always takes time, and is NEVER IMMEDIATE, as is the contention of rational empiricists. Rational decisions are made by unregenerate people for reasons of self-interest. This is why the disciples of Jonathan Edwards were correct in assigning more validity to spontaneous “religious affections” as evidence of regeneration than rational decisions. For an excellent comparison of Edwardsian theology to Scottish Common Sense Realism, please read James Richards.
As one table of the moral law consists entirely of our duty to others, whoever is born again, and renewed in the spirit of his mind, will be found a quite different person from what he was before, in his conversation with his fellow creatures.
Hypocritical pretences to extraordinary sanctity are indeed highly criminal in themselves, and extremely odious in the sight of God. But the present age does not seem to have the least tendency to this extreme. There is another thing much more common, not less absurd, and infinitely more dangerous to mankind in general — a demand upon the public,
that, by an extraordinary effort of charity, they should always suppose the reality of religion in the heart, when there is not the least symptom of it in the life. Nay, some are hardly satisfied even with this, but insist that men should believe well of others, not only without, but against evidence.
A bad opinion expressed of a man, even upon the most open instances of profanity, is often answered with, “What have you to do to judge the heart?" It is amazing to think what inward consolation sinners derive to themselves from this claim of forbearance from their fellow creatures. Let me beseech all such to confider, that as God cannot be deceived, and will not be mocked, so in truth they usually deceive none but themselves.
Every human affection, when it is strong and lively, will discover itself by its apparent effects; and it is as true of religious affections as of any other, that "the tree is known by its fruits."
But if they have reason to suspect themselves whose change is not visible to others, how much more those who, if they deal faithfully, must confess they are quite strangers to any such thing in their own hearts. I do not mean that every person should be able to give an account of the time and manner of his conversion. This is often effected in slow and gradual a manner, that it cannot be confined to a precise or particular period. But surely those who are no way sensible of any change in the course of their affections, and the objects at which they are pointed, can scarcely think that they are born again, or be able to affix a proper meaning to so strong an expression.
When Witherspoon speaks of “affections”, he does not mean affections that come immediately from the Holy Spirit, such as, “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:5). He is speaking of rational thoughts about God and his covenant gradually producing affections over a period of time. In order to understand what Witherspoon is saying, apply the Sophist axiom: “man is the measure of all things”. Witherspoon attributes the “religious affections” experienced in revivals to “animal motives”.
I have read an observation of an eminent author, That those who cannot remember the time when they were ignorant or unlearned, have reason to conclude that they are so still; because, however slow and insensible the steps of improvement have been, the effects will at last clearly appear, by comparison with an uncultivated slate.
In the same manner, whoever cannot remember the time when he served the former lusts in his ignorance, has reason to conclude that no change deserving the name of regeneration has ever yet taken place. It will be, perhaps accounted an exception to this, that some are so early formed for the service of God, by his blessing on a pious education, and happily preserved from ever entering upon the destructive paths of vice, that they cannot be supposed to recount the time when they were at enmity with God.
But this is an objection of no consequence. The persons here described have generally so much tenderness of conscience, so deep a sense of the evil of sin, that of all others they will most readily discover and confess the workings of corruption in their own hearts, and that "law in their members that warreth against the law of God in their minds." They will be of all others most sensible of the growth of the new, and mortification of the old nature; and will often remember the folly and vanity of youth, in instances that by most others would have been reckoned perfectly harmless.What hath been said in this section is expressly designed to awaken such secure and careless formalists as may have any general belief of the word of God. To be born again must be a great change.
Can you then suppose that you have undergone this, not only without any application to it, but without so much as being sensible of it, or being able to discover its proper effects?
2. This expression, Except a man be born again, and other similar expressions, imply, that the change here intended is not merely partial, but universal.
A new birth evidently implies an universal change. It must be of the whole man, not in some particulars, but in all without exception. As this is a truth which naturally arises from the subject, so it is a truth of the last moment and importance, which merits the most serious attention of all those who desire to keep themselves from illusion and self-deceit in this interesting question.
Innumerable are the deceits of Satan. If he cannot keep sinners in absolute blindness and security, which is his first attempt, he industriously endeavors to pervert their views of religion, either by causing them to mistake appearances for realities, or substituting a part for the whole. This branch of the subject is of the more consequence, that I am persuaded it is peculiarly applicable to great numbers of the ordinary hearers of the gospel as such. The great bulk of those who finally fall short of everlasting life, though they lived under the administration of the word and sacraments, are ruined by mistakes of this kind.
Witherspoon reveals where he is headed – “Satan … industriously endeavors to pervert their views of religion” will become one of the explanations for why “religious affections” are most likely “animal motives”. But while “Satan” is used as a euphemism for “animal motives”, itself a euphemism for instinct, Satan is never used in the Biblical way – that is, as a personality affecting sinners and saints immediately. The reason is obvious…if Witherspoon were to open the door of Satan and Demons and Angels affecting man immediately, then it would undo his metaphysical causation, pseudo-scientific theories that are the substance of Scottish Common Sense Realism.
There are few of them, if any at all, who have at no time, through their whole lives, any serious impressions about their souls, or do nothing in the way of religion. There are still fewer who are speculative unbelievers, and fortify themselves
in their profane practices by irreligious principles.
The far greatest number do some things, and abstain from others, to quiet the inward complaints of conscience, and must have some broken reed or other on which they may rest their eternal hopes. It might serve in general to alarm such persons, that, as I have observed above, the change is evidently very great, and therefore they ought not easily to suppose that it is already past. But I now add something still more awakening, that the change, however great, if it is only partial, is not such as is necessary to salvation.
There may be a change truly great in some particulars, from one period of life to another, not only sensible to a man's self, but visible and remarkable to others about him, which yet is not saving, because it is not general, or because it is not permanent.
1) Natural changes are not evidence of regeneration. But since Witherspoon does not believe in the immediate activity of the Holy Spirit, he does not use the term “natural” to mean “as apposed to supernatural”. In fact, since according to Witherspoon, regeneration is just the tipping point when a person serves God over self, regeneration itself is “natural” for the person who is morally persuaded. There is nothing “unnatural” form the perspective of the person who is being morally persuaded.
The truth of this observation, that the change must be universal, appears from the constant tenor of the holy Scriptures. Thus the Psalmist says, " Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments"(Psalms 119:6). And the apostle James, "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all" (James 2:10). It is indeed so much the language of Scripture, that it is needless to insist upon it. God will be served without a rival, and will not share dominion with any in the human heart. But what I am persuaded will be of most use upon this subject, will be to point out, in a few particulars, by what means a partial change is sometimes brought about, and how this differs from that which is saving and universal.
1. In the first pace, Sometimes a partial change in point of morals, is produced merely by a natural or accidental change in age, temper, or situation. There are different sins to which men are addicted in the different periods or stages of the human life. These, of consequence, give way to, and are succeeded by one another.
Older men may SEEM to improve their morals as the lusts of youth die down, but human nature can never change unless it is God that changes the sinner into a saint supernaturally. Morals are NOT determined by actions. If a man accidentally kills another man, the jury determines what was in his heart before passing sentence.
There are, indeed, instances of extraordinary depravation in some persons, who “selling themselves," like Ahab, to work iniquity, become the slaves of almost every evil habit incident to human nature. These, however, are esteemed monsters even by the world in general, who continue in the commission of every sin while they can, and burn with desires after them when they cannot. But it often happens that the folly and levity, nay, even the dissolute licentiousness of youth, gives way to the ambitious projects of riper years, and the hurry of an active life; and these again are succeeded by sordid, selfish, and covetous old age.
In many cases the sins are changed, but the disposition to sin, and aversion from God, remains still the same. One sin may be easily supplanted by another, in a heart that is wholly a stranger to renewing grace. How greatly then may men deceive themselves, by drawing favorable conclusions from even a great and remarkable change in some one or more particulars, while they continue under the government of sins of a different kind.
It is of small consequence which of the commandments of God are transgressed, since they are all of equal and indispensable obligation. It is of little moment for a man to get quit of one distemper, by contracting another equally inveterate, and as certainly mortal. What profit was it to the Pharisee that he was not an extortioner like the publican? His pride rendered him still more odious and detestable in the sight of God.
I may add here, that besides the common and necessary change of age and temper, a change of situation, employment and connections, will sometimes wean a man from one sin, and introduce an attachment to another.If the temptation is removed, the fire may be extinguished for want of fuel. The inclination to sin in some kinds may be thus occasionally
weakened, or the commission of it rendered impossible.
It is easy to see that such a change as this can be, of no avail in the fight of God; or rather, to speak more properly, it is only an apparent, and no real change at all. It is a difference of effect from an alteration of clrcumstances, but arising from the very same cause. Are there not many who may apply this reflection to themselves? Are there not many who have ceased to sin in some respects, because they have begun to sin in others? Are there not many who are abused and deceived by this delusory view? who take comfort to themselves by remembering some species of sins or follies which
they now sincerely and heartily despise?
Take heed that this be not entirely owing to your progress through life, or a change of circumstances and situation.
Are you not still living as much to yourselves as ever? As much averse from a life of love to, and communion with God as ever? Remember, that though your conduct may be wiser and more prudent, and your character more respectable in the world than before, this is no proof of regeneration; and "except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
2) Partial changes of conviction caused by hearing scripture or the common grace of experience are not evidence of regeneration.
2. Sometimes a partial change is produced by strong occasional convictions, either from the word or providence of God. There are many instances in which convictions of sin are railed in the minds of the hearers of the gospel, which continue in great force for some time, and have a partial effect which still remains. Even a Felix is sometimes made to tremble at the thoughts of a judgment to come.
It is very certain that natural conscience, when awakened by the word of God, will both restrain from sin, and excite to duty, even while sin hath dominion upon the whole. As the spirit lusteth against the flesh, and the flesh against the spirit, in believers, so conscience, the divine witness in the hearts of unbelievers, may urge to the practice of duty in a certain measure, when it is not able to change the heart inwardly and universally.
The perversion of the King James translation is NOT accidental here – the elimination of the Holy Spirit leading the saint immediately is an essential part of Scottish Common Sense Realism. Here is the correct King James scripture: “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law” (Galatians 5:16-18). Only if the Holy Spirit DOES NOT act immediately, can regeneration be reduced to pseudo-scientific material causation psychology.
It may deter from sins to which the attachment is less strong, even whilst it is not able to expel a darling lust, or dethrone a favorite idol. There is a remarkable example of this character in Herod, and his behavior to John Baptist. We are told by the evangelist Mark, that Herod "feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him, and him, and when he heard him he did many things, and heard him gladly" (Mark 4:20). That is to say, he did many such things as were least contrary to the bent of corrupt affection. But that the change was not entire is plain; for when he was reproved for his beloved lust, it only served to inflame his resentment, and he took away the life of his reprover.
We find that Ahab, king of Israel, of whom it is said, that he “did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger, than all that went before him," yet humbled himself on the denunciation of divine wrath, and was so far penitent as served to procure a suspension of the temporal stroke. It appears indeed from innumerable in instances in Scripture, as well as from daily experience, that there are temporary convictions raised in the minds of many, both by the word and providence of God.
Notice that Witherspoon can not force himself to acknowledge that the Holy Spirit can influence a person immediately. More times than not, “providence” is a word used to avoid the immediate activity of God. If you were to identify the primary systemic error of Scottish Common Sense Realism, it is the elimination of the immediate activity of the Holy Spirit and demons. The American versions of New Light Calvinism allowed the Holy Spirit and demons to influence people before and after regeneration without any restrictions.
It is also certain, that there are imperfect effects of these convictions, which often continue a considerable time, or rather are perpetual, though they are still only partial. Many sinners, though they continue unrenewed, yet dare not return to the same unbounded license as before.
Nay, there are some sins, under the penal effects of which they have severely smarted, which they never dare afterwards to indulge. We have a very remarkable national instance of this imperfect reformation in the Jews.
“Imperfect reformation” and “partial character” are psychological ideas alien to the Biblical idea of a changed nature by supernatural regeneration. This “death by a thousand cuts” or the “graying of truth” is the way psychologists obscure the problem of fallen man.
They were at first shamefully and amazingly prone to idolatry, and continued so under repeated strokes, till the terrible desolation they met with at the Babylonian captivity; from that period, however, notwithstanding their great guilt in other particulars, they never returned to idolatry, but to this day continue to have the deepest abhorrence of that capital crime.
There are many particular persons in the same situation. Some sins which have lain heavy on their consciences, or for which they have severely suffered in the course of Providence, they will not commit; but others, one or more, which may be called their “own iniquity," they hold fast, and will not let them go.
Are there not different degrees of depravation and obstinacy to be found in different sinners, as well as different degrees of holiness, obedience, and submission, in the children of God? And though there is usually a progress in the first to the worse, as well as in the last to the better, yet still there may be particular sins which they dare not commit, and particular duties which they diligently discharge.
Nay, this partial character is often the very thing that blinds their minds, and continues their security in an habitual alienation of heart from the life and power of true religion. Are there not many customary Christians who have a form of godliness, and, though they are utter strangers to communion with God, yet nothing will induce them to part with their form?
Witherspoon is departing from orthodoxy and undermining Scottish Common Sense realism’s only means of saving grace when he uses the word “character” in this way. He should have used the word “morality”. Morality can mean “actions which accord with justice and human laws, without reference to the motives from which they proceed.” “Character” is another idea altogether.
The 1828 Webster’s dictionary defines “character” as: 1)A mark made by cutting or engraving, as on stone, metal or other hard material; hence, a mark or figure made with a pen or style, on paper, or other material used to contain writing. 2. A mark or figure made by stamping or impression, as on coins. Scottish Common Sense Realism equates regeneration with a “truth impression” which is directly tied to this understanding of character. The “truth impression” is a pseudo-scientific theory of an immutable impression on the mind made by scripture truth (energized by the Holy Spirit). But in this instance, Witherspoon uses “character” in a relative sense by saying ”partial character”.
According to Scottish Common Sense Realism’s unique theory of regeneration, “Partial Character” is an oxymoron. Imagine the Apostle Paul saying, “Therefore if any man be PARTIALLY in Christ, he is PARTIALLY a new creature: old things are PARTIALLY passed away; behold, all things are PARTIALLY become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Bible says the heart must be changed by supernatural regeneration. Science says the heart can be changed by environmental conditions. Scottish Common Sense Realism says the heart is changed by “truth impressions” of scripture truth (energized by the Holy Spirit).
Witherspoon would have made a better case for Scottish Common Sense Realism if he had not compromised his own theory of “character”. If “character” is subjective, the “truth impression” is no longer immutable, no longer specially energized by the Holy Spirit, and no longer tied to election; making the “truth impression” theory thoroughly Pelagian. Those are the ONLY three aspects of the “truth impression” theory that keep it from being Pelagian. 1) The immutability of the change caused by the “truth impression”, 2) the ”truth impression” being “energized” by the Holy Spirit, and 3) the election of individuals who are given the “truth impression”. The only point of this editorial is to say that Witherspoon would have been a better advocate for Scottish Common Sense Realism’s unique theory of the means of regeneration had he used the term “partial change of morality” instead of “partial change of character”.
Are there not many whom it would be unjust to brand with the grosser crimes of profane swearing, sensual riot, or unclean lust, who yet have their hearts set upon the world, which they love and pursue, and on which they rest with complacency, as their sweetest portion? Are all outwardly decent and sober persons ready to take up the cross, and follow their Master
without the camp? Are they ready to forsake “houses, and brethren, and sisters, and lands, yea, and their own life also, for his sake and the gospel’s?” And yet without this they cannot be his disciples.
There are many hard sayings in religion, which ordinary professors cannot bear, and with which they never comply. Remember the case of the young man who came to our Saviour, and spoke with so much modesty and discretion, but could not bear this great trial: "Then Jesus beholding him, loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest; go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved, for he had great possessions" (Mark 10:21-22).
3) Partial changes of conviction caused by making misguided penitences for sins are not evidence of regeneration.
3. Sometimes a partial change is produced, in a great measure, even by the love and attachment which men have to some one darling and governing sin. The less willing they are to cut off the right hand, and to pluck out the right eye, the more zealous and diligent they will be in other things, to atone for the indulgence, or to cover it from their own observation. How careful is a Pharisee to tithe mint, anise, and cumin, while he neglects the weightier matters of the law!
How does he "make broad his phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of his garment," while he is defective in "judgment, mercy and faith!" How did the ancient Jews come with thousands of rams, and ten thousand rivers of oil, while living in the habitual neglect of some of the most important branches of the divine law? We have an apposite example of this in the conduct of Saul when sent against Amalek: he spared of the spoil what was good, though he was commanded to destroy it, and then pretended to make a free uncommanded offering of sacrifice unto God, for which he met with this just and severe reprimand: "Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold,
to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams" (1 Samuel 15:22).
We see every day every day innumerable instances of the same kind when there is any sin which men are willing to spare, which they defend with arguments, or palliate with excuses, they are so much the more ready to over-do in such duties as are not so contrary to the present current of unsanctified affection. From all this you will plainly fee, that no man ought to judge of himself by the greatness of the change in any particular, unless it is universal, and without exception.
Here we see a logical presentation of regeneration as “universal and without exception”. This is why the error of saying “partial character” was a systemic mistake. If, according to Scottish Common Sense Realism, the only special means of grace are “truth impressions”, then there can be no “partial character” change.
3) The changes that take place when someone is “born again” are not merely external and imperfect, but inward, essential, and complete.
From these words Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God, and other similar expressions in the holy Scriptures, we may infer that the change here intended is not merely external and imperfect, but inward, essential, and complete.
I might have divided this observation into two parts, and treated of them separately; first shewing that it is not an outward and apparent only, but an internal and real change; secondly, that it is not an imperfect change, or difference in degree only, but a complete and essential change of the whole character.
Witherspoon confirms that he thinks there can be no partial change of character in regeneration. But he contradicts this view in many ways when he says “sincerity” and “true” as descriptions of the soul are relative terms, and not absolutes. He says in this treatise that “sincerity” is merely when a person has reached a tipping point where he is more one way than the other. “an unregenerate person is said to have no true love to God or his neighbour only because it is not the most dominant love, and only the most dominant love will be accepted as true or sincere”. At no place does he contradict this view in regards to the regenerate. The regenerate are “true” and “sincere” only because the soul prefers God over self, not because of the creation of a new nature that is good in itself. The same criteria are used for regenerate and unregenerate. Since regeneration does not make a new nature in the Biblical sense, sinners are just people who have not yet received enough “truth impressions” to reach the tipping point of serving God over self. This, of course, is “another gospel”.
But as the illustration of these two must have necessarily, in a great measure, coincided, and they are very closely connected, I have chosen to join them together. That what shall be said on this subject may be the more useful and profitable, I will endeavor to explain, in as distinct and simple a manner as I am able, what you are to understand by the above remark. The first part of it will be most easily comprehended, that it is not an external only, but an internal change; that the most apparently strict and regular conversation, the most faultless discharge of outward duties, will not be sufficient while the heart continues enslaved to sin in general, or under the dominion of any particular lust.
