Recovering regeneration in the church

2015 Books Issue | Jonathan Edwards’ understanding of the doctrine of new birth. An excerpt from a WORLD Book of the Year runner-up
by Dane Ortlund
Posted 8/01/15, 08:29 am

Crossway is putting out a good “Theologians on the Christian Life” series of books: Bonhoeffer, Calvin, Schaeffer, Warfield, and Wesley are among those profiled. The books, designed for pew-sitters rather than pastors, clearly summarize the thinking of these thinkers, and Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God, by Crossway senior vice president Dane Ortlund, is no exception and was a runner-up for WORLD’s Book of the Year in the Accessible Theology category.

The chapter below on Edwards’ understanding of the “new birth” is a good example of concise writing. Ortlund over several pages shows how our new birth in Christ is necessary, change-making, completely a work of God, and a source of joy, but it does not perfect us. Read on, please. —Marvin Olasky 

New Birth: The Ignition of the Christian Life

Jonathan Edwards believed that the Christian life is of God. Having set his love on every one of his elect children before the foundation of the world,[1] God then makes this election an experienced reality in the person’s life. Salvation is doubly of grace: grace planned in the past, grace activated in the present.

And the way this grace in the present is triggered is new birth, or regeneration.[2] This ignites the Christian life. “The conversion of one that is brought to believe savingly on the Lord Jesus,” says Edwards in a 1739 sermon, “is like the dawning of the day, the first shining of the light of the Sun in a soul that before was filled with the greatest darkness.”[3]

Becoming a Christian is not essentially the making of a decision or the praying of a prayer or the dedication of one’s life or the believing of a doctrine. It is not less than such things. But in essence the beginning of the Christian life is a sovereignly granted explosion of new life, a change so radical, carrying with it such a break with the past, that it is nothing less than a second birth. In the new birth we are, for the first time, alive to beauty. This is unsettling to us, even frightening, because it rests solely in the hands of God. Yet it is refreshingly liberating too, because it affirms what our hearts know: true and lasting transformation cannot come from any humanly wrought strategies or efforts. We can’t change ourselves. Edwards wrote to the Scottish pastor John Erskine in 1757, “There can properly be no such thing, or anything akin to what the Scripture speaks of conversion, renovation of the heart, regeneration, etc. if growing good, by a number of self-determined acts, are all that is required.”[4]

This is a word in season for us. The church today needs to recover the doctrine of the new birth. It is the nonnegotiable, irreplaceable, and yet underemphasized ignition of the Christian life. It is also a central teaching of the New Testament, taught clearly by Jesus, Paul, and Peter (John 1:12–13; 3:1–15; Titus 3:5; 1 Pet. 1:3, 23).[5]

In this chapter we will consider six characteristics of new birth, make a brief critique of Edwards’s theology of regeneration, and then conclude by reflecting on the need to recover this doctrine in the twenty-first-century church.

Edwards on New Birth: Six Characteristics

Edwards viewed regeneration as necessarily paired with conversion, conversion being the active side of salvation, and regeneration the passive side.[6] The clearest and most concise definition he gives is right at the start of a sermon titled, simply, “Born Again.” By new birth, Edwards says, “is meant that great change that is wrought in man by the mighty power of God, at his conversion from sin to God: his being changed from a wicked to a holy man.”[7] In Religious Affections Edwards puts it even more succinctly: regeneration “is that work of God in which grace is infused.”[8] Six truths about new birth surface throughout Edwards’s writings as he repeatedly returns to this doctrine during the course of his preaching and writing ministry.

New Birth Is Necessary

It is “absolutely necessary for everyone,” says Edwards, “that he be regenerated, or born again.”[9] Regeneration is not one way sinners are saved. It is the way. There is no Plan B to fall back on. Whatever one thinks of Jesus’s teaching or example, however much one gives to the church, however great one sacrifices—without new birth, all is useless. With it, nothing else is needed. All people, without exception, are born into sin, belonging to Adam. All people, without exception, must be born again by grace if they are to belong to Christ.

