The Nature of Regeneration
Charles H. Spurgeon
To give a man a new heart and a new spirit is God's work, and the work of God alone. Arminianism falls to the ground when we come to this point. Nothing will do here but that old-fashioned truth men call Calvinism. 'Salvation is of the Lord alone:' this truth will stand the test of ages and can never be moved, because it is the immutable truth of the living God. And all the way in salvation we have to learn this truth, but especially when we come here to this particular and indispensable part of salvation, the making of the new heart within us. That must be God's work; man may reform himself, but how can man give himself a new heart? I need not enlarge upon the thought, it will strike you in a moment, that the very nature of the change, and the terms in which it is mentioned here, put it beyond all power of man. How can man put into himself a new heart, for the heart being the motive power of all life, must exert itself before anything can be done? But how could the exertions of an old heart bring forth a new heart? Can you imagine for a moment a tree with a rotten heart, by its own vital energy, giving to itself a new young heart? You cannot suppose such a thing. If the heart were originally right, and the defects were only in some branch of the tree, you can conceive that the tree, through the vital power of its sap within its heart, might rectify the wrong. We have heard of some kind of insects that have lost their limbs, and by their vital power have been able to recover them again. But take away the seat of the vital power--the heart; lay the disease there; and what power is there that can, by any possibility, rectify it, unless it be a power from without--in fact, a power from above? Oh, beloved, there never was a man yet, that did so much as the turn of a hair towards making himself a new heart. He must lie passive there--he shall become active afterwards--but in the moment when God puts a new life into the soul, the man is passive: and if there be aught of activity, it is an active resistance against it, until God, by overcoming victorious grace, gets the mastery over man's will.
Once, again; this is a gracious change. When God puts a new heart into man, it is not because man deserves a new heart--because there was anything good in his nature, that could have prompted God to give him a new spirit. The Lord simply gives a man a new heart because he wishes to do it; that is his only reason. 'But,' you say, 'suppose a man cries for a new heart?' I answer, no man ever did cry for a new heart until he had got one; for the cry for a new heart proves that there is a new heart there already. But, says one, 'Are we not to seek for a right spirit?' Yes, I know it is your duty,--but I equally know it is a duty you will never fulfil. You are commanded to make to yourselves new hearts, but I know you will never attempt to do it, until God first of all moves you thereunto. As soon as you begin to seek a new heart, it is presumptive evidence that the new heart is there already, in its germ, for there would not be this germinating in prayer, unless the seeds were there before it.
'But,' says one, 'suppose the man has not a new heart, and were earnestly to seek one, would he have it?' You must not make impossible suppositions, so long as the man's heart is depraved and vile, he never will do such a thing. I cannot, therefore, tell you what might happen, if he did what he never will do. I cannot answer your suppositions; if you suppose yourself into a difficulty you must suppose yourself out of it. But the fact is, that no man ever did, or ever will seek a new heart, or a right spirit, until, first of all, the grace of God begins with him. If there be a Christian here, who began with God, let him publish it to the world; let us hear for once that there was a man who was beforehand with his Maker. But I have never met with such a case; all Christian people declare that God was first with them, and they will all sing,
'Twas the same love that spread the feast,
That sweetly forced me in,
Else I had still refused to taste,
And perished in my sin.'
It is a gracious change, freely given without any merit of the creature, without any desire or good-will coming beforehand. God doeth it of his own pleasure, not according to man's will.
Once more; it is a victorious effort of divine grace. When God first begins the work of changing the heart, he finds man totally averse to any such a thing. Man by nature kicks and struggles against God, he will not be saved. I must confess I never would have been saved, if I could have helped it. As long as ever I could, I rebelled and revolted, and struggled against God. When he would have me pray, I would not pray: when he sould have me listen to the sound of the ministry, I would not. And when I heard, and the tear rolled down my cheek, I wiped it away and defied him to melt my heart. When my heart was little touched, I tried to divert it with sinful pleasures. And when that would not do, I tried self-righteousness, and would not then have been saved, until I was hemmed in, and then he gave me the effectual blow of grace, and there was no resisting that irresistible effort of his grace. It conquered my depraved will, and made me bow myself before the sceptre of his grace. And so it is in every case. Man revolts against his Maker and his Saviour; but where God determins to save, save he will. God will have the sinner, if he designs to have him. God never was thwarted yet in any one of his purposes. Man does resist with all his might, but all the might of man, tremendous though it be for sin, is not equal to the majestic might of the Most High, when he rideth forth in the chariot of his salvation. He doth irresistably save and victoriously conquer man's heart.
And furthermore, this change is instantaneous. To sanctify a man is the work of the whole life; but to give a man a new heart is the work of an instant. In one solitary second, swifter than the lightning flash, God can put a new heart into a man, and make him a new creature in Christ Jesus. You may be sitting where you are today, an enemy to God, with a wicked heart within, hard as a stone, and dead and cold; but if the Lord wills it, the living spark shall drop into your soul, and in that moment you will begin to tremble--begin to feel; you will confess your sin, and fly to Christ for mercy. Other parts of salvation are done gradually; but regeneration is the instantaneous work of God's sovereign, effectual, and irresistible grace.
--Excerpt from "The New Heart", New Park Street Pulpit, Vol. 4, 382-383