The other part of the remark is, that the change must not only be imperfect, or in degree, but essential and complete. That is to say, it is not sufficient that a man be somewhat less wicked than before; that he not only gives up some sins, but use moderation in others; nay, though he be under some degree of restraint universally, if still there is not what may be called an essential change of character, if still sin has the ascendancy upon the whole, though its dominion be not so uncontrolled as before.
Notice how difficult it is for Witherspoon to explain regeneration. “What may be called an essential change of character” is an admission that he does not believe it to be a complete change of character because he does not believe in a new nature. For Witherspoon, there is not a new nature that produces a new character, just a character that through “truth impressions”, has reached a tipping point of being morally persuaded to serve God over self.
Sin may certainly have the chief seat in the affections, though it hath not altogether quiet and peaceable possession. There must always be some governing principle, which, properly speaking, constitutes the character. As our Savior tells us, “No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other; ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24). Grace and corruption are opposite in their natures, and mutually destructive of each other, so far as they prevail; and therefore the great question is, not how far any of them is altered from what it was formerly in itself, but low far it prevails in opposition to the other, and hath truly the government of the man.
There is the tipping point theory of “truth” and “sincerity”. Notice there is no mention of grace as the immediate transformative power of God. As Spurgeon said, “the Holy Spirit is made into a mere influence”.
I find it extremely difficult to communicate this truth in a simple and intelligible manner, so as to be level to the meanest capacities.
Translation: “I find it extremely difficult to communicate my version of salvation, so as to be believed by people who have a Biblical view of salvation as a supernatural change that is definite, complete and identifiable. Since the typical reader is blinded by archaic views of salvation as a supernatural experience, I must explain things carefully. Since I do not believe in the immediate activity of the Holy Spirit in salvation (modern atheists would say “since I do not believe in a “God of the gaps”), I must somehow explain salvation as merely a tipping point when man serves God over self by virtue of “truth impressions” energized by the Holy Spirit.
And it is little wonder; for here lies the chief part of the deceitfulness of sin. It will, I hope, be better understood by what is now to be added, both for its proof and illustration.
That what I have above asserted is agreeable to the analogy of faith, and a part of the will of God, may easily be made appear. It is the constant uniform doctrine of the holy Scriptures. There we find it is the peculiar prerogative of God, that he seeth and judgeth the heart. By this his knowledge is distinguished fron, and excels all created understanding, and therefore, as no appearance will deceive, so no insincere profession will be accepted by him: "For the Lord seeth not as man seeth, for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7).
Witherspoon knows that all unregenerate people have an evil heart, so all unregenerate persons hearts will ALWAYS be insincere. But let Witherspoon spin his web of deceit.
To this purpose is the exhortation of David to his son Solomon: "And thou Solomon, my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts" (1 Chronicles 28:9). The stress that is laid on this in Scripture, and the frequent repetition of the word "heart," can hardly have escaped the notice even of the most cursory reader, or the most superficial observer. We find the consent of the heart required, as indispensably and chiefly necessary, and that as distinguished from outward and apparent obedience, which, without it, will be of no value. “My son, give me thine heart," says Solomon, "and let thine eyes observe my ways" (Proverbs 23:26).
We find an inward change of heart and disposition promised by God as the work of his Spirit and grace: "A new
heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh, and I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments and do them" (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
We find the same thing implored by penitent sinners, as necessary to their recovery; "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me" (Psalms 51:10). And we find the duty of returning penitents prescribed in the very same terms: "Cast away from you all your transgressions whereby ye have transgressed, and make you a new heart and a new spirit; for why will ye die? O house of Israel" (Ezekiel 18:31).
I shall only further observe, that we find in Scripture an integrity of heart required to real religion; that is to say, that the love of God must be the commanding governing principle, that there must be no divided or rival affection suffered to remain; “For the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul" (Deuteronomy 13:3). The first duty of the moral law runs in these terms: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind" (Matthew 22:37).
Regeneration is the ONLY way a person can have sincerity, since integrity of heart, or real religion can not happen in an unregenerate heart. This forces any person that wants to have integrity of heart, or real religion, to seek God with his whole heart, but seeking God with his whole heart, axiomatically can not be seen as seeking God with a sincere heart. This is where all New Light Calvinists confuse the issue. They never explain what they mean when they say “make yourself a new heart”. They know all an unregenerate person can do is earnestly seek God with their whole heart to the best of their ability, but they know, according to common language that no one can “make themselves a new heart” out of an unregenerate heart. But all through Scripture God calls men to repentance, so it must be possible in a figurative sense, for men to “make themselves a new heart”. But the New Light Calvinist does not mean “make yourself a new heart” in a figurative sense. He means it in the same way Christ said “ye must be born again”.
There are two ways to look at repentance and faith. Witherspoon will soon explain the two nations of man – the carnal nation and the spiritual nation. God requires repentance of both nations. New Light Calvinists’ purposely confused the two nations in order to warn sinners to “make themselves a new heart” and not wait of God to “make them a new heart”. New Lights Calvinists know that only God can make a new heart just as they know there is a difference between saving repentance and carnal repentance and just as they know there is a difference between saving faith and carnal faith. Just as the saving versions of repentance and faith are the ONLY versions that are the fruit of regeneration, so they know that “make yourself a new heart” is saving ONLY if it is the fruit of regeneration.
Which, as a precept of the gospel, is explained by the following passage: "He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37.
If, to any, the collecting of fo many passages of Scripture seem tedious, it is entirely owing to the abundance and commonness of them. It were easy to have added ten times the number to those which have been already quoted, a circumstance to which I particularly beg the reader's attention, as it lets in the strongest light the certainty and importance of this truth.
Having so far confirmed and established the observation from the sacred oracles, I would willingly illustrate and apply it a little more particularly. And as truth seldom receives greater light from any thing than from a discovery of the opposite errors, I shall point out by what means sometimes an apparent or imperfect change is produced, which is not inward and essential. This I apprehend will be effected by a view of the following characters, everywhere to be met with.
1. A character formed upon a well-conducted selfish principle.
2. One that is supremely governed by reputation, and a desire of honor and respect from men.
3. One that is influenced by a religious principle, in which a spirit of bondage and slavish fear chiefly predominates.
The reader should take note that Witherspoon presents a purely psychological view of man which is not biblical or orthodox. Because he does not believe in the immediate influence of the Holy Spirit, he promotes the heretical idea that man is whatever he wants to be. When “character” is merely the result of psychological influences, then all God can do is use metaphysical events (remember Scottish Common Sense Realism eliminated spiritual forces from metaphysics) and “energize” “truth impressions” of Scripture instead of immediately acting of a person in order to change them. Every time Witherspoon uses a phrase like “a character formed”, he promotes sophism and the error of Locke’s “man is a blank slate upon which anything can be written”. This is not the way the Apostles saw man. This is what Spurgeon’s Sword and Trowel called a downgrade of theology, “A new religion has been initiated, that is no more Christianity than chalk is cheese….The atonement is scouted (despised), the inspiration of scripture is derided, the Holy Spirit is degraded into an influence.”
Spurgeon called it “another gospel”, taking the phrase from Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4, “I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel”. The other spirit was the spirit of man lifting himself up and saying the only way God can change him is through his rational mind through moral persuasion.
In the first place, there is a character in the world which may be said to be formed upon a well conducted selfish principle. It may be said indeed, in general, of every unrenewed person, that in such a heart God is dethroned, and self, in one shape or other, is exalted, is set in his place, and reigns in his Head; but what I have chiefly in view at present is, to point out the character of those who, in all those parts of their conduct which assume the name of religion or of virtue, are chiefly actuated, not by a sense of duty, but by an intention to promote their own present satisfaction and comfort.
Natural law teaches survival and self-improvement skills that are not the result of regeneration.
It is the language of experience and sound reason, as well as of the word of God, "that the wicked worketh a deceitful work." There are many immediate and sensible bad consequences of vice and wickedness. Some who have already smarted under their effects, may, therefore, in many instances avoid them, without any due sense of the evil of sin as against the law of God, or taking his service as their hearty and unfeigned choice.
Let us give some examples of this. A man may avoid intemperance and excess, purely or chiefly because it is hurtful to his health, and introduces such disorders into his frame as incapacitates him for relishing even the pleasures of the world and of sense.
A man may find from experience, that being injurious to others in word or in deed, may, even resenting the injuries done to himself, raises up so many enemies, and so inflames every little incident, as greatly to disturb his peace. He may therefore be patient and forbearing, whilst it is not owing to any meekness of mind, or government of his passions from a sense of duty, but merely to the strength of his judgment, and his falling upon the fittest way promoting his own ease.
It is precisely this sort of men who may often be observed to be reasonable, modest, and self-denied in their deportment in the world in general, but savage and tyrannical, or peevish and discontented in their own families, where, there are none upon equal terms with them, or able to make a formidable resistance to them.
A wise man may, upon the whole, by reflection discover, that what gives the highest relish and poignancy to every sensible enjoyment is, to habituate himself to some degree of self-denial, to conduct them with decency, and to use them with sobriety and moderation. When this conduct, as indeed is commonly the case, is the fruit of experience, it is so sensible a change, that it often passes itself not only on others, but even on the person concerned, for a religious change.
Witherspoon does not believe in a “religious change” being definite, complete and identifiable. He believes that truth and sincerity are relative terms, and that any religious change will be by rational acceptance of scriptural truth by moral persuasion. He believes that the most God does to effect a change is use events and occasionally energizes a “truth impression” so that a person believes a scripture to be true.
But if the change is not inward as well as outward, if the affections still flow in the same channel, though they are better hemmed in and preserved from impetuosity and excess; if the source of happiness is still the same, though it is more sparingly or more wisely indulged, it is plainly the old nature, and the person cannot be said to be born again.
Witherspoon’s reference to “inward change” is silly. He is trying to make the point that inward changes can be entirely natural changes, so why does he now contradict his point by saying a change that is not inward is not a sign of regeneration? Here’s the answer: it sounds like orthodox theology to talk about inward changes being the result of regeneration. The reason is the Bible always presents the inward “heart” as the true self versus the outward rational mind. This will be difficult for the modern reader to understand as Scottish Common Sense Realism has reversed the meaning of heart and mind from the scriptural meaning. They did this by making the choices of the rational mind the only legitimate evidence of regeneration, this being the basis for the modern “decision for Christ”.
But the Bible says the exact opposite: “Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats: For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.
The morsel which thou hast eaten shalt thou vomit up, and lose thy sweet words”(Proverbs 23:6-8) says the EXACT OPPOSITE of what the hyper-faith preachers teach. The evil man offers dainty meats with his rational mind, but his heart is evil. The rational mind is NOT evidence of the condition of the heart. Nonetheless, if you watch someone long enough, the condition of the heart will be shown. “O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things” (Matthew 12:34-35).
Witherspoon does not believe in a “new nature” in the Biblical sense. He believes a “new nature” is just when a person reaches a tipping point of serving God over self. He uses the language of salvation “being definite, complete and identifiable”, but doesn’t believe it. He believes that the most God does to effect a change is use events and occasionally energizes a “truth impression” so that a person believes a scripture to be true.
He is outwardly regular, and comparatively less wicked than before, but cannot be said to love and serve God "with all his heart and with all his soul". We may learn from this very important lesson, to distinguish between human virtue and religion, between a decent and blameless carriage upon motives of present conveniency, and a new nature, or a gracious state.
Witherspoon does not believe in a “gracious state”. In fact, he does not believe there is a difference between common grace and saving grace. He uses the language of salvation “being definite, complete and identifiable”, but doesn’t believe it. He believes that the most God does to effect a change is use events and occasionally energizes a “truth impression” so that a person believes a scripture to be true.
I know some are highly dissatisfied at making any distinction of this nature; but is it not plainly possible that such a character as is described above may exist? Is it not also plain, for reasons too obvious to be insisted on, “that it cannot deserve the name of a new or spiritual birth? And is it not, therefore, the duty of ministers of the gospel to put men in mind of this, as well as every other source of self-deceit?
Witherspoon claims to want ministers to clearly delineate between regenerate and unregenerate as he tries to prove that the only difference between the two is one is morally persuaded of the truth of scripture and the other is not. He uses orthodox terminology as he changes the meaning of the words. He repeatedly appeals to the orthodox idea of complete change of nature with references to “true religion”, “gracious state”, “inward heart”, etc., but the phrases are merely used to conceal the fact that he believes regeneration is merely when a person reaches the tipping point of serving God over self.
The orthodox view that man is unable to approach God without special grace is not presented by Witherspoon because he believed that there is no difference between common and saving grace. Except for the caveat that not all are elected, Witherspoon’s salvation could be considered consistent Pelagianism, because while Pelagius taught that only common grace was necessary for unregenerate man to come to God, Witherspoon went much further and taught that only common grace was necessary for both the unregenerate to come to God and the regenerate to be regenerated.
Witherspoon taught regeneration was when a person is morally persuaded to serve God over self, not a supernatural change of nature and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, so there was no need for special grace. The pseudo-scientific “truth impression” was a device to explain why some received the gospel and most do not. In order to stay barely within the bounds or orthodoxy, God MUST, for the elect, “energize” scriptural truth to make a “truth impression” that is somehow immutable (unchangeable)on the brain, which sometimes, just to comply with orthodox ideas, Witherspoon calls the heart. The Biblical view of heart is the real person that only God can change through supernatural regeneration and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Witherspoon repudiates the Biblical view of heart by making moral persuasion the mechanism of regeneration. The “truth impression” was a common grace operation, using the normal metabolic functions of the brain.
Nay, the necessity in one view is greatest, in such a case as this, that we may warn those of their danger who have a name
to live while they are dead, that we may shake the strong hold of the presumptuous self- applauding formalist, who is often more deaf and insensible to the things that belong to his peace, than the most abandoned profligate.
Is there any ready to say, Why do you take upon you to judge the heart, and ascribe what you must confess to be excellent and amiable in itself, to wrong motives and an irreligious principle? I answer, I judge no man's heart; but, while I leave it to the decisive judgment of God, would willingly subject its actings to its own review. It is but an appeal to the inward court of conscience, or rather a citation of the person, with conscience as the witness, to the tribunal of him that “trieth the reins and the heart." But, after all, there is no difficulty in going a step farther. We may often know the "tree by its fruits." We may often discern the falsehood of these plausible moralists, by an habitual worldliness of temper and conversation, by a great indifference about the ordinances and worship of God; nay, sometimes a bold and avowed opposition to vital experimental religion, to the language and exercises of the spiritual life.
Witherspoon taught that immediate “religious affections” are caused by “animal motives” because he did not believe in the immediate activity of Holy Spirit. It is ironic that he condemns people who are apposed to experimental religion when his theology was the main reason American New Light Calvinism moved away from “religious affections” and replaced the BEST system with the BIST system, paving the way for Billy Sunday’s doing away with the Inquiry Room altogether and calling everyone who came forward in an altar call a “convert”.
To prevent the misunderstanding of what hath been said, it will be necessary to observe, that I intend not to deny the propriety or the life of these assistant motives, as they may be called, which arise from the present benefit and advantage of true religion. I have said only, that the obedience or reformation which flows from no higher principle, is not such as will be acceptable to God; it is not that change which is necessary before we can enter into life eternal.
By “assistant motives”, Witherspoon refers to the means of grace available in church life. He is saying that while meeting the demands of church life are excellent, there must be more if someone is to be regenerate.
There are, however, various uses to which these considerations may justly, and ought in duty to be applied. They ought to satisfy us of the excellence and truth of religion in general, and to be produced in opposition to the licentious and profane topics of conversation, so often to be met with in promiscuous company.
When any one begins to declaim in favor of lust and sensuality, and alleges that nature has given us desires, and why should it give them but in order to their gratification? Let the hearer immediately observe, that by the corruption of nature our appetites are greatly inflamed, and not at all in a sound state; that, as is plain from the most uncontested experience, the best and most desirable enjoyment of any sensible delights is, that thankful, self-denied, moderate use of them, which the word of God authorizes or prescribes.
The same reflections may very properly serve for awakening grosser sinners to a sense of their danger. The prodigal seems to have been first brought to himself, by a deep reflection upon his own folly. But he did not rest here: he did not content himself with endeavoring to recover, by sobriety and industry, the wealth which he had squandered away, but returned to his father for the forgiveness of his crime. In the same manner, no doubt, the loss of health, substance and reputation, should convince the sinner of the evil of his ways.
This argument is used by the apostle Paul: "What fruit had ye then in the things of which ye are now ashamed?" (Romans 6:21). But I would never call that religion which proceeds to no higher views; nor that repentance, which is completed by no better principle.
Witherspoon is saying moral reformation without something more can not be regeneration. He avoids the Biblical definition of that "more" being "ye must be born again" and stays with a "better principle", which he says countless times is merely the tipping point where the rational mind is convinced by moral persuasion to serve God over self.
Such reflections should also be improved by every good man, to impress his mind with a deep sense of the goodness of God. Every thing that he commands is truly most eligible in itself, and most beneficial to us. His will is as gracious as his authority is absolute. Religion's "ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace" (Proverbs 3:17).
Well might our blessed Master say, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls; for my yoke is “easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:29-30). This should daily dispose us to thankfulness to that God who surrounds us with his care, and who follows us with loving kindness and with tender mercies. His very restraints are favors, his commands are blessings. Is it possible to avoid adding that the same views should be made use of to fortify us against temptation?
When a sense of duty is the prevailing desire, "we may very safely corroborate it with all these inferior considerations. It should make sin the more hateful and abominable, and prevent us from yielding to that party which still secretly pleads for it in our imperfectly sanctified hearts.
“Imperfectly sanctified hearts” is an oxymoron in orthodoxy. When a new heart is made by God, it is perfect from the moment it is made. The word “sanctified” does not mean “morality”, which can be imperfect because of a lack of understanding. As someone increases in understanding, their morality can become more perfect.
Sanctification, when referring to New Testament salvation, can only be accomplished by supernatural regeneration and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). The Greek word used here is Strong’s 37, which means “to make holy”, from Strong’s 40, which means “holy”. The word “holy” is translated 62 times in the New Testament as “saint”. SAINTS ARE HOLY BECAUSE THEY HAVE BEEN SUPERNATURALY GIVEN A NEW NATURE AND INDWELT WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT. REGENERATION IS NOT JUST MORAL PERSUASION. REGENERATION IS BEING MADE HOLY BY GOD SUPERNATURALLY AND BEING FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT. FOR WITHERSPOON TO USE A PHRASE “IMPERFECTLY SANCTIFIED” IS TO DENY ORTHODOX REGENERATION.
