THIRTY-THIRD LORD’S DAY.
Question 90. What is the quickening of the new man?
Answer. It is a sincere joy of heart in God, through Christ, and with love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works.
The doctrine touching man s conversion to God now claims our attention, 3oncernmg which we must inquire:
I. IS THE CONVERSION OF MAN TO GOD NECESSARY?
Man’s conversion in this life is so necessary, that without it no one can obtain everlasting life in the world to come, according to what the Scriptures teach: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” “Except ye repent, ye shall all like wise perish.” “They which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” “If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked/ * (John 3:5. Luke 13:3. 1 Cor. 6:9. 2 Cor. 5:3.) The example of the foolish virgins (Matt. 25:1-10) who were excluded from the marriage, because they had not their lamps burning and filled with oil, is here in point. We may also here cite the following declarations of Christ: “Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning.” “Be ye ready also; for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not.” “The Lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.” (Luke 12:35, 40, 46.) We may here also quote the notable saying of Cyprian against! Demetrius: “When we have once departed this life, there is no more room for repentance, or work of satisfaction. Sere life is either lost or gained: here we secure our eternal salvation by the worship of God and the fruit of faith. Nor let any one be hindered, either by sin or external opposition, from coming to obtain salvation. No repentance is too late for any one still remaining in the world” &c. From this it appears how necessary- conversion is for those who are to be saved. Hence all our exhortations to repentance must be based upon the absolute necessity of conversion to God, in all those who are to be justified.
II. WHAT IS MAN’S CONVERSION TO GOD?
The Hebrew expresses the idea of conversion by the word Teschubah; the Greek by metanoia. and metamelia. There are some who affirm that these Greek words differ from each other in this: that the former is used only in reference to the repentance of the godly, whilst the latter is used also in reference to the repentance of the ungodly. Of Judas it is said, that he repented himself (Matt. 27:3), where the word metauelhqeij is used. Of Esau it is said, he found no place of repentance (metanoiaj). (Heb. 12: I7.) Of God it is said (Rom. 11:29), the gifts of God are without repentance, where the word, ametamelhta is used; that is, they are of such a kind that he himself cannot repent of them. The Septuagint, in speaking of God, uses both words without making any distinction. It repents me (metameloma) that 1 have set up Saul to be King. (I Sam. 15:11.) The Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent (ou metauohsei). The difference, therefore, is either very small, or none at all, unless that the former Greek word above mentioned properly signifies a change of the mind, whilst the latter expresses a change of the will or purpose. In conversion, how ever, there is a change both of the understanding and the will. The Latins have a number of words by which they express the same thing. They call it regeneratio, renovatio, resipiscentia, conversio, poenitentia. Resipiscentia seems properly to correspond with the Greek metanoia; for as resipiscentia is derived from resipisco, which means to become wise after having done a thing; so metanoia is from metanoew, which means to become wise after having committed something wrong; to change the mind, and to alter the purpose. Paenitenia is said to be derived either from paenitet or from paena, because the sorrow which is in repentance is, as it were, a punishment. Or else, as Erasmus supposes, it is from ponetenendo, as if to repent were to lay hold of a later purpose, or to under stand a thing after it is done. But whatever may be the derivation of the word paenitentia or repentance, it is more obscure than the term conversion. For repentance does not comprehend the whole extent of the subject it does not express from what, and to what we are changed, but merely signifies the sorrow which is felt after the commission of some sin. Conversion, on the other hand, embraces the whole, as it adds that which is the beginning of a new life by faith.
The term repentance is, moreover, of a broader signification than con version: for conversion is spoken of only in reference to the godly, who alone are converted to God. The same thing may be said of metanoia and resipiscentia, that they refer merely to the godly; for by these three terms the new life of the godly is signified. But paenitentia is spoken of the ungodly also, as of Judas, who did indeed repent of his wicked deed, but was not converted; because the ungodly, when they sorrow, are not converted or reformed. Thus far we have spoken of the terms which have reference to this subject; we must now proceed to inquire into the thing itself.
