(§ 1). Definition and Implications. Regeneration means the entrance into the Christian state of salvation as a new beginning of life, involving also the abandonment of the former mode of existence as well as the far-reaching consequences of the course entered upon. In connection with the Christian doctrine of Atonement and Redemption (qq.v.) the idea of regeneration contains the following factors: (1) The state of salvation is unconditionally the work of God; (2) this state signifies such a rupture with the past that the claims of sin, the law, and the world no longer have validity; (3) it is the creation of a new type of life, determined by God, which needs to be developed and matured, but does not require anything else by which it may receive its character as a state of salvation; (4) it opens to the new personality the path of a growth and an activity, the tendency and goal of which are determined by the beginning set by God. The effort to assign to regeneration a coordinate place among the more specific concepts in the scheme of salvation, such as conversion, justification, and sanctification, has always led to unstable results. Either the term threatened to absorb the others, or it was limited in a way not consistent with the comprehensive range of the Biblical view.
(§ 2). Biblical Doctrine. An exact equivalent of regeneration is found in the New Testament only in a few passages. The Greek word palingenesia, which corresponds most directly, is used only in Titus iii. 5, where it refers to the individual renewal of life, which there is connected with baptism; and in Matt. xix. 28, where it refers to the eschatological renewal of the world. In I Pet. i. 3 the resurrection of Christ is mentioned as the act that effects regeneration; in i. 23 the living and eternal Word of God appears as the productive seed. But indirectly the thought of a renewal of life by faith in Christ lies at the basis of a number of passages in the New Testament. In the Old Testament it is prepared by the prophecy of a conversion of Israel to be wrought by God (Jer. xxxi. 18, 33 sqq.; Isa. lx. 21). It is described as the gift of another heart and of a new spirit (Ezek. xi. 19 sqq., xxxvi. 25 sqq.; Ps. li. 12). With this prophecy John the Baptist connects his demand of repentance with which is associated the symbol of the cleansing of baptism (Matt. iii. 1 sqq.). The religious and moral demands of Jesus rest upon the testimony of a prevening act of God which enables a new attitude (Matt. xviii. 23 sqq., xv. 13, xix. 26). It is necessary to make a new beginning (Matt. xviii. 3), and the death of Jesus is designated as the decisive act of salvation that originates a new relation to God (Mark x. 45; Matt. xxvi. 28). The apostolic preaching represents the operation of a thoroughgoing renewal of life in consequence of the death and resurrection of the Redeemer. Paul does not use in the older epistles the term "regeneration," but the idea of a new creation occupies an important part. God fulfils in Christ, the second Adam, a new creation of humanity (I Cor. xv. 45). Christ's death is the end of the old, his resurrection the beginning of a new life, which from him is transferred to his adherents (Rom. vi. 4 sqq.; II Cor. iv. 10, v. 17; Gal. ii. 19-20; Eph. ii. 5-6; Col. ii. 12). The Christian therefore is a new creation (Gal. vi. 15); a new man (Col. iii. 10; Eph. iv. 24). The entrance into this new state of life is connected with baptism (Rom. vi. 3 sqq.; Col. ii. 11 sqq.), which, however, is not without faith (Gal. iii. 26-27). In this new state of life there are to be distinguished two aspects: justification, which delivers man from the guilt and the condemnation of sin (Rom. v. 18-19; Gal. ii. 16), and the endowment with the Spirit of God (Gal. iii. 5, iv. 6; Rom. viii. 2); although Paul did not strictly discriminate between the two. Objectively the new creation consists in the mission and work of Christ; subjectively in the faith called forth by it. The demarkation of the new creation from the subsequent unfolding of the new life is made difficult in that sanctification appears now as, with justification, a newly implanted life tendency (I Cor. vi. l1), and again as a continuous task (Rom. vi. 19-22), and in that the new life is even represented as ever undergoing a retransformation (Rom. xii. 2, xiii. 14; Eph. iv. 22 sqq.). I Peter connects the new creation with the resurrection of Christ, (i. 3). The means of this renewal of life consists of the Word of God (i. 23); this serves also the growth and strengthening of the newly born babes (ii. 2 sqq.). In the Johannine writings birth is represented from God (John i. 12 sqq.), or the birth from above is a frequent designation of the state of the Christian. This divine generation of the new man produces the state of the children of God, which is here restoration of a relation with the being of God. The possibility of such a state is produced by the incarnation of the Logos (John i. 12); its realization is the work of the Spirit (iii. 6, 8). To the Word is ascribed mediation in so far as it is the medium of the Spirit (vi. 63). As a further medium of the spiritual new birth is mentioned the water of baptism (iii. 5); but it is merely a step preparatory for the renovation by the Spirit. Regeneration must be experienced by faith (John i. 12; I John v. 1). In some passages of the Johannine writings the life from God appears as a possession which excludes not only apostasy, but also the sinning of the new man (I John iii. 6, 9). According to other passages not only may Christians sin (I John i. 8 sqq., ii. 1), they may sin even unto death (v. 16). With John, therefore, regeneration is represented as the transposition into a new stage of life which is essentially relationship with God; but also with him the transition takes place through faith, and the new state of life is conditioned by the moral preservation of the endowed character.
