Bob Ross: Regeneration -- CalvinismSouthern Baptists should read this article by Bob Ross. He demonstrates that the Calvinism of Spurgeon and other historic Baptists is not the Calvinism of much of what comes from Founders Ministries and James White. Nor, I might add, is it the Calvinism of Steve Camp, another James White "wannabe."
Why do Founders Ministries keep trying to pass themselves off as a theological return to Spurgeon and "the founders" of the SBC? As Bob Ross proves, the "born-again before faith" theology is decidedly not the view of historic Calvinists nor is it the view of historic Calvinist confessions.
Bob shows where the "born-again before faith" view sprang from, and it is not from a biblical or Baptist well!
REGENERATION -- CALVINISM
Here is an article which does not seem to be on the "Selected Writings of Bob Ross" website at
It endeavors to present the proper concept of Regeneration as it is expressed in Calvinist confessions - regardless of whether or not the reader agrees with the view.
NOTE: I have been requested by some Reformed Baptists to clarify my view on Regeneration in relation to faith. I wrote on this subject awhile back, and here is that article with some additional material added to the original. -- Bob L. Ross
REGENERATION IN RELATION TO FAITH IN CALVINIST THEOLOGY [05/04/2004]
What is the Confessional View?
In recent times, focus has once again put upon the subject of "Regeneration" in relation to Faith in Calvinist theology. Hopefully, it is a "positive" element that there has been a heightened interest in Calvinism to develop among Southern Baptists.
I know that a great deal of this interest has been due to the influence of C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), and we take particular delight in that since we have reprinted so many of his works and sermons. As far back as 1959, I put together a selection of Spurgeon's sermons and we published our first hardback book, Spurgeon's Sermons on Sovereignty. Later on, we reprinted his entire 63-volume sermon series, as well as many of his other works.
We rejoice to see so many of our Spurgeon publications in the seminary libraries and on the shelves of seminary professors and pastors. I once was in the office of Dr. Curtis Vaughan at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, and as we were discussing details as to his writing a jacket article for one of Spurgeon's volumes in the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit series, he walked over to his book shelf, took down one of the MTP volumes, and said, "I would rather read one of Spurgeon's sermons than to hear any preacher living today."
On the subject of the new birth, Spurgeon made the following remarks in a sermon, A KIND OF FIRSTFRUITS, preached on January 5, 1868, sermon number 3275, on the text, “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” (James 1:18).
The instrumentality through which this singular change has been wrought in us is clearly stated, “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth.”
Men are not usually saved without the immediate agency of the gospel. Some have said that the Spirit of God always works through the truth, and that the truth is sure to work conviction. The truth, however, is preached, and faithfully preached, to tens of thousands, to whom it conveys not a blessing at all, but is the savour of death unto death.
Others have said that the Spirit of God regenerates men apart from the Word of God but this is not told us in Scripture, and is not therefore to be received. But evermore the Word and the Spirit are put together. Scripture does not talk of the Word of God as a dead letter; it says, “The Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword.”
On the other hand, Scripture does not speak of the Holy Spirit as though the Word would work apart from him, but the two are put together, and “ what God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.”
My dear brethren and sisters, you who have been begotten again unto a lively hope, was it not through the hearing of the Word, or the reading of it, or the remembrance of some hallowed text which you had almost forgotten? You know it was.
Good McCheyne used to say, “Depend on it, it is God’s Word that saves souls, and not our comment upon God’s Word;” and so I believe it is. It is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.
And what is this Word? What is it that usually brings men to be begotten unto a new life? The Word, the especial quickening Word, is the preaching of the doctrine of the cross. . . .
Oh! then, if you have been quickened by the Word, tell out the Word. If the gospel has brought you to salvation, tell that gospel out.
Spurgeon was here affirming the view on regeneration by the Holy Spirit's use of the Gospel which was set forth in the old Calvinist Confessions, and as taught by the Puritans such as Stephen Charnock and Thomas Watson, and Spurgeon's own predecessor, Dr. John Gill.
Unfortunately, in some quarters today, the post-seventeenth century view of Pedobaptists such as Dr. W. G. T. Shedd and Louis Berkhof is being advocated, and this view denies the necessary use of the Word or Gospel in regeneration. We are concerned about this theory of "regeneration" inasmuch as we believe it has aberrant consequences.
