How The Verbal Restrictive Theory
Relates to the
Heresy of Decisional Regeneration
The Bible never doubts the immediate activity of God in creation. In fact, God is said to have connection to man in his heart, mind, spirit, and physical body. The modern idea that all activity of God with man is restricted to somehow “quickening” Scripture truth to the rational mind is NOT IN THE BIBLE. This was European Enlightenment heresy that evolved from Francis Bacon’s empirical evidence theory of truth that is called in atheist circles, "logical positivism".
The heresy that limits God is called the verbal restrictive theory, that is, "the work of the Holy Spirit is imminent (restricted to, but fully available) in the word of Scripture. The means of salvation are therefore restricted to hearing and reading scripture" (Alexander Campbell).
The verbal restrictive theory was brought to the American colonies in 1768 by John Witherspoon in Scottish Common Sense Realism. It says that salvation comes by “truth impressions” of the rational mind, not supernatural regeneration of the heart and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The verbal restrictive theory can not allow the Holy Spirit to do anything in man that can not be empirically proved, which eliminates everything that can not be repeated by cause-and-effect experimentation. Of course, this axiomatically eliminates Biblical saving grace that is NEVER THE RESULT OF SOMETHING MAN DOES, BUT ALWAYS THE RESULT OF SOMETHING GOD DOES.
Man's works can never result in salvation, and that includes man's thoughts, which are a work of man's mind. This is the a priori flaw in Scottish Common Sense Realism.
The Bible teaches that man's unregenerate heart is desperately wicked, and that the thoughts of the unregenerate purposely conceal the condition of the heart. But Scottish Common Sense Realism bypasses this axiomatic truth by making the mind into a mechanical instrument that is changed by "truth impressions". THIS IS THE IDENTICAL MEANS OF SAVING GRACE CITED BY PELAGIUS. Here is Archibald Alexander explaining how the need of supernatural regeneration is avoided with the "truth impression" theory:
"There are two kinds of religious knowledge, which though intimately connected as cause and effect, may nevertheless be distinguished. These are the knowledge of the truth as it is revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and the impression which that truth makes on the human mind when rightly apprehended. The first may be compared to the inscription or image on a seal; the other to the impression made by the seal on the wax. "
“genuine religious experience is nothing but the impression of divine truth on the mind, by the energy of the Holy Spirit”.
To the simple-minded, this seems to relieve God of the responsibilty of supernatural regeneration (change of character). But this is an illusion. Alexander took an analogy which is static, and applied it to the human mind, which is changing. Alexander did the same thing Finney did with his separation of Moral Law from Physical Law, taking a philosophical abstraction, and saying it applies to reality, as illogical as saying thoughts are separate from thinking.
The immutability of a "truth impression" is saying that the soul, once illuminated, is forever changed, something emphatically stated by John Witherspoon. Regeneration became nothing more than a soul that had been morally persuaded. This, of course, is like saying that blind men can see if given enough light, something contrary to Augustine and Calvin's view that sinners are completely blind until God supernaturally gives them sight.
The immutability of a supernaturally changed (regenerated) nature taught by previous generations of Calvinists was transfered to the immutability of a morally persuaded rational mind. This was the rational basis of Finney's ideas of regeneration being a change of will. Finney did not get his ideas of moral persuasion being regeneration from the Hopkinisans or Bellamites, he got it from Scottish Common Sense Realism taught by George Washington Gale for two years, the only systematic salvation theology he learned in preparing for ministry.
John Witherspoon taught William Graham, who taught Archibald Alexander, who taught George Washington Gale, who taught Charles Finney.
Here is John Witherspoon’s view of regeneration as merely an immutable "truth impression" on the mind: “This conviction of the obligation of the divine law, so essentially connected with, or rather so necessarily previous to, an acceptance of the imputed righteousness of Christ, is evidently founded upon the relation of man to God, as a creature to his Creator. This relation then continues, and must continue, unchangeable; therefore the obligation founded upon it must be unalienable; and all those who have once been sensible of it, must continue to be so, unless we suppose them blinded to the knowledge of God as Creator, by the discovery of his mercy in Christ the Redeemer. But this is absurd; for the subsequent relation of a sinner to God, as forgiven and reconciled through Christ, never can take away, nay, never can alter his natural relation as a creature, nor the obligation founded upon it.”
The red portion of Witherspoon's doctrine completely changes Calvin's understanding of perserverance of the saints. What was previously attributed to the immediate activity of the Holy Spirit, is relegated to "truth impressions" of the mind. AUGUSTINE FOUGHT THIS THEORY WHEN IT WAS PRESENTED BY PELAGIUS.
Augustine cites in his refutation of Pelagius Romans 5:5: "the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us".
"It is certainly not 'shed abroad in our hearts' by any energies either of the nature or the volition that are within us, but 'by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us,' "and which both helps our infirmity and co-operates with our strength. For it is itself indeed the grace of God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, appertained eternity, and all goodness, for ever and ever. Amen".
No mere psychological change of mind can account for New Testament salvation.
Augustine questions whether people who hold the "verbal restrictive" theory of the Holy Spirit are even saved: "There is, however, no method whereby any persons arrive at absolute perfection, or whereby any man makes the slightest progress to true and godly righteousness, but the assisting grace of our crucified Saviour Christ, and the gift of His Spirit; and whosoever shall deny this cannot rightly, I almost think, be reckoned in the number of any kind of Christians at all".