Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Irish Articles on Regeneration and union with Christ

James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh (1625-1656),
principal author of The Irish Articles (1615)
In the bumper issue of The Banner of Truth magazine for August-September 2008, Michael Haykin devoted an article to "Regeneration and Faith, according to Two British Confessions". The first was The Scottish Confession of Faith (1560) and the second The Irish Articles (1615). The definition of regeneration in the latter Confession really grabbed my attention. Haykin stresses the anti-Arminian polemic in the Articles. But what impressed me was that the new birth is not treated simply as link in the chain of salvation. It is subsumed under the heading of union with Christ. Note the allusions to John 6, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 2 & Titus 3.

32. None can come unto Christ unless it be given unto him, and unless the Father draw him. And all men are not so drawn by the Father that they may come unto the Son. Neither is there such a sufficient measure of grace vouchsafed unto every man whereby he is enabled to come unto everlasting life.

33. All God's elect are in their time inseparably united unto Christ by the effectual and vital influence of the Holy Ghost, derived from him as from the head unto every true member of his mystical body. And being thus made one with Christ, they are truly regenerated and made partakers of him and all his benefits.

I think that is a most helpful definition of the biblical doctrine regeneration. We are born again as Christ unites us to himself by the power of the Holy Spirit. But this aspect of the new birth is seldom given the emphasis it deserves in Reformed theology. Both Louis Berkhof and Robert Reymond seem so keen to locate the place of regeneration in the ordo salutis (order of salvation), that union with Christ hardly gets a mention. (See Berkhof's Systematic Theology p. 465ff & Reymond's A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 1998 edition, p. 708ff). Sinclair Ferguson shows us a more excellent way,

"Every facet of the application of Christ's work ought to be related to the way in which the Spirit unites us to Christ himself, and viewed directly as issuing from personal fellowship with him. The dominant motif and architectonic principle of the order of salvation should therefore be union with Christ in the Spirit." (Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, Contours of Christian Theology, IVP, 1996, p. 100).
See also my review of Gary Brady's recently published, Being Born Again.

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