(§ 3). In the Early and Medieval Churches. The conception of regeneration has no definite place in the terminology of the doctrine of salvation in the early and medieval Church, and no connected history; because in the post-apostolic time there reigned a moralistic conception of salvation. It indeed offered room for the acts of human self-activity which introduce and accompany the new life, such as repentance, recognition of the truth, fulfilment of the law, with but slight connection of these with the divine operation and the mediator of salvation; but this jejune conception was supplemented by a faith in the magic and supernatural effect of baptism and the Lord's Supper. The Eastern Church recognized the universal regeneration of humanity in the incarnation of the Logos, but it knew little of the renewal of life in the individual. Augustine traced regeneration entirely to the effect of grace; but he associated this with the mediation of the Church, and as he saw in the new life not so much a possession of faith as the activity of love, he confounded the conceptions of regeneration and sanctification. Scholasticism resolved the cultivation of the new life into a number of the Church's impartations of grace and the corresponding efforts of will, which scarcely admitted of a unified conception of regeneration. Thomas Aquinas preferred the most impersonal expression which the New Testament offers for the idea of regeneration, "participation in the divine nature" (Summa, ii. 110). For the Council of Trent regeneration was only another name for justification (Sessio, vi. 3), which found its consummation in the "infusion of love." For the mystics who have a special preference for the picture of regeneration, it meant essentially union with God afforded to the soul that was emptied of the world and selfhood. But this individual experience of the pious absolved itself in the moment of subjective feeling, and was not sobered by a firm hold upon the historical divine will of grace.
(§ 4). In the Reformation. The Reformation restored to regeneration its firm connection with God's act of salvation in Christ. In the forgiveness of sin man finds the basis of a new existence. The faith that receives this blessing is the immediate reality of a new life. Faith itself is, according to Luther, the new birth. In faith we are both justified and sanctified. This view was not affected by Luther's association of regeneration and baptism. He assumed even the difficulty of the idea of faith in infants in order to maintain the same saving operation in children and adults. The same intimate connection of justification and new life is found in Melanchthon's Loci of 1521 and in the Apology. The latter does not limit the term "justification" to the conception of a mere declaration of being just, but unhesitatingly denotes "justification" as "regeneration" and faith as the "rightness of heart" demanded by God as "obedience toward the Gospel." Justification included moral renewal and the endowment of the Spirit. This merging was due to the apprehension of justification not as a transcendent act of God but as a human experience; but in the commentary on Romans (1532) Melanchthon began to connect more strictly the judgment of God declaring man as just with Christ's work of atonement and to exclude from it every reference to the transformation of man that begins with faith. Calvin conceived regeneration as "penitence" and restricted it to the moral act of the mortification of the old man and the generation of the new. The Formula of Concord (q.v.) left the conception of regeneration vague, while it, on the other hand, clearly defined justification, thus exposing the relation of faith to morals, now excluded from justification, to neglect. The period of the Reformation left to later theology a number of unsolved questions regarding regeneration, such as the relation of the Spirit to the individual. The Augsburg Confession (q.v.) states that the Spirit effects faith (Art. 5) and that faith conditions the possession of the Spirit (Art. 20). These statements are not contradictory if by the Spirit that effects faith is understood the Spirit of God incorporate in the Word and the congregation, and by the Spirit that is imparted to faith the individualized spirit dwelling in the believer. But as this distinction was generally unobserved, there resulted a different interpretation of regeneration in the process of salvation. If Luther's conception of regeneration as the "gift of faith" was to be adhered to, it must necessarily be considered as the presupposition of the life of faith in general and consequently as preceding justification. But if one holds the idea that only the individual possession of the spirit effects regeneration, then regeneration is the consequence of the sonship attained in faith. In the latter instance regeneration is reduced to a secondary position but receives a richer ethical import. Still more important for the later development of the doctrine was the question in regard to the relation of regeneration to baptism. Some dogmaticians adhered to the bold thesis of Luther that the baptism of infants and the regeneration of adults by faith in the Word were essentially the same process. But the later theologians taught in connection with the doctrine of baptism a regeneration which was not at the same time a renovation of life, but communicated to the soul chained by hereditary sin the capacity to believe. In this way the conception of regeneration was considerably emptied and placed where it could no longer serve as an expression of the experience of salvation.
(§ 5). Pietism. Pietism opposed this shallow conception of regeneration, representing it as an experience of faith, and was intent upon insuring its development into a new moral attitude. Spener (q.v.) taught that in the moment of regeneration, which coincides with that of justification, there is posited in the believer a new principle of life that develops into sanctification. The Lutheran doctrine of justification was the basis of the certainty of salvation also for Zinzendorf (q.v.), but in one period of his life he held a mystico-theosophic theory of regeneration, representing it not so much as an experience of faith as a mysterious penetration of the power of the blood of Christ. Similar thoughts of a substantial or physiological interpretation of regeneration are found in P. Nicolai (q.v.) at the beginning of the seventeenth century, in the Swabian Pietism, in J. A. Bengel, F. C. Oetinger, and Michael Hahn (qq.v.). Also in modern Pietism frequently Methodistic thoughts appear of a second experience of grace after justification that is to lead man to the threshold of sinless perfection. In this the fact is overlooked that justifying faith conceived in its Biblical and Reformation depth includes already this second act of self-surrender.
