Regeneration is the lodgement by the Holy Spirit of the new principle of life. This is love to God, which is the ruling motive of every genuine Christian. There is a radical and an essential difference between those who are born again and the best of those who lay claim to only natural goodness, a beautiful moral character revolving around self as a center. But the great transition from spiritual death to spiritual life does not make the child of God at once complete in holiness. The Holy Spirit in sanctification does not work magically, nor mechanically like a washing machine, "but by the influence of grace, in accordance with the essential constitution of man, and in the way of a vital process, only by degrees completely renewing the soul." While the Spirit in the new birth touches the whole nature, the thoughts, the feelings and the will, so that the man is a new creature, his renewal is not complete in any part. At first he is in spiritual knowledge only a babe. His faith is unsteady and often mingled with distrust, while his love is not usually strong enough to secure uninterrupted victory over temptation. The enthronement of love does not immediately render the pleasures of sin unattractive, nor destroy the painfulness of self-denial, nor instantaneously change sinful habits. Such is the state of immature converts to Christ, "the flesh lusting against the Spirit." The Corinthians were characterized as "carnal, walking as men." We know that John says that "he that has been born of God sinneth not" when he is describing those whom he styles "fathers" or adult believers, just as Paul describes the same class as having "crucified the flesh with the passions and lusts." Neither of these apostles is describing an ideal Christian, as some teach who deny the possibility of complete deliverance from depravity in this life. They are describing regeneration at its climax, the glorious possibilities of the birth from above, when it has culminated in perfected holiness.
The adverse influences and tendencies which continue after the new birth imperil the very existence of the new principle of love to God by overcoming and choking it, unless it is continually nourished and strengthened by divine grace. Strength is supplied to the believer by the inner presence of the Holy Spirit. His indwelling is by faith. If faith declines, the Spirit's sphere in the soul is narrowed. If confidence in God is "cast away" — a possible act against which we are warned in the Scriptures (Heb. x. 35) — then the Spirit withdraws, or rather, is excluded by unbelief, and love, the vital spark of the spiritual life, expires. Hence the question whether the Spirit shall be a merely transient impulse toward purity, or a lasting power, depends on the free will of the regenerate soul. The parable of the sower is exemplified to-day in the case of those who have no depth of earth. Their love to Christ soon degenerates into a mere sentiment with little or no influence on practical life, and in a short time the sentiment itself entirely evaporates, and the soul becomes "twice dead, plucked up by the roots" (Jude 12 ). What is the safeguard against such a disaster? It is such an indwelling of the fulness of the Spirit as excludes everything contrary to the divine nature by filling and flooding the soul with a love that is ever enlarging the vessel and ever filling it to the brim. Then love is perfect in the sense that it is no longer mixed in kind and so weak in degree as to be unable to encounter the temptation successfully. Says Prof. Candlish:
The new life of Christianity is a unity, and though, on account of the imperfect and abnormal condition of most Christians, it does not show itself with perfect symmetry, yet it tends toward moral excellence and perfection in every direction, and the more vigorous the central principle of religious life is, the more will particular virtues be developed and increased.
— edited from The Gospel of the Comforter Chapter 14.
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