There is something healthy about returning to one’s roots. When it comes to evangelical Christianity, its roots are found in the soil of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation.

Calvin on Regeneration from His Commentary on John

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  • Calvin on Regeneration from His Commentary on John

    by John Calvin

    John 1: 13.

    The will of the flesh and the will of man appear to me to mean the same thing; for I see no reason why flesh should be supposed to signify woman, as Augustine and many others explain it. On the contrary, the Evangelist repeats the same thing in a variety of words, in order to explain it more fully, and impress it more deeply on the minds of men. Though he refers directly to the Jews, who gloried in the flesh, yet from this passage a general doctrine may be obtained: that our being reckoned the sons of God does not belong to our nature, and does not proceed from us, but because God begat us willingly, (James 1:18,) that is, from undeserved love. Hence it follows, first, that faith does not proceed from ourselves, but is the fruit of spiritual regeneration; for the Evangelist affirms that no man can believe, unless he be begotten of God; and therefore faith is a heavenly gift. It follows, secondly, that faith is not bare or cold knowledge, since no man can believe who has not been renewed by the Spirit of God.

    It may be thought that the Evangelist reverses the natural order by making regeneration to precede faith, whereas, on the contrary, it is an effect of faith, and therefore ought to be placed later. I reply, that both statements perfectly agree; because by faith we receive the incorruptible seed, (1 Peter 1:23,) by which we are born again to a new and divine life. And yet faith itself is a work of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in none but the children of God. So then, in various respects, faith is a part of our regeneration, and an entrance into the kingdom of God, that he may reckon us among his children. The illumination of our minds by the Holy Spirit belongs to our renewal, and thus faith flows from regeneration as from its source; but since it is by the same faith that we receive Christ, who sanctifies us by his Spirit, on that account it is said to be the beginning of our adoption.

    Another solution, still more plain and easy, may be offered; for when the Lord breathes faith into us, he regenerates us by some method that is hidden and unknown to us; but after we have received faith, we perceive, by a lively feeling of conscience, not only the grace of adoption, but also newness of life and the other gifts of the Holy Spirit. For since faith, as we have said, receives Christ, it puts us in possession, so to speak, of all his blessings. Thus so far as respects our sense, it is only after having believed -- that we begin to be the sons of God. But if the inheritance of eternal life is the fruit of adoption, we see how the Evangelist ascribes the whole of our salvation to the grace of Christ alone; and, indeed, how closely soever men examine themselves, they will find nothing that is worthy of the children of God, except what Christ has bestowed on them.

    John 6:37

    37. All that the Father giveth me. That their unbelief may not detract anything from his doctrine, he says, that the cause of so great obstinacy is, that they are reprobate, and do not belong to the flock of God. His intention, therefore, in distinguishing here between the elect and the reprobate is, that the authority of his doctrine may remain unimpaired, though there are many who do not believe it. For, on the one hand, ungodly men calumniate and utterly despise the word of God, because they are not moved by reverence for it; and, on the other hand, many weak and ignorant persons entertain doubts whether that which is rejected by a great part of the world be actually the word of God. Christ meets this offense, when he affirms, that all those who do not believe are not his own, and that we need not wonder if such persons have no relish for the word of God, but that it is embraced by all the children of God. In the first place, he says, that all whom the Father giveth him come to him; by which words he means, that faith is not a thing which depends on the will of men, so that this man and that man indiscriminately and at random believe, but that God elects those whom he hands over, as it were, to his Son; for when he says, that whatever is given cometh, we infer from it, that all do not come. Again, we infer, that God works in his elect by such an efficacy of the Holy Spirit, that not one of them falls away; for the word give has the same meaning as if Christ had said, "Those whom the Father hath chosen he regenerates, and gives to me, that they may obey the Gospel."

    And him that cometh to me I will not cast out. This is added for the consolation of the godly, that they may be fully persuaded that they have free access to Christ by faith, and that, as soon as they have placed themselves under his protection and safeguard, they will be graciously received by him. Hence it follows, that the doctrine of the Gospel will be salutary to all believers, because no man becomes a disciple of Christ who does not, on the other hand, feel and experience him to be a good and faithful teacher.

