R. C. SPROUL'S VIEWS ON REGENERATION --
ARE THEY NOT
ESSENTIALLY THE SAME AS THOSE OF LOUIS BERKHOF?
In a message dated 7/22/2004 1:56:29 PM Central Daylight
Time, a brother writes:
all who believe regeneration precedes faith do not believe God
saves without the use means -in fact, r c sproul doesn’t
believe that, in
spite of one your emails a month or so ago
chosen by God, beginning on pg 209 – speaking of Paul’s progression in
10:13-15 he says, [Paul] lists a series of NECESSARY CONDITIONS FOR
BE SAVED. Without sending there are no preachers. without
preachers there is no
hearing of the gospel. without the hearing of the
gospel there is no believing
of the gospel. without the believing of the
gospel there is no calling upon God
to be saved. without the calling upon
God to be saved there is no salvation.
God not only foreordains the END of
salvation for the elect, he also
foreordained the MEANS to that end. .
It concerns me that you would
think I have misrepresented Dr. Sproul on "means" in relation to the New Birth.
Although the idea never crossed my mind that I had somehow misrepresented him, I
nevertheless went back and reexamined his views on regeneration.
referred to Dr. Sproul in connection with the view advocated by Louis
Berkhof on "pre-faith regeneration," or regeneration apart from the
necessary use of means as the instrumentality. I understand that Sproul
holds to the same basic view as Berkhof. I feel rather certain I have not
misrepresented Sproul, for a few years ago I corresponded with one of his
magazine writers on this subject, and their view then was presented as I have
represented Dr. Sproul in my recent articles.
Having reexamined Sproul's
views, I do not find wherein I have made any mistake. In summary, Dr. Sproul
appears to hold the following:
(1) The Gospel, or the Word, as a "means"
is instrumental in the "outward call," but not in the "inward" or "effectual
call." This is clear from his remarks in Chosen of God, pages 134, 135,
120, 121. Also, in his book, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, he
discusses Effectual Calling, and on pages 169, 170, he has the Gospel as being
used in the "outward call," and does not indicate that the Gospel is
instrumental in the "inward call." This is the same position so elaborately
taught by Dr. Shedd and also by Dr. Berkhof, that regeneration consists of a
separate act, isolated from the use of any means or instrumentality.
(2) By teaching that the New Birth takes place prior to
faith, and "in order" to faith, this within itself implies that regeneration
does not involve the instrumentality of the Word, or Gospel in the act of
regeneration (Chosen of God, page 173). In his discussion of
"Rebirth" in his Essentials book (chapter 60), Sproul does not even
mention the instrumentality of the Gospel at all. Any Hardshell could accept
Sproul's teaching on the New Birth in that chapter. It is "Hardshell to the
While all Calvinists, to my knowledge, teach that the Holy Spirit
initiates the New Birth, and is the sole "efficient cause" of
everything necessary to the New Birth, our Confessional standards teach that
the Gospel, or the Word, is the "instrumental" cause in conjunction with
the Holy Spirit as the "efficient" cause. The Spirit is the "quickening"
power, while the Gospel is the instrumentality which the Spirit uses (John 6:63;
1 Cor. 4:15). [See the London Confession of 1644, #22, #24, #25, and the Second
London of 1689, chapters 10 and 14].
We are "called by the
Gospel" (2 Thess. 2:14). This is not only true of the "outward" call, but
also of the "inward" call, which is made effectual by the Holy Spirit
("For our gospel came not unto you in WORD ONLY, but also in POWER, and in
the HOLY GHOST" (1 Thess. 1:5).
Therefore, the WORD and the
SPIRIT cannot be SEPARATED in the "inward call" to salvation. One is the
INSTRUMENT, and the other is the accompanying efficient
As I understand Sproul on the "inward call," he isolates
the Spirit's work as an "efficient" cause apart from the necessary
"instrumentality" of the Gospel in the act of regeneration itself. I went
through the entire book, Chosen of God, and found no place where Sproul
ever mentions the Gospel, or the Word, as being the instrumental cause of
the New Birth.
