Reformed Dogmatics by Herman Bavinck

Bavinck The Holy Spirit’s Work of Calling and Regeneration

Bavinck The Holy Spirit’s Work of Calling and Regeneration is from the fourth and final full volume of Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics

Table of Contents

The Holy Spirit’s Work of Calling and Regeneration by Herman Bavinck

Bavinck work on the Holy Spirit in Calling and Regeneration is a subset of his Dogmatics work.

The following essay is from the fourth and final full volume of Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics in English translation prepared by the Dutch Reformed Translation Society, represents the culmination of a twelve-year project. Prior to the first full volume on prolegomena, published by Baker Academic in 2003, 1 the second on God and creation in 2004, 2 and the third on sin and salvation in Christ in 2006, 3 two half-volume works—one on the eschatology section of volume 4 4 and the other on the creation section of volume 2 5—were published. The present volume includes the chapters published in the single volume on eschatology (appearing here as chs. 12–18) as well as material on the Holy Spirit and Spirit-led renewal, the church and sacraments, and the new creation—material never before available in the English language. This volume thus provides additional insight into the genius of Bavinck’s theology. We will briefly consider these new dimensions and their contemporary relevance later in this introduction, but first, a few words about the author of Reformed Dogmatics. Who was Herman Bavinck, and why is this work of theology so important?

Herman Bavinck’s Gereformeerde Dogmatiek,6 first published one hundred years ago, represents the concluding high point of some four centuries of remarkably productive Dutch Reformed theological reflection. From Bavinck’s numerous citations of key Dutch Reformed theologians such as Voetius, De Moor, Vitringa, van Mastricht, Witsius, and Walaeus (as well as the important Leiden Synopsis purioris theologiae),7 it is clear that he knew that tradition well and claimed it as his own. At the same time it also needs to be noted that Bavinck was not simply a chronicler of his own church’s past teaching. He seriously engaged other theological traditions, notably the Roman Catholic and the modern liberal Protestant ones, effectively mined the church fathers and great medieval thinkers, and placed his own distinct neo-Calvinist stamp on the Reformed Dogmatics.

The following essay is from Reformed Dogmatics (4 Volume Set) by Herman Bavinck, Volume 4. Holy Spirit, Church and New Creation, Chapter 1

This twmodule is taken from The Holy Spirit’s Work of Calling and Regeneration by Herman Bavinck

More Works by Bavinck

Table of Contents of The Holy Spirit’s Work of Calling and Regeneration by Herman Bavinck

The Call of God
External Call
Universal Proclamation of the Gospel
The Particular Call of Grace
Rebirth in Other Religions
Regeneration: Scriptural Teaching
The Doctrine of Regeneration in Church History
Modern Reinterpretations of Regeneration
Regeneration: Various Views
The Nature and Extent of Regeneration
Regeneration: An Attempt at Definition
Immediate and Irresistible
The Remonstrant Objection
Becoming Spiritual Persons
Re-formation, Not Re-creation

From The Holy Spirit’s Work of Calling and Regeneration by Herman Bavinck

Introduction of The Holy Spirit’s Work of Calling and Regeneration by Herman Bavinck

The Triune God produces all things in creation and new creation by his Word and Spirit. All things thus speak to us of God. God’s call as law comes to all people in nature, in history, and in a variety of experiences. While insufficient unto salvation, this call upholds human existence in society and culture, despite the ubiquity of sin. Though the restricted call unto salvation comes through the word of the gospel, it may not be separated from nature and history. The Logos who became incarnate is the same as he by whom all things were made. Grace does not abolish nature but restores it. Still, the special call of the gospel does not proceed from law and invite us to obedience, but it flows forth from grace and invites us to faith.