In all the 62 places the word “holy” is translated “saint”, there is NEVER the idea of an imperfect saint. It is important to list every place in the New Testament the word translated as “sanctified” is used to establish this essential Biblical truth.
“Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?” (John 10:36).
“And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth” (John 17:19).
“And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).
“To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me” (Acts 26:18).
“That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost” (Romans 15:16).
“Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:2).
“And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
“For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy” (1 Corinthians 7:14). PAUL IS SAYING THE SANCTIFICATION (legally, for the sake of the marriage covenant), IS NOT DEPENDENT ON THE MORAL CONDITION OF THE SPOUSE OR CHILD. If you have a problem with this scripture, the problem is not that the sanctification is imperfect, it’s that you can not believe that God would sanctify people (legally, for the purpose of the marriage covenant) that are not morally persuaded, which means you do not believe that Biblical sanctification takes place without moral persuasion, a sure sign you have been influenced by the theology that evolved from Scottish Common Sense Realism. Some Commentaries on this scripture may help you understand sanctification in covenantal relationships:
Clark: “If this kind of relative sanctification were not allowed, the children of these persons could not be received into the Christian church, nor enjoy any rights, or privileges as Christians; but the church of God never scrupled to admit such children as members, just as well as she did those who had sprung from parents both of whom were Christians.”
Barnes: “The connection produces a species of sanctification, or diffuses a kind of holiness over the unbelieving party by the believing party, so far as to render their children holy, and therefore it is improper to seek for a separation."
Calvin: “He answers an objection: but the faithful is defiled by the company of the unfaithful. The apostle denies that, and proves that the faithful man with good conscience may use the vessel of his unfaithful wife, by this, that their children which are born of them are considered holy or legitimate (that is, contained within the promise): for it is said to all the faithful, "I will be your God, and the God of your seed." The godliness of the wife is of more force to cause their marriage to be considered holy, than the infidelity of the husband is to profane the marriage. The infidel is not sanctified or made holy in his own person, but in respect of his wife, he is sanctified to her. The children are holy in the same sense that their parents are; that is they are sanctified, or lawfully espoused together, so the children born of them were in a civil and legal sense holy, that is, legitimate.
Matthew Henry: “Man and wife cannot separate at pleasure, nor dissolve, when they will, their matrimonial bonds and relation. They must not separate for any other cause than what Christ allows. And therefore the apostle advises that if any woman had been separated, either by a voluntary act of her own or by an act of her husband, she should continue unmarried, and seek reconciliation with her husband, that they might cohabit again. Note, Husbands and wives should not quarrel at all, or should be quickly reconciled. They are bound to each other for life. The divine law allows of no separation. They cannot throw off the burden, and therefore should set their shoulders to it, and endeavor to make it as light to each other as they can… Marriage is a divine institution; it is a compact for life, by God's appointment. Had converse and congress with unbelievers in that relation defiled the believer, or rendered him or her offensive to God, the ends of marriage would have been defeated, and the comforts of it in a manner destroyed, in the circumstances in which Christians then were. But the apostle tells them that, though they were yoked with unbelievers, yet, if they themselves were holy, marriage was to them a holy state, and marriage comforts, even with an unbelieving relative, were sanctified enjoyments. It was no more displeasing to God for them to continue to live as they did before, with their unbelieving or heathen relation, than if they had become converts together. If one of the relatives had become holy, nothing of the duties or lawful comforts of the married state could defile them, and render them displeasing to God, though the other were a heathen. He is sanctified for the wife's sake. She is sanctified for the husband's sake. Both are one flesh. He is to be reputed clean who is one flesh with her that is holy, and vice versa: Else were your children unclean, but now are they holy (v. 14), that is, they would be heathen, out of the pale of the church and covenant of God. They would not be of the holy seed (as the Jews are called, Isaiah 6:13), but common and unclean, in the same sense as heathens in general were styled in the apostle's vision, Acts 10:28. This way of speaking is according to the dialect of the Jews, among whom a child begotten by parents yet heathens, was said to be begotten out of holiness.”
These commentaries probably raised more questions than answers for evangelical readers unacquainted with covenant theology. Let me just say that unsaved spouses and children are treated in a special way in covenant theology, and the so-called high-church expressions of covenant theology expressed in infant baptism and confirmation are not as “faithless” as most evangelicals have been led to believe. The Pilgrims and Puritans, who were the most severe in demanding experiential regeneration were paedo-baptists. Please click on the paedobaptist link for more on this subject. Remember, the only reason this subject was raised was to demonstrate that Biblical sanctification is the result of a supernatural act of God and not merely moral persuasion, and therefore, the idea of “imperfect sanctification” is an oxymoron to orthodoxy.
We resume listing all the places the word “sanctified” is used in the New Testament.
“For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:5).
“If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21).
“For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Hebrews 2:11).
“By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).
“For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them” (Hebrews 10:14-16).
“Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:29). This scripture does not imply that the sanctification which was despised was imperfect. On the contrary, it says that the punishment will be severe because while the sanctification was perfect, it was despised as an unholy thing. The word translated “unholy thing” is “koinos”, which means unclean, unholy, common, defiled”. Witherspoon’s sanctification is by common grace moral persuasion. This scripture condemns the view that sanctification can be considered common without the condemnation of God.
“Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called” (Jude 1).
Now, here are the places where the same Greek word is translated (the BOLD word) as something other than “sanctified”.
“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name” (Matthew 6:9).
“Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?” (Mattew 23:17-19). As with the teaching regarding spouses and children being holy, this use of the word supports the idea that sanctification is completely by God and not in any way dependent on man’s moral persuasion or man’s twisted view of holiness being dependent on the sincerity of the believer, or in this case the sincerity of the giver of the gold, which would be analogous to someone making a decision for Christ, and placing himself on the altar. The person sincerely giving himself to God is not what makes a person holy. God makes a person holy and they then place themselves on the altar.
“And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth” (Luke 11:2).
“Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth: (John 17:17-19).
“And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
“For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Hebrews 2:11).
“For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:13-14).
“Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate” (Hebrews 13:12).
“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).
“He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still” (Revelation 22:11).
I hope the reader can see how serious this subject is. God makes people holy, so that holiness has to be perfect. Every scripture shows sanctification as wholly accomplished by God, so the idea of “imperfect sanctification” is an oxymoron to orthodox theology, but the obscuring of this truth is essential to Scottish Common Sense Realism regeneration, which is merely moral persuasion that can be imperfect, and according to Witherspoon that moral persuasion is just a tipping point where the person serves God over self.
Before I leave this branch of the subject, I must speak a few words to sinners of a different character. If then many decent and regular persons are nevertheless under the wrath of God, what terror should this give to the more openly profane, who are living in instances of gross wickedness! How many are there to be found among us, nay, how many appear
from Sabbath to Sabbath in our worshipping assemblies, who live in the habitual practice of some of the most notorious crimes! How many, who live in a bold defiance of the truths and laws of our great Master! Who are not only stained with original pollution, but laboring under a daily increasing load of actual guilt!
Witherspoon reveals his Enlightenment view of the depravity of man by calling it merely “pollution” and by distinguishing it from “actual guilt”. The word “polluted” does not convey the meaning of dead in sin. “you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)” (Ephesians 2:5). “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Colossians 2:13).
KJVPeople dead in sin do dead works: “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14).
Are there not some swearers and blasphemers of the great and dreadful name of God? Some despisers and profaners of his holy day? Some who add drunkenness to thirst, wasting the creatures of God by dissipating their own substance, defacing the image of God by undermining their own health, at one and the same time procuring and hastening their final destruction? Are there not some walking in the lust of uncleanness? Some retaining, without restitution, the gain of unrighteousness? Is it not surprising that such do not tremble at the word of God? Can there be any doubt that all of the above characters are unrenewed? Is there any pretence for their deceiving themselves? There is no just excuse even for the more regular and sober building their hope on a false foundation, but there is not so much as a shadow of excuse for them.
Dare any such entertain a doubt of a judgment to come? Can any mortal be insensible of the precariousness of time? The king of terrors lays his hand upon one after another, as he receives a commission from the King of kings; and it is distressing to think in what an unprepared state many receive the summons, which nevertheless they must of necessity obey.
Whoever thou art who readest these lines, if thou art yet unrenewed, but, particularly, if thou art one of those whose sins are open and manifest, I beseech thee, in the most earnest manner, to be reconciled unto God. “Behold now is the accepted time, behold now is the day of salvation. God is in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. “The blood of this Savior is of infinite value. His Spirit is of irresistible efficacy. He is "able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him." Delay not one moment. Give immediate thanks that thou art not already in the place of torment. Believe in the Son of God for righteousness and strength. Add not to all thy other sins against him, by undervaluing his atonement, and despairing of mercy. And may it please God, by his own power, to reach thy heart, to snatch thee as a brand from the burning, and make thee an everlasting monument of his grace and love.
Notice Witherspoon leaves salvation in the hands of God. My quarrel with Witherspoon is not his view of election, but his view of regeneration as being when a person is morally persuaded to serve God over self.
2. In the second place, We may often find an appearance of religion or virtue in a character, supremely governed by reputation, or a desire of respect and honor from the world. I say supremely governed, because no doubt there may be a mixture of other principles, whilst this is the leading, the directing, and the governing view.
Take note that Witherspoon is building a case for a supreme principle that rules the character. This supreme principle is not a new creation or new nature or a new Spirit indwelling the person. The supreme principle is simply when the old creation or old nature reaches the tipping point of being ruled by a supreme principle causes the person to serve God over self.
I am sensible there are those who have no other view of any kind, by a religious profession, than to deceive others; and under the fair disguise of piety and seeming devotion, to carry on, with more security and success, their, unrighteous designs. That some such are to be found in the world, sad experience is a melancholy proof. The greatness of their guilt it is not easy to conceive, and still more difficult to express.
As it must always proceed upon a known deliberate contempt of God, there is usually such a hardness of heart and searedness of conscience attending it, that there is little probability of making any impression upon them; or rather, to speak more properly, they have all the symptoms of being given up of God and left to themselves. But there is something extremely harsh and unnatural in suspecting any of wilful deliberate hypocrisy, till it is plainly and openly detected.
The truth is, I am persuaded, that as it is a dreadful, so it is a rare character. The far greater part of those who are under the power of hypocrisy, deceive themselves as much as or rather more than the world. These last fall more properly in my way to be considered, as having undergone a seeming or apparent, without any real change.
In order to illustrate the character and state of those who are supremely governed by reputation, or a desire of honor and respect, it will be proper to observe that as the law of God is a transcript of his own perfect inherent excellence, true religion must be in itself amiable and lovely. Nay, it must appear so even in the eyes of those who are engaged in a stated opposition to its interest.
You will say, How is this possible? Is it not a manifest contradiction? I answer, that though the spirit and principles from which true religion must flow, be directly contrary to the bent of an unrenewed heart, yet their effects are both amiable and beneficial.
Bad men cannot endure inward mortification and self-denial, being humbled as sinners in the sight of
God, justified freely by his grace, sanctified by his Spirit, and having nothing whereof to glory. Against these vital principles of piety, the natural mind sets itself with violence, and the unrenewed heart rises with indignation. But the effect of true religion, or a diligent compliance with the duties of the moral law, as it is amiable in itself, so it is also of good report among men.
We are told in Scripture, "that the righteous is more excellent than his neighbor." And the apostle Paul exhorts us to our duty in the following terms: "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things" (Philippians 4:8).
Does not this at once discover how many may attain to a considerable degree of regularity in the practice of their duty, while their governing principle is no better than a desire of the esteem of others? That character acquires a value in their eyes, which is in general repute, and will set them in the most favorable light. This hath often a secret and insensible influence, to which they themselves do not attend. What favors the deceit is, that many of the very same duties are commanded in the law of God, and reputable in the sight of man. They gladly embrace them therefore as the service of
God; it pleases them to think they shall by this means be acceptable to him.
They fondly flatter themselves, that this is the chief ground of their choice, and are not sensible that they are but offering incense to their own vanity. Self-partiality often hides the truth from our view, and conceals the chief springs and motives of action. Since disorder was introduced into the human frame by sin, there is no creature whose character is so mixed, variable, inconsistent, and self-contradictory as man.
Other creatures are regular and uniform, and steadily fulfill their functions; their nature and disposition may be known without ambiguity, and they always reach their end. But man is, as it were, torn to pieces by the conflicting principles of light and darkness; and from the different and contrary symptoms which often appear, it is hard to tell in what class he should be ranged.
From this will evidently appear the necessity of an inward and essential change. That which is done to gain the applause of men, will never be reckoned an acceptable part of the service of God. On the contrary, he holds it in the highest detestation. See the exhortation of our Savior: "Take heed that you do not your alms before men to be seen of them, otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 6:1). I cannot help observing here, that men of this character may be divided into two classes, who commonly hate themselves in opposition to, and have the greatest hatred or contempt for each other, and yet are acted by one common principle.
There are some who seem chiefly to confine their views to a fair and honorable carriage in their correspondence and commerce between man and man. These are commonly persons of higher rank, and all who desire to emulate them, and wish to be classed with them. In such, honor holds the place of religion, or at least is a superior and more powerful principle.
Witherspoon has said that “honor” is the ruling principle of some men. He is saying a goal or desire of man is a ruling principle – he is not talking about a character that acts a certain way, he is talking about a rational mind deciding how it will act based on a goal or desire. This is extremely important. This is where Witherspoon begins to lay a foundation for regeneration being merely moral persuasion to change his ruling goal or desire to serving God over self. The idea of “more powerful principle” is expressed many ways by Witherspoon. He sees “true being”: and “sincerity” as subjective states of mind when one principle is given slightly more status than competing principles. Of course this is pure humanistic psychology – not a Biblical view of regeneration.
They would not willingly stain their reputation with any thing that is base or mean, according to the standard they have formed to themselves of decency of character and dignity of carriage. This standard of decency, however, is very changeable. It is either more narrow or more extensive, according to the sentiments of those with whom they most frequently converse. And there is often some mixture of religion, which serves under, and cooperates with the commanding motives.
”commanding motives” are subjective principles chosen by the rational mind.
There are vast multitudes of this character in the present age, who cannot be described in juster or more significative terms than those of the apostle Paul; they are "conformed to this world." They tread in its steps, they act upon its maxims, they ask its approbation, and they have their reward.
This is the reason for Scottish Common Sense Realism – to make salvation more reasonable to Enlightenment man. Spurgeon’s Sword and Trowel wrote, “The .. way of the “men of reason and culture,”… was far more agreeable to their tastes and ideas, while the homage paid to reason and understanding, at the expense of revelation, gratified their pride.”
How far such persons are from being renewed in the spirit of their mind, and how much they are the servants of men, may be plainly discovered by the following sign, that they are almost as much ashamed of unfashionable duties, as of dishonorable
Crimes. How different is their boasted dignity of mind from a truly holy resolution, and Christian magnanimity! Are there not some whose integrity in ordinary cases may be depended on, and would abhor the thoughts of a mean and duty action, as it is usually styled, but who would be covered with nearly equal shame, if surprised in any act of devotion, as if detected in dishonesty and fraud?
Witherspoon was so embarrassed by “religious affections” that he completely changed the curriculum at The College of New Jersey (later called Princeton) to the “rational Christianity” of Scottish Common Sense realism, causing all the teachers sympathetic to Jonathan Edwards theology to leave in the first year.
How many, who would brave the king of terrors in the field of battle from a sense of honour, but who, though far from being infidels, have not sufficient courage to worship in their families, the great Creator and Preserver of men? Such may see the reception they shall meet with at last, and even feel the justice of their own condemnation, in these words of our Savior: "Whosoever, therefore, shall be ashamed of me, and of my words, in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father, with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38).
There are others of a different stamp, who seek the approbation of men, more by an appearance of piety and devotion, and the duties of the first table of the law. That there are some such also, not only the word of God, but daily experience, puts beyond all doubt or question. "This people", saith our Lord, "draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me" (Matthew 15:8).
I set aside, both in this and in the former instance, the case of gross, intended, and deliberate hypocrisy. But are there not many who, in their religious duties, seem chiefly to have in view the attaining or preserving the esteem and approbation of others? They are not determined, from any inward and personal conviction of the excellence or necessity of religion, but from their youth up, they have still heard religion spoken of with reverence, and seen religious persons treated with respect. This makes them consider an entire neglect of religious duties as shameful rather than sinful; and some degree of professed attachment to them, as necessary to their character and credit.
This, like many other motives, has a strong, though at the same time an insensible influence, and when mixed with imperfect convictions of sin, will produce no small degree of regularity in religious exercises, while yet the heart is habitually set upon the world.
In whatever age or place there is a regular and settled administration of the ordinances of Christ, there will be many whose religion is no more than a blind imitation of others, and a desire of some title to that character which is in esteem and repute for the time being. Wherever there is much real, there will also be much counterfeit religion. Wherever there is much true piety, it is always loaded with the dead weight of many customary professors.
Wherever there is much outward esteem waiting upon the servants of God, there will always be many of these fair-weather Christians, who follow Christ whilst the profession is honorable, but are unacquainted with that part of his service, which consists in taking up the cross and suffering reproach.
Witherspoon reveals the weakness of his psychological moral persuasion regeneration when he says false professors are not willing to “suffer reproach”. So if they were willing to suffer reproach, would that mean they are regenerate? How about willing to be burnt alive? (1 Corinthians 13:3). False religions are full of rational reasons to suffer for many reasons. When martyrs die without knowing God, it profits them nothing.
This is what happens when you eliminate the evidence of regeneration as the fruit of the Holy Spirit coming from a changed nature and replace it with “being fully convinced” with a mind that has reached the tipping point of serving God over self. The evidence of Scottish Common Sense Realism Salvation is the WORKINGS of the rational mind, not the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Their character is well described by our Savior, under the image of seed falling upon stony places. “He that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it. Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while; for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is
offended" (Matthew 13:20-21).
3. In the third place, there is still another character different from both the former, in which there may be an apparent and imperfect, while there is no complete and essential change. The character I have now in view is formed upon religious principles, but in which a spirit of bondage and slavish fear greatly predominates. It is often difficult, according, to the Scripture expression, rightly to divide the word of truth: it is difficult to point out the errors by which men deceive themselves, and mistake the shadow for the substance, and at the same time to caution them to distinctly, as that serious persons may not be alarmed, their peace and comfort interrupted by unnecessary or ill-grounded fears.
Translation: Witherspoon is going to explain how it is possible to be confident you are regenerate without any radical change.
Perhaps there are few subjects in which this difficulty is greater, than the one I have now mentioned. I pray that God,
for Christ's sake, may enable me to open the truth in such a manner, as may convince and awaken those who have hitherto built with untempered mortar, and may give additional peace and consolation to those who have "fled for refuge, to lay hold of the hope set before them." That it is of importance to open this character, every one may, upon a little reflection, be sensible.
