Regeneration: The Key to Believing the Truth
When Adam fell, the human race became, not stupid so that the truth was hard to understand, but inimical, to the acceptance of the truth. Men did not like to retain God in their knowledge and changed the truth of God into a lie, for the carnal mind is enmity against God. Hence the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, for the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God because they are spiritually discerned. In order to accept the Gospel, therefore, it is necessary to be born again. The abnormal, depraved intellect must be remade by the Holy Spirit; the enemy must be made a friend. This is the work of regeneration, and the heart of stone can be taken away and a heart of flesh can be given only by God himself. Resurrecting the man who is dead in sin and giving him a new life, far from being a human achievement, requires nothing less then almighty power.
It is therefore impossible by argument or preaching alone to cause anyone to believe the Bible. Only God can cause such belief. At the same time, this does not mean that argument is useless. Peter tells us, “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” This was the constant practice of the apostles. Stephen disputed with the Libertines; the Jerusalem council disputed; in Ephesus Paul disputed three months in the synagogue and then continued disputing in the school of Tyrannus. (Acts 6:9; 15:7; 19:8,9: compare Acts 17:2; 18:4, 19; 24:25). Anyone who is unwilling to argue, dispute, and reason is disloyal to his Christian duty.
At this point the natural question is, What is the use of all this expounding and explaining if it does not produce belief? The answer should be clearly understood. The witness or testimony of the Holy Spirit is a witness to something. The Spirit cannot produce belief in Christ unless a sinner has heard of Christ. “How then shall they call on him of whom they have not heard?…So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:14,17).
No doubt God in his omnipotence could reveal the necessary information to each man individually without a written Bible or ministerial preaching. But this is not what God has done. God gave the apostles and preachers the duty of expounding the message; but the production of belief is the work of the Spirit, for faith is the gift of God.
This is part of the reason why it was said above that the best procedure for us, if we want someone to accept the doctrine of plenary and verbal inspiration, is to expound the Scripture in detail. We may well use archaeology and historical criticism too, but the main task is to communicate the message of the Bible in as understandable language as we can manage.
It is to be noted too that the sinner, without any special work of the Spirit, can understand the message. Belief in its truth and understanding its meaning are two different things. The Bible can be understood by the same methods of study used on Euclid or Aristotle. Despite some pious disclaimers, it is true that antagonistic unbelievers often enough understand the Bible better than devout Christians. The Pharisees saw the significance of Christ’s claims to deity more quickly and more clearly than the disciples did.
As Paul persecuted the Christians in Jerusalem and set out for Damascus, he understood the words, “Jesus is Lord” as well as any of the twelve. It was precisely because he understood so well that he persecuted so zealously. Had he been unsure of the meaning, he would not have been so exercised. But the trouble was, he did not believe it. On the contrary, he believed that it was false. Then on the Damascus road Christ appeared to him and caused him to believe that the statement was true. Paul did not understand the phrase any better a moment after his conversion than a moment before. Doubtless in later years God revealed further information to him for use in his epistles. But at the moment, Christ did not enlarge his understanding one whit; he caused him to receive, accept, or believe what he had already understood quite well. Thus it is that the Spirit witnessed to the message previously communicated.
Strong emphasis needs to be placed on the work of the Holy Spirit. Man is dead in sin, an enemy of God, opposed to all righteousness and truth. He needs to be changed. Neither the preacher nor, much less, the sinner himself can cause the change. But “blessed is the man whom you choose, and cause to approach you” (Psalm 65:4). “And I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26, 27). “As many as had been appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). “God when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-5). “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). “God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13). “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth” (James 1:18).
These verses, which primarily refer to regeneration, are applicable to our acceptance of the Bible as the very word of God. Indeed, the new life which the second birth initiates” the life to which we are “raised from the death of sin” is precisely the life of faith; and a full faith includes a plenary and verbal inspiration of the salvation message. It is the gift of God.
This is why the greatest of all the creeds issuing from the Reformation, the Westminster Confession says:
The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or Church, but wholly upon God (who is Truth itself), the author thereof; and, therefore, it is to be received, because it is the Word of God. “our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness, by and with the Word, in our heart (I,iv and v.)
In the last analysis, therefore “although historical and archaeological confirmation of the Bible” accuracy is of great interest to us and of great embarrassment to unbelievers-a conviction that the Bible is really the Word of God cannot be the conclusion of a valid argument based on more clearly evident premises. This conviction is produced by the Holy Spirit himself.
It must always be kept in mind that the proclamation in the Gospel is part of a spiritual struggle against the supernatural powers of the evil one, and victory comes only through the omnipotent grace of God. Accordingly, as Jesus explained his mission to both Peter and the Pharisees, so we today must expound and explain the Scripture in all its fullness to all sorts of men; and we can then be assured that our Father in Heaven will reveal his truth to some of them.
– Gordon H. Clark, “God’s Hammer: The Bible and its Critics“ pg.20-23
About the Author:
Gordon Haddon Clark (1902-1985) was a philosopher and Calvinist theologian and taught philosophy at the college level for most of his life. He was an expert in pre-Socratic and ancient philosophy and was noted for his rigor in defending Platonic realism against all forms of empiricism, in arguing that all truth is propositional, and in applying the laws of logic. The Trinity Foundation continues to publish his writings and other books as well.