What is born in the first birth of man, is nothing but man as he is of himself, without anything divine in him; depraved, debased, sinful, ruined man, utterly unfit to enter into the kingdom of God, and incapable of the spiritual divine happiness of that kingdom: but that which is born in the new birth, of the Spirit of God, is a spiritual principle, and holy and divine nature, meet for the divine and heavenly kingdom.[10]

All roads to the new earth pass through the gate of new birth.[11] For this reason religious people stand in need of new birth no less than irreligious people. The only difference is that religious people may presume they have it—in which case they are worse off, not better off, than irreligious people. “It is a truth of the utmost certainty,” Edwards says, “with respect to every man, born of the race of Adam, by ordinary generation, that unless he be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. This is true, not only of the heathen, but of them that are born of the professing people of God, as Nicodemus, and the Jews.”[12] The great distinction between sinners is not between those who need new birth and those who do not, for all need it; the great distinction is between those who know they need it and those who do not. Jesus told a religious man, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). The religious men and women in our lives and neighborhoods today cannot be told anything less.

New Birth Changes Us

A newborn baby is the same child as the one that has just spent nine months in the womb. Yet the child has gone through a fundamental change—now breathing, crying, nursing, seeing, and so on. The infant is in touch with the real world in a way that was only dimly possible while in the womb.[13] These differences help us understand why the biblical writers speak of salvation as a new birth. For in our new, supernatural birth, as in our first, natural birth, we are ushered by the will of another into an utterly new mode of existence which, while sharing certain marks of one’s previous life, is fundamentally different.

The seventh sign of authentic Christianity in Religious Affections is that those in whom the Spirit has truly been working have a change in their very nature. Incorporating new birth into his comments, Edwards explains:

The Scripture representations of conversion do strongly imply and signify a change of nature: such as being born again; becoming new creatures; rising from the dead; being renewed in the spirit of the mind; dying to sin, and living to righteousness; putting off the old man, and putting on the new man; a being ingrafted into a new stock; a having a divine seed implanted in the heart; a being made partakers of the divine nature, etc.[14]

He concludes that “if there be no great and remarkable, abiding change in persons, that think they have experienced a work of conversion, vain are all their imaginations and pretenses.”[15]

In asking why this is so—why those who are born again are necessarily different, or else they are not born again—we come to one of Edwards’s central contributions to Christian theology: the new “sense of the heart” granted to the regenerate. Edwards taught that regeneration implants within the believer a new inclination toward holiness. Wakened spiritual taste buds now find God and godliness strangely attractive.[16] He writes, “the work of the Spirit of God in regeneration is often in Scripture compared to the giving of a new sense, giving eyes to see, and ears to hear.”[17]

We must be careful not to water down the radical change Edwards writes about here. New birth does not simply change us by giving us a new power to do the same things we always wanted to do. It changes us by getting down underneath even the very level of our desires and changing what we want. This is one of the key pillars of his carefully crafted argument in The Freedom of the Will. Sovereign, regenerating grace does not enable us to do what we don’t want to do. More deeply, it brings us to want to do what we should want to do. Regenerating grace is grace that softens us way down deep at the core of who we are. This is taste-bud transformation. In a miracle that can never be humanly manufactured, we find ourselves, strangely, delighting to love God. We are changed. The will itself is renovated. We see things as they really are. True beauty is now seen to be beautiful.

Indeed, this theme of beauty captures well the change that takes place in regeneration. In essence, regeneration is the decisive, initial beautification of the believer. Edwards believes this is the meaning, for example, of 2 Peter 1:4, which speaks of our becoming “partakers of the divine nature.” Does this mean believers become deified, as emphasized by the Eastern tradition of the church? No, says Edwards—we are not deified; we are beautified. “Not that the saints are made partakers of the essence of God, and so are ‘Godded’ with God, and ‘Christed’ with Christ, according to the abominable and blasphemous language and notions of some heretics.” Rather, “they are made partakers of God’s fullness, that is, of God’s spiritual beauty and happiness, according to the measure and capacity of a creature.”[18]

New Birth Is Completely a Work of God

As is already becoming clear, we can make ourselves come alive to the beauty of Christ no more than a rotting corpse can make itself come alive to the beauty of the meadow in which it is buried.