    John 6:41-45

    41. The Jews therefore murmured concerning him, because he said, I am the bread which have come down from heaven.42. And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How therefore doth he say, I have come down from heaven? 43. Jesus therefore answered, and said to them, Murmur not among yourselves.44. No man can come to me, unless the Father, who hath sent me, draw him; and I will raise him up at the last day.45. It is written in the Prophets, And they shall be all taught by God; whosoever therefore hath heard my Father, and hath learned, [149] cometh to me. 41. The Jews therefore murmured concerning him. The Evangelist explains the cause of the murmuring to have been, that the Jews were offended at the mean condition of Christ's human nature, [150] and did not perceive in him any thing Divine or heavenly. Yet he shows that they had a twofold obstruction. One they had framed for themselves out of a false opinion, when they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? Another arose from a wicked sentiment, that they did not think that Christ was the Son of God, because he came down to men clothed with our flesh. [151] But we are guilty of excessive malignity, if we despise the Lord of glory because on our account

    he emptied himself, and took upon him the form of a servant, (Philippians 2:7;)

    for this was rather an illustrious proof of his boundless love towards us, and of his wonderful grace. Besides, the Divine majesty of Christ was not so concealed under the mean and contemptible appearance of the flesh, as not to give out the rays of his brightness in a variety of ways; but those gross and stupid men wanted eyes to see his conspicuous glory.

    We, too, sin daily in both of these ways. First, it is a great hinderance to us, that it is only with carnal eyes that we behold Christ; and this is the reason why we perceive in him nothing magnificent, for by our sinful views we pervert all that belongs to him and to his doctrine, so unskilful are we to profit by them, or to view them in the proper light. [152] Secondly, not satisfied with this, we adopt many false imaginations, which produce a contempt of the Gospel. Nay, there are even many who frame for themselves monsters, that they may make them a pretense for hating the Gospel. In this manner the world deliberately drives away the grace of God. Now the Evangelist expressly names the Jews, in order to inform us that the murmuring proceeded from those who gloried in the title of faith and of the Church, that we may all learn to receive Christ with reverence, when he comes down to us, and that, in proportion as he comes nearer to us, we may more cheerfully approach to him, that he may raise us to his heavenly glory.

    43. Murmur not among yourselves. He throws back on them the blame of the murmuring, as if he had said, "My doctrine contains no ground of offense, but because you are reprobate, it irritates your envenomed breasts, and the reason why you do not relish it is, that you have a vitiated taste."

    44. No man can come to me, unless the Father, who hath sent me, draw him. He does not merely accuse them of wickedness, but likewise reminds them, that it is a peculiar gift of God to embrace the doctrine which is exhibited by him; which he does, that their unbelief may not disturb weak minds. For many are so foolish that, in the things of God, they depend on the opinions of men; in consequence of which, they entertain suspicions about the Gospel, as soon as they see that it is not received by the world. Unbelievers, on the other hand, flattering themselves in their obstinacy, have the hardihood to condemn the Gospel because it does not please them. On the contrary, therefore, Christ declares that the doctrine of the Gospel, though it is preached to all without exception, cannot be embraced by all, but that a new understanding and a new perception are requisite; and, therefore, that faith does not depend on the will of men, but that it is God who gives it.

    Unless the Father draw him. To come to Christ being here used metaphorically for believing, the Evangelist, in order to carry out the metaphor in the apposite clause, says that those persons are drawn whose understandings God enlightens, and whose hearts he bends and forms to the obedience of Christ. The statement amounts to this, that we ought not to wonder if many refuse to embrace the Gospel; because no man will ever of himself be able to come to Christ, but God must first approach him by his Spirit; and hence it follows that all are not drawn, but that God bestows this grace on those whom he has elected. True, indeed, as to the kind of drawing, it is not violent, so as to compel men by external force; but still it is a powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit, which makes men willing who formerly were unwilling and reluctant. It is a false and profane assertion, therefore, that none are drawn but those who are willing to be drawn, [153] as if man made himself obedient to God by his own efforts; for the willingness with which men follow God is what they already have from himself, who has formed their hearts to obey him.