There are many who will not find themselves included in any of the two former. Upon the most candid examination, conscience bears them witness, that they have more in view than merely present ease and comfort, or the approbation of others. They have often a strong impression of the importance of an endless eternity. This hath a sensible and considerable influence upon their conduct, and is a motive quite distinct from worldly pleasure.
Witherspoon is describing the unregenerate Christian who has a rational obedience to the demands of the gospel without a relationship with the Living God. The puritans called this pew warmer a “gospel hypocrites”.
It compels them to duties out of the reach of human observation, and therefore they cannot think that the praise of men is their highest aim. But are there not many such under the dominion of fear? That is to say, conscience in some measure awakened, denounces vengeance against the breaches of the law of God; providential dispensations fill them with a terror of divine power; they know they cannot live always, and tremble to think what shall become of them after death.
Well, perhaps the reader will say, with some surprise, is this wrong? No, so far their exercise coincides with that of real penitents. But here, if I may so express it, the ways part asunder: the real penitent, by a discovery of the intrinsic evil of sin, of the mercy of God, and the great foundation of a sinner's hope, is led in the way of peace; his heart is truly changed, and brought under the influence of the love of God, whom he obeys as his lawgiver, to whom
he submits as his Lord, and in whom he rests as his portion.
Notice how Witherspoon is making the effect the cause. Witherspoon is saying the discovery of truth causes the heart to change, the opposite of Biblical salvation in which God changes the heart so it then has new eyes to believe the truth. According to Witherspoon, the unregenerate are only blind because they do not believe the truth, the opposite of what the Bible says, that unless God changes the heart, the eyes are blind. The new psychological salvation says there’s no need for God to make a new nature, because a new nature is merely the result of believing scripture truth. Witherspoon is saying believing truth causes new life as apposed to new life enabling the belief of truth. The psychological, moral persuasion view of salvation is the wineskin can be made new by believing truth and the old cloth can be made new by believing truth. Believing truth then becomes the agent of change, nor supernatural regeneration.
For those who do not understand the New Light Calvinist “decision for Christ”, I suggest you read Samuel Hopkin’s explanation of “make yourself a new heart”. Once you understand that New Light Calvinism saving faith is the consequence of regeneration, and not the cause, you will see how very different Witherspoon’s psychology is from the American New Light Calvinist theology. Put simply, Witherspoon makes belief of truth the de facto cause of regeneration. This was a necessary adjunct to there being no supernatural regeneration and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The American New Light Calvinists made regeneration the cause of believing truth. They could do this because they taught supernatural regeneration and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Since Witherspoon did not include the activity of spirits in his metaphysics, he had only the activity of the soul to explain salvation. American New Light Calvinists continued the orthodox view of metaphysics that allowed for the activity of the soul and the activity of spirits in metaphysics.
But there are others who, by abstinence from some sins against which the reproofs of conscience are most distinct and severe, and by the formal discharge of many religious duties, endeavor to lessen their fears, to lay a foundation for a precarious peace, and, as it were, by a costly sacrifice to purchase an immunity from hell. Fear not only awakens,
but continues to govern them; they lay down a legal system of obedience and self-righteousness, but all the while they drag the yoke with great impatience.
They do not hate sin from their hearts, on its own account, but are afraid that they shall burn for ever for committing it. They do not love God, but they fear, because they know that they cannot resist him. They do not engage in his service with cheerfulness, or delight in it as their choice, but groan under it as a burden. Their hearts and affections are set upon present and temporal enjoyments; but they apply themselves in some measure to the duties of religion, because they know they cannot keep the world always, and submit to it as rather better and more tolerable than everlasting misery.
The frequency of this character will stand in need of little proof. If the features are justly drawn, I am persuaded they will be easily known, for they are very common. Are there not many who may justly suspect themselves to be actuated by no higher motive than the fear of wrath? Does not this plainly shew itself, by your backward, heartless, cold discharge
of duty, your regret and sorrow in parting with, and frequent relapses into sin? Is not your religion temporary and changeable? Does it not rise and fall with the sensible tokens of the divine presence and power? Have you not trembled on a sickbed or other time of danger — humbled yourselves before God — cried for relief — and promised amendment? But has not your resolution relaxed upon your recovery, and your diligence borne proportion to the supposed nearness or distance of the danger?
Witherspoon is giving what seems to be an argument for the need for a supernatural spiritual change as promised in the New Covenant: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them” (Ezekiel 36:26-27, Hebrews 8:10). But no, he is merely talking about a soul that has not been fully persuaded. If it were fully persuaded, it would not have fear. There is no immediate activity of the Holy Spirit in Witherspoon’s view of regeneration; it’s just when the rational mind believes Scripture truth to the tipping point of serving God over self.
Is not this then manifestly the effect of fear? And may not the words of the Psalmist be justly applied to all such — "When he slew them, then they fought him; and they returned, and inquired early after God: and they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer: nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues; for their heart as nor right with him, neither were they steadfast in his covenant" (Psalms 28:34-37.
Few things, I apprehend, will be of more importance than to shew, in a clear and satisfying manner, that the obedience or religious performances that are influenced by no higher motive than fear, are not acceptable to God, nor any sufficient evidence of a renewed heart. This indeed is equally plain from many passages of Scripture, and from the nature and reason of the thing. It appears from all those passages formerly cited, and many others where mention is made of the inclination of the heart and will, of which obedience on compulsion can be no manner of proof.
It appears undeniably from the great commandment of the law, and sum of practical religion, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy foul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind" (Luke 10:27). It appears from what is always represented as the great commanding and constraining motive of the gospel: "For the love of Christ constraineth us, because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead; and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again" (2 Corinthians 5:14).
Ho about "Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God" (Romans 8:15-16).
To the Same purpose the apostle John Says, “We have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him" (1 John 4:16). We find in Scripture that there is a direct opposition stated between the spirit of genuine converts under the gospel, and a spirit of bondage or slavish fear “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but ye have received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father" (Romans 8:15).
Witherspoon misquotes scripture again to suite his purpose. The scripture refers to the Holy Spirit as the spirit of adoption. “ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:15-16). Witherspoon does not believe “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:5). Rather, he believes the love of God is a rational response to believing Scripture.
So says the same apostle to Timothy, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love, and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7).
Witherspoon takes the scripture out of context to suite his purpose. The apostle Paul may be referring to Timothy’s spirit also, but there is no doubt he is primarily referring to the Holy Spirit within Timothy: ”Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:6-7).
The truth is, it is equally plain from the nature and reason of the thing. That which is done only or chiefly from fear, cannot be any evidence of the change that is acceptable to God, because, properly speaking, it is no real or inward change at all.
If Witherspoon were speaking like Paul, he would say, “that which is done only or chiefly from fear, cannot be any evidence of the change wrought by the Holy Spirit, because, properly speaking, it is no real or inward change at all”, but since he does not believe in the immediate activity of Holy Spirit, all that remains is psychology. You’ll never find Witherspoon using scriptures that show New Testament Salvation as the immediate work of the Holy Spirit like, “Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4:13). He takes snippets of scriptures on the subject of fear because they teach something he does not believe, that is, the need of the immediate activity of the Holy Spirit: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:14-16).
Does any reader delude himself into thinking Witherspoon was ignorant of these scriptures in context? No, he was embarrassed by them, so he took snippets out of context. The apostle Peter dealt with teachers like Witherspoon: “Our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:15-17). Salvation without the immediate activity of the Holy Spirit is another gospel.
The apostle Paul condemned the Galatians with ”I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel” (Galatians 1:6) because “this only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Galatians 3:2-5).
RATIONAL BELIEF OF SCRIPTURE TRUTH IS NOT REGENERATION AND THE INDWELLING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. SCOTTISH COMMON SENSE REALISM IS ANOTHER GOSPEL THAT MAKES THE HOLY SPIRIT A MERE INFLUENCE THAT ASSISTS THE BELIEF OF SCRIPTURE TRUTH. THE RATIONAL BELIEF OF SCRIPTURE TRUTH IS MERE WORKS OF THE FLESH WITHOUT REGENERATION AND THE INDWELLING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
EVERY EXPLANATION PROVIDED BY WITHERSPOON OF THE UNREGENERATE CAN JUST AS EASILY APPLY TO THOSE WHO HAVE MERELY BELIEVED SCRIPTURE AND RATIONALIZED FEELINGS ABOUT GOD. THE PROOF OF A REGENERATE HEART AND THE INDWELLING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IS FRUIT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
The effects of sin are restrained or controlled by superior power, but the inclination to it remains still the same. It is a common and known principle, that whatever is the effect of compulsion or force upon the agent, whether it be good or evil in itself, hath nothing moral in its nature. The sword that commits murder, and that which executes justice, deserves equal blame or praise, or rather none of them deserves either the one or the other, A detested thief, compelled to make restitution, or loaded with chains so that he cannot steal, does not thereby become honest in his nature.
The case is precisely the same with those who, in their religious duties, are under the government of fear, although it be the fear of their almighty Judge. From any similar instance between man and man, we may at once be sensible of this truth, if one man is willing to over-reach another, but, through his adversary's superior skill, is not able, or, terrified by threatenings, is not bold enough to attempt it, what character does he bear, or deserve, but that of a disappointed knave?
What parent or master will be satisfied with the obedience of a child or servant, who plainly discovers that he hates his commands and grieves at his authority? It is true as man can only judge with certainty of the outward appearance, this circumstance must be left out of every system of human government. We can make no laws on earth to punish the intention; but in much we know of it, as may make us sensible what all such deserve, and shall receive at the hand of God, whose prerogative it is that he knoweth and judgeth the secrets of all hearts.
I shall only further observe, that the same thing appears in the clearest manner, from the nature of that happiness which is prepared for the children of God in the life to come. It is purely spiritual, as it is perfectly holy; it consists in the knowledge of God, in the exercise of love to him, in conformity to his nature, and the execution of his will.
Those who are under the dominion of fear, who have no love to God, but only desire to avoid his wrath, will certainly find, that though it were possible for them to escape hell, they neither deserve, nor are able, to relish the employment and happiness of heaven. As the commands of God are a burden to them on earth, his immediate presence would be a still more insupportable burden in heaven. From all this I hope it appears evidently, that a character may be formed upon religious principles, and yet, if it is never carried further than a restraint by fear, it is not that change which is necessary to salvation.
It will not be improper, or rather it will be absolutely necessary, to make a reflection or two upon this branch of the subject for its improvement, and to prevent its being mistaken or misapplied. For this purpose let it be observed, that we must carefully distinguish the slavish dread above explained, from that dutiful reverential fear which every child of God is still bound to preserve upon his mind, of his Father who’s in heaven.
Witherspoon says “every child of God is still bound to preserve upon his mind” those ideas that cause him to have reverential fear. For Witherspoon, this is a function of rational thought, not a natural flow from a regenerate heart. He ties reverential fear with “true“ love of God (a tipping point when a person chooses to serve God over self) as apposed the dread of punishment with “carnal” love of God of the unregenerate heart. According to Witherspoon’s psychological theory, there is no difference in nature of sinner and saint except the saint has reached the tipping point through “truth impressions” where he has been morally persuaded to serve God over self.
How different this is from the Biblical Holy Spirit immediately affecting the saint as in, “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:5) or Spurgeon’s immediate Holy Spirit affecting the saint in, “the presence of the Son of God in the fiery furnace with him fills his heart with joy”.
Witherspoon will now try to explain how the regenerate have a reverential fear of God while the unregenerate sinners have a slavish fear of God because the regenerate have had a “truth impression” and the unregenerate have not had a “truth impression”. He will use examples of Old Testament figures who have experienced God immediately to prove that regeneration does not require the immediate experience of God today. He will oxymoronically attributing saving faith to Abraham, Isaiah and others who have immediately experienced God to “prove” regeneration does not require an immediate experience of God.
But before we go further into this oxymoronic mess, let’s read how Nathan Bangs, an orthodox Protestant minister dealt with the error of “saving faith” as believing scripture on March 10, 1857. By that time, Scottish Common Sense Realism, sent out in thousands of ministers from The College of New Jersey for 99 years and Princeton Theological Seminary for 39 years had so shifted salvation theology from God-relational to Man-Mechanical that some ministers went so far as to equate believing salvation scriptures with saving faith.
If you agree with Bangs that believing a scripture is not saving faith, you will see what was wrong with replacing the Inquiry Room BEST system with the Inquiry Room BIST system. The BEST system examined seekers for a change of heart that hopefully indicated a regenerated heart while the BIST system tried to get seekers to believe salvation scriptures, and if they did, declared them as having saving faith with de facto regeneration.
Please note this exchange took place March 10, 1857, showing how completely the Princeton influence had shifted the evangelical salvation theology of many ministers before the Civil War. Princeton was not the only source of Scottish Common Sense Realism. All the new denominations that started in America between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War were based on Scottish Common Sense Realism. All The leaders, Thomas Campbell, Alexander Campbell, Barton Stone and Walter Scott were Presbyterians who believed Scottish Common Sense Realism. Before them, in the years before the American Revolution, John Glas and Robert Sandeman were Scottish Presbyterians who shared the rational faith view of Scottish Common Sense Realism.
Alexander Campbell, Barton Stone and Walter Scott converted Baptists to the point where the number one threat to Baptist congregations from 1829-1865 was the rational faith “restoration” church theology that came from Scottish Common Sense Realism. The irony today, is most Baptists no longer believe in supernatural regeneration and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and have fully adopted the rational faith view of Scottish Common Sense Realism. But in the 36 years leading up to the Civil War, there was a religious war waged on Baptists by “Campbellists”, and entire Baptist congregations became Church of Christ, Christian Church or Disciples of Christ. In 1857, Baptists still believed in supernatural regeneration and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and circulars warned members against the rational faith heresy they called “sandemanism” after Robert Sandeman. It would be another 57 years before this view of “saving faith” caused Billy Sunday to eliminate the Inquiry Room altogether and declare everyone a “convert” who came forward in an altar call because they believed certain salvation scriptures.
Please compare Nathan Bangs’ Biblical explanation of saving faith as the result of a definite, complete and identifiable supernatural change of nature with Witherspoon’s “truth impression” by which a person reaches the tipping point of serving God over self.”
Here is the observation of Nathan Bangs:
I felt it my duty to speak against certain theories which have sometimes been broached there and elsewhere. I prayed most earnestly to God that he would be pleased to direct my thoughts and words, so that I might speak forth the words of “truth and soberness” in love and meekness. I rose under a trembling sense of my responsibility, and remarked…
I fully believe that we are both justified and sanctified by grace, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that when so justified or sanctified the Holy Spirit sets his seal upon our hearts, and gives us an evidence that the work is done. All those Scriptures, therefore, which speak of the necessity of having faith in God, of believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, etc., I need hardly say I fully embrace, and urge upon others as necessary conditions of justification and sanctification.
But what is this faith by which the believer is sanctified? Though the holy Scriptures frequently speak of faith, and urge its necessity, saying that “without faith it is impossible to please Him,” yet I recollect but one place in which a definition of faith is given, and that is Hebrews 11:1, where it is said “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.”
The substance of things hoped for! What are the things hoped for? They are everything future to the Christian; that is, heaven with all its glories, embracing every intermediate blessing necessary to fit us for that holy and happy place. Now, it seems hardly proper to say that faith is now the substance of all these divine realities, as though we had them already in possession.
This could not have been the meaning of the apostle. I think, therefore, with many good critics, that the Greek word there rendered substance should have been translated confidence, as it is so translated in a number of other places in the sacred Scriptures. Thus rendered the sense will be clear and complete. “Now faith is the confidence of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen;” that is to say, all the veterans whom the apostle enumerates in the subsequent parts of that chapter, as well as all others, have had the fullest confidence in the truth of God's promises which relate to future glory, and, of course, have had an evidence through the same medium; that is, a firm confidence in the truth of God respecting these things…
1. It is a divine evidence and conviction that God hath promised it in the holy Scriptures. Till we are thoroughly convinced of this, there is no moving one step further.
2. It is a divine evidence and conviction that what God has promised he is able to perform.
3. It is a divine evidence and conviction that he is able and Willing to do it now. To this confidence, that God is both able and willing to sanctify us now, there needs to be added one thing more, a divine evidence and conviction that he doth it…
The faith by which we are sanctified is inseparably connected with a divine evidence and conviction that the work is done; and hence the theory which teaches that we are to lay all upon the altar or surrender up our hearts to God by faith in Christ, and then believe that God has accepted, or does accept the offering, without our having any evidence of the Holy Spirit that it is accepted, or having any change in our disposition, or any emotion of joy and peace, more than we had before, is not sound, is unscriptural… for the Scriptures assert that “he that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself;” and … faith is a divine evidence and conviction that God hath promised to sanctify all those that come unto him; that he is both able and willing to do it, to do it now, and lastly that he (has done) it.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The BEST (Biblical Evidence of Salvation Test) used before the Civil War in the Inquiry Room, tested seekers for what Bangs called Biblical evidence, that is, “evidence of the Holy Spirit … change in our disposition … emotion of joy and peace”. Scottish Common Sense Realism placed these things in the category of “animal motives” and focused on whether or not salvation Scriptures were believed with the rational mind, making the BIST (Belief In Scripture Test) the preferred system in the Inquiry Room. Believing you are saved because you believe a salvation scripture comes directly from Scottish Common Sense Realism. Princeton theology and the “Restoration churches” called Church of Christ, the Christian Church and Disciples of Christ were manifestations of the post-Enlightenment zeitgeist movement toward Man-Mechanical faith promoted in Scottish Common Sense Realism. Let’s return to Bang’s 1857 observations on rational faith.
All this is accompanied with a divine evidence and conviction that the work is done; and hence,… if we believe it is done before we have this divine evidence and conviction, we believe without evidence, and are therefore every moment liable to deception.
But in opposition to this view it is asserted that we have the Holy Scriptures as an evidence of the work, and Abraham is cited, who “believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness.” But Abraham did not derive his faith from the Holy Scriptures, for they were not written until more than four hundred years after his time. It is stated in Genesis 15 that the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, and during the interview with this “word of the Lord” — probably the Lord Jesus himself — the promise was made to Abram that he should have an heir in his old age. This he firmly believed, and this faith was reckoned unto him for righteousness.
Let God appear to us, and speak to our hearts through whatever medium, and bear witness to our spirits that we are justified or sanctified, and then, and not till then, are we authorized to believe it. In the very nature of things a fact, and its evidence must precede the belief in it and its evidence, otherwise we make the existence of the fact depend upon our faith, which is simply absurd. "We must, therefore, be sanctified, and have an evidence of it before we have any scriptural authority to believe it; so it appears to me, for the existence of the fact and its evidence must precede our
belief in their reality, otherwise we may believe as whim or fancy may dictate, having no foundation for our faith.
To the assertion that the Holy Scriptures are our evidence I answer that the Holy Scriptures, though true and infallible, are not in themselves any evidence to me that I am either justified or sanctified; they simply declare who are sanctified, and give marks or evidences of the work.