The editors of volume 22 in the Yale edition of Edwards’s works are wrong when they define the new birth in Edwards’s theology as “a dramatic spiritual moment when the individual, despairing of personal ability to effect forgiveness of sins and salvation, completely surrendered his or her soul to Christ.”[19] Edwards would say that everything described here is necessary but is a result of new birth, not new birth itself. The editors here describe conversion, not regeneration. New birth is not self-surrender essentially, but divinely imported life. “The new birth is not the product of the will of man but of the will of God,” Edwards says. God regenerates “with a potent irresistible energy. If any are converted and saved it is not of man that wills originally but of God that wills and works according to his will.”[20] Theologians call this a unilateral (as opposed to bilateral) or monergistic (as opposed to synergistic) work of God. Both terms communicate that salvation is not a cooperative agreement. New birth is the sovereign softening of a hard heart that cannot soften itself.

This does not mean sinners should passively wait for God to regenerate them, for God uses means in saving sinners. Human seeking does not replace, but is the manifestation of, God’s transforming grace. “’Tis God’s manner to give his Spirit in a way of earnest striving.”[21] And yet looking back upon such striving, even this, the Christian knows, is wholly due to God’s grace.

This feels destabilizing at first, but it is in fact our only true stability. For new birth is something we are wholly given. It works on us from the inside, but comes to us from the outside. It changes us internally but is provided externally. The sheer grace of new birth is therefore mysterious. Solely intellectual categories fail us; we cannot understand it exhaustively. Edwards wrestles with this in a handwritten note jotted down in his Blank Bible next to John 3:8: “This question, How is a man born again? may be asked out of a vain curiosity, and with a conceit of men’s own wisdom and ability to trace the footsteps of the Spirit of God in this work.”[22] On the other hand, a conviction of sovereignly wrought regeneration is sanity restoring. For the utter gratuity of new birth wonderfully drains our law-marinated hearts of our inveterate quest to save ourselves. We are hardwired to resist the utter gratuity of divine grace and to introduce some modest contribution into our salvation. The doctrine of new birth as taught by Edwards confounds this moralizing tendency.

In September 2008 The New York Times ran a story entitled “For a Fee, a Thai Temple Offers a Head Start on Rebirth.”[23] Reporter Seth Mydans explained that a Buddhist temple in Thailand was providing, “for a small fee, an opportunity to die, rise up again newborn and make a fresh start on life.” Fallen human beings know intuitively that we need new birth. This notion is not restricted to Christianity but transcends cultural context. We tacitly know that we are broken and need fixing, healing so profound that it grants us a completely new start. But it cannot be bought. It cannot be manipulated through anything we bring to the table. The only way in is through the supernatural gift of new birth of which Jesus tells Nicodemus in John 3.

God saves us. God alone. Christians are those “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). This is liberating security. For just as a child can never go back into his mother’s womb (as Nicodemus astutely observed in John 3:4), a sinner who has been given new birth can never revert back into a state of being unregenerate. We are now alive. We have been wakened. God has swept us irreversibly into life. He will never hit rewind on our regeneration. It was God and God alone who gave us new life, and it is God and God alone who will sustain us in that new life. Those who have been given new birth “are a soil in which this heavenly seed has been sown and in which it abides.”[24]

New Birth Does Not Perfect Us

The fact that new birth secures and changes us does not mean that no trace of the old man remains in the regenerate. New birth grants a new direction, not a new perfection. Edwards was not naïve; he knew that “the godly, after they have grace in their hearts, many times do gradually sink down into very ill frames through their unwatchfulness: they insensibly get into carnal frames.”[25] In another place he again acknowledges that while, on the one hand, “a man is brought, when converted, wholly to renounce all his sins,” yet, on the other hand, “that don’t argue that he is wholly freed from all remains of sin.”[26] In Charity and Its Fruits Edwards remarks that “when the Scripture speaks of holiness of life in Christians, this is not the meaning of it, that it should be a perfect life.” Rather, the truly Christian life “is of that kind which has a tendency to practice.”[27] Edwards goes on to explain that it is not the absence of sin that is the key mark of regeneration but the hatred of it.[28] Sin dwells, but no longer reigns, in believers.[29]

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader C. S. Lewis captures an Edwardsian view of regeneration in his depiction of the change wrought in the previously obnoxious Eustace: “It would be nice, and fairly nearly true, to say that ‘from that time forth Eustace was a different boy.’ To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.”[30]

In the new birth the cure has begun. Like Eustace, the dragons that we all naturally are by birth have been decisively peeled off in the new birth. Old tendencies remain, but the fundamental change has secured us once and for all as new creatures.