A definition, with respect to the parts of conversion, may be obtained from the 88th Question of the Catechism, where it is defined to be the mortification of the old, and the quickening of the new man. It is more fully expressed in the following definition: Man’s conversion to God consists in a change of the corrupt mind and will into that which is good, produced by the Holy Ghost through the preaching of the law and the gospel, which is followed by a sincere desire to produce the fruits of repentance, and a conformity of the life to all the commands of God. This definition is confirmed by the following passages of Scripture: “If thou wilt return, return unto me.” “Wash you, make you clean.” “But ye are washed; but ye are sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” “Depart from evil, and do good.” (Jer. 4:1. Is. 1:16. 1 Cor. 6:11. Ps. 34:14.) The whole definition is ex pressed in Acts 26:18, 20: “I send thee 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.” “But shewed that they should repent, and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.”
III. OF HOW MANY PARTS DOES CONVERSION CONSIST?
Conversion consists of two parts: the mortification of the old man, and the quickening of the new man. We speak more properly in this way, using the language of Paul, than if we were, as some do, to make conversion consist in contrition and faith. By contrition they understand mortification; and by faith the joy which follows the desire of righteous ness and new obedience, which are indeed effects of faith, but not faith itself. Contrition also precedes conversion, but is not conversion itself, nor any part of it, being only a preparation, or that which leads to conversion; and that only in the elect. The old man which is mortified is the sinner only, or the corrupt nature of man. The new man which is quickened is he who begins to depart from sin, or it is the nature of man as regenerated. The mortification of the old man, or of the flesh, consists in the laying off and subduing of the corruption of our nature, and includes, 1. A know ledge of sin, and of the wrath of God. 2. Sorrow for sin, and on account of having offended God. 3. Hatred of sin, and an earnest desire to avoid it. The Scriptures speak of this mortification of sin in the following places: “If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” “Rend your hearts, and not your garments.” “Come and let us return unto the Lord; for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up.” (Rom. 8:13. Joel 2:13. Hosea 6:1.) From this it appears that mortification, or conversion, is very im properly attributed to the wicked, in whom there is no hatred or shunning of sin, nor sorrow for sin, all of which is embraced in the mortification of the old man. A knowledge ,of sin precedes sorrow, because the affections of the heart follow knowledge. Sorrow may follow a knowledge of sin on the part of the ungodly, from a sense of present, and from a fear of future evil, viz: of temporal and eternal punishment; yet this sorrow is not properly a part of conversion, nor a preparation to it; but rather a flight and turning away from God, and a rushing into desperation, as in the case of Cain, Saul, Judas, &c. It is called a sorrow, not unto salvation the sorrow of the world, working death a sorrow not after a godly sort, &c. In the godly, however, this sorrow arises from a sense of the displeasure of God, which they sincerely acknowledge and lament, and is connected with a hatred and abhorrence of all past sins, and with a shunning or turning away from all present and future sin. This sorrow is a part of con version, or at least a preparation to it, and is called a sorrow unto salvation a sorrow which is after a godly sort, working repentance unto salvation. The knowledge of sin, sorrow for sin, and a flying from it, differ in their subject, or as it respects that part of our being in which they have their proper seat. The knowledge of sin is in the mind, sorrow for sin in the heart, and fleeing from it in the will. The turning, which is included in conversion, is in the heart and will, and is a turning from one thing to another from evil to good, according to what the Psalmist says: “De part from evil and do good.” (Ps. 34:14.)
It is called in Scripture mortification, 1. Because, as one that is dead cannot perform the actions of a living man, so our nature, when its corruption is once removed, no more performs the actions peculiar to it in its corrupt state; that is, it does not produce actual sin when original sin is once circumscribed and kept under proper restraint. “For he that is dead is freed from sin.” (Rom. 6:7.) 2. Because, this mortification is not without wrestling and pain: “for the flesh lusteth against the Spirit.” (Gal. 5:17.) It is for this reason that this mortification is called a crucifixion of the flesh. “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” (Gal. 5:24.) 3. Because, it is a ceasing from sin. It is, moreover, not simply called mortification, but the mortification of the old man, because, by it not the substance of man, but sin in man, is destroyed. The expression, old man, is also added for the purpose of distinguishing between the repentance of the godly and ungodly; for in the godly, no t the man, but the old man is destroyed, whilst in the ungodly it is not the old man, but the man.
The quickening of the new man is a true joy and delight in God, through Christ, and an earnest and sincere desire to regulate the life according to the will of God, and to perform all good works. It embraces three things which are different from what is included in mortification: 1. A knowledge of the mercy of God, and an application of it in Christ. 2. Joy and delight arising from the fact that God is reconciled to us through Christ, and that obedience is begun in us and shall be perfected. 3. An ardent desire to perform new obedience, or to sin no more, but to render gratitude to God during our whole life, and to retain his love, which desire is itself new obedience according to the following declarations of Scripture: “Being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” “The kingdom of God is righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” “I dwell in the high and holy place; with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” “Likewise, reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” “Nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Rom. 5:1; 14:17. Is. 57:15. Rom. 6:11. Gal. 2:20.)