For instance, St. Paul says: “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Here peace with God is the evidence of my justification. Where shall I look for this peace? Not in the Scriptures, but in my own heart,
EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Bright (another Presbyterian minister like Billy Sunday, who had no theological training), taught that if someone doubts their salvation because they have no biblical evidence of regeneration, they should nonetheless trust they are saved because they believed the scripture that said if you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ you are saved – faith in your faith, the old bait and switch, the technique used by most evangelical ministers today. But let’s resume with Nathan Bangs.
and if I find it there I have a scriptural evidence that I am justified. So St. John says: “Perfect love casteth out fear' that hath torment. This also I must find, if anywhere, in my own heart. Do I then, by careful examination, find that I am delivered from the slavish fear of death and hell, of men and devils, and of the judgment? If so I have reason,
on scriptural ground, to conclude myself sanctified, more especially if I bring forth the fruits of the Spirit in my tempers and dispositions, and keep the commandments of God. These and such like evidences of sanctification were enlarged upon, and pressed home upon all present.
But it is possible that I am deceived. How shall I detect deception? I answer; The Holy Scripture has furnished me with a test. Do I bring forth the fruits of the Spirit — “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance?' If these fruits “be in me, and abound,” then I have a right to believe that I have that Holy Spirit that produces them, for such is their excellence that the apostle says, “against such there is no law,” either of God or man. This test is given both to prove the truth of our sanctification, and also to detect deception should there be any, for “the tree is known by its fruits.”
"I have referred to Abraham. After the messengers left him he offered a sacrifice to God. This sacrifice, as well as all the sacrifices under the Mosaic law, was typical of the sacrifice of Christ, and they had their complete fulfillment when he died upon the cross, so that “he is the end of the law to every one that believeth,” that is, the law of sacrifices had its end completely accomplished by the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross; and hence, all we have to do in order to salvation, including justification and sanctification, is to receive him by faith, and when we thus receive him we are so saved, and have an evidence of it by the internal testimony of the Spirit.
But this faith is always accompanied by works. Even the penitent sinner, seeking the pardon of his sins, must repent and “do works meet for repentance;” he must “cease to do evil, and learn to do well,” according to his light and opportunity. And the penitent believer must “walk in the light, as God is in the light;” that is, he must go forward in every good word and work, “grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus,” in order to exercise that faith in Jesus Christ by which he obtains the sanctifying love of God, and this is according to the scriptural representation of the faith of Abraham.
“Seest thou how faith wrought together with his works, and by works was faith made perfect.” This was the substance of what I said, as nearly as I can recollect it, and I believe my memory does not fail me, for it was deeply impressed upon my heart, and I had deliberated for some days on the subject and thoroughly digested it in my mind; had prayed over it, most earnestly had prayed God to direct my thoughts and words, that I might speak according to his will and word. I arose under a trembling sense of my responsibility, and spoke, I fully believe, in the fear and love of God with all the deliberation I could command, knowing that I must give an account in the great day for my words.
I felt, indeed, the vows of God upon me, and spoke as a minister of the Lord Jesus, even in his name, who had accounted me worthy to be put in trust with the Gospel. I therefore solemnly warned those who professed to believe that merely because they had laid all upon the altar, or had surrendered up their hearts to God, he had adopted them, without any evidence of the Holy Spirit that they were adopted, or any change in their disposition, or any emotion of love and joy, to beware that they did not deceive themselves, as I greatly feared some had done; for if this be all that is required of us, namely, to believe that we are accepted before we have a witness that we are, it is to believe without evidence, and hence I fully believe that many have been deceived and are deceiving themselves daily.
I therefore exhorted them to examine themselves carefully and prayerfully, and not to rest satisfied with anything short of the witness and fruits of the Holy Spirit. "I ought, perhaps, to add that I do not think, nor did I intend to insinuate, that all who thus speak are deceived. Their hearts are better than their heads, and how far God may make allowance for merely mental errors is not for me to say; but this I know, that he bears much and long with such infirmities, or he would never have borne with me as he has. Hence we are commanded to “bear each other's infirmities, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
But the error at which I aim is not a mere incidental error. It is, in my judgment, a fundamental one, as it strikes at the root of experimental religion, for if I may believe myself sanctified without any evidence of the Holy Spirit that the work has been wrought, I may believe anything else before I have any evidence of it, and this tends to destroy all rational and scriptural belief, as it supersedes the necessity of evidence in faith; I may believe or not, as whim or fancy dictate.
Now we return to Witherspoon’s Practical Treatise On Regeneration.
Of the first kind it is said, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath torment: he that feareth is not made perfect: in love" (1 John 4:18). In proportion as the love of God prevails, the first sort of fear is banished, but the other is so far from being banished, that it rather increases. This is no other than a profound veneration of the unspeakable greatness and glory of God, and particularly of his holiness and purity, which should bring every creature prostrate before him.
In a nutshell, Witherspoon’s psychological system says certain facts about God, when learned, “should bring every creature prostrate before him”. But the Bible says a new thing must happen for people to come to God. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them” (Ezekiel 36:26-27). This prophesy was undoubtedly fulfilled, and continues unchanged since the day of Pentecost as the “new Birth” or regeneration, in which God supernaturally gives a new heart and indwells the saint with the Holy Spirit. But the same prophet warned Israel in Ezekiel 18:31-32, “Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye”. How are both true? Consecution. The American New Light Calvinists saw “make you a new heart and a new spirit” as the consequence of God making a new heart and a new spirit. That is why the Inquiry Room was so important; in order to separate the people who consecutionally made them a new heart and spirit for those that rationally thought they made them a new heart and new spirit. But Witherspoon thinks there is really no new heart and really no new spirit, just a tipping point when the rational mind is given enough information about God and His covenant to “bring every creature prostrate before him”. When Scottish Common Sense Realism eliminated the supernatural regeneration and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit from “make you a new heart and a new spirit”, all that was left was the rational tipping point of being persuaded to serve God over self. This caused the BIST system to replace the BEST system, since the only evidence Rational Saving Faith was the rational acceptance of truth, not a new nature and evidence of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
We find in the vision of Isaiah, the heavenly hosts represented as deeply penetrated with such a discovery: "In the year that king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple: above it stood the seraphims; each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is
full of his glory" (Isaiah 6:1-3).
This not only may, but ought in us to be accompanied with a fear of the punishment incurred by sin; at the same time it must be inseparably connected with, or rather founded upon a sense of the holiness of his nature, the purity of his law, and the justice of his vengeance. On the contrary, that fear of God which prevails in the unregenerate, is founded
only on the terror of his power, as a natural attribute. It is like the struggling of a chained slave, who "gnaws his tongue for pain," who is not satisfied with the equity of the law which he has transgresse, and cannot admit the justice of that sentence the execution of which he apprehends.
There is no inconsistency at all between the fear and love which terminate on the correspondent attributes of God, majesty and mercy. A Christian may, and ought to grow in a sense of the divine presence, and reverential dread of the divine majesty, and so be still more afraid of sinning; at the same time he may also grow in a sweet calm and composure of mind, a fiducial trust and reliance on the divine faithfulness and mercy; just as, on the other hand some sinners evidently increase both in presumption and timidity.
During a great part of their lives, they act without reflection and without restraint, and yet, at particular seasons, they are in a manner distracted with terror: nay, though it often happens that gross wickedness fears the conscience, and produces an insensibility and hardness of heart, there are instances of the greatest profligates being liable to the most alarming fears.
We are told that Nero, one of those monsters called Roman emperors, though he adventured to perpetrate some of the most horrid crimes, was yet so easily terrified, that a thunder-storm used to make him hide himself under a bed.
This anecdote illustrates how far Witherspoon is from orthodox thinking. Augustine spent hundreds of pages explaining how demons caused the rulers of Rome to act the way they did. Witherspoon sees only psychology.
Let us never, therefore, confound things so very opposite as a fear of the living God, joined to an inward and hearty approbation of his commands, and that unwilling obedience or abstinence which views him as a stern tyrant, and trembles at the thoughts of his Wrath.
It will be farther necessary to observe, that, as a slavish fear is to be entirely distinguished from that which is filial (loving) and dutiful, so no doubt there is often even in real Christians, a mixture of the spirit of bondage itself, though they are supremely governed by a better principle.
Governed by a better principle? He can’t say “governed by a regenerate heart or governed by the indwelling Holy Spirit”.
When the Holy Spirit is replaced with a principle, there has to be a satanic reason. He can’t quote the proof text regarding the “spirit of bondage” because it involves the immediate activity of the Holy Spirit. “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:15-16). Witherspoon purposely ignores essential scriptures to formulate a rational faith that appeals to Enlightenment man. This is another gospel.
This is not to be wondered at, since they are sanctified but in part. There is a strong remainder of sin and corruption in them of different kinds, and, among the rest, a very blameable degree of unbelief and distrust.
Translation: The “better principle” is not a new man with new characteristics showing fruit of the Holy Spirit. The “better principle” is merely the tipping point of knowing enough about God and His covenant to serve God over self. So since the making of the “better principle” was entirely dependent on rational thought, the increasing of power of that “new principle” must be done the same way, through more knowledge of God and His covenant. Because the regenerate are just people who have a sufficient amount of knowledge to serve God over self, unbelief and distrust are still in the regenerate to some degree, making them “sanctified in part”. How different this shades of gray psychological view is from the black and white Biblical view. “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). How different Scottish Common Sense realism would be if it had retained the Biblical view of the immediate activity of the Holy Spirit. “This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain”. (Galatians 3:2-4). This is why Scottish Common Sense Realism is another gospel. Without the immediate activity of the indwelling Holy Spirit, rational faith is not saving faith and the grace that enables rational faith is not saving grace. “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel” (Galatians 1:6). If the “grace of Christ” is merely the understanding of the sacrifice for sin, then the “grace of Christ” is merely a psychological state of believing that truth without the need of supernatural regeneration and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
How many are there whose comfort is lessened, and whose hands hang down, through an excessive fear of death, the last enemy! What a refreshment should it be to all such, to think of this end of our Saviour's coming, to “deliver them who, through fear of death, were all their life-time subject unto bondage" (Hebrews 2:15).
For their sakes, I am persuaded, it will not be disagreeable that in the close of this section, I lay down a few marks, by which they may be enabled to judge whether this slavish fear predominates or not.
First then, Christians, whether or not is your fear of wrath immediately connected with a sense of the evil of sin? Do you see these two things in their inseparable relation to, and mutual influence upon one another? Do you fear wrath as the effect of sin, and sin as the just cause of wrath? Have you no fault to find with this connection?
Witherspoon is saying that the regenerate lovingly agrees with the justness of the decrees of God that sends sinners to hell because they see God as a benevolent dictator while the unregenerate trembles at the decrees of God that sends sinners to hell because they see God as a stern tyrant. This idea shows up in a variety of ways in New Light Calvinist theology. When this idea is called “disinterested benevolence”, it is a feeling of “agape love”, that is, a feeling that the regenerate loves without any expectation of return for that love. Samuel Hopkins said the highest expression of disinterested benevolence is the willingness to go to hell if it be God’s will.
Of course, Witherspoon sees Hopkins’ theory as oxymoronic, because Witherspoon does not believe saving faith as God-Relational, where the saint could trust God enough to be willing to go to hell if it be God’s will. Witherspoon does not see regeneration as an intimate union of God and man (1 Corinthians 6:17); a relationship in which the saint does not need to know what God is doing or why, but trusts the Person of God nonetheless.
The orthodox view of saving faith is fiducial, not merely rational, a cordial union of Persons, not merely mental assent to ideas and acceptance of facts. Charles Spurgeon says Orthodox saving faith “studies what the promise is—an emanation of divine grace, an overflowing of the great heart of God; and faith says, "My God could not have given this promise, except from love and grace; therefore it is quite certain His Word will be fulfilled." Then faith thinketh, "Who gave this promise?" It considereth not so much its greatness, as, "Who is the author of it?" She remembers that it is God who cannot lie—God omnipotent, God immutable; and therefore concludeth that the promise must be fulfilled; and forward she advances in this firm conviction”.
Spurgeon put his finger on the danger of Scottish Common Sense Realism when he said the regenerate heart trusts not in faith as saving, but in God that gives saving faith. If saving faith is merely belief in facts about God and His covenant, then it would be unthinkable that someone with saving faith could contradict the basis of that faith, that is, that saving faith saves someone from Hell. In fact, if saving faith is just believing facts about God and His covenant, being willing to go to hell, if it be God’s will, would be an indication that, as Witherspoon would say, they are “sanctified in part”.
When Scottish Common Sense Realism eliminated pnuematology from metaphysics, gone was “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:5), and with it the idea that disinterested benevolence could be more than a rational understanding of facts about God and His covenant.
I wonder how many early Christians went singing into the arenas to be eaten by wild beasts without “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost”. No, saving faith is not merely rational belief of facts about God and His covenant. It is a union of God and man so regenerate man is able to say, “we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:36-39). The love of God is experienced on earth just as surely as it will be experienced in heaven AS AN EMOTION. OTHERWISE, PAUL’S FAMOUS “LOVE CHAPTER” WOULD MAKE ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE AT ALL.
Scottish Common Sense Realism CAN NOT ALLOW love to be an emotion. Since Witherspoon’s regeneration is merely a rational understanding of facts about God and His covenant, emotions of love are produced by the mind, not a natural flow from a changed heart and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. There is no meaning to “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). Spurgeon rejected this faithless view and presented regeneration as experiencing the Person and Presence of God. “Have you passed through no rivers, supported by the divine presence? Have you walked through no fires unharmed? Have you had no manifestations? Have you had no choice favours? The God who gave Solomon the desire of his heart, hath He never listened to you and answered your requests? That God of lavish bounty of whom David sang, "Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things,"
Do you plead guilty before God, and confess that you are without excuse? Is sin truly hateful in itself, and your own unhappy proneness to it an habitual burden? The language of a believer is the same with that of the apostle Paul: "Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good, that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin” (Romans 7:12-14).
In those who are under the dominion of fear, there is no just sense of the evil of sin, there is a proneness to extenuate
it, and inclination to justify it, and a continual attempt to forget or conceal it. The crime is still sweet, though the punishment is terrible.
This is theologically wrong, Biblically wrong, and historically proved wrong. Virtually every biography written before the twentieth century by people who have experienced regeneration and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit includes a period of law works in which the Holy Spirit illuminates the soul to it’s desperate condition. Witherspoon believes that regeneration is a gradual process of illumination, so he considers law works to be the process of regeneration. He is dead wrong. The modern heresy that A. W. Tozer described in his book, I Call It Heresy, which says you are saved by accepting Jesus as Savior and gradually sanctified as you accept Jesus as Lord comes from Scottish Common Sense Realism.
They are not satisfied to find that God is so holy, so just, and so powerful. With them his government is arbitrary, his law is severe, his nature implacable; and instead of changing their own disposition, they would much rather with a change in his will.
2. Whether does your fear of God drive you from his presence, or excite a strong desire of reconciliation and peace? The slavish fear which is not attended with any just views of the divine mercy, clothes God with terror, and makes him the object of aversion. This is plainly the first effect of sin. It was so in the cafe of Adam, who, as soon as he had lost his integrity, when he heard God’s voice in the garden, fled and hid himself. We find the same sentiment expressed by the men of Bethshemesh, upon an extraordinary token of divine power and jealousy: “And the men of Bethshemesh said, Who
is able to stand before this holy Lord God, and to whom shall he go up from us?” (1 Samuel 6:20).
Nay, the same seems to have been the view of the apostle Peter, when surprised with an astonishing evidence of his Master's power and Godhead: <* When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' feet, saying, Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Luke 5:8). This disposition is daily manifest in many who live under the dominion of fear. The worship of God is painful to them, his service is a burden, his presence is terrible; they keep at a distance, therefore, as much as they can or dare. Their peace and composure is chiefly owing to their losing themselves, and occupying their minds entirely with different objects. No sign will more surely discover the nature and influence of slavish fear than this.
I disagree with Witherspoon and agree with the puritans. Gospel hypocrites are complacent because they have met the requirement of salvation in their own minds. This is the inevitable result of a purely rational faith. Faith in your faith that you have saving faith has NOTHING TO DO WITH SUPERNATURAL REGENERATION AND THE INDWELLING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. When principles replace the person of God, these abstract ideas can be fit into nice, comfortable self-fulfilling expectations of imaginary assurance, producing gospel hypocrites.
There is a gloom and melancholy spread over every thing in religion to them: when they are engaged in sacred duties, it is a heavy tiresome task, and they rejoice in getting them over, as a bullock when he is loosed from the yoke. On the other hand, real Christians, though burdened with sinful fear, cannot take refuge in any thing else than God; they dare
not take their rest in the creature, but say with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15); or with the Psalmist David, "Yet the Lord will command his loving-kindness in the day-time, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life" (Psalm 42:7). Nothing gives relief to such, till they attain to a view of the divine mercy, and a humble hope of peace and reconciliation.
3. Whether have you comfort and satisfaction in a sense of God's favor, as well as a distressing fear of his wrath? This also will serve to distinguish between those who have no other religion than what fear produces, and those in whom it only maintains a conflict with a better principle.
There are some who are restrained from sin, and compelled to many duties by fear, who may easily see what governs them, because they are altogether strangers to joy and satisfaction in God. This is not indeed what they aim at. They have never yet seen his favor as the object of supreme desire. They only believe so far as to tremble, and would fain (agree) by competition, so to speak, and some degree of compliance, though reluctant and backward, avoid the divine wrath.
A coldness and constraint runs through all their performances, and they are apt to call in question the reality of joy in God, and communion with him, because they are altogether strangers to it themselves. But all the real children of God desire a sense of his love, as well as grieve or fear under a sense of his displeasure. The light of his reconciled countenance gives them more joy and gladness than the greatest affluence of corn or of wine; and under the severest chastisement, instead of flying from his presence, they say with Job, "O that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his feat; I would order my cause before him, and fill my mouth with arguments" (Job 23:3-4).
Nothing indeed can be more proper than calling the one a filial, and the other a slavish fear; for great is the difference between a child fearing the displeasure of a parent whom he sincerely loves, and a slave dreading the resentment of an enraged tyrant whose service he abhors.
Unregenerate persons must be regenerated supernaturally – but Witherspoon’s definition of “supernatural” is not Biblical.
4. From this metaphor Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God, and other parallel expressions in the Holy Scriptures, we may learn that the change here intended is SUPERNATURAL.
HERE IT COMES - THE GREAT OBFUSCATION.
When I say it is a supernatural change, I mean that it is what man cannot by his own power effect without superior or divine aid. As we are by nature in a state of enmity and opposition to God, so this is what we cannot "of ourselves" remove or overcome.