New Birth Is the Source of Real Joy

Regeneration fundamentally changes us by granting not only an inclination toward holiness but also a fresh and true capacity for happiness. Indeed, for Edwards, holiness and happiness rise and fall together. In a world that tells us we must choose between the two, Edwards insists that holiness is the source, not a substitute, for happiness. Holiness fans, not douses, the flames of real joy.

A Christian’s new birth brings a “change made in the views of his mind, and relish of his heart,” Edwards says in Religious Affections, so that the regenerate person “seeks his interest and happiness in God.”[31] In concluding the final sermon in Charity and Its Fruits, Edwards speaks of

all ye who are out of Christ, who were never born again, and never had any blessed renovation of your hearts implanting a spirit of divine love there, leading you to choose that happiness which consists in holy love as your best and sweetest good, and to spend your life in struggling after happiness.[32]

Here new birth and joy are clearly connected as root to fruit. Those who have been born again are not those who have successfully cleaned up their lives. They are those who finally see and enjoy true beauty.

The Doctrines of Justification and New Birth Do Not Compete with but Complement One Another

Few have thought so penetratingly about the doctrine of justification as Edwards, as ongoing articles and dissertations attest.[33] He himself said that it was his extended sermon series on justification by faith that God used to spark the 1734–1735 revival in Northampton. Yet even more pervasive in his writing and preaching ministry was the “divine and supernatural light” decisively wrought in the new birth. Edwards viewed justification, the decisive verdict over us, and regeneration, the decisive change in us, as mutually reinforcing. In Original Sin he pairs together justification and regeneration as forming in part “the very ground of the Christian life.”[34] William Cooper’s preface to Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God rightly centralizes regeneration and justification as Cooper speaks of Edwards and other faithful preachers of the day:

The doctrines they insist on, are the doctrines of the Reformation. … The points on which their preaching mainly turns, are those important ones of man’s guilt, corruption, and impotence; supernatural regeneration by the Spirit of God, and free justification by faith in the righteousness of Christ; and the marks of the new birth.[35]

This dual upholding of both the work of God for us by the Son and the work of God in us by the Spirit is a word in season to the church today. Discussions continue to proliferate, especially online, that wrestle with how we put the two together: the objective and the subjective, the externally granted and the internally worked, grace as pardon and grace as power, the legal and the mystical, God declaring us righteous and God making us righteous. The two must be held together. Emphasizing regeneration to the neglect of justification makes us introspective, worried, and lacking in assurance. Emphasizing justification to the neglect of regeneration makes us cold, apathetic, and pessimistic about truly growing.

A Passing Critique

Even a modest familiarity with Edwards’s doctrine of new birth makes clear that he views new birth as introducing a radical discontinuity between what one was and what one now is.[36] As he puts it in “A Divine and Supernatural Light”—a sermon that may capture Edwards’s theology of the Christian life as well as any—the true Christian is so rebuilt that “he is become quite another man than he was before.”[37] In regeneration “he is a new creature, he is just as if he was not the same, but were born again, created over a second time.”[38] Or as he puts it in Religious Affections, “The gracious influences which the saints are subjects of … are entirely above nature, altogether of a different kind from anything that men find within themselves by nature.”[39]

Conrad Cherry is therefore correct to remark that Edwards’s view of conversion “is grounded in the conviction that an immense chasm exists between nature and grace.”[40] We will return to a handful of criticisms of Edwards in the final chapter, but given all we have just said in this chapter, a brief word is appropriate here. The critique I wish to make is that in centralizing regeneration, Edwards rightly drives home the radical discontinuity between pre- and post-regenerate moral life, yet he fails to complement this truth with the equally biblical emphasis on salvation as restorative.

One almost gets the impression that in regeneration a human sinner becomes another species altogether. This is perhaps unfair, since one can find, if enough of Edwards is read, tempering statements that retain some semblance of continuity between pre- and post-regeneration life.[41] Yet the weight of what Edwards hammers home time and again is one-sided. He neglects the truth that the unregenerate are made in God’s image and therefore have, as Calvin taught, a sensus divinitatis (a tacit knowledge of God), which regeneration restores and fills out. In new birth we become human again; we become what we were intended to be. Salvation not only introduces something utterly foreign as God grants new spiritual inclinations, but also restores our true self. Doug Wilson captures this by saying, “When we are born again, a dramatic miracle happens. When we are born again, we are turned into people.”[42]

