Not by works of righteousness - Those who were foolish, disobedient, and deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, could not possibly have works of righteousness to plead; therefore, if saved at all, they must be saved by mercy. See the note on Ephesians 2:8; and see a discourse entitled, Salvation by Faith proved, 8vo., 1816, in which I have examined every system invented by man for his restoration to the Divine favor and image: and have demonstrated, by mere reason, their utter insufficiency to answer the end for which they have been invented; and have proved that the doctrine of salvation by faith is the only rational way of salvation.
By the washing of regeneration - Δια λουτρου παλιγγενεσιας· Undoubtedly the apostle here means baptism, the rite by which persons were admitted into the Church, and the visible sign of the cleansing, purifying influences of the Holy Spirit, which the apostle immediately subjoins. Baptism is only a sign, and therefore should never be separated from the thing signified; but it is a rite commanded by God himself, and therefore the thing signified should never be expected without it.
By the renewing of the Holy Ghost we are to understand, not only the profession of being bound to live a new life, but the grace that renews the heart, and enables us thus to live; so the renewing influences are here intended. Baptism changes nothing; the grace signified by it cleanses and purifies. They who think baptism to be regeneration, neither know the Scriptures nor the power of God; therefore they do greatly err.
Not by works of righteousness which we have done - The plan was not based on our own good works, nor are our own good works now the cause of our salvation. If people could have been saved by their own good works, there would have been no need of salvation by the Redeemer; if our own deeds were now the basis of our title to eternal life, the work of Christ would be equally unnecessary. It is a great and fundamental principle of the gospel that the good works of men come in for no share in the justification of the soul. They are in no sense a consideration on account of which God pardons a man, and receives him to favor. The only basis of justification is the merit of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the matter of justification before God, all the race is on a level; see the notes at Ephesians 2:8-9.
But according to his mercy -
(1)It had its origin in mercy;
(2)It is by mere mercy or compassion, and not by justice;
(3)It is an expression of great mercy, and,
(4)It is now in fact conferred only by mercy.
Whatever we have done or can do, when we come to receive salvation from the hand of God, there is no other element which enters into it but mercy. It is not because our deeds deserve it; it is not because we have by repentance and faith wrought ourselves into such a state of mind that we can claim it; but, after all our tears, and sighs, and prayers, and good deeds, it is a mere favor. Even then God might justly withhold it if he chose, and no blame would be attached to him if he should suffer us to sink down to ruin.
He saved us - That is, he began that salvation in us which is to be completed in heaven. A man who is already renewed and pardoned may be spoken of as saved - for:
(1)the work of salvation is begun, and,
(2)when begun it will certainly be completed; see the notes at Philemon 1:6.
By the washing of regeneration - In order to a correct understanding of this important passage, it is necessary to ascertain whether the phrase here used refers to baptism, and whether anything different is intended by it from what is meant by the succeeding phrase - “renewing of the Holy Ghost.” - The word rendered “washing” ( λουτρόυ loutrou) occurs in the New Testament only in this place and in Ephesians 5:26, where also it is rendered “washing” - “That he might sanctify and cleanse it (the church) with the washing of water by the word.” The word properly means “a bath;” then water for bathing; then the act of bathing, washing, ablution. Passow and Robinson. It is used by Homer to denote a warm or cold bath; then a washing away, and is thus applied to the drink-offerings in sacrifice, which were supposed to purify or wash away sin. Passow. The word here does not mean “laver,” or the vessel for washing in, which would be expressed by λουτὴρ loutērand this word cannot be properly applied to the baptismal font.
The word in itself would naturally be understood as referring to baptism (compare notes at Acts 22:16), which was regarded as the emblem of washing away sins, or of cleansing from them. I say it was the emblem, not the means of purify ing the soul from sin. If this be the allusion, and it seems probable, then the phrase “washing of regeneration” would mean “that outward washing or baptism which is the emblem of regeneration,” and which is appointed as one of the ordinances connected with salvation; see the notes at Mark 16:16, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” It is not affirmed in this phrase that baptism is the means of regeneration; or that grace is necessarily conveyed by it; and still less that baptism is regeneration, for no one of these is a necessary interpretation of the passage, and should not be assumed to be the true one. The full force of the language will be met by the supposition that it means that baptism is the emblem or symbol of regeneration, and, if this is the case, no one has a right to assume that the other is certainly the meaning.
And that this is the meaning is further clear, because it is nowhere taught in the New Testament that baptism is regeneration, or that it is the means of regeneration. The word rendered “regeneration” ( παλιγγενεσία palingenesia) - occurs in the New Testament only here and in Matthew 19:28, - “in the regeneration when the Son of man,” etc. It means, properly, a new birth, reproduction, or renewal. It would properly be applied to one who should be begotten again in this sense, that a new life was commenced in him in some way corresponding to his being made to live at first. To the proper idea of the word, it is essential that there should be connected the notion of the commencement of life in the man, so that he may be said to live anew; and as religion is in the Scriptures represented as life, it is properly applied to the beginning of that kind of life by which man may be said to live anew. This word, occurring only here and in Matthew 19:28, and there indubitably not referring to baptism, should not be here understood as referring to that, or be applied to that, because:
(1)that is not the proper meaning of the word;
(2)there is no Scripture usage to sanction it;
(3)the connection here does not demand it;
(5)it is a dangerous use of the word.