The "pre-faith regeneration" theory as taught by Shedd and Berkhof, and as it is being popularized today in writings by Pedobaptist R. C. Sproul and Reformed Baptist James White, Pedobaptist Iain Murray, and some in the Founders movement among Southern Baptists, not only differs from our Calvinist creedal standards and the theology of the Puritans, but from Baptists such as John Gill, Alexander Booth, A. H. Strong, C. H. Spurgeon, and others.
This error on regeneration gave theoretical support to the anti-missionary, anti-means dogma of the Hardshells or Primitive Baptists in the 19th century onward. Error on this subject has also caused a great deal of misunderstanding and misrepresentation of what really constitutes Confessional or historic Calvinism on regeneration or the new birth.
Some anti-Calvinist Pelagian free-will advocates of our time are targeting the theory of "pre-faith regeneration" of Shedd and Berkhof and other advocates as an Achilles Heel at which point to attack Calvinism -- as Dave Hunt has done in the debate with James White, and as Laurence Vance has done in his book, The Other Side of Calvinism. But I will show that this theory is not consistent with confessional Calvinism and therefore the objections by Hunt and Vance are not applicable to confessional Calvinism on regeneration.
It is regrettable that some on both the pro and con sides of differing points of view on this subject do not choose to confine themselves to the boundaries of the Confessional statements for what is to be understood as being the "orthodox" Calvinist view, regardless of whether it is viewed as valid or invalid. Some Calvinist writers who come to mind, sometimes use the term "regeneration" in a sense too broadly to be regarded as representative of the Confessional view. Likewise, some critics of Calvinism apparently prefer to criticize such less-than-confessional Calvinistic representations rather than focusing upon what is actually taught in the Confessions of Faith which are the ultimate standards on Calvinist views. The distorted view seems to be much easier to attack than the creedal view.
JOHN CALVIN himself identified "regeneration" with "repentance," and to Calvin repentance always embodied faith (Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 1, pages 512-515; Vol. 2, page 516). "Can true repentance exist without faith? By no means," said Calvin. And if repentance was understood by Calvin to be synonymous with "regeneration," then it follows that for Calvin regeneration did not exist before, without, or apart from faith.
There is no "regenerated unbeliever" or "regeneration before faith" in Calvin's point of view.
In his comment on 1 Corinthians 13:13, Calvin says, "In fine, it is by faith that we are born again, that we become the sons of God -- that we obtain eternal life, and that Christ dwells in us."
The Confessional standards of Calvinism, notably the Canons of Dort and the Westminster Confession, uphold the view of Calvin. While Calvin and the Confessions maintain that every "ounce" of the "efficient" power in regeneration is of the Holy Spirit, and that the Spirit takes the initiative in regeneration, they insist on the necessary use of "means" (the Word or Gospel) as integral to the regenerating actions of the Holy Spirit. In other words, they affirm that the Spirit necessarily uses "instrumentality" in bringing about the new birth. In these Calvinist standards, there is no new birth apart from the instrumentality of the Gospel, and there is no new birth by a "direct operation" before the Spirit has made the Gospel effectual to the creation of faith.
The Canons of Dort
The Canons of Dort (A. D. 1619), published in response to the "five points" of the Arminian Remonstrants, insist that "What, therefore, neither the light of nature nor the law could do, God performs by the operation of the Holy Spirit through the word or ministry of reconciliation: which is the glad tidings concerning the Messiah, by MEANS whereof it hath pleased God to save such as believe, as well under the Old as under the New Testament" (III and IV Heads, Article VI, Schaff's Creeds of Christendom, Vol. III, pages 588, 589).
Article XI of the same section says that God "causes the gospel to be externally preached to them, and powerfully illuminates their minds by His Holy Spirit, that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God;" (Schaff, ibid, page 590).
And Article XVII unmistakably states: "As the almighty operation of God whereby He brings forth and supports this our natural life does not exclude but require the USE OF MEANS by which God, of His infinite mercy and goodness, has chosen to exert His influence, so also the aforementioned supernatural operation of God by which we are regenerated in no wise excludes or subverts the use of the GOSPEL, which the most wise God has ordained to be the SEED OF REGENERATION and food of the soul." (Schaff's Creeds of Christendom, Volume 3, page 592).
The Westminster Confession
The Westminster Confession (1647) does not use the term "regeneration," but deals with the subject matter under the heads of "Effectual Calling" (Chapter X) and "Saving Faith" (Chapter XIV). This Confession conjoins the Word and Spirit in effectual calling:
"I. All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed time, effectually to call, by His WORD AND SPIRIT, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace." (Chapter X; Schaff, Vol. III, page 624).