This part of conversion is called quickening, 1. Because, as a living man performs the actions of one that is alive, so this quickening includes the kindling of new light in the understanding, and the producing of new qualities and activities in the will and heart, from which a new life and new works proceed. 2. Because, it includes on the part of those who are converted, joy and delight in God, which affords great comfort and consolation. It is added through Christ, because we cannot rejoice in God, unless he be reconciled unto us It is now only through Christ that God is reconciled unto us. Hence, we only rejoice in God through Christ. These two parts of conversion spring from faith. The reason is, because no one can hate sin and draw nigh to God, unless he loves God. But no one loves God who is not possessed of faith. Hence, although there is no express mention made of faith in either part of conversion, this is done, not because faith is excluded from conversion, but because the whole doctrine of con version and thankfulness presupposes it, as a cause is presupposed from the presence of its own peculiar effect.
Obj.. But faith produces joy. Therefore, it does not produce grief and mortification. Ans. It is not absurd to affirm that the same cause produces different effects by a different kind of operation and in different respects. So faith produces grief, not of itself, but by an accident, which is sin, by which we offend God our kind and gracious father. Of itself it produces joy, because it assures us of God's fatherly will towards us, by and for the sake of Christ. Reply. The preaching of the law precedes faith, since the preaching of repentance commences with the law. But the preaching of the law works sorrow and wrath. Therefore, there is a certain sorrow before faith. Ans. We grant that there is a certain sorrow before faith, but not such as constitutes a part of conversion; for the sorrow of the ungodly which is before and without faith, is rather a turning away from God, than a return to him, which being contrary, cannot agree neither wholly nor in part. But the contrition and sorrow which the elect experience is a certain preparation, leading to conversion, as we have already shown.
IV. WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OP CONVERSION?
The Holy Spirit, or God himself, is the chief efficient cause of our con version. Hence, it is that the saints pray that God would convert them, and that repentance is frequently called in the Scriptures the gift of God. “Turn thou me and I shall be turned, for thou art the Lord my God.” “Turn thou us unto thee, Lord, and we shall be turned.” “Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins;” from which we may draw a most forcible argument in proof of the Divinity of Christ, inasmuch as it is peculiar to God alone to grant repentance and forgiveness of sins. “Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.” “If God, peradventure, will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth, and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil,” &c. (Jer. 81:18. Lam. 5:21. Acts 5:81; 11:18. 2 Tim. 2:25.)
The means or instrumental causes of conversion are the law the gospel, and again, the doctrine of the law after that of the gospel. For the preaching of the law goes before, preparing and leading us to a knowledge of the gospel: “for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” (Rom. 3:20.) Hence, there can be no sorrow for sin without the law. After the sinner has once been led to a knowledge of sin, then the preaching of the gospel follows, encouraging contrite hearts by the assurance of the mercy of God through Christ. Without this preaching there is no faith, and without faith there is no love to God, and hence no conversion to him. After the preaching of the gospel, the preaching of the law again follows, that it may be the rule of our thankfulness and of our life. The law, therefore, precedes, and .follows conversion. It precedes that it may lead to a know ledge and sorrow for sin: it follows that it may serve as a rule of life to the converted. It is for this reason that the prophets first charge sin upon the ungodly, threaten punishment, and exhort to repentance; then comfort and promise pardon and forgiveness; and lastly, again exhort and prescribe the duties of piety and godliness. Such was, also, the character of the preaching of John the Baptist. It is in this way, that the preaching of repentance comprehends the law and the gospel, although in effecting conversion each has a part to perform peculiar to itself.
The next instrumental and internal cause of conversion, is faith. With out faith there is no love to God, and unless we know what the will of God towards us is; viz., that he will remit unto us our sins by and for the sake of Christ, conversion will never be begun in us, neither as its respects the mortification of the old man, nor as it respects the quickening of the new: for by faith the heart is purified. (Acts 15:9.) Without faith we can have no true joy or delight in God; without faith we cannot love God; and whatsoever is not of faith, is sin. (Rom. 14:23.) All good works proceed from faith, as their fountain. “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 5:1.) The causes which contribute to our conversion are the cross, with the chastisements inflicted upon ourselves and others; also the benefits, punishments and example of others, &c. “Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke.” “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes.” “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Jer. 31:18. Ps. 119:71. Matt. 5:16.) The subject, or matter in which conversion is grounded, is the understanding, the will, the heart, and all the affections of man in which a change is produced.
