Christian Dogmatics,
John Theodore Muller TH.D.
Pp. 362-366


    In order that the way of salvation (ordo salutis), so clearly and simply set forth in God’s Word, may be presented in its Scriptural purity and truth, the theologian must fully understand in what relation conversion stands to regeneration, vivification, resuscitation, illumination, vocation, repentance, etc., all of which are terms which Scripture employs to describe the divine act of grace, by which the sinner is delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of Christ, Col. 1, 13. Actually all these terms, in their restricted sense, are synonyms of conversion, so that the distinction between them and conversion is only nominal, or logical, and not at all real. The difference which they represent lies only in the point of view from which they depict the sinner’s return to God.

a.    Regeneration (regeneratio). Regeneration in its strict sense describes the new birth, John 3, 5. 6, which the sinner undergoes in his conversion, or the bestowal of new spiritual life through faith in Christ. According to Scripture every person is born of God who believes that Jesus is Christ, 1 John 5, 1. The term therefore in its proper application is synonymous with conversion, Acts 11, 21. Hence we may say that the sinner who is converted is also regenerated, and vice versa, since the two terms designate one and the same act of the Holy Ghost, John 1, 12. 13. Luther writes: “Whoever believes in Christ . . . is born again, or born anew.” (St. L., VII, 1862.)

    The instrumental means of regeneration is the Word of God, in particular the Gospel of Christ, 1 Pet. 1, 23, as also Baptism, Titus 3, 5, since the latter is water “comprehended in God’s command and connected with God’s word,” that is, with the gracious divine promise of remission of sins, Acts 2, 38.

b.    Vivification, or resuscitation (vivificatio, resuscitatio). Both terms designate the transplanting of the sinner from the state of spiritual death into the state of spiritual life, Eph. 2, 1-9, through faith in Christ Jesus, Col. 2, 11-13. Hence also these terms are synonyms of conversion. The Formula of Concord affirms (Thor. Decl., H, 87) “The conversion of our corrupt will is nothing else than a resuscitation of it from spiritual death.”

    In an unscriptural sense the term has been employed by both synergists and Pietists to denote a state, or condition, in which the sinner is indeed awakened to a sense of his guilt and to a desire for salvation through Christ, but is not yet converted because he has not yet decided to accept divine grace (status medius). However, according to Scripture all who are thus truly awakened (vivified, resuscitated) are already converted, Eph. 2, 5-8.

    It is true, the term awakened may be used correctly in the sense that a sinner has been alarmed by the Law, though not yet brought to faith in Christ through the Gospel. In that sense Felix, Acts 24, 25, and the jailer at Philippi, 16, 30, may be said to have been awakened. If used in this way, the “awakening” of the sinner belongs to the preparatory acts of conversion (actus praeparatorii), or to the assisting grace of God (gratia assistens), which reacts upon the sinner merely from without (extrinsecus), as our dogmaticians have said.

    The great mistake which the Pietists and synergists made was that they applied the term awakened to those who were not only terrified by the divine Law, but possessed already “the first beginnings of faith” (prima initia fidei), in other words, who were already converted. The awakened, they maintained, were neither converted nor unconverted. Such a synergistic middle state (status medius), however, Scripture does not acknowledge, as we have shown above. On the contrary, according to Scripture every penitent sinner who has the prima initia fidei (scintillula fidei) is truly converted, as the Formula of Concord rightly teaches (Thor. Decl., II, 14).

c.    Illumination (illuminatio). This term designates the transfer of man from his natural state of spiritual darkness into a new state of spiritual light, Eph. 5, 8. Illumination, in its strict sense, therefore is synonymous with conversion; for it consists essentially in the gracious act of God by which He “opens the eyes of the spiritually blind, turns them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God that they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance... by faith,” Acts 26, 18. Both illumination and conversion occur through faith in the Gospel of Christ; both have the same terminus a quo, namely, darkness, and the same terminus ad quem, namely, faith. This is proved by the word of Christ: “I am come a Light into the world that whoso-ever believeth on Me should not abide in darkness,” John 12, 46. Hence, as long as a person is an unbeliever, he is not enlightened, or illuminated. With respect to this point the Pietists were right in opposing their orthodox opponents, who ascribed even to unbe-lieving ministers a certain illumination, or rather an allumination (alluminatio); for illumination can be predicated only of true believers in Christ.