In Chapter XIV on "Saving Faith," the Westminster states:
"I. The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the WORD, by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened." (Schaff, III, page 630).
Neither of these Confessions categorize any pre-faith work of the Holy Spirit as "regeneration," so those today who choose to broaden the term to cover the pre-faith work of the Spirit do not represent the view of the Confessions of Faith. They should not, therefore, be quoted by critics of Calvinism as "representative" of Calvinism, creating the impression that Calvinism teaches "regeneration" before, without, or apart from faith, which is the core of Hardshellism.
The work of the Holy Spirit, using the Word of God as His means, creates or brings about faith, and when that has been done, regeneration has taken place, according to the Calvinist Confessions.
Stephen Charnock on Regeneration
Perhaps the greatest work I have ever read on Regeneration is that of Stephen Charnock, the 17th century Puritan writer (1628-1680). I am grateful that his works are on the internet -- accessible for reference. His work on "The Word, the Instrument of Regeneration," is the clearest presentation I have ever read on this subject. I suggest you go to the above website and read the entire article by this great Puritan author, and he, better than I or anyone else I know, will reveal the truth concerning the use of "means" by the Holy Spirit in the new birth.
The Hardshell Baptists who arose in the 1800s object to "gospel regeneration" as if our view denies the efficacy of the Holy Spirit as the sole efficient cause of the New Birth. This is due to their separating the Holy Spirit from the use of means. But the confessional view is that means are empowered SOLELY by the Holy Spirit by whom they are made efficient to the creation of faith.
Stephen Charnock clarifies this in distinguishing between being born "OF" [ek] the Spirit but "BY" [dia] " WITH" or "THROUGH" the Word or Gospel.
Charnock noted the following:
Doctrine. That the gospel is the instrument whereby God brings the soul forth in a new birth.
The Scripture does distinguish the efficient and instrumental cause by the prepositions "ek", or, "eks", and "dia". When we are said to be 'born of the Spirit,' it is, John 3:5, "ek pneumatos"; 1 John 3:9, 5:1, "ek Theou"; never "dia pneumatos", or "dia Theou:" but we are nowhere said to be born of the word, or begotten of the word, but "dia logou", by or with the word, 1 Peter 1:23; and "dia euangeliou", 1 Cor. 4:15, I have begotten you 'through the gospel.' The preposition "ek" or "eks", usually notes the efficient or material cause; "dia", the instrumental or means by which a thing is wrought.
Sin entered into the heart of Eve by the word of the devil, grace enters into the heart by the word of God; that entered by a word of error, this by a word of truth: 'Ye are clean through the word I have spoken to you, John 15:3, whereby our Saviour means the word outwardly preached by him, for it is the word spoken by him. Not that it had this efficacy of itself, but as an instrument of their sanctification, rendering them ready to every good work. . . . The gospel is this instrument.
The PRE-FAITH REGENERATION theory propapated by W. G. T. Shedd (Dogmatic Theology) and Louis Berkhof (in his Systematic Theology) was apparently designed to accommodate the supposed regeneration of the infant children of believers to whom the supposed blessings of the "covenant" are allegedly vouchsafed. This theory reasoned that if infants are regenerated, then it must take place apart from the Gospel as an instrumentality, which infants are not capable of hearing.
I think that some Reformed Baptists of our time may have been influenced by the view of these Pedobaptist theologians and it has filtered through men such as R. C. Sproul and some other pedobaptist writers and sources.
Berkhof taught that "new life is often implanted in the hearts of children long before they are able to hear the call of the gospel," and that they may receive the "seed of regeneration long before they come to years of discretion," and therefore this rules out the Holy Spirit's use of the Gospel as a means (pages 471, 472).
This is a fine theory for Pedobaptists and their view of the early regeneration of infants born to believers, but it will not do for Baptists. Baptists have never adhered to this theory on early infant regeneration and we do not believe in regeneration apart from the Gospel.
Berkhof calls this act a "hyper-physical" operation of the Spirit apart from the use of means, and therefore apart from the Holy Spirit's creation of faith in the one regenerated. In effect, at the precise moment of regeneration, Berkhof has the monstrosity of a "regenerated unbeliever," which can hardly be justified from Scripture or the Confessions.
It is highly significant that Berkhof explains that his view differs from Luther, Calvin, the Canons of Dort and several seventeenth century writers (which would include Charnock) (page 466, 470, 476).
C. H. SPURGEON presents the view of Baptists and of the Confessions of Faith.
He says, "Where there is no faith, there has been no quickening of the Holy Spirit , for faith is of the very essence of spiritual life."