I hold to the view expressed by Stephen Charnock
(and others), that --
"That the gospel is the instrument whereby
God brings the soul forth in a new birth."
"(3.) It is therefore a
necessary instrument.[1.] In regard of the reasonable creature there must
be some declaration. God does not ordinarily work but by means, and does not
produce anything without them which may be done with them. . . .it is
necessary that this regeneration should be by some word as an instrument,
for God has given understanding and will to man. We cannot understand
anything, or will anything, but what is proposed to us by some external object;
as our eye can see nothing but what is without us, our hand take nothing but
what is without us, so it is necessary that God by the word should set before
us those things which our understandings may apprehend, and our wills
embrace. . . .
"[2.] It is necessary the revelation of this
gospel we have should be made. There is a necessity of some revelation,
for no man can see that which is not visible, or hear that which has no
sound, or know that which is not declared. There is also a necessity of the
revelation of this gospel, since faith is a great part of this work. How can
any man believe that God is good in Christ, without knowing that he has so
declared himself? Since the Spirit takes of Christ's, and shows it to us, there
must be a revelation of Christ, and the goodness of God in Christ, before we can
believe. Though the manner of this revelation may be different, and the
Spirit may renew in an extraordinary manner, yet this is the instrument
whereby all spiritual begettings are wrought; the manner may be by
visions, dreams, by reading or hearing, yet still it is the gospel which is
revealed; the matter revealed is the same, though the formal revelation or
manner may be different. Paul's regeneration was by a vision, for at that
vision of the light, and that voice of Christ, I suppose him to be renewed,
because of that full resignation of his will to Christ, Acts ix. 6, yet the
matter of the revelation was the same, that Christ was the Messiah, for
so Paul understands it, in giving him the title of Lord. Though God may
communicate himself without the written word to some that have it not, yet
according to his appointment, not without a revelation of what is in that
"God begets by the word; the chief operation depends
upon the Spirit of God. No sword can cut without a hand to manage it, no
engine batter without a force to drive it. The Word is objective in itself,
operative by the power of the Spiritefficacious by the Holy Ghost. The Word of Christ is first spirit and
then life. 'The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are
life,' John vi. 63.
"The word is the chariot of the Spirit, the
Spirit the guider of the word; there is a gospel comes in word, and there is a
gospel comes in power, 1 Thes. i. 5. There is a publishing of the gospel,
and there is the 'fullness of the blessing of the gospel,' Rom. xv. 29. 'There
was the truth of God spoken by Peter and Paul, and God in that truth working in
the heart: Gal. ii. 8, 'He that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship
of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me towards the Gentiles.' The
gospel in itself is like Christ's voice; the gospel with the Spirit is like
Christ's power raising Lazarus; other men might have spoken the same words,
but the power of rising must come from above. . . . The word whereby we
are begotten was appointed by God, confirmed by Christ, and the Spirit which
begets us was purchased by the same blood.
". . . . the word is
the seed of the Spirit, and the Spirit the quickener of the word; the word is
the graft, and the Spirit the engrafter; the word is the pool of water, and the
Spirit stirs it to make it healing."
See Charnock's work on the
Stephen Charnock, A Discourse of the Word, the Instrument of
John Gill: "The ministry of the word is the vehicle in which the Spirit of
God conveys himself and his grace into the hearts of men" [A Body of
Doctrinal and Practical Divinity, page 384].
pastoral associate of Charnock: "The ministry of the word is the pipe or organ;
the Spirit of God blowing in it, effectually changes men's hearts"
Body of Divinity, page 154].
granted to copy and use this article.
By request, names are added to
my Email List, or removed
Publishers of C. H. Spurgeon's Sermons &
Send your snail-mail address for a printed Price List.
Publications, Box 66, Pasadena, TX 77501
Phone: (713) 477-4261.
Fax: (713) 477-7561