Its use in this sense leaves the impression that the only change needful for man is that which is produced by being regularly baptized. On almost no point has so much injury been done in the church as by the application of the word “regeneration” to baptism. It affects the beginning of religion in the soul, and if a mistake is made there, it is one which must pervade all the views of piety.
And renewing of the Holy Ghost - This is an important clause, added by Paul apparently to save from the possibility of falling into error. If the former expression, “the washing of regeneration,” had been left to stand by itself, it might have been supposed possibly that all the regeneration which would be needed would be that which would accompany baptism. But he avoids the possibility of this error, by saying that the “renewing of the Holy Ghost” is an indispensable part of that by which we are saved. It is necessary that this should exist in addition to that which is the mere emblem of it - the washing of regeneration - for without this the former would be unmeaning and unavailing. It is important to observe that the apostle by no means says that this always follows from the former, nor does he affirm that it ever follows from it - whatever may be the truth on that point - but he asserts that this is that on which our salvation depends. - The word rendered “renewing” ( ἀνακαίνωσις anakainōsis) occurs only here and in Romans 12:2, where it is also rendered “renewing;” compare Note on that place. The verb ( ἀνακαινόω anakainoō) occurs in 2 Corinthians 4:15, and Colossians 3:19, in both which places it is rendered “renewed,” and the corresponding word, ἀνακαινίζω anakainizōin Hebrews 6:6.
The noun properly means making new again: a renewing; a renovation; compare H. Planck in Bib. Repos. i. 677. It is a word which is found only in the writings of Paul, and in ecclesiastical Greek writers. It would be properly applied to such a change as the Holy Spirit produces in the soul, making one a new man; that is, a man new, so far as religion is concerned - new in his views, feelings, desires, hopes, plans, and purposes. He is so far different from what he was before, that it may be said he enters on a new life; see the notes at Ephesians 4:23-24. The “renewing of the Holy Ghost” of course means that which the Holy Spirit produces, recognizing the fact, everywhere taught in the Scriptures, that the Holy Spirit is the Author of the new creation. It cannot mean, as Koppe supposes, the renewing of the mind itself, or producing a holy spirit in the soul.
God has given men faculties and capabilities. God works and cooperates with the gifts He has imparted to man, and man, by being a partaker of the divine nature and doing the work of Christ, may be an overcomer and win eternal life. The Lord does not propose to do the work He has given man powers to do. Man's part must be done. He must be a laborer together with God, yoking up with Christ, learning His meekness, His lowliness. God is the all-controlling power. He bestows the gifts; man receives them and acts with the power of the grace of Christ as a living agent. FW 26.1
“Ye are God's husbandry” (1 Corinthians 3:9). The heart is to be worked, subdued, plowed, harrowed, seeded, to bring forth its harvest to God in good works. “Ye are God's building.” You cannot build yourself. There is a Power outside of yourself that must do the building of the church, putting brick upon brick, always cooperating with the faculties and powers given of God to man. The Redeemer must find a home in His building. God works and man works. There needs to be a continual taking in of the gifts of God, in order that there may be as free a giving out of these gifts. It is a continual receiving and then restoring. The Lord has provided that the soul shall receive nourishment from Him, to be given out again in the working out of His purposes. In order that there be an outflowing, there must be an income of divinity to humanity. “I will dwell in them, and walk in them” (2 Corinthians 6:16). FW 26.2Read in context »
Not the Faith of Jesus—An acceptance of the truth of heavenly origin brings the mind into subjection to Christ. Then the health of soul which comes from receiving and following pure principles is revealed in words and works of righteousness. The faith which leads to this is not the faith which believes in mind controlling mind till one person acts out the will of another. Church members having confidence in this science may be called sound in the faith, but it is not the faith of Jesus Christ. Theirs is a faith in the work which Satan is doing. He presents gigantic errors, and by the miracles which he works he deceives many. This work he will do more and more. A healthy church is composed of healthy members, of men and women who have a personal experience in true godliness.—Letter 130, 1901. 2MCP 710.3Read in context »
One man becomes ruler of ten cities, another of five, another of two, each man receiving exactly in proportion to the improvement he has made on the talents entrusted to his keeping. Our efforts in works of righteousness, in our own behalf and for the salvation of souls, will have a decided influence on our recompense.—The Review and Herald, October 25, 1881. 3SM 147.4Read in context »
The death of the Son of God on Calvary's cross is the measure of their value. Day by day they are deciding a question of life and death, deciding whether they will have eternal life or eternal destruction. And yet men and women professing to serve the Lord are content to occupy their time and attention with matters of little importance. They are content to be at variance with one another. If they were consecrated to the work of the Master, they would not be striving and contending like a family of unruly children. Every hand would be engaged in service. Everyone would be standing at his post of duty, working with heart and soul as missionaries of the cross of Christ. The Spirit of Christ would abide in the hearts of laborers, and works of righteousness would be wrought. The workers would carry with them into their service the sympathies and prayers of an awakened church. They would receive their orders from Christ, and would find no time for contention or strife.—Letter 173, November 13, 1902, to those assembled in council at Battle Creek. TDG 326.4Read in context »