d.    Vocation (vocatio). The term vocation in Scripture some-times denotes merely the proclamation of the Gospel, or the extending of the divine invitation of salvation to sinners. In this sense all men are called who hear or read the gracious message of the Gospel, Matt. 20, 16; 22, 14. However, in most passages of Scripture the word designates not merely the gracious offer of salvation through the Gospel, but the effectual calling of sinners to spiritual life, or their actual transfer from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of Christ. In this sense the term vocation is synonymous with conversion. The called are the converted, that is to say, true believers, who by faith have appropriated unto themselves the gracious promises of the Gospel, Born. 1, 5. 6; 8, 30; 1 Cor. 1, 2.26; 2 Tim. 1,9, etc.

e.    Repentance (poenitentia). The term repentance is used in both a narrower and a wider sense. The Formula of Concord thus writes (Thor. Decl., V, 7. 8): “The term repentance is not employed in the Holy Scriptures in one and the same sense. For in some passages of Holy Scripture it is employed and taken for the entire conversion of man, as Luke 13, 5; 15, 7. But in this passage, Mark 1, 15, as also elsewhere, where repentance and faith in Christ, Acts 20, 21, or repentance and remission of sins, Luke 24, 46. 47, are mentioned as distinct, to repent means nothing else than truly to acknowledge sins, to be heartily sorry for them, and to desist from them” (i. e., from outward motives of fear and punishment; cp. Judas).

    Thus the term denotes: a) contrition, or the knowledge of sin wrought by the Law (terrores conscientiae); this is the mean-ing of the word in all those passages in which repentance is distin-guished from remission of sins, Luke 24, 47; b) contrition and faith, or the entire conversion of man, Luke 13, 5. In the latter sense the term repentance is a synonym of conversion.

    Baier writes of this distinction (III, 310) : “Although repentance is sometimes used in a stricter sense for that part of conversion which is called contrition, yet often it is employed for the entire conversion.” So also the Augsburg Confession describes repentance when it says (Art. XII) : “Repentance properly consists of these two parts: One is contrition, that is, terrors smiting the conscience through the knowledge of sin; the other is faith, which is born of the Gospel, or of absolution, and believes that for Christ’s sake sins are forgiven, comforts the conscience, and delivers it from terrors.”

    The Augsburg Confession rightly adds that the good works which are bound to follow repentance are the fruits of repentance. Deinde sequi debent bona opera, quae aunt fructus poenitentiae.

    This important truth must be held against the error of the Romanists, who maintain that repentance consists of contrition, confession, and satisfaction (contritio cordis, confessio ortis, satisfactio operis). The papistic error, according to which human satisfaction for all transgressions constitutes the essential part of repentance, is a total denial of the Scriptural doctrine of repentance, Mark 1, 15, since it bases forgiveness of sins upon the good works of the penitent sinner. According to papistic teaching not only the confessio oris and the satisfacdio operis, but also the contritio cordis must be regarded as a meritorious act of the sinner. Hence repentance, in the Roman Catholic sense of the term, is altogether a work of man.

    This fact explains why Luther so Vehemently inveighed against the papistic conception of repentance, insisting, on the basis of Scripture, that repentance indeed always produces good works, but is never the foundation upon which the forgiveness of sins rests. Cp. the Apology, Art. XII (V), 16ff.: “For the following dogmas are clearly false and foreign not only to Holy Scripture, but also to the Church Fathers: 1. that from the divine covenant we merit grace by good works wrought without grace; 2. that by attrition we merit grace; 3. that for the blotting out of sin the mere detestation of the crime is sufficient; 4. that on account of contrition, and not by faith in Christ, we obtain remission of sins,” etc.

    The Romanistic conception of contrition, with its emphasis on the good works of the penitent, renders impossible not only true faith in Christ, or trust in His merits, but also true contrition (contritio passiva), or the terrores consoientiae, which God works in man through the Law. As long as a sinner “repents” in the sense of Roman Catholic work-righteousness, it is impossible for him to believe in Christ and to be saved, Gal. 5,4.

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