Back in 1998, an editor of the Primitive Baptist magazine called The Remnant published his response to some questions I had asked him. Below is the entirety of the article (the "M.C." in the article is me). The people who are affiliated with this magazine and this group are bold to speak out for the absolute sovereignty of God, even down to sovereign double predestination. But as you will see, they do not believe that all who do not believe the gospel are lost (Mark 16:16) and that all who are ignorant of the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel are lost (Romans 10:3). They believe that people like Nicodemus and Paul and the Ethiopian eunuch were regenerate while they believed a false gospel (and Morris gives some "experiences" of others in defense of his position). They believe that the legalistic, natural-conscience convictions of those who are seeking to establish a righteousness of their own are evidences of true regeneration. (Also see "The Irrelevant Gospel" at www.outsidethecamp.org/review52.htm)
A QUESTION ABOUT REGENERATION AND BELIEF
by C.C. Morris
I agree that God regenerates His people by the direct operation of the Holy Spirit. But does that mean to you that some regenerate
people go for a period of time without hearing the gospel? And is belief of the gospel a necessary and immediate result of
regeneration? -- M. C.
First, we need to define our terms. By regenerate people we mean people who are spiritually born from above, born again, or born of the Spirit of our God.
By hearing the gospel we mean neither merely the outward hearing with the natural ear nor hearing what the world calls the gospel. Hearing in our context means a spiritual inner hearing with understanding and reception: "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches (Revelation 2.7 et al). "
The gospel is the good news of the salvation accomplished by Jesus Christ. Paul defined the gospel in I Corinthians 15.1-4 as, "...how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures. "
To hear the gospel entails (but is not limited to) an inner conviction of personal sins, a belief in Christ's atoning death for those sins in accord with the scriptures, a belief in His burial and literal resurrection as set forth in the scriptures, and a personal, spiritual hope in His finished work. Such a combination of conviction, belief, and hope is not simply a historical head-belief. It is a Spirit-wrought work in the sinner's renewed heart.
But does that mean to you that some regenerate people go for a period of time without hearing the gospel?
It certainly does. Some regenerate people do go for a time without hearing the gospel:
(1) Nicodemus' coming to Jesus was evidence that he had a prior hungering and thirsting which only Jesus, as the bread and water of life, could satisfy. Christ's statement to him, "...ye must be born again," is plural, not singular. (If it had been singular, the King James Version's translators would have rendered this as, "You must be born again.") Nicodemus was a representative of the group--God's elect--which must, as a class, be born again.
(2) Christ's words to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks (Acts 9.5 and 26.14)," shows that Saul was experiencing the same spiritual pricking of conscience which the converts experienced on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2.37). There is no telling how long he had had spiritual life and had struggled against the Spirit's jabs and barbs before that day.
(3) John the Baptist was quickened by or born of the Holy Spirit before his first or natural birth of his mother Elisabeth. To say otherwise, one would have to take the position that an unregenerate person was filled with God's Spirit (see Luke 1. 15).
Many more scriptural examples could be given, such as the rich young ruler (Mark 10.21f), Zacchaeus (Luke 19. lff), the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8.27ff), and others, but we must forbear.
An account from the experience of Elder John Leland would also bear this out. An African man, years before his being captured and sold into slavery, belonged to a certain tribe that worshiped a charred stump of a tree that had been hit by lightning and burned. Convicted in his heart of the futility of such worship, he secretly vowed not to pray to the stump, but rather he would pray to the unseen God who controlled the lightning that had burned the tree to the ground. Wrestling with a sense of his sinfulness and helplessness before such an almighty God, he would secretly go into the forest, kneel by the stump, and beg the invisible God in the heavens for forgiveness and mercy. Then, the slave boats came, and he was taken to the United States where he was sold.
One day, Elder Leland was preaching on a town square. This particular slave was there that day with his master, who gave him leave
to listen to the preacher. As Elder Leland spoke powerfully on the subject of conviction for sin, conflict of soul, conversion, and
salvation in Christ Jesus, suddenly the slave cried out, "Lord, that's me by the old black stump!
Soon after this, Elder Leland baptized him.
The question might be asked, just when did this man receive spiritual life--when he heard Elder Leland preach, or while he was yet in Africa, when he was first given the desire to pray to the God of heaven? The evidence is for the latter. One does not hear in order to be born again; he is born again so that he can hear. Yet it was many years after his experience in the- African jungle before he heard the gospel which explained his experience to him.
May I also refer briefly to my own experience? I certainly dare not rank my own experience with the above illustrations, but, if I am not completely deceived, my spiritual experience, conviction for sin, and hope in Christ began when I was a child, as early as nine years of age, if not much earlier. Yet I did not hear the gospel preached in its purity until I was twenty-one. Between the ages of nine and twenty one, I labored in Egyptian darkness, struggling futilely against my depravity, trying to overcome it with all the will-worship and Arminian effort a young man could muster. In that respect, I "profited in ... religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers (Galatians 1. 14)."
For what it is worth, I cannot deny that my spiritual birth, if indeed I have had such, began at that early age. Because of the twelve years of spiritual warfare preceding my hearing the gospel in its purity, I also dare not say I received spiritual life (if I indeed have it) only when I actually heard it preached. The gospel answered a hungry longing that I had had for many years. This hungering for Christ, if genuine, is in itself a mark or evidence of life in Him, for those who are (spiritually) dead do not hunger. Therefore, both by the scriptures and by experience I must answer your question affirmatively: Yes, some regenerate people go for a period of time without hearing the gospel.
And is belief of the gospel a necessary and immediate result of regeneration?
It is a necessary result of regeneration, but not necessarily an immediate one, as many of the above examples indicate. It is a necessary result in that it is given unto God's children to believe on Christ (Philippians 1.29). The Christ His children are given to believe on is the Christ of the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15.3f), and not the perverted gospel and the false Christ of Arminianism (2 Corinthians 11. 4, Galatians 1.7-9). They will believe in God's own good time, when He works effectually in them to that end, and not before.
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