    45. It is written in the Prophets. Christ confirms by the testimony of Isaiah what he said, that no man can come to him, unless he be drawn by the Father He uses the word prophets in the plural number, because all their prophecies had been collected into one volume, so that all the prophets might justly be accounted one book. The passage which is here quoted is to be found in Isaiah 54:13, where, speaking of the restoration of the Church, he promises to her, sons taught by the instruction of God Hence it may easily be inferred, that the Church cannot be restored in any other way than by God undertaking the office of a Teacher, and bringing believers to himself. The way of teaching, of which the prophet speaks, does not consist merely in the external voice, but likewise in the secret operation of the Holy Spirit. In short, this teaching of God is the inward illumination of the heart.

    And they shall be all taught by God. As to the word all, it must be limited to the elect, who alone are the true children of the Church. Now it is not difficult to see in what manner Christ applies this prediction to the present subject. Isaiah shows that then only is the Church truly edified, when she has her children taught by God Christ, therefore, justly concludes that men have not eyes to behold the light of life, until God has opened them. But at the same time, he fastens on the general phrase, all; because he argues from it, that all who are taught by God are effectually drawn, so as to come; and to this relates what he immediately adds,

    Whosoever therefore hath heard my Father. The amount of what is said is, that all who do not believe are reprobate and doomed to destruction; because all the sons of the Church and heirs of life are made by God to be his obedient disciples. Hence it follows, that there is not one of all the elect of God who shall not be a partaker of faith in Christ. [154] Again, as Christ formerly affirmed that men are not fitted for believing, until they have been drawn, so he now declares that the grace of Christ, by which they are drawn, is efficacious, so that they necessarily believe.

    These two clauses utterly overturn the whole power of free will, of which the Papists dream. For if it be only when the Father has drawn us that we begin to come to Christ, there is not in us any commencement of faith, or any preparation for it. On the other hand, if all come whom the Father hath taught, He gives to them not only the choice of believing, but faith itself. When, therefore, we willingly yield to the guidance of the Spirit, this is a part, and, as it were, a sealing of grace; because God would not draw us, if He were only to stretch out his hand, and leave our will in a state of suspense. But in strict propriety of language He is said to draw us, when He extends the power of his Spirit to the full effect of faith. They are said to hear God, who willingly assent to God speaking to them within, because the Holy Spirit reigns in their hearts.

    Cometh to me. He shows the inseparable connection that exists between him and the Father. For the meaning is, that it is impossible that any who are God's disciples shall not obey Christ, and that they who reject Christ refuse to be taught by God; because the only wisdom that all the elect learn in the school of God is, to come to Christ; for the Father, who sent him, cannot deny himself.

    John 6:65

    65. Therefore have I told you. He again states that faith is an uncommon and remarkable gift of the Spirit of God, that we may not be astonished that the Gospel is not received in every place and by all. For, being ill qualified to turn to our advantage the course of events, we think more meanly of the Gospel, because the whole world does not assent to it. The thought arises in our mind, How is it possible that the greater part of men shall deliberately reject their salvation? Christ therefore assigns a reason why there are so few believers, namely, because no man, whatever may be his acuteness, can arrive at faith by his own sagacity; for all are blind, until they are illuminated by the Spirit of God, and therefore they only partake of so great a blessing whom the Father deigns to make partakers of it. If this grace were bestowed on all without exception, it would have been unseasonable and inappropriate to have mentioned it in this passage; for we must understand that it was Christ's design to show that not many believe the Gospel, because faith proceeds only from the secret revelation of the Spirit.

    Unless it be given him by my Father. He now uses the word give instead of the word which he formerly used, draw; by which he means that there is no other reason why God draws, than because out of free grace he loves us; for what we obtain by the gift and grace of God, no man procures for himself by his own industry.
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