Notice “of ourselves” is in quotes – This is a tip off that according to Scottish Common Sense Realism, when you are regenerated, it may seem like it’s “of yourself”, but it can’t be because it has to be “supernatural” in order to be orthodox. Notice, the problem is not a nature that is dead and blind and deaf as the Bible says, but rather a nature that is “at enmity and opposition to God”. That is like saying the only thing preventing a cat from becoming a dog is the cat does not want to be a dog. There is no acknowledgement of a nature that NOT what is needs to be, alive and seeing and hearing.
The exercise of our own rational powers, that persuasion of others, the application of all moral motives of every kind, will be ineffectual without the special operation of the Spirit and grace of God. Thus the apostle John describes those who believe in the name of Christ: “Which were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). And thus the apostle Paul expresses himself: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Titus 3:5).
Witherspoon says a “special” operation of grace is necessary, but he contradicts this idea later when he says,
“There were … great debates whether special and common grace differ essentially in their nature, or if
they differ only in degree… I embrace the last of these opinions”. Since Witherspoon does not believe in a change of nature, the definition of regeneration is when the mind reaches the tipping point of having enough knowledge of God and His covenant to serve God over self.
According to Witherspoon, the common grace by which an unregenerate person believes in Christ without being saved is of the same nature as the saving grace by which the regenerate person believes in Christ and is saved. The grace God uses to regenerate and the grace God uses to illuminate the mind without regeneration is of the same nature; The only difference between the two is the degree of illumination.
When Witherspoon says “supernatural”, he just means “elect”, in order to comply with the minimal standard of orthodoxy. How do we know a person is “elect”? Forget about the Biblical evidence of the fruit of the Holy Spirit…that’s tied to the medieval view of God as a spirit that affects humans immediately. The modern empirical evidence has to be a mind that now, for some reason, chooses to serve God over self.
Witherspoon believes empirical science has proven a better way to present salvation, so to get away from antiquated (and mistaken) views of the way God regenerates, we need a means of grace that works with psychology without the need of pnuematology. Empirical science has observed that children raised in Christian homes are more likely to turn out to be Christians than children raised in heathen homes. “Truth impressions” must be stronger in Christian homes than in heathen homes. Empirical science would postulate that God gives the elect “truth impressions”! “Truth impressions” eliminate the need of a change of nature and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and those embarrassing “religious affections” tied to a medieval view of God as a Spirit that affects humans immediately.
There is no part of the Scripture doctrine which the natural man hears with greater aversion, or opposes with greater violence. It gives so humbling a view of our own character and state, and stands so directly opposed to pride and self-sufficiency, that it cannot be truly acceptable to any, till they are brought to a saving acquaintance with its power and efficacy. However, it hath been this “foolishness of preaching,” or rather, this commonly esteemed foolish part of preaching, that God hath most remarkably blessed for the salvation of souls.
Witherspoon is dead wrong. The vast majority of Evangelicals today gladly accept a grace that says they can live any way they want and still go to heaven. This “sloppy agape” is the result of 100 years of decisional regeneration, the evolutionary result of Scottish Common Sense Realism. Man’s rational attempt to stop sinning and the illumination to his desperate state is called law works. It was the abandonment of law works and the acceptance of salvation as an abstract gift without repentance and relationship with the person of Christ that normalized “carnal Christians”, an abomination that God will spew out of His mouth.
Witherspoon’s approach will be to show that the Bible says saving grace is necessary, but that saving grace is the same as common grace, that is, it works the same way as common race, through the rational mind understanding facts about God and His covenant. Witherspoon will also prove from scripture that man must have a new nature, but Witherspoon’s new nature is just when a person reaches the tipping point of being convinced by facts to serve God over self. Witherspoon will prove from scripture that saving grace must be by the Holy Spirit, but Witherspoon’s Holy Spirit is a mere influence that enables “truth impressions” on the mind and “quickens” scripture. Witherspoon’s Holy Spirit never affects people immediately, never indwells saints and never gives people a new nature in the orthodox sense.
I will therefore endeavor to shew, in as plain and satisfying a manner as I am able, that this is the doctrine of the Holy Scripture, and then to vindicate it from tie chief objections that are usually raised against it. How many passages of Scripture are there, that speak in the strongest terms, not only of our miserable but helpless state before conversion! Thus the apostle to the Ephesians, “And you, hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1).
And again, “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved)" (Ephesians 2:4-5). In his epistle to the Colossians he repeats
the same thing: “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Colossians 2:13).
The reader must know, that in many other passages the same truth is to be found, couched under the same or like metaphors; such as, “blindness, darkness, hardness of heart.: The force of the expression is seldom sufficiently attended to. Suffer me then to put the question. Do you give credit to the Holy Scriptures? Do you form your opinions, without partiality or prejudice, from them? Then you must receive it as truth that man, in his natural state, can do nothing of himself to his own recovery, without the concurrence of superior aid. If there is any meaning or propriety in Scripture language, we must yield to this.
Witherspoon yields to the scriptural truth that man, in his natural state, can do nothing without the concurrence of superior aid from God, but that concurrence is not supernatural in the orthodox sense. The concurrence is metaphysical psychology without pnuematology (outside spiritual influence); entirely psychological. The rational faith of Scottish Common Sense Realism remains just inside the bounds of orthodoxy by acknowledging the Holy Spirit is connection to man’s thinking process when he says “concurrence of superior aid”. IT IS SIGNIFICANT IN UNDERSTANDING WITHERSPOON’S THEOLOGY, THAT WHILE REFORMED THEOLOGY AT THE TIME INCLUDED THREE CATEGORIES OF PROVIDENCE (1.PRESERVATION, 2.CONCURRENCE, AND 3.GOVERNANCE), AND THE ONLY CATEGORY THAT COULD INVOLVE IMMEDIATE ACTIVITY OF THE HOLY SPRIT WAS CONCURRENCE, THAT WITHERSPOON ONLY REFERRED TO CONCURRENCE IN THIS ONE PLACE IN HIS TREATISE ON REGENERATION!
“Concurrence” is the premier distinctive characteristic of New Light Calvinist doctrine that separates the New Lights from Old Lights. The idea of concurrence is one step toward decisional regeneration, since it says when God applies saving grace, there will be a concurrent decision of man to serve God over self. The Old Lights saw this as a dangerous teaching because it would give seekers the idea that since they did something that is a usual indication of regeneration, that they are saved. This is called “implicit faith” in the Catholic Church, and was the main reason Luther spent so much time defining saving faith to distinguish it as a change of disposition that lasted unto death. The first four theses Luther nailed to the church door dealt with true repentance: “1. Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance. 2. This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests. 3. Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work diverse mortifications of the flesh. 4. The penalty [of sin], therefore, continues so long as hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.”
Spurgeon deals with implicit faith versus saving faith with:
God's altar was to be built of unhewn stones, that no trace of human skill or labour might be seen upon it. Human wisdom delights to trim and arrange the doctrines of the cross into a system more artificial and more congenial with the depraved tastes of fallen nature; instead, however, of improving the gospel carnal wisdom pollutes it, until it becomes another gospel, and not the truth of God at all. All alterations and amendments of the Lord's own Word are defilements and pollutions. The proud heart of man is very anxious to have a hand in the justification of the soul before God; preparations for Christ are dreamed of, humblings and repentings are trusted in, good works are cried up, natural ability is much vaunted, and by all means the attempt is made to lift up human tools upon the divine altar. It were well if sinners would remember that so far from perfecting the Saviour's work, their carnal confidences only pollute and dishonour it. The Lord alone must be exalted in the work of atonement, and not a single mark of man's chisel or hammer will be endured. There is an inherent blasphemy in seeking to add to what Christ Jesus in His dying moments declared to be finished, or to improve that in which the Lord Jehovah finds perfect satisfaction. Trembling sinner, away with thy tools, and fall upon thy knees in humble supplication; and accept the Lord Jesus to be the altar of thine atonement, and rest in Him alone.
Many professors may take warning from this morning's text as to the doctrines which they believe. There is among Christians far too much inclination to square and reconcile the truths of revelation; this is a form of irreverence and unbelief, let us strive against it, and receive truth as we find it; rejoicing that the doctrines of the Word are unhewn stones, and so are all the more fit to build an altar for the Lord.
The same Ezekiel said “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them” (Ezekiel 36:26-27) also said, “Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye” (Ezekiel 18:31-32).
All New Light Calvinists saw these two scriptures as two sides of the same coin. This is what Witherspoon means by concurrence – the result of regeneration is “Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall lothe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations” (Ezekiel 36:31).
The danger with the idea of concurrence is that people think when they “lothe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations” that God has regenerated them – this is the substance of law works which come before regeneration. The great error of the Second Great Awakening Camp meetings was mistaking law works with evidence of regeneration.
Calvinist concurrence before regeneration is called “prevenient grace” or “preventive grace”. It is similar to what Calvinists label as “synergism” in Arminian salvation, except in the two ways it relates to election. What happens in Calvinist concurrence is not seen as the reason God regenerates, and not every person is given grace to have “instrumental” faith. Both theologies acknowledge with Spurgeon that without regeneration, there is no saving or “instrumental” faith, “What more could be said than that we are "dead" in sin? What more incapable of action than one who is entirely deprived of life?”.
Both theologies agree with Wesley, that regeneration is definite, complete and identifiable, so focusing on saving or “instrumental” faith as separate from regeneration is extremely foolish: “But does God work this great work in the soul gradually or instantaneously?" Perhaps it may be gradually wrought in some; I mean in this sense, — they do not advert to the particular moment wherein sin ceases to be. But it us infinitely desirable, were it the will of God, that it should be done instantaneously; that the Lord should destroy sin "by the breath of His mouth," in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. And so He generally does; a plain fact, of which there is evidence enough to satisfy any unprejudiced person. Thou therefore look for it every moment! Look for it in the way above described; in all those good works whereunto thou art "created anew in Christ Jesus." There in then no danger: you can be no worse, if you are no better, for that expectation. For were you to be disappointed of your hope, still you lose nothing. But you shall not be disappointed of your hope: it will come, and will not tarry. Look for it then every day, every hour, every moment! Why not this hour, this moment? Certainly you may look for it now, if you believe it is by faith. And by this token you may surely know whether you seek it by faith or by works. If by works, you want something to be done first, before you are sanctified. You think, I must first be or do thus or thus. Then you are seeking it by works unto this day. If you seek it by faith, you may expect it as you are; and expect it now. It is of importance to observe, that there is an inseparable connexion between these three points, — expect it by faith; expect it as you are; and expect it now! To deny one of them, is to deny them all; to allow one, is to allow them all. Do you believe we are sanctified by faith? Be true then to your principle; and look for this blessing just as you are, neither better nor worse; as a poor sinner that has still nothing to pay, nothing to plead, but "Christ died." And if you look for it as you are, then expect it now. Stay for nothing: why should you? Christ is ready; and He is all you want. He is waiting for you: He is at the door! Let your inmost soul cry out,
As a disclaimer” Arminians do not see “instrumental” faith as having any merit in itself and believe the grace to have instrumental faith is given to all men. Calvinists don’t believe these two ideas are compatible with election as described in the Bible. But both theologies do not consider saving or “instrumental” faith as “tipping point” of common faith.
Witherspoon does not believe there is any difference between saving grace and common grace. All grace comes as moral persuasion of the truth of scripture. Common grace becomes saving grace when it has been applied to the tipping point where the person chooses to serve God over self. Spurgeon expressed orthod theology with “What more could be said than that we are "dead" in sin? What more incapable of action than one who is entirely deprived of life?”. Despite Witherspoon’s polemics, he does not believe death is overcome by life through a new nature and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. For Witherspoon, the death to life idea is an analogy that must be acknowledges and then stripped of any experiential meaning.
But lest there should be any remaining exception, the thing is asserted in plain and explicit terms, without any metaphor, by the apostle John, from our Saviour's own mouth: “No man can come unto me, except the Father which hath sent me, draw him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God; every man, therefore, that hath heard and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me" (John 6:44-45.
Here is the ONLY reason Witherspoon believes in the “truth impression” as only available to the elect – because it is necessary to stay just within the bounds of orthodoxy.
I shall mention only one passage more, in which, under the similitude of a wretched outcast: infant, the prophet Ezekiel represents the natural state of Jerusalem: "And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born, thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all. None eye pitied thee, to do any of these unto thee, to have compassion upon thee; but thou wall cast out in the open field, to the loathing of thy person, in the day that thou wast born. And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live" (Ezekiel 16:4-6).
Here all the circumstances are collected that could signify at once a miserable and weak, wretched and helpless condition, or that could serve to make our deliverance at once a signal instance both of grace and power.
Yes, Witherspoon believes that saving grace is from God, and man can not save himself. But acceptance of the idea that God must save man must be reconciled with “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and ye shall be saved”. The BIG question is how does belief relate to saving grace? The issue being discussed is how do we know that God has saved a man? Witherspoon’s answer is God saves man through “truth impressions”, not a supernatural change of nature that is definite, complete and identifiable. Witherspoon’s change of nature is indefinite, incomplete and unidentifiable, because it is through the normal rational process of learning about God and His covenant.
This leads me to observe, that the same truth will receive further light from those passages of Scripture in which the real agent in this great change is pointed out, and which celebrate the efficacy of his power. As in the text it is asserted, that "except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” so, in other passages, true believers are said to be “born of God — born from above — born of the Spirit." The power of God exerted in the renovation of the sinner, is described in language taken from the first formation of the world: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
And, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away, behold all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17). See the prophecies of the Old Testament, respecting the plentiful effusion of the Holy Spirit in the times of the gospel; they contain a clear description of divine supernatural influence. Thus the prophet Isaiah, “For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground. I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring; and they shall spring up as among the grass, and as willows by the water-courses" (Isaiah 44:3-4).
To the same purpose the prophet Ezekiel, "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you an heart of flesh; and I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes; and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them" (Ezekiel 36:25-27).
Let it not seem tedious to any that I have collected so many passages of Scripture on this subject. It is no light thing, and indeed it is no common thing, to believe it from the heart. But let us now affirm it, on divine testimony, that regeneration is the work of the Holy Ghost.
Witherspoon’s does not believe “the plentiful effusion of the Holy Spirit in the times of the gospel” continues in the present. Like the Sadducees in Jesus’ day, he believes the Holy Spirit no longer acts immediately, but only metaphysically without pnuematology. Like Witherspoon, the Sadducees thought the immediate activity of God had ceased, and so they thought themselves MORE orthodox than the Pharisees, who believed that God still affected people immediately, as well as demons and angels. Why did they think themselves MORE orthodox than the Pharasees? For the exact same reason Christians that do not believe in the immediate activity of the Holy Spirit and demons and angels today think they are more orthodox, that is, because they rely solely on the written word of God. Of course they are dead wrong, because they have merely replaced the Person of God with facts about God and His covenant.
The early church included many Pharisees, but there is no record of any Sadducees. Is it not obvious why this is so? How can someone be born of the Holy Spirit and not know it? If you read the 25 evidences of regeneration in the book of Firt John, this truth should become obvious.
So while Witherspoon wants the reader to believe that God dos not regenerate as he did in the times of the gospel, we still must believe that “regeneration is the work of the Holy Ghost. But that work is not as in the days of the gospel. We have evolved to the point we no longer need the immediate activity of the Holy Spirit. We just need “truth impressions”. This is another gospel, having the form of Godliness, but none of its power.
I would not build this truth upon any other evidence. When we stand in God's room, bear his message, and speak in his name, nothing should be affirmed which cannot be supported by a "Thus saith the Lord." But having done so, I think I may "warrantably observe how much the visible state of the world corresponds with the Scripture declarations on this subject.
I hope this will be neither unsuitable nor unprofitable, considering what an inward aversion men have to receive and apply them. Do we not daily see many instances of persons, of first rate understandings and great natural abilities, who yet continue blind to their duty to God, and the salvation of their souls? As they are born, so they continue to shew themselves through their whole lives, “wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge." What proofs do they often give of the power and influence of habits of wickedness over them! How frequently does it happen, that their attachment to sin in general, or to some particular sin, is such as to bear down before it all regard to their own interest, temporal and eternal! While at the same time persons of unspeakably inferior talents, enlightened by the Spirit, and sanctified by the grace of God, shall stand firm against the most dangerous temptations, and escape the pollution that is in the world through lust.
This our blessed Lord adores as a part or proof of the sovereignty and unsearchable wisdom of his heavenly Father. "In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes; even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight" (Luke 10:21).
Is it not plain, that superior advantages of instruction, though very valuable, are far from being always effectual? Sometimes those who live long under the salutary instruction and edifying example of pious parents and masters, continue, notwithstanding, in an insensible state. Sometimes we see persons fit long under the most enlightening and awakening ministry, with hearts as hard as the nether milstone.
The case of the ordinary hearers of the gospel is indeed often affecting, and leads to serious meditation on the depths of the counsels. Suffer me to bespeak the readers of this class in the following terms. Are not many of you a wonder to yourselves, as well as to one another? Is not your danger often pointed out to you in the clearest manner? Is not your character drawn and distinguished by the most undeniable marks?
Are not your duty and interest set before you in such a manner that it cannot be contradicted, and there is nothing left to reply? And yet after all, though there may be some weak or temporary resolutions, it is without any real or lasting effect. Doth not this ratify and confirm the following passage of Scripture? "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then, neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase" (1 Corinthians 3:5-7).
To be absent altogether from the ordinances of God, is a dreadful and dangerous thing, for it leads directly to a state of total blindness and undisturbed security.
Witherspoon refers to the ordinances of the church – all the things that the church offers. He is going to say that being in church alone does not regenerate you.
I have often thought, however, that the ease of many who continue to give their attendance is much more wonderful (astounding). Are there not habitual drunkards often seen in the house of God? Are there not some profane swearers often seen in the house of God? Are there not some who walk in the lust of uncleanness?
Some who retain, without restitution, unrighteous gain, whom approaching death, the wrath of God, and the fire of hell, cannot terrify? Of such we may justly say with the apostle Paul, "But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost, in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them"(2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
Let it be further considered, how much providential warnings are generally despised, even when they are so awful in their nature, and so clear in their meaning, that one would think nothing but an absolute infatuation could prevent their effect.
Witherspoon quotes scriptures that clearly state the spiritual realities and then says things that contradict the scriptures, showing that he does not believe the scriptures. He quotes “the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them", and then contradicts scripture by saying that warning from God are so “clear in their meaning, that one would think nothing but an absolute infatuation could prevent their effect”. He denies the spiritual nature of moral depravity and attributes it to infatuation with sin. He denies the Scripture way of salvation in order to promote the “truth impressions” view of regeneration.