The call to faith must be universally preached; this is Christ’s command. The outcome must be left in God’s hands; we are simply to obey. The gospel is to be preached to human beings, not as elect or reprobate, but as sinners, all of whom need redemption. Of course, not to each individual person can it be said, “Christ died in your place.” But neither do those who preach a hypothetical universalism do that since they only believe in the possibility of universal salvation, conditional upon human acceptance. And this no one knows for sure. God’s offer is sincere in that he only tells us what we must do—believe. Since it is clear from history that the outcome of God’s call does not universally lead to faith, we cannot avoid the intellectual problem. It is not solved through weakening the call by expanding it for the purpose of greater inclusiveness. Acknowledging in humility the mystery of God’s will, we recognize that God’s own glory is its final purpose and believe that his Word never returns to him empty.

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    The call of law also prepares the way for the gospel, not in the Arminian sense of an evolution from preparatory grace to saving grace through human willing, but as the created natural foundation for salvation. God does link his work of grace to our natural lives; creation, redemption, and sanctification are the work of the Triune God in the divine economy of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is sovereign and his grace is rich and varied. Following Augustine, Reformed theology distinguishes an external or revealed call from the savingly efficacious internal call of the Holy Spirit. This distinction honors the universality of sin, the need to have the word of proclamation take root in a sinner’s heart by a special work of God, and ascribes all of our salvation to God’s mercy and activity. This change is so dramatic that it is properly called “rebirth” or “regeneration.”

    The notion of rebirth is found in other religions of the Ancient East, notably in mystery religions such as Mithraism. Attempts to explain the Christian understanding of regeneration by means of the dying and rising gods of the mystery religions are not very persuasive. Even considering the paucity of our knowledge about the mystery religions, their ideas and practices come from a different religious environment and worldview. The New Testament here rather builds on the Old Testament, where the whole people of Israel as well as individual persons are told that they need new hearts, a new birth only God can accomplish (Ps. 51:1–3). From the baptism of John through the preaching of Jesus and into the apostolic proclamation, the one consistent message is the need for μετανοια, for a radical turnabout, if one wishes to enter the kingdom of heaven. One must be “born from above” (John 3:6–8). By faith, Christ or his Spirit is the author and origin of a new life in those who are called (Gal. 3:2; 4:6) so that they are now a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). While there is a difference between the Old Testament and New Testament in language and manner of presentation, the basic truth is the same. Whether rebirth is called “circumcision of the heart,” the giving of a new heart and a new spirit, a drawing from the Father, or a birth from God, it is always in the strict sense a work of God by which a person is inwardly changed and renewed. This change is signified and sealed in baptism.

    In the missionary context of the early church, the rebirth signified by baptism was a momentous and life-changing event for the believer. Moving beyond this context, as the church began baptizing infants and children, the connection between baptism and regeneration had to be modified. In Western Catholicism, regeneration was increasingly understood in terms of the infusion of sacramental grace at the time of baptism. In the Eastern church, a similar result was achieved but thought of in terms of implanting a new seed of immortality. A new quality was infused into the soul, and baptism itself became essential for salvation. Remaining in the state of grace depends on the mediation of the church and its sacraments.

    It is this sacramental system that the Reformation protested, restoring a direct relationship between God and the soul through the Holy Spirit. The Word of Scripture took priority over church and sacrament. This brought its own difficulties as the Anabaptists rejected church and sacraments as means of grace and made personal faith and confession the condition for baptism. In response, Lutherans again made regeneration dependent on baptism and, by implication, on the church, thus creating a dualism between primary regeneration, which precedes faith, and subsequent secondary renewal, which arises from faith. Reformed theologians wrestled mightily with this issue but found no solution satisfactory to everyone when it came to grounds for baptizing the children of believers. The attempt to ground it in a notion of prebaptismal regeneration satisfied some but ran aground on the reality that some who are baptized do not come to full faith as adults. Maintaining the continuity of the spiritual life proved difficult, and due to the Enlightenment, the notion of rebirth fell into disfavor and was replaced by humanistic notions of moral development, improvement, and nurture.

