The Natural Man, and the Offensive Doctrine of Regeneration

Taken and adapted from, “Regeneration”
Written by William Anderson,
Published 1875


There is no other doctrine in the whole compass of our faith so offensive to the unbeliever and formalist,

…and which they have assailed so virulently with their mockery and scorn, as the doctrine of Regeneration.

There are to be found some with whom the doctrine of Christ’s sacrificial Atonement obtains sufferance and a show of respect, who yet observe no measure in their abusive treatment of the doctrine of the renovating agency of the Holy Ghost. The natural heart has substantial reasons for making this difference: first, a partial acknowledgment of sinfulness –such a qualified confession as may consist with a considerable degree of conceit and self-importance, is sufficient for a kind of belief in the propriety of the divine government being vindicated by a substitute’s endurance of the penalty; especially when account is taken of the accumulated guilt of the whole world. But no such partial acknowledgments will satisfy the doctrine of Regeneration. It demands the most prostrate and unreserved confession of a personal and thorough depravity of the heart; and this so virulent, that no power less than divine can rectify it. The doctrine of Regeneration is thus a more humiliating one than that of Atonement, and consequently more offensive to the pride of the natural man.

Secondly, it inculcates holiness of life with greater force. With much cogency, indeed, does the doctrine of our Lord’s substitutionary Expiation of sin make its appeal on behalf of righteousness; when it pleads with the pardoned criminal, that he is not his own, but bought with a price,and bound by all ties, not only of gratitude and generosity, but of equity and justice, to live no more to himself, but for the honour of Him who died for his redemption, and who, having risen again from the dead, waits on his throne for this reward of the travail of his soul. (2 Cor. 5:14, 15.) In this case, however, the pardoned one’s obedience is rather a consequence than a principle of the doctrine –rather a corollary or inference than the primary demonstration: and many there be who affect to hold by the demonstration who object to being held by the inference.

On the other hand, in the case of the doctrine of Regeneration, there is no possibility of escape. The lesson of personal holiness is taught by it directly and immediately, without any circuitous deduction. Holiness is the very essence of the doctrine. We can imagine subsequent obedience separated from Atonement, but we cannot imagine it separated from Regeneration. Logically, there is nothing inconsistent in the supposition that after a man is pardoned he should proceed in a course of wickedness; but it is a contradiction in terms to speak of a regenerated man continuing impure and disobedient. It is thus that the doctrine of Regeneration, through inculcating practical holiness more forcibly than the kindred one of Atonement, is more distasteful to the natural heart.

Nor is this all: I remark, thirdly, that the doctrine of Atonement may be entertained in some measure by a heart which has no desire for any nearness of intercourse with God. The sacrifice of Christ manifests the Deity at work only at the distance of a remote antiquity and in a foreign land; or, at nearest, as working separate from, and only by the side of, the sinner. But the doctrine of Regeneration reveals Him at work at the present day, in close contact with its object, yea, in the innermost chamber of his soul. Is it anywise surprising that, from such a doctrine as this,t he natural enmity of the heart should shrink with fear and abhorrence?

Therefore, observe that, though it be so far well if you find your hearts entertaining with sentiments of satisfaction the doctrine of Christ’s having died for the remission of sin, yet is the requisite examination far from being complete.

It is comparatively an easy trial through which you have passed, and a more searching one awaits you: How are you affected by the doctrine of the regenerating and sanctifying operation of the Holy Ghost? Not before you have found the state of matters satisfactory in this, as well as in the other direction, are you warranted to pronounce on yourselves a favorable judgment.


Meet the Author and part of your Christian heritage:  William Anderson, LL.D. (1799–1873) was a Scottish theological writer and preacher.

Anderson was born on 6 January 1799, at Kilsyth, near Glasgow, where his father, Rev. John Anderson, was minister of a congregation of what was then called theRelief church, afterwards merged in the United Presbyterian. William Anderson became a minister in the same communion, having been ordained in 1822 pastor of the congregation in John Street, Glasgow, an office which he held till his death, though for some years he had retired from its more active duties. Very early in his career Dr. Anderson manifested an eccentricity which procured for him the sobriquet of ‘daft Willie Anderson.’ He showed much resolution in his early youth in insisting on his right to read his discourses in the pulpit from manuscript, and in his vindication of the use of the organ in public worship.

As a preacher he was popular, but his powers were more forcibly displayed on public platforms. He was an uncompromising opponent of slavery, an enthusiastic supporter of oppressed nationalities, an eager advocate of political reforms in the interest of the people, and a cordial supporter of liberal measures generally. He was likewise a strenuous advocate for the separation of church and state. On one occasion in London, in pleading the anti-slavery cause, he appeared on the same platform with Daniel O’Connell, and made so favourable an impression that O’Connell and the audience urged him to continue his speech when the time allotted to him came to an end.

Dr. Anderson was a great favourite with the community of Glasgow, and, in a sense, held a similar position to that of Dr. Chalmers before him, and that of Dr. Norman Macleod after him. He encouraged independence of thought and action, and had no was a strenuous opponent of the Church of Rome. He was a strong millennarian, and in early life had come under the influence of Edward Irving and Mr. Cunninghame of Lainshaw.