Sinners may keep themselves from hearing the word of God, and from any such reading or conversation as will bring eternity in their view. But he visits them in their families or in their persons, and they cannot fly from those "terrible things in righteousness," by which he pleads his cause from day to day. Are not the young and beautiful soon carried to their graves? Are not the great and noble soon humbled in the dust? Have not sensuality and riot, impurity and lust, slain their victims, and raised up monuments fraught with moral instruction in every age? How long is it ago since Hosea said, "Whoredom, and wine, and new wine, take away the heart?” (Hosea 4:2), and since Solomon said of a harlot, “She hath cast down many wounded, and many strong men have been slain by her. Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death?" (Proverbs 7:26-27).
But though uninspired writers have said this as well as he, nay, though it is visible to all, have men become wise? Have they shunned the paths of the destroyer? No; we may justly say of the present times, as the Psalmist David said many ages ago, "This their way is their folly; yet their posterity approve their sayings" (Psalms 44:13).
Nothing, nothing will change them, till the Spirit of God rouse and awaken the conscience, powerfully constrain the will, and effectually renew the heart. Hence then it appears, that the new birth is a “supernatural change;"
“Effectively renew the heart” tells us that Witherspoon thinks renewal of the heart is merely moral persuasion. Because the Holy Spirit no longer acts immediately on the saint, regeneration is accomplished merely through moral persuasion, and when the mind reaches the tipping point of serving God over self, the Holy Spirit has “effectively, but not immediately” awakened the conscience and constrained the will. This is why Witherspoon uses quotes on “supernatural change”. He thinks his readers have an antiquated view of “supernatural” as an immediate activity of the Holy Spirit that changes the nature definitely, completely and identifiably. He must educate the reader to new empirical system which shows regeneration as indefinite, incomplete and unidentifiable.
it is the effect of the power of God; it is the work of the Holy Ghost.
Witherspoon is merely saying that the Holy Spirit is the agent that causes “truth impressions”, a mere influence behind metaphysical material causation whereby a person reaches the tipping point of believing facts about God and His covenant enough to choose to serve God over self.
I have been at the more pains to establish this truth, because I am persuaded, that until it be truly received
there may be a form, but there can be nothing of the power of godliness. But we must now vindicate it from the objections and abuse to which it may be thought liable.
Translation: Now that I have clearly stated the minimum requirement of orthodoxy regarding saving grace, I will proceed to show that saving grace acts on man the exact same way that common grace acts on man, that is, through moral persuasion.
There are many who still harbor in their minds, and sometimes produce in conversation, the objection mentioned by the Apostle Paul: “Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault, for who hath resisted his will?" (Romans 9:19).
This indeed is the sum of all the objections that ever were, or ever can be offered against it; and I make the short answer of the same apostle, "Nay, but O man! who art thou that repliest againft God?" This is but making or imagining an inconsistency between two things, both of which God hath clearly established, and inseparably joined in his word.
These are, his own power necessary to the change, and our duty, in the use of the means; or rather, our sin while continuing at enmity with him, and refusing his mercy.
Witherspoon describes New Light Calvinism that sees God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility as two sides of the same coin. So far, Witherspoon has not diverted from orthodoxy as he speaks of election as an abstract truth. He is speaking of concurrence, that is, man’s activity in the mind being concurrent with God’s activity on the mind, in the case of witherspoon’s theory, God’s giving man a “truth impression”.
I make no scruple to acknowledge, that it is impossible for me, nay, I find no difficulty in supposing that it is impossible for any finite mind to point out the bounds between the “dependence" and “activity" of the creature.
Concurrence involves God affecting everything man is and does. But in this statement, I believe Witherspoon is referring to his false premise that concurrence in the mind of man is all that is involved in regeneration. Witherspoon is saying since the concurrence of God’s grace and man’s thinking is all that is involve in regeneration, and we can never know what thoughts are the result of natural “truth impressions” and what thoughts are the result of God’s “truth impressions”, so we can never know for sure if someone is regenerated apart from examining fruit over a long time.
The Bible says something entirely different. Yes, the mind is involved in regeneration, but the mind is only the recipient of the heart changed by God, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19). The heart change by God is definite, complete and identifiable, not in the indiscernible slow process of moral persuasion, but as a discernable supernatural work.
The promise of the mystery of Christ in saints (holy ones) was prophesied in “I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezekiel 11:19-20). Calvin said this act of God is no longer a mystery, “Meaning, the heart to which nothing can enter and regenerate them anew, so that their heart may be soft and ready to receive my graces.” The apostle Paul said this mystery is fulfilled: “The mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:26-27).
Moral persuasion DOES takes place, but this is BEFORE regeneration. God calls all men to repent and submit to Him, but the attempt to obey the gospel is not regeneration. The moral persuasion the puritan called law works shows the unregenerate their desperate condition, utterly incapable of holiness. Regeneration is something altogether different. Regeneration alone can change the heart, because as Calvin pointed out, God’s graces can not enter a stoney heart. Out of the stoney heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. Without regeneration, these are the natural fruit of the heart. But the natural fruit of a regenerate heart is “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-25).
As a disclaimer, I will admit that no minister before 1914 ever said someone was definitely saved because of something they had done. Before 1914, ministers would always say, “hopefully saved”. Also as a disclaimer, both Scottish Common Sense Realists and American New Light Calvinists always said the most reliable evidence of regeneration is fruit over a lifetime, echoing what Luther said in his first five theses about saving repentance lasting a lifetime.
This is what the apostle Paul said about regeneration: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:12-14). Of course, Witherspoon does not believe this scripture because he does not believe the Holy Spirit affects people immediately and does not believe the Holy Spirit indwells people in anything other than a figurative sense.
Since Scottish Common Sense Realism salvation is entirely a process of the rational mind, Witherspoon says there is no way of telling whether or not a rational thought is metaphysically tied to the Holy Spirit. Specifically, THERE IS NO WAY OF KNOWING THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TRUTH IMPRESSIONS ENERGIZED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT FROM TRUTH IMPRESSIONS NOT ENERGIZED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT. In the end, because there is no evidence of regeneration outside of rational thought, what difference does it make whether truth impressions are energized or not, as long as, for the sake of staying just inside the bounds of orthodoxy, we acknowledge that in the case of the elect, some on the truth impressions MUST HAVE BEEN ENERGIZED.
This then, makes the doctrine of concurrence for Scottish Common Sense realists a different thing from the concurrence of the American New Light Calvinists. When American New Light Calvinists said “make yourself a new heart”, they judged the seekers that hoped they had “made themselves a new heart” for evidence of “religious affections” and judged whether those religious affections included disinterested benevolence as the basis of their repentance and submission to God. The REASON American New Light Calvinists asked for an immediate decision for Christ was to prevent seekers from confusing a gradual process of rational acceptance of truth with regeneration, which is a supernatural work of God that is definite, complete and identifiable.
The Hopkinsians especially, like Lyman Beecher and Isahel Nettleton insisted that people immediately make a decision for Christ and warned people that if they did not make an immediate decision for Christ it was either because they were not elected or where using “the means of grace” as an excuse for not repenting and submitting to God.
You can see how the Scottish Common Sense Realism view of regeneration being merely a tipping point after receiving “truth impressions” changed the decision for Christ. According to the theory, “truth impressions” were the “hidden grace” of the sacrament of “saving faith”. Augustine had said a sacrament was “an outward sign of an inward grace”. The outward sign of Scottish Common Sense Realism’s “saving faith” was repentance and submission to God while the inward grace was the truth impression. This inward grace could not be distinguished from common grace illumination because it was not different from common grace illumination, except that somehow (according to the theory) it made a permanent impression on the mind.Most people God regenerates and indwells with the Holy Spirit know they have power over sin and a change of appetites within a few weeks of the change. Before the 20th century, the vast majority of persons that made a decision for Christ knew they were not regenerated because they discerned no change. But Scottish Common Sense Realism changed the focus of salvation from disinterested benevolence being evidence of a changed heart to a belief in salvation scriptures being evidence of a “truth impressions” changed mind
Before the 20th century, the heart was seen as unchangeable except by God and operations of the mind were seen as coming from the heart. Scottish Common Sense Realism changed this understanding to the mind being the agent that changed the heart, so a premium was put on someone accepting scripture truth, and the highest premium was put on someone “knowing” a scripture applied to them. For a lengthy dismissal of this false view of assurance of salvation, please read what the American New light Calvinists said about it (LINK). This is why evangelists after the Civil War gradually adopted the BIST system and abandoned the BEST system in the inquiry room.
Scottish Common Sense Realism Regeneration is synergistic
All grace within orthodox theology can be synergistic except the grace that regenerates. Whenever you see a reference to the grace that regenerates, it must always be monergistic, or “saving grace” would be an oxymoron. Saving grace, by definition, must be the grace that regenerates. That’s why the Arminians before the twentieth century used the term “instrumental faith” and not saving faith” when speaking of the faith that accepts the grace God gives to all men (according to the theory). Instrumental faith is still a gift of God. The only way it differs from Calvinist theology is that it is the grace is refused by all men except the elect wheras in Calvinism, saving grace is irresistible.
This important distinction is a statement of man’s unregenerate nature needing to be changed by force, since unregenerate man, spiritually being dead, could never cooperate until it is made alive. That is why Spurgeon said, “What more could be said than that we are "dead" in sin? What more incapable of action than one who is entirely deprived of life?”.
The only grace that must be monergistic is saving grace, that is, the grace that regenerates. The Scottish Common Sense realists had to make regeneration synergistic for two reasons: 1) To make it empirical. This was the purpose of the theology – to conform to the new standards of science, that of empirical proof. 2) To make man responsible for sin and eternal punishment. This was true of all New Light Calvinists – by separating moral ability from natural ability, a kind of theological slight of hand.
How can you tell the difference between some variation of concurrence and synergy?
1) Concurrence does not require the conscious cooperation of man to accomplish God’s purpose. Synergy requires the conscious cooperation of man in order to accomplish God’s purpose.
What was the effect of making regeneration synergistic?
1) in the case of Arminian theology before the Civil War, synergy created more ”hopefully saved” Arminians than “hopefully saved” Calvinists , which made necessary at least a 6 month probation before candidates could be certified as regenerate.
2) In the case of Scottish Common Sense realism, as long as candidates were examined for disinterested benevolence, there was no problem, but after the Civil War, accepting the truth of scripture began to be identified as a “truth impression” and “saving faith” replaced regeneration as the goal, making Scottish Common Sense Realism the perfect vehicle to prepare the ground for decisional regeneration in 1914.
Witherspoon’s did not look for immediate “religious affections” because he thought they were “animal motives”. Witherspoon did not look for immediate disinterested benevolence, because he did not believe disinterested benevolence since he did not believe an immediate change of character was possible. He saw disinterested benevolence as the result of gradual moral persuasion; the same process by which people learn to trust one another. So you see how Scottish Common Sense Realism regeneration was experientially synergistic and not monergistic.
The only thing Scottish Common Sense Realists could look for in seekers was whether the seeker believed salvation scriptures and hope it was the result of a “truth impression”. After the Civil War, the “truth impression” was identified with trusting salvation scriptures, making the BIST system more logical than the BEST system.
But though we must ever remember, that it is he alone who can “bring a clean thing out of an unclean," yet we know also, that "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." We know that “God will be just when he speaketh, and clear when he judgeth:" that he rejects with distain the imputation of being the author of sin, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God ; for God cannot be tempted of evil, neither tempteth he any man" (James 1:13).
For our greater assurance of this, he hath condescended to confirm it by his oath. — "As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye, from your evil ways, for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" (Ezekiel 38:9).
The connection between this and the former truth appears plainly in the following passage: "Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life" (John 5:40).
Perhaps, also, there are some who abuse this doctrine to sloth and negligence. At least they may pretend this as an excuse or palliation (easing their condition without improving it) of their contempt of religion. But is it not an inference directly contrary to what the Scripture teaches us much more justly to draw from the same truth, viz. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God that worketh in you to will and to do of his good pleasure?” (Philippians 2:13-14).
The former inference would be just in the case of devils, who, having received their sentence, can only now “believe and tremble;" but it would be altogether unjust, and a dreadful contempt of mercy in those to whom the offer of salvation by grace is addressed.
Witherspoon is giving typical New light Calvinist arguments for consecutional saving faith. 1) Although some scriptures say God determines who will be saved, other scriptures say that God wants all to repent and be saved. The best comparison is God says He will give a new heart and a new spirit (Ezekiel 36:26) and God says make yourselves a new heart and new spirit ( Ezekiel 18:31). Both are true, so no human being (it’s not true for demons), can say “I am helpless” when it comes to repentance and submission to God.
What is now transacting in the ministry of the gospel, shall contribute at last to stop every mouth, and put this criminal excuse to eternal silence. Suppose the sinner at the judgment-seat to offer this defense for himself: "I was altogether under the power of corruption; it was impossible for me to do any thing of myself.”
Is it not natural to reply, "Where learned you this?" From the holy Scriptures. "And did not the same Scriptures also tell you, Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. Wherefore he is able to save to the uttermost all that come to God through him. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved?”
But I could not reconcile one Scripture to another. "And was that any way wonderful? Or can it possibly justify your rebellion against the plainest commands, that you were not able fully to comprehend what is said of the absolute dominion and sovereignty of God?"
Let us, therefore, settle it in our minds, that, though we are of ourselves utterly unable to produce a change in our hearts, "nothing is impossible with God." He first made them, and he is able to reform them. On a conviction of our own inability, one would think we should but the more humbly and the more earnestly apply to him who is all sufficient in power and grace.
The deplorable and naturally helpless state of sinners, doth not hinder exhortations to them in Scripture; and therefore takes not away their obligation to duty.
See an address, where the strongest metaphors are retained, the exhortation given in these very terms, and the
foundation of the duty plainly pointed out — "Wherefore he saith. Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light" (Ephesians 5:14).
From which it is very plain, that the moral inability under which sinners now lie, as a consequence of the fall, is not of such a nature as to take away the guilt of sin, the propriety of exhortations to duty, or the necessity of endeavours after recovery.
Readers that want an explanation of moral ability versus natural ability should read the writings of Jonathan Edwards or one of his disciples.
But what But what shall we say? Alas! the very subject we are now speaking of, affords a new proof of the blindness, prejudice, and obstinacy of sinners. They are self-condemned; for they do not act the same part in similar cases.
The affairs of the present life are not managed in so preposterous a manner. He that ploughs his ground, and throws in his feed, cannot so much as unite one grain to the clod; nay, he is not able to conceive how it is done. He cannot carry on, nay, he cannot so much as begin one single step of this wonderful process toward the subsequent crop; the mortification of the feed, the resurrection of the blade, and gradual increase, till it come to perfect maturity.
Is it, therefore, reasonable that he should say, "I for my part can do nothing; it is, first and last, an effect of divine power and energy; and God can as easily raise a crop without sowing as with it, in a single instant and in any place, as in a long time by the mutual influence of soil and season; I will therefore spare myself the hardship of toil and labour, and wait with patience till I see what he will be pleased to send?"
Would this be madness? Would it be universally reputed so? And would it not be equal madness to turn the grace of God into licentiousness? Believe it, the warning is equally reasonable and equally necessary, in spiritual as in temporal things: "Be not deceived, God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap; for he that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting," (Galatians 6:7-8).
The Bible is full of metaphors comparing salvation to growth of plants. The most famous is the parable of the sower, which could be called the parable of the soils. In that parable, only the fourth soul yielded a crop, even though all four soils received the word of God seed with joy. Witherspoon would have been on orthodox ground if he said using the means of grace was pre-regeneration law works. But let’s see where he is going with the means of grace. Does he believe the means of grace necessarily produce salvation, or does he believe the means of grace are preparatory at best for supernatural regeneration and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? The answer to that question is critical to the evolution of the BIST system.
In which is shewn wherein this change doth properly and directly consist, and what are its principal
evidences and fruits.
1) Wherein the change in regeneration doth properly and directly consist.
I have hitherto, by general remarks, endeavored to caution the reader against taking up with erroneous and defective views of the nature of religion. We now proceed a step farther: and I would willingly point out, in as distinct a manner as I am able, what is the change which is wrought in all, without exception, who are the real children of God, by whatever means it is brought about; what it is in the temper and disposition, in the life and practice, which constitutes the difference between one who "is," and one who is "not born again."
The different steps by which this change may be effected in the sovereign providence of God, and the different degrees of perfection at which it may arrive, I purposely omit here, and reserve as the subject of a distinct head of discourse.
That we may enter on the subject with the greater perspicuity (clarity) and simplicity, it will be proper to begin with observing, that the design and purpose of this change is to repair the loss which man sustained by the fall. Man, at his first creation, was made after the image of God, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, and enjoyed uninterrupted fellowship and communion with him.
Witherspoon admits that pre-fall man had immediate (not through means) fellowship and communion with God.
He was not only subservient to the divine glory, by a natural and necessary subjection to the divine dominion, which all creatures are, have been, and ever will be, but by choice and inclination, his duty and delight being invariably the same.
Witherspoon admits that pre-fall man had the moral will to want immediate (not through means) fellowship and communion with God.
By the fall he became not only obnoxious to the divine displeasure, by a single act of transgression, but disobedient to the divine will in his habitual and prevailing inclination. This is the character given, not of one man only, but of the human race.
Witherspoon admits that post-fall man no longer had the moral will to want immediate (not through means)fellowship and communion with God, and now disobeyed God habitually, not only in individual decisions, but by virue of a changed disposition that naturally served self rather than God. THIS WAS NOT A CHANGE OF MIND ONLY – THIS WAS A CHANGE OF DISPOSITION, A CHANGE OF NATURE.
"And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5).
He became, at the same time, not only unworthy of, but wholly disinclined to communion with God, and habitually disposed to prefer the creature before the Creator, who is "God blessed for evermore."
Witherspoon starts his remaking of regeneration as merely a change of mind here – the Bible says unregenerate man is dead, blind, deaf. Witherspoon says unregenerate man is “wholly disinclined” and “habitually disposed”, so if unregenerate man can be given enough “truth impressions” to change his mind, he will be regenerated.
In regeneration, therefore, the sinner MUST be restored to the image of God, which, in a created nature, is but another expression for obedience to his will. He MUST also be restored to the exercise of love to him, and find his happiness and comfort in him.
His habitual temper, his prevailing disposition, or that which hath the ascendancy, MUST be the same that was perfect and without mixture before the fall, and shall be made equally, or perhaps more perfectly in heaven, after death.
Witherspoon’s definition of a “true” or “sincere” disposition or nature is the one that has the ascendancy in a person. Put simply, according to Witherspoon, when someone serves God 51% and self 49%, he has a true or sincere faith. How this ratio never reverts is because of a supposedly unchangeable “truth impression”. The “truth impression” fits well in the psychological moral persuasion category except for the immutable feature, which doesn’t make sense in the psychological system. It’s like saying persuasion can go one way without going the other. This is the most obvious defect of Scottish Common Sense Realism. The “truth impression” theory replaced supernatural regeneration and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but there is no rational mechanism for immutability; no means of perseverance of the saints.