The form of conversion is the turning itself with all the circumstances that are connected with it, which includes, 1. As it respects the mind and understanding, a correct judgment of God, together with his will and works. 2. As it respects the will, a sincere and earnest desire to avoid those falls and things which offend God, with a steady purpose to obey him, according to all his commandments. 3. As it respects the heart, new and holy de sires and affections in accordance with the divine law. 4. As it respects the external actions and life, rectitude and obedience begun, according to the law of God. The object of conversion is, 1. Sin, or disobedience, which is the thing from which we are converted. 2. Righteousness, or new obedience, which is the thing to which we are converted. The chief end of conversion is the glory of God; the next end, which is subordinate to the glory of God, is our good, which consists in our blessedness and enjoyment of eternal life. The conversion of others is another end, still less principal, than those just mentioned. “And when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Luke 22:32. Matt. 5:16.)
The Questions respecting Pelagianism are here properly in place; Whether a man can convert himself without the grace of the Holy Spirit: and, Whether a man can, by the exercise of his free power of choice, prepare himself for the reception of divine grace. Pelagius maintained the first, in opposition to what the Scriptures most plainly affirm. “Turn thou me, and I shall be turned.” “It is God which worketh in you, both to will and to do, of his good pleasure.” “A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit.” (Jer. 31:18. Phil. 2:13. Matt. 7:18.) The Schoolmen and Papists at this day defend the last proposition respecting Pelagianism, in opposition to the explicit declarations of the word of God just cited, and also in contradiction to what Christ himself affirms, when he says, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” (John 6:44.) Thomas Aquinas attributes a certain preparation to the free-will of man, but not conversion. He speaks however of this preparation, as though it contributed to the grace of conversion, which it does by the gracious aid of God, moving us inwardly. Vide sum. theol. partis primae, parte secunda, quaest. 109, ad 6.
V. WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF CONVERSION?
The effects of conversion are, 1. A true and ardent love to God, and our neighbor. 2. An earnest desire to obey God, without any exception, according to all his commandments. 3. All good works, or new obedience itself. 4. A desire to convert others, and bring them in the way of salvation. In a word, the fruits of true repentance are the duties of piety towards God, and of charity towards our neighbor.
VI. IS CONVERSION PERFECT IN THIS LIFE?
Our conversion to God is not perfect in this life, but is here continually advancing, until it reaches the perfection which is proposed in the life to come. “We know in part.” (1 Cor. 13:9.) All the complaints and prayers of the saints are confirmations of this truth. “Cleanse thou me from secret faults.” “wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death.” (Ps. 19:13. Rom. 7:24.) The conflict which is continually going on in those who are converted, bears testimony to the same truth. “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh,” &c. (Gal. 5:17.) The same thing may be said of the exhortations of the prophets and apostles, in which they exhort those who are converted to turn more fully unto God. “He that is righteous, let him be righteous still, and he that is holy, let him be holy still.” (Rev. 22:11.) We may also establish the same thing in the following manner: Neither the mortification of the flesh, nor the quickening of the Spirit, is absolute or perfect in the saints in this life. Therefore, neither is conversion, which consists of these two parts, perfect. As it respects the mortification of the old man, the case is clear, and does not admit of doubt that it is not perfect in this life; because the saints do not only continually strive against the lust of the flesh, but they also often for a time yield, and give over in this conflict often do they sin, fall and offend God, although they do not defend their sins, but detest, deplore, and endeavor to avoid them. As it regards the imperfection of the quickening of the new man, the same conflict is a sufficient testimony; and surely as our knowledge i now only in part, the renovation of the will and heart must also be imperfect: for the will follows the knowledge which we have.
There are two plain reasons why the will, in the case of those who are converted, tends imperfectly to the good in this life:1. Because the renovation of our nature is never made perfect in this life, neither as it respects, our knowledge of God, nor the inclination which we have to obey him. The single complaint and acknowledgment which the apostle Paul made is a sufficient proof of what we have just said. “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh dwelleth no good thing,” &c. (Rom. 7:18, 19.) 2. Because those who are converted are not always governed by the Holy Spirit, but are sometimes for a season deserted by God, either for the purpose of trying, or chastising, or humbling them; yet they are nevertheless brought to repentance, so as not to perish. “Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief.” (Mark 9:24.)