    More Works on Regeneration

    It was Schleiermacher who restored the idea of regeneration to theology, making it the center of his understanding of the Christian faith. For him, regeneration is the new consciousness of God’s grace and human dependence on God gained by sharing in the consciousness of Christ. In the Mediating Theology, sin played a more significant role, but at bottom the new life in Christ was a participation in a new personality; there was no objective atonement for sin or Justification, only a subjective appropriation of new consciousness. Faith’s content is here reduced to mystical experience.

    This locus of theology, namely, soteriology, is as beset with difficulties as are the doctrines of the Trinity and of the two natures of Christ. While it is understandable that missionary proclamation begins with repentance and faith and only after that speaks of regeneration, upon reflection on Scripture and experience we come to realize that, properly speaking, regeneration must precede faith. If salvation rests in God’s will and not in the human will, that order is inviolable. Augustine must be chosen over Pelagius. However, there are ethical/ practical considerations too. Could overemphasis on regeneration lead some to feel uncertain about their regeneration and thus be paralyzed in their response to the gospel call—waiting for God to regenerate them? Similarly, what about children of believers? Does the church baptize children of believers on the ground of presumed regeneration? Or, as in Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism, does baptism somehow impart a seed of regeneration? The Reformed tradition distinguishes regeneration and faith, baptizes infants on the basis of covenant promises, but also acknowledges that the Holy Spirit could work sovereignly in the hearts of children apart from the preaching of the Word.

    Because notions of rebirth are found outside of Scripture in the world’s religions, it is important to be clear about the distinguishing features of the biblical view. Unlike Buddhism or Hinduism, rebirth does not mean reincarnation. While rebirth does apply to the Christian understanding of conversion, it is not sufficient to compare the biblical view with initiation into Greek mystery religions or even with Jewish proselytism. It is more than a change of consciousness, an enlightenment of the mind, or even a reformation of conduct, though it includes all of these. Nor should we be satisfied with the gnostic notion of redemption as the deliverance of the inner self from the “flesh” or matter. Neither rationalism nor mysticism provides us with a correct view of regeneration.

    It is helpful to recognize a broader and more narrow use of the term “regeneration.” In the broadest and fullest sense, regeneration refers to the total transformation of a person; in the restricted sense, it has in view the implantation of new life that then leads to conversion and further sanctification. The active word of God here—calling—must also be differentiated from the passive reception or fruit of God’s initiating work. God’s call has both an external and internal component. The external proclaimed Word addresses human consciousness persuasively; human response requires an inner work of the Holy Spirit. In Reformed thought, God’s inner call logically precedes the outward call, though Word and Spirit must never be separated. The Reformed tradition also acknowledges the reality of the faith community’s involvement in the external call upon its own children as a gracious work of God the Holy Spirit.

    This operation of the Holy Spirit is both immediate and irresistible. The point made by Reformed theology here against the Pelagians, Arminians, and theologians of Saumur is that God’s operation on the human person is independent of the will as well as the intellect. There is no room here to speak of cooperation or of God merely enlightening the mind, which then informs and changes the will. Though the term “irresistible” was used by opponents of the Reformed faith and does not sufficiently capture the Reformed view, its meaning is clear: When God freely chooses to renew a person’s will, no one can withstand God. God’s inner call is efficacious.

    While the Augustinian and Reformed view can and does make room for human beings as created, rational, moral agents, the Pelagian and Remonstrant view cannot account for Scripture’s teaching about the radical need for grace. If grace is resistible, God is deprived of his sovereignty; if the human will is capable on its own of assenting to God, then regeneration is unnecessary; and if, as the Pelagian and Remonstrant position teaches, some prevenient grace is necessary to prompt human willing, then the notion of an indifferent will remains a fiction. The only gain here is an apparent but not real one, as becomes apparent with the case of children who die in infancy. Either they are saved by sovereign grace alone without any choosing on their part, or such grace is insufficient and all infants who die before choosing are lost. The Pelagian and Arminian position is not at all merciful.

    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. Redemption is not coercive; it delivers people from the compulsion and power of sin. The new life comes from God and is born in his love.

    The Holy Spirit’s Work of Calling and Regeneration by Herman Bavinck

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