As the change MUST be entire and universal, corresponding to the corruption of the whole man, it is not unusual to say it may be fully comprehended in the three following things, giving a new direction to the understanding, the will, and the affections.
1) New direction of the understanding
2) New direction of the will
3) New direction of Affections
Edwardsians would change the order, because the disciples of Edwards knew that understanding and affections were changed by a change of disposition in supernatural regeneration and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Of course, Witherspoon does not believe that – he believes that understanding (truth impressions) are regeneration, which causes a change of direction of the will and affections. Edwardsian salvation would be:
1) New direction of the will
2) New Affections
3) New understanding
In Edwards theology, regeneration was a new nature which naturally preferred God over self, loved God over the world and carnal pursuits and had immediate knowledge of the Person of Christ and the Holy Spirit. What a difference from Scottish common Sense Realism!
And no doubt, with respect to every one of these, there is a remarkable and sensible change. But as the understanding is a natural faculty, which becomes good or evil just as it is applied or employed, it would be scarce possible to illustrate the change in it without introducing, at the same time, a view of the disposition and tendency of the heart and affections.
See how Witherspoon equates the change of regeneration to a “change of understanding”, placing all change in the rational mind, which then in turn affects the heart and affections. Witherspoon’s beneficial religious affections are a product of the rational mind, instead of from the indwelling Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). Witherspoon espouses Sophism when he says, “understanding is a natural faculty, which becomes good or evil just as it is applied or employed”.
The idiotic contention that regeneration is merely rational understanding of truth flows directly from the Enlightenment fallacy that “man is a blank slate on which anything can be written”, not the Biblical truth, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil” (Jeremiah 13:23). The Bible states from start to finish that only God can change human nature from lost to saved, dead to life, blind to seeing, deaf to hearing, unregenerate to regenerate, which is why “ye must be born again” can never be merely “ye must rationally understand”.
Witherspoon’s relationship with God is limited to the rational understanding of facts about God and His covenant, so each person is responsible for their good or evil state by increasing or decreasing their attendance to the facts they know about God and His covenant – this is consistent Pelagianism, not Biblical truth. Witherspoon does not believe regeneration is an objective state of being accomplished by God supernaturally, but a fluid subjective state accomplished by “truth impressions” that convince a person to serve God more than self.
As, therefore, the change is properly of a moral or spiritual nature, it seems to me properly and directly to consist in these two things:
Witherspoon has accomplished a magical slight of hand. Having put forth a “blank slate” false premise for how man is changed by rational understanding, he now categorically states this change of rational understanding is “of a moral or spiritual nature”. THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. HE HAS JUST EQUATED A CHANGE OF RATIONAL UNDERSTANDING OF TRUTH WITH BEING MORALLY AND SPIRITUALLY CHANGED. HE HAS MAGICALLY TRANSFORMED “YE MUST BE BORN AGAIN” INTO “YE MUST UNDERSTAND BIBLICAL TRUTH”. THIS IS THE BEGINNING OF THE EVOLUTION TO THE HERESY OF DECISIONAL REGENERATION. WITHIN 100 YEARS, MINISTERS IN THE INQUIRY ROOM WILL USE THE BIST SYSTEM TO ASSURE PEOPLE THEY ARE SAVED BECAUSE THEY BELIEVED SALVATION SCRIPTURES. ALL FURTHER TALK OF EVIDENCES OF REGENERATION CAN BE TRUE WITHOUT THE BASIS OF SALVATION BEING CORRECT.Witherspoon begins to list the empirical evidences of regeneration that are supposed to flow from the rational mind having a rational understanding of truth. Remember, despite the truth of the evidences, Witherspoon does not believe these evidences come from the immediate activity of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Remember, while he acknowledges the Holy Spirit in metaphysical providence, he does not believe the Holy Spirit affects saints immediately. Every time you see the word MUST, remember that empirical evidences MUST be the ONLY criterion of salvation. Remember that theses evidences are not in any way dependent on the immediate activity of the Holy Spirit Remember, these evidences MUST be produced by the rational mind utilizing the rational understanding of biblical truth. WITHERSPOON’S EVIDENCES OF REGENERATION ARE ENTIRELY PSYCHOLOGICAL
I am sure the Apostle Paul would ask “This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain” (Galatians 3:2-4). He would understand that Witherspoon had truncated salvation into “hearing of faith” the way the Jews had truncated salvation into being circumcised. Both truncated salvation into external evidences; the Jew to circumcision, the Scottish Common Sense Realist to understanding truth. Circumcision is not wrong as long as it is a function of relationship with the Person of God. Understanding the truth is not wrong, as long as it is a function of relationship with the Person of God. But make circumcision or understanding the truth salvation in itself, and you have heresy.
Paul condemned the truncating of salvation into circumcision when he said, “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Romans 2:28-29).
Witherspoon’s salvation focuses on one aspect of saving faith, that of rational understanding. But RATIONAL UNDERSTANDING IS NOT SAVING FAITH. Paul would say to Witherspoon, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:12-14).
THE HOLY SPIRIT IS THE AGENT OF REGENERATION, NOT RATIONAL UNDESTANDING OF TRUTH. Paul would ask Witherspoon, “This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain” (Galatians 3:2-4).
Witherspoon might reply, “Paul, you just said hearing with faith is evidence of salvation”. Paul would reply “Oh you foolish Scottish Common Sense Realist! I said receiving the Spirit is evidence of salvation! You just made faith a work. You just made faith an idol by which you could eliminate the Person of God in salvation. You just made faith for the Christian what circumcision was for the Jew, a false hope of salvation. Are saints called holy (the word saint just means “holy”) because they had a change of understanding? No, they are called saints because the Holy Spirit lives inside them”.
“Oh you foolish Scottish Common Sense Realist! Have you not read my letters?”.
“ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Romans 8:9).
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Romans 8:14).
“The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 14:17).
“Sanctified by the Holy Ghost” (Romans 15:16).
“Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you” (1 Corinthians 6:16).
“By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost” (2 Corinthians 6:6).
“Communion of the Holy Ghost” (2 Corinthians 13:14).
“Sealed with that holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13).
“Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30).
“Renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5).
1. That our supreme and chief end be to serve and glorify God, and that every other aim be subordinate to this.
2. That the soul rest in God as its chief happiness, and habitually prefer his favor to every other enjoyment.
These two particulars I shall now endeavour to illustrate a little, in the order in which I have named them.
1. Our supreme and chief end MUST be to serve and glorify God, and every other aim MUST be subordinate
to this. All things were originally made, and are daily preserved for, nay, they shall certainly in the issue
tend to the glory of God; that is, the exercise and illustration of divine perfection.
The MUSTs will continue as Witherspoon explains salvation as empirical evidence of rational understanding of truth instead of salvation being the Holy Spirit in the believer working His will. For Witherspoon, empirical evidence MUST be regeneration because there’s nothing more to regeneration than the rational operations of the mind. The MUSTs are what theologians call implicit faith. The repudiation of implicit faith was what most of the Reformation was about.
With this great end of creation, the inclination and will of every intelligent creature ought to coincide. It is, according to Scripture and reason, the first duty of man to "give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name.” This, I know, the world that lieth in wickedness can neither understand nor approve.
"The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he
know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14).
The truth is, we ought not to be surprised to find it so, for in this the sin of man originally consisted, and in this the nature of all sin, as such, doth still consist, viz. withdrawing the allegiance due to God, and refusing subjection to his will.
This last statement is a psychological substitute for Biblical truth. The Bible says mankind died at the fall. Witherspoon says, mankind “withdrew allegiance”, as if it were a choice – this is Pelagianism.
The language of every unrenewed heart, and the language of every sinner's practice is, "Our lips are our own, who is lord over us?" But he that is renewed and born again, hath seen his own entire dependence upon God, hath seen his Maker's right of dominion, and the obligation upon all his creatures to be, in every respect, subservient to his glory, and, without reserve, submissive to his will.
This last statement is a psychological substitute for Biblical truth. The Bible says mankind is rebellious because he died spiritually at the fall. Witherspoon says, mankind is lost and needs to be saved because he is rebellious – this is Pelagianism.
He hath seen this to be most fit and reasonable, because of the absolute perfection and infinite excellence of the divine nature. He is convinced, that all preferring of our will to that of God, is a criminal usurpation by the creature, of the unalienable rights of the great Creator and sovereign Proprietor of all.
Notice how Witherspoon says knowledge of truth is the cause of the change of character instead of the change of character being the cause of accepting truth. This would be the rational basis for the BIST system in which the belief of Scripture as true would be seen as saving faith with de facto regeneration.
Regeneration, then, is communicating this new principle, and giving it such force as that it may obtain and preserve the ascendancy, and habitually govern the will. Every one may easily see the different operation and effects of this principle and its opposite, by the different carriage and behavior of men in the world.
Witherspoon says regeneration “is communicating this new principle”, not regeneration IS a new heart with new feelings, or a new nature with new appetites, or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but the mind “communication this new principle”, that is, the rational choice of pleasing God. This “new principle” happens through “truth impressions” on the mind, a pseudo-scientific theory of how God changes sinners into saints. This new definition of regeneration as “communicating this new principle” of deciding to serve God over self is an early definition of decisional regeneration.
The unrenewed man seeks his own happiness immediately and ultimately; it is to please himself that he constantly aims. This is the cause, the uniform cause, of his preferring one action to another.
This last statement is a psychological substitute for Biblical truth. The Bible says mankind is selfish because he died spiritually at the fall. Witherspoon says, mankind is lost because he is selfish.
This determines his choice of employment, enjoyments, companions. His religious actions are not chosen, but submitted to, through fear of worse. He considers religion as a restraint, and the divine law as hard and severe. So that a short and summary description may be given of man in his natural state — That he hath forgotten his subjection, that God is dethroned, and self honoured, loved, and served in his room.
This last statement is a psychological substitute for Biblical truth. The Bible says mankind has forgotten God because he died spiritually at the fall. Witherspoon says, mankind is lost because he has forgotten God.
This account will appear to be just, from every view given us in Scripture of our state and character, before or after conversion. It appears very clearly, from the first condition required by our Savior of his disciples, viz. self-denial. “Then said Jesus to his disciples. If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matthew 16:24).
All those who are brought back to a sense of their duty and obligation as creatures, are ready to say, not with their tongues only, but with their hearts, "Thou art worthy to receive glory, and honor, and power, for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” Revelation 4:11).
It ought to be attended to, what is the import of this when spoken from conviction. They not only consider God as being most great, and therefore to be feared; but as infinitely holy, as absolutely perfect, and therefore to be loved and served. They esteem all his commands concerning all things to be right. Their own remaining corruption is known, felt, and confessed to be wrong. This law in their members, warring against the law of God in their minds, is often deeply lamented, and, by the grace of God, strenuously and habitually resisted.
Perhaps the attentive reader may have observed that I have still kept out of view our own great interest in the service of God. The reason is, there is certainly, in every renewed heart, a sense of duty, independent of interest.
Witherspoon is describing disinterested benevolence as only possible in the regenerate heart.
Were this not the case, even supposing a desire of reward or fear of punishment should dispose to obedience, it would plainly be only a change of life, and no change of heart.
Witherspoon confuses the reader by using “heart” whenever convenient; implying that he believes a change of heart is somehow different from a change of mind. This is a false impression. Witherspoon’s theology does not distinguish the heart from the mind in an operational sense, only in a poetic sense.
Witherspoon does not believe the heart causes the mind to change, rather, he believes the mind causes a change of heart. The heart for Witherspoon just means “basis of thought”. For Witherspoon, regeneration “is communicating this new principle”, and that “new principle” is the basis for serving God over self. There is not change of heart from death to life, rather just a change of understanding of God being worthy of service over self.
At the same time, as it did not arise from any inward principle, it would neither be uniform nor lasting. It is beyond all question, indeed, that our true, interest is inseparable from our duty, so that self-seeking is self losing; but still a sense of duty MUST have the precedency, otherwise it changes its nature, and is, properly speaking, no duty at all.
Translation: Use the phrase “understanding of obligation to God” instead of duty and it will be clear what Witherspoon is saying. Understanding of obligation to God that comes from anything other than the “inward principle” can not be consistent or lasting because the “inward principle” is not the cause of that understanding of obligation. Remember, Witherspoon’s “inward principle” is communicated by regeneration, not regeneration IS a new heart with new feelings, or a new nature with new appetites, or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but the mind “communicating this new principle”, that is, the rational choice of pleasing God.
Duty, or understanding of obligation to God for Witherspoon is the basis of all true religion. Duty, or understanding of obligation to God MUST be, according to Witherspoon, the basis of regeneration. Unregenerate persons serve self over God, while regenerate persons serve God over self. The sense of duty or understanding of obligation to God is the cause of seeking God before regeneration and the reason regeneration causes the “new principle” to make a person serve God over self.
That is why he says the sense of duty or understanding of obligation to God MUST “have the precedency, otherwise it changes its nature, and is, properly speaking, no duty at all”. Translation: the sense of duty or understanding of obligation to God MUST have the precedency, otherwise it changes its nature, and is, properly speaking, not understanding of obligation to God, therefore irrelevant to salvation since understanding of obligation to God is the pre-regeneration and the post-regeneration basis of relationship with God. Of course, this is pure psychology, a man-mechanical view of saving faith devoid of the Biblical view of regeneration being a supernatural change of nature and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
To honor God in the heart, then, and to serve him in the life, is the first: and highest desire of him that is born again. This is not, and cannot be the case, with any in a natural state. But, before we proceed to the other particular implied in this change, it will not be improper to make an observation, which I hope will have the greater weight when the foundation of it is fresh in the reader's mind.
Hence may be plainly seen the reason why profane and worldly men have such a tendency to self-righteousness, while the truly pious are filled with an abhorrence of that soul-destroying falsehood. This, I dare say, appears strange to many, as I confess it hath often done to me, before I had thought fully upon the subject: that those who are evidently none of the strictest in point of morals, and have least of that kind to boast of, should yet be the most professed admirers and defenders of the doctrine of justification by works, and despisers of the doctrine of the grace of God. But the solution is easy and natural.
Worldly men have no just sense of their natural and unalienable obligation to glorify God in their thoughts, words, and actions, and therefore all that they do in religion, they look upon as a meritorious service, and think that certainly something is due to them on that account.
They think it strange, if they have walked soberly, regularly, and decently, especially if they have been strict and punctual in the forms of divine worship, that God should not be obliged (pardon the expression) to reward them according to their works. It is a hard service to them, they do it only that they may be rewarded, or at least may not suffer for the neglect of it, and therefore cannot but insist upon the merit of it.
On the other hand, those who are born of God are sensible that it is the duty of every rational creature to love God with all his heart, and to consecrate all his powers and faculties to his Maker's service. They are convinced, that whoever should do so without sin, would do only what is just and equal, and have no plea of merit to advance. But when they consider how many sins still cleave to them, how far short they come of their duty in every instance, they ask for mercy, and not for reward, and are ready to say with the Psalmist David, "If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared" (Psalms 130:3-4).
To sum up this reasoning in a few words — The resultant obedience which some pay to the divine law, is considered as a debt charged upon God, whereas real obedience is considered as a debt due to God. And therefore it MUST always hold, that the very imperfection of an obedience itself, increases our disposition to overvalue and rest our dependence upon it.
2) The second part of this change (of regeneration).
The next thing implied in a saving change is, that the soul rests in God as its chief happiness, and habitually prefers his favor to every other enjoyment.
This is a good place to point out that the Kingdom of God is “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”. How could a regenerate person know he has the favor of God if not by feelings of being righteous in Christ and experiencing feelings of peace and joy?
On this branch of the subject I would beg the reader to observe, not only the meaning and substance of the proposition, but the order in which it is placed. There MUST be first a devotedness of mind to God, and a supreme leading concern for his honour and glory. He MUST be, if I may so speak, again restored to his original right, his dominion and throne, while the creature is reduced to its obedience and subjection.
Witherspoon is saying what Pelagius said: Regeneration is being rationally persuaded by the truth that God is worthy to serve over self. The same knowledge of the obligation to God that causes someone to seek God is the same knowledge of obligation to God that causes someone to serve God over self. That knowledge of obligation to God, as Witherspoon said earlier, “MUST have the precedency, otherwise it changes its nature, and is, properly speaking, no duty at all”.
In consequence of this, there is an unfeigned acquiescence in God, as the source of comfort, and a high esteem of his favor as better than life. This does not go before, nay, is hardly distinct or separated from a sense of duty, but is founded upon it, and grows out of it. When a holy soul has seen the infinite excellence and glory of the true God, loves him supremely, and is devoted to him. entirely, he also delights in him superlatively.
I hope the reader is beginning to comprehend that Witherspoon’s placing duty or knowledge of obligation to God as the precedent, makes regeneration a de facto adjunct to the decision of the will to serve God over self. Orthodox salvation identifies God’s saving grace as the cause of the effective “believing in the Lord Jesus Christ”. Witherspoon identifies the effective “believing on the Lord Jesus Christ” as “hardly distinct or separated from a sense of duty, but is founded upon it”. If making a decision for Christ is duty, or understanding of obligation to God, then regeneration is made subservient to this new idea of “saving faith”.
Such a person is fully convinced that those, and those alone are happy, whose God is the Lord, and that those who are afar off from him shall certainly perish. In a natural state, as the sure consequence of sin, - the transgressor flies from God, with a dread and horror of his presence. But the renewed soul returns to him with desire, and feels an uneasiness and want that cannot be supplied but by the intimation of pardon, and sense of divine love. The warmth and fervor of devout affection is expressed in the strongest terms in Scripture: "As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My foul thirsteth for God, for the living God, when shall I come and appear before God?" (Psalms 42:1-2).
"Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. Thus will I bless thee while I live, I will lift up my hands unto thy name; my soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth
shall praise thee with joyful lips" (Psalms 43:3-5).
It is necessary that serving and delighting in God should be joined together on a double account. Their influence on one another is reciprocal. It is not easy to distinguish a conscientious study to serve and glorify God, from a slavish obedience through fear of divine power, but by its being inseparably connected with a delight in God, as the choice of the heart, and centre of the affections. On the other hand, it is hard to distinguish cleaving to God as our portion and happiness, from an interested mercenary bargain in religion, but by its being preceded by, founded upon, nay, even resolved into a sense of the supreme honor due to God for his infinite excellence.
The absurdity of “truth impressions” causing “a sense of the supreme honor due to God for his infinite excellence” is apparent to even the casual observer. Religious affections are the result of a change of nature only possible with supernatural regeneration, not “truth impressions” on the mind. Witherspoon continues his blank slate psychological nonsense to explain how deep feelings are the result of “truth impressions”, or put in Biblical terms, the pot being shaped by how it sees itself, and not the Potter.
This reasonable service will then be attended with an unspeakable sweetness and complacency, and the all-sufficiency of God will be an unshaken security for the happiness and peace of all who put their trust in him.