And whereas there is some pre-faith workings of the Holy Spirit, Spurgeon says one is "not saved" at this stage of the Spirit's operations. Notice --
MTP, Sermon #656 on PREVENIENT GRACE __
Now let me show you how God’s grace does come to work on the human heart so as to make it good soil before the living seed is cast into it, so that before quickening grace really visits it the heart may be called a good heart, because it is prepared to receive that grace.
I think this takes place thus: first of all, before quickening grace comes, God often gives an attentive ear, and makes a man willing to listen to the Word. Not only does he like to listen to it, but he wants to know the meaning of it; there is a little excitement in his mind to know what the gospel tidings really are. He is not saved as yet, but it is always a hopeful sign when a man is willing to listen to the truth, and is anxious to understand it. This is one thing which prevenient grace does in making the soul good.
In Ezekiel’s vision, as you will recollect, before the breath came from the four winds the bones began to stir, and they came together bone to his bone. So, before the Spirit of God comes to a man in effectual calling, God’s grace often comes to make a stir in the man’s mind, so that he is no longer indifferent to the truth, but is anxious to understand what it means.
Here is more from Spurgeon:
"For, first, without faith there is no capacity for communion with God at all. The things of God are spiritual and invisible—without faith we cannot recognize such things but must be dead to them. Faith is the eye which sees. But without that eye we are blind and can have no fellowship with God in those Sacred Truths which only faith can perceive. Faith is the hand of the soul, and without it, we have no grasp of eternal things. If I were to mention all the images by which faith is set forth, each one would help you to see that you must have faith in order to know God and enter into converse with Him.
It is only by faith that we can recognize God, approach Him, speak to Him, hear Him, feel His Presence and be delighted with His perfections. He that has not faith is toward God as one dead. And Jehovah is not the God of the dead, but of the living.
The communion of the living God goes not forth toward death and corruption. His fellowship is with those who have spiritual life, a life akin to His own. Where there is no faith, there has been no quickening of the Holy Spirit, for faith is of the very essence of spiritual life.
And so the man who has no faith can no more commune with the living God and give Him pleasure, than can a stick or a stone, a horse or an ox, hold converse with the human mind. (Faith Essential to Pleasing God, MTP, Sermon #2100, Vol. 35, 446).
As can be seen from Spurgeon's "Soul Winner" book, while all efficient power is attributed to the Holy Spirit, Spurgeon always has "means" involved as the Spirit's "instrumentality." So do I.
Spurgeon says, "Instruction by the gospel is the commencement of all real work upon men's minds" (page 17, Pilgrim edition).
"He works by means" (page 25), Spurgeon says, and "Paul compares himself both to a father and to a mother in the matter of the new birth" (page 25).
"Such mysterious power doth God infuse into the instrumentality which He ordains" (page 26), "we regard ourselves as used by the Holy Ghost . . . the marvels of regeneration which attend our ministry" (page 27), "He quicken(s) them by the gospel" (page 28), and "The production of faith is the very centre of the target at which you aim" (page 29). So wrote Spurgeon, and likewise what he preached.
So Spurgeon's view is that regeneration neither preceeds faith nor follows after faith -- rather, regeneration is the very creation of faith itself.
When one is made a believer of the Gospel of Christ by the efficient power of the Holy Spirit, he IS THEN born again -- not before, and not after faith, but at the same instant of faith in Christ, which faith has been created by instrumentality of the Gospel thru the power of the Holy Spirit, NOT by the power of the WILL OF MAN (John 1:12, 12).
If a man were regenerated BEFORE faith, at the point of regeneration he would be a "regenerated (born again) unbeliever."
If he were regenerated AFTER faith, at the point of faith he would be an unregenerated believer.
Neither of these is consistent with Scripture (1 John 5:12). Both ideas are spiritual non-existants.
The pre-faith regeneration view is admitted by both Shedd and Berkhof to be a different view on regeneration than taught in former years by the Puritans and as set forth in the Westminster Confession (See Shedd, Vol. 2, page 402; Berkhof, pages 470, 476). It certainly conflicts with our Baptist Confessions, all of which affirm the necessary use of the Word as an instrumentality in the Holy Spirit's bringing forth faith and the New Birth.
"If I am to preach faith in Christ to a man who is regenerated, then the man, being regenerated, is saved already, and it is an unnecessary and ridiculous thing for me to preach Christ to him, and bid him to believe in order to be saved when he is saved already, being regenerate" (Warrant of Faith, #531, page 532).