But why does God not perfect conversion in the case of his people in this life, seeing that he is able to effect it? The reasons are, 1. That the saints may be humbled and exercised in faith, patience, prayer and wrest ling against the flesh, and that they may not boast of their perfection, thinking of themselves more highly than they ought, but daily pray; “Enter not into judgment with thy servant.” “Forgive us our sins.” (Ps. 143:2. Matt. 6:12.) 2. That they may press forward more and more unto perfection, and desire it more earnestly. That, trampling the world under their feet, they may run with greater alacrity in the Christian course, and aspire after those joys that are laid up in heaven, knowing that it will not be until then that they shall fully enjoy their promised inheritance. “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth r for ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” “Mortify, therefore, your members which are upon the earth.” “It doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him.” (Col. 3:2, 3, 5. John 3:2.)
Concerning this imperfection Calvin writes in the following expressive language: “This restoration is not accomplished in a single moment, or day, or year; but by continual, and sometimes even slow advances, the Lord destroys the carnal corruptions of his chosen, purifies them from all pollution, and consecrates them as temples to himself; renewing all their senses to real purity, that they may employ their whole life in the exercise of repentance, and know that this warfare will be terminated only in death.” Inst. lib. 3. cap. 3. sec. 9. The sections following the one from which we have quoted, down to the fifteenth, may also be read to advantage, in which there is a disputation learnedly set forth against the Cathari arid Anabaptists, in reference to the remains of sin which cleave to the godly as long as they remain in the flesh.
VII. IN WHAT DOES THE CONVERSION OF THE GODLY DIFFER FROM THE REPENTANCE OF THE UNGODLY?
The term repentance is used in reference to the ungodly as well as to the godly, because there are certain things in which they agree, as in a knowledge of sin, and sorrow on account of it. As it respects other things, however, there is a wide difference. They differ, 1. In the moving cause of repentance, or in the sorrow which is felt. The wicked are sorrowful, not on account of having offended God, but merely because of the punishment which they have brought upon themselves, and which necessarily attaches itself to the violation of God's law. If it were not for this, they would never manifest any sorrow for sin. So Cain was sorrowful merely on account of the punishment which God inflicted upon him for his sin. “My iniquity” (that is the punishment of my iniquity) “is greater than I can bear. Behold thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth,” &c. The godly, however, do, indeed, dread the punishment of sin, but they are pained and grieved more particularly on account of sin itself, and the offence which they have committed against God. So it was in the case of David: “Against thee, thee only have I sinned: my sin is ever before me.” (Ps. 51:3, 4.) So it was also in the case of Peter, who wept bitterly on account of having offended Christ. The sorrow of Judas, however, did not arise on account of the evil of sin, but merely on account of the punishment which followed his crime. Horace expresses this distinction in the following language: (lib. 1. epist. 16.)
Oderunt peccare boni, virtutis amore,
Tu nihil admittes in te, formidine paenae.
2. The repentance of the godly differs from that of the ungodly as it respects the efficient came of it. The repentance of the ungodly proceeds from distrust and despair, so that their despair, disquietude and hatred to God increases. The repentance of the godly, however, proceeds from faith, or the confidence which they have in the mercy of God, and in a gracious reconciliation with him by arid for the sake of Christ.
3. They differ inform. The repentance of the godly is a turning to God from the devil, sin and their old nature; because they do not only sorrow, but also encourage themselves by exercising confidence in the mediator they confide in Christ, rejoice in God, and trust in him saying with David, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.” (Ps. 51:7.) The repentance of the ungodly is a turning away from God to the devil, to hatred and repining against God, and to despair.
4. They differ in their effects. The repentance of the godly is followed by new obedience; and in proportion to the depth of their repentance is the old man mortified in them, and the desire of righteousness in creased. But the repentance of the ungodly is not followed by new obedience; but they continue in sin and return to their vomit, although for a time they feigned to repent of their sins, as Ahab did. They are, indeed, mortified, and destroyed, but the corruption of their nature is not subdued: yea, by how much the more they repent, by so much the more is hatred, distrust, and aversion to God increased in them, so that they are continually being brought more and more under the power and dominion of Satan.
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