A theologian in the Reformed tradition who brings precisely the emphasis Edwards lacked is the Dutch thinker Herman Bavinck. No fewer than three major monographs on Bavinck argue that “grace restoring nature” is the center of Bavinck’s thought.[43] That is, the grace of God in the gospel saves a fallen race and a fallen cosmos not by starting over but by restoring them to their true design and purpose. While Cherry speaks of the “immense chasm between nature and grace” in Edwards’s theology, Bavinck brings these two closely together. Here is a representative statement by Bavinck, from his discussion of calling/regeneration in his Reformed Dogmatics:

The purpose of regeneration is to make us spiritual people, those who live and walk by the Spirit. This life is a life of intimate communion with God in Christ. Though believers are made new creatures in Christ, this does not mean that their created nature is qualitatively transformed. Believers remain fully human, fully created image-bearers of God as in the beginning. As in creation itself, no new substance enters into the world with redemption; the creature is liberated from sin’s futility and bondage. Sin is not of the essence of creation but its deformity; Christ is not a second Creator but creation’s Redeemer. Salvation is the restoration of creation and the reformation of life.[44]

Similar statements could be proliferated. “Grace serves, not to take up humans into a supernatural order, but to free them from sin. Grace is opposed not to nature, only to sin. … Grace restores nature and takes it to its highest pinnacle, but it does not add to it any new and heterogeneous constituents.”[45] This theme in Bavinck is the heart of Jan Veenhof’s little book Nature and Grace in Herman Bavinck.[46] For Bavinck, regenerating grace is restoring grace. We return to our true home; we become human again. We experience what Jewel the unicorn does at the end of all things in Narnia: “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.”[47]

It would be artificial to pit Edwards and Bavinck against one another in categorical, black-and-white terms. Surely part of the reason for their distinct emphases is their different historical contexts. And we do find in Edwards the occasional statement of grace as restorative, as we also find in Bavinck a rich sense of the newness of regeneration. Yet Bavinck provides a needed balance to Edwards’s theology of regeneration. Bavinck’s focus on continuity complements Edwards’s focus on discontinuity. Edwards’s own contribution ought not to be diluted by overreacting to what he says. And yet a healthy injection of Bavinck’s macro-theme of “grace restoring nature” would go a long way toward bringing fullness to Edwards’s theology of new birth.[48]

Regeneration: Present Neglect

All this is a mild critique and ought not to cool our appreciation and reception of what Edwards clarifies for us. We need Edwards today on regeneration. Salvation is not, in essence, what many seem to think. It is not essentially a gradual process of moral improvement, or rational assent, or ecclesial association, or doctrinal rightness—important as all these are. Salvation is new birth.

In The Forgotten Spurgeon, Iain Murray observes:

The brief doctrinal articles of modern evangelicalism—as distinct from the Reformed confessions of the 16th and 17th centuries—have nothing to say on these issues [of the order of regeneration and faith, and other Calvinistic tenets], presumably because it is no longer thought to be necessary. The prevalent attitude has been to frown on distinct and definite propositions of truth and to contend for obscurity and indefiniteness as though the latter were more spiritual and biblical, and more preservative of unity.[49]

Edwards was clear on new birth. So must we be. Indeed, it is striking to consider Edwards’s pervasive emphasis on regeneration in light of current doctrinal emphases in the church.

John Wesley and George Whitefield both said that the transatlantic revival of the 1740s was fueled by the recovery of two great doctrines: justification by faith and the new birth. This is a striking observation in light of the present evangelical scene. In recent years books and blog posts, conferences and colloquiums have sprung up like mushrooms (some nourishing, some poisonous) to deal with the doctrine of justification. We hear far less, however, about regeneration, as J. I. Packer indicated in a 2008 interview.[50] The flood of teaching on regeneration in the past has slowed to a trickle.[51]

The solution to the present neglect of the new birth is not abject handwringing that a golden age of the past has slipped through our fingers. Even if we could, we would not want to reestablish the past. God has a fresh purpose of grace for the church in our generation. But we do want to learn from those who have gone before us. And as we become familiar with the saints of the past who saw revival up close and whose ministries had a hand, under God, in fostering it, one doctrine crops up time and again— new birth. We must allow ourselves to be instructed here. A sage guide is Jonathan Edwards. Who else knew God and Scripture so well, planted himself in the ministry of a local church, saw authentic revival up close, wisely received and promoted what was real while exposing and rejecting what wasn’t—and, through it all, returned time and again to the doctrine of regeneration?

Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge’s recent book recounts past outpourings of grace and looks in hope toward the future.[52] One way we can prepare for such flood-like blessing in our own day is a renewed lifting up of the doctrine of the new birth. There is no formula to conjure up revival,[53] but there is still much that we can do to prepare for the outpouring of the Spirit.[54]

This will require renewed doctrinal clarity. We live in a day rife with sermonic exhortations to “get born again!” by walking down an aisle, raising a hand, or praying a prayer. George Barna and others have further muddied the water by designating as “born again” any who align themselves with basic Christian belief, however nominally. It would therefore be easy to allow deficient teaching on the new birth to sour us to the doctrine itself. But the answer to a deficiently explained doctrine is not to ignore the doctrine altogether, any more than the answer to a deficiently advertised cure for cancer is to ignore the cure altogether.

One also thinks of those today who, in the name of gospel liberty, are careless in how they live. Yet Edwards speaks of those who “flatter themselves with the gospel and make use of the glorious and joyful tidings it brings of God’s infinite mercy and readiness to pardon as a pillow on which they may indulge their sloth and quiet their consciences in ways of sin.”[55] Such a life is no true Christian life, because it forsakes the reality of new birth.

Let us therefore receive what Jonathan Edwards has to teach us about the new birth. Let us do so discerningly, incorporating truths that Edwards may have underemphasized given his own context. But he has much to say to help us learn afresh of the fundamental and all-important reality of regeneration.

Edwards was buried near Princeton Theological Seminary, which today houses a center devoted to the study of Edwards. While the school is a different place today than it was in its early years, its first professor, Archibald Alexander (1772–1851), taught regeneration as his theological forefather Jonathan Edwards did. He provides a fitting, and Edwardsian, word of conclusion:

There is no more important event, which occurs in our world, than the new birth of an immortal soul. Heirs to titles and estates, to kingdoms and empires, are frequently born, and such events are blazoned with imposing pomp, and celebrated by poets and orators; but what are all these honors and possessions but the gewgaws of children, when compared with the inheritance and glory to which every child of God is born an heir!

The implantation of spiritual life in a soul dead in sin, is an event, the consequences of which will never end. When you plant an acorn, and it grows, you expect not to see the maturity, much less the end of the majestic oak, which will expand its boughs and strike deeply into the earth its roots. The fierce blast of centuries of winters may beat upon it and agitate it; but it resists them all. Yet finally this majestic oak, and all its towering branches, must fall. Trees die with old age, as well as men. But the plants of grace shall ever live. They shall flourish in everlasting verdure.[56]

Content taken from Edwards on the Christian Life by Dane Ortlund, © 2015. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187,



[1] WJE, 8:295; 17:279–80.

[2] “God’s love to his elect is the first foundation of their love to him, as it is the foundation of their regeneration” (WJE, 2:249).

[3] WJE, 22:55.

[4] WJE, 16:723.

[5] Edwards had little trouble finding types of regeneration in the Old Testament, too, such as in circumcision (WJE, 18:166–67; 25:412), or when Naaman is told to wash in the Jordan River (WJE, 2:360).

[6] WJE, 3:362.

[7] WJE, 17:186.

[8] WJE, 2:398.

[9] WJE, 3:361.

[10] WJE, 3:279–80.

[11] See WJE, 17:184, 191.

[12] WJE, 3:370; similarly, 25:501.

[13] Edwards compares the new birth to natural birth at several points: e.g., WJE, 2:366; 8:332; 13:357; 25:501.

[14] WJE, 2:340; see also 2:206. Cf. Bavinck: “In the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, while there is a difference between them in language and manner of presentation, there is essentially complete agreement. Whether rebirth is called ‘the circumcision of the heart,’ the giving of a new heart and a new spirit, ‘efficacious calling,’ a drawing by the Father, or birth from God, it is always in the strict sense a work of God by which a person is inwardly changed and renewed. It has its deepest cause in God’s mercy; it is based on the resurrection of Christ and is brought about in communion with Christ, to whom the Word bears witness, and manifests itself in a holy life” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003–2008), 4:52.

[15] As Sinclair Ferguson concisely puts it in reflecting on John Owen’s theology of the Christian life, “Sanctification is the flower from the seed of regeneration” (Sinclair Ferguson, John Owen on the Christian Life [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1987], 89).