(§ 6). In Modern Theology. The treatment of the conception of regeneration in modern theology presents a variegated if not confused picture. A stimulating influence upon the development of dogma was Immanuel Kant's postulate of radical evil and the deepening of the idea of personality by the distinction of the "intelligible" and the empiric character. What R. Eucken, following J. G. Fichte, indicates as "Wesensbildung" is essentially a philosophical parallel to Christian regeneration. The fruit of philosophical idealism was made especially productive for theology by Schleiermacher, who taught that regeneration on the subjective side as the reception of the individual into the life communion of Christ corresponds to redemption as the communication of sinless perfection and blessedness. It is the foundation of a new character, while sanctification is its unfolding. The change that has begun with regeneration may be regarded either as a changed form of life, conversion, the elements of which are repentance and faith; or as a changed relation to God or a changed feeling of life, justification. Most of the theologians who followed Schleiermacher returned to that sense of justification according to which it is grounded upon a divine judgment, without, however, relinquishing the thought that this judgment accrues to the believer only in so far as he is in real union with Christ. Thus in avoiding an empty concept of faith, they returned to the original Reformation idea. Four other types parallel to the above may be distinguished: (1) The adherence to the com- bination of regeneration and baptism, involving the belabored efforts of integrating the turning to God or conversion later in life with infant baptism; (2) the theosophical representation of regeneration is that of a transubstantiation. Richard Rothe (q.v.), with his followers, approaches from his conception of the spirit as the unity of the ideal and the natural existence. From regeneration there follows the positing of a spiritual nature which is to unfold in organic growth toward imperishable results. (3) Another group of theologians, among them especially Albrecht Ritschl (q.v.), replaces the conception of regeneration by that of justification in order to prevent every Pietistic obscuration of the doctrine of grace. Regeneration, if the term is preferred, is not to be distinguished from justification or adoption. Ethical transformation is hereby secured in that, in reconciliation, the purpose of the kingdom of God is appropriated and by doing good, freedom from the world, or eternal life, is attained. Johann Georg Wilhelm Herrmann (q.v.) insists that regeneration can not be established externally as a fact, but only by a judgment of faith. This judgment bases itself not upon our possession, but upon the attitude which God in Christ assumes toward us. According to Julius Wilhelm Martin Kaftan (q.v.) the divine act of redemption fulfilled in Christ, especially in his death and resurrection, becomes by faith a personal experience involving ethical renewal. In the conception of regeneration these three elements are by faith perceived as a totality. (4) Richard Adelbert Lipsius (q.v.) designates regeneration as the ethical side of the state of grace in distinction from justification as its religious side. Regeneration accordingly is called the logical consequence of justification.
(§ 7). The Doctrine Presented. Regeneration is here represented as the divinely wrought origin of a new, personal existence. But the term can denote only its origin; the preservation and growth of the new life are not included in the conception, but are to be represented as the state of the children of God. Moreover, there is no need to include the objective basis of salvation in the conception of regeneration, although the New Testament occasionally expresses the close connection of the new personality with the person and work of the mediator of salvation (Eph. vi. 6, 10; I Pet. i. 3). For the historical basis of salvation there are used other conceptions, Atonement and Redemption (qq.v.), and the idea of regeneration is more appropriate for application to individuals than to the comprehensive followship. There is no reason to break with the view offered by the Reformation in connecting regeneration with the origin of faith, or as Luther has it, that the new birth is faith. By faith not only is the divine judgment of justification appropriated but a union is effected with Christ transforming the believer into a new person. Faith has thus not only a religious but an ethical meaning, in that it represents a receptive attitude toward the vivifying and determining influence of the Redeemer. Man's relation to God can not be measured by the diagnosis of the state of his own soul, but merely by the worth of Christ, the object of his faith; hence the certainty of salvation is not jeopardized. Owing to the condition of appropriation by faith, it is impossible to ascribe to the baptism of infants unconditionally the effect of regeneration; for the realization of the state of grace offered in baptism is not completed with that act. The advent of a new personality can only proceed in the light of self-consciousness. Moreover, the conceptions of regeneration and conversion form an indivisible unity; they denote the same beginning of a new life, only that regeneration characterizes it as an act of God and conversion, as a new tendency of life assumed by the believer. It does not follow either from Scripture or the nature of the case that the new life of regeneration can not be lost, as the Reformed dogmaticians hold concerning the elect and as Rothe infers from the metaphysical essence of the spiritual existence. But it may be said that the communion with Christ having once become the fundamental tendency of life possesses an incomparable power to give a firmness to the unstable will, and that the surrender of it must appear intolerable to a person that has begun to experience the value of the blessing of salvation.