[16] I have explored this theme of Edwards’s at length in Dane Ortlund, A New Inner Relish: Christian Motivation in the Thought of Jonathan Edwards (Fearn, UK: Christian Focus, 2008). See also Michael J. McClymond, “Apprehension: Spiritual Perception in Jonathan Edwards,” in Encounters with God: An Approach to the Theology of Jonathan Edwards (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 9–26.

[17] WJE, 2:206.

[18] WJE, 2:203, emphasis added. Note also Edwards’s answer to an objection in a letter that in speaking of believers participating in the divine nature, he was going too far: “Light and heat may in a special manner be said to be the proper nature of the sun; and yet none will say that everything to which the sun communicates a little of its light and heat has therefore communicated to it the essence of the sun, and is sunned with the sun, or becomes the same being with the sun, or becomes equal to that immense fountain of light and heat. A diamond or crystal that is held forth in the sun’s beams may properly be said to have some of the sun’s brightness communicated to it; for though it hasn’t the same individual brightness with that which is inherent in the sun, and be immensely less in degree, yet it is something of the same nature” (WJE, 8:640).

[19] WJE, 22:224.

[20] Works of Jonathan Edwards Online, vol. 28, Minor Controversial Writings (Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University).

[21] WJE, 13:33.

[22] WJE, 24:928.

[23] Seth Mydans, “For a Fee, a Thai Temple Offers a Head Start on Rebirth,” New York Times, accessed January 26, 2013, Edwards too speaks of the new birth being sold for money, not by Buddhists but by the Roman Catholic Church (WJE, 15:314).

[24] WJE, 8:388.

[25] WJE, 22:189.

[26] WJE, 22:257. See also George Marsden, who connects this Edwardsian realism to Edwards’s own moral struggles, in Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 137.

[27] WJE, 8:309–10, emphasis added.

[28] I have dealt with this tension at greater length in New Inner Relish, 122–35.

[29] Calvin makes strikingly similar observations about the moral struggle of the regenerate: “The children of God are freed through regeneration from bondage to sin. Yet they do not obtain full possession of freedom so as to feel no more annoyance from their flesh, but there still remains in them a continuing occasion for struggle whereby they may be exercised; and not only be exercised, but also better learn their own weakness. … There remains in a regenerate man a smoldering cinder of evil, from which desires continually leap forth to allure and spur him to commit sin.” In regeneration, Calvin goes on to say, “the sway of sin is abolished in them. For the Spirit dispenses a power whereby they may gain the upper hand and become victors in the struggle. But sin ceases only to reign; it does not also cease to dwell in them” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, 2 vols. [Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1960], 3.3.10–11).

[30] C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952; repr., New York: HarperCollins, 1994), 119–20.

[31] WJE, 2:241.

[32] WJE, 8:392.

[33] E.g., Samuel T. Logan, “The Doctrine of Justification in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards,” Westminster Theological Journal 46 (1984): 26–52; George Hunsinger, “Dispositional Soteriology: Jonathan Edwards on Justification by Faith Alone,” Westminster Theological Journal 66 (2004): 107–20; Jeffrey C. Waddington, “Jonathan Edwards’s ‘Ambiguous and Somewhat Precarious’ Doctrine of Justification?,” Westminster Theological Journal 66 (2004): 357–72; Gerald R. McDermott, “Jonathan Edwards on Justification: Closer to Luther or Aquinas?,” Reformation & Revival Journal 14, no. 1 (2005): 119–38; Josh Moody, ed., Jonathan Edwards and Justification (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012); Hyun-Jin Cho, Jonathan Edwards on Justification: Reform Development of the Doctrine in Eighteenth-Century New England (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2012).

[34] WJE, 3:185.

[35] WJE, 4:218. Note Paul Ramsey’s comparison between Calvin’s framework of a duplex gratia, a double grace, through which we receive both regeneration (by which Calvin at times meant repentance, not a new inclination, as Edwards often did) and justification (WJE, 8:745–50).

[36] The question of whether Edwards’s theology of the “new sense of the heart” is essentially continuous or discontinuous with one’s pre-regenerate state has been heavily debated among Edwards scholars since Perry Miller’s “Jonathan Edwards on the Sense of the Heart,” The Harvard Theological Review 41 (1948): 123–45. I do side with those, such as Paul Helm and David Lyttle, who see Edwards as emphasizing discontinuity; see McClymond, Encounters with God, 9–10. Yet I cannot enter the debate at length here. More importantly, among interpreters of Edwards who share his supernaturalistic convictions and basic theology of original sin and regeneration, there is general consensus that something more is going on in conversion and the new sense that accompanies it than simply a non-transcendental “perception” or “apprehension,” as Miller put it.

[37] WJE, 14:81.

[38] Ibid.

[39] WJE, 2:205.

[40] Conrad Cherry, The Theology of Jonathan Edwards: A Reappraisal, rev. ed. (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1990), 58; see also 30, 32, 37–38, 56–70. For more secondary literature exploring Edwards’s insight into and emphasis on the new birth and the discontinuity it introduces into the convert’s life, see Clyde A. Holbrook, The Ethics of Jonathan Edwards: Morality and Aesthetics (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1973), esp. 23; Robert W. Jenson, Jonathan Edwards: America’s Theologian (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 66–73; Marsden, Jonathan Edwards, 157–58, 286; Stephen J. Nichols, An Absolute Sort of Certainty: The Holy Spirit and the Apologetics of Jonathan Edwards (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2003), esp. 47–75; William J. Danaher, The Trinitarian Ethics of Jonathan Edwards (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2004), 124–28.

[41] E.g., WJE, 2:206.

[42] Douglas Wilson, “Regular Wine That Got Here Remarkably,” Blog and Mablog: Furious Scribblings from Douglas Wilson, September 13, 2010, Emphasis original.

[43] Ronald N. Gleason, “The Centrality of the unio mystica in the Theology of Herman Bavinck” (PhD diss., Westminster Theological Seminary, 2001). The three works to which Gleason refers are E. P. Heideman, The Relation of Revelation and Reason in E. Brunner and H. Bavinck (Assen: Van Gorcum & Comp., 1959); Jan Veenhof, Revelatie en inspiratie: De openbarings-en schriftbeschouwing van Herman Bavinck in vergelijking met die der ethische theologie (Amsterdam: Buijten & Schipperheijn, 1968); John Bolt, “The Imitation of Christ Theme in the Cultural-Ethical Ideal of Herman Bavinck” (PhD diss., Toronto School of Theology, 1982).

[44] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:32–33.

[45] Ibid., 3:577; see also 2:545, 573–76; 4:92–94.

[46] Jan Veenhof, Nature and Grace in Herman Bavinck, trans. Albert M. Wolters (Sioux Center, IA: Dordt College Press, 2006), 17. This book is an excerpt from Veenhof’s doctoral research on Bavinck.

[47] C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle (1956; repr., New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 213.

[48] I explore this difference between Edwards and Bavinck, and wrestle with how to integrate the two, at greater length in Dane C. Ortlund, “‘Created Over a Second Time’ or ‘Grace Restoring Nature’? Edwards and Bavinck on the Heart of Salvation,” The Bavinck Review 3 (2012): 9–29.

[49] Iain H. Murray, The Forgotten Spurgeon (London: Banner of Truth, 1966), 63.

[50] J. I. Packer, interview by Mark Driscoll, Resurgence,

[51] Past treatments of regeneration include not only Whitefield’s and Wesley’s sermons on the subject but also whole books (or similar extended treatments) given to the subject by Richard Sibbes, Richard Baxter, John Owen, Francis Turretin, Stephen Charnock, John Howe, Peter Van Mastricht (whom Edwards said had a profound influence on him), Joseph Alleine, Henry Scougal, Archibald Alexander, George Duffield, William Anderson, J. C. Ryle, and A. W. Pink. In a more recent generation we heard of the new birth from Billy Graham, John Stott, and J. I. Packer. Robust treatments shine forth also in the great confessions of the past, such as the Canons of Dordt, the Scots Confession of 1560, the Belgic Confession, and the Second Helvetic Confession.

 [52] Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge, A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories That Stretch and Stir (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010).

[53] See Iain H. Murray, Revival and Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism 1750– 1858 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1994).

[54] See Raymond C. Ortlund Jr., When God Comes to Church: A Biblical Model for Revival Today (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 145–92.

[55] WJE, 22:58.

[56] Archibald Alexander, Thoughts on Religious Experience (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1844), 35–36.