How the word "Immediately" in theology
relates to the
Heresy of Decisional Regeneration
The word "immediately", when used in theology, has a very important meaning. The 1828 Webster's dictionary has this definition for the word "immediate":
IMME'DIATE: 1.Acting without a medium, or without the intervention of another cause or means; producing its effect by its own direct agency. An immediate cause is that which is exerted directly in producing its effect, in opposition to a mediate cause, or one more remote. 2. Not acting by second causes; as the immediate will of God.
When a theogian uses this term, it usually is in a sentence like this one from Alexander Campbell:
" The renewing of the Holy Spirit is in the second birth connected with other means. He has saved us through the washing of the new birth, and the renewing of the Holy Spirit. This renewing of the Spirit is not immediate, nor exclusive of other means."
Campbell is saying that regeneration is not a supernatural change of nature, but rather a moral persuasion of the mind. The MEANS he refers to is the acceptance of the Word of God. he is saying that God never operates on a person immediately, but always through the means of the Word of God. This is the most restrictive theory of how the Holy Spirit works called the Verbal-Restrictive theory.
All American New Light Calvinists in the First Great Awakening believed in the immediate activity of the Holy Spirit on individual. This commonly held theory is called the Verbal-Transcendent Theory (also called the Spirit-Intensive Theory), in which the Holy Spirit can sometimes act immediately upon the heart apart from the word.
Jonathan Edwards, the Tennants, George Whitefield and every other New Light Calvinist of the First Great Awakening believed and conducted their ministry according to the Verbal-Transcendent Theory. It was the reason they believed "religious affections" were a valid manifestations of hopeful conversions. John Witherspoon brought Scottish Common Sense Realism to The College of New Jersey in 1768, and introduced the Verbal-Augmentative Theory , which restrict the Holy Spirit to quickening the Word to the undestanding, or what is called "truth impression" which challenged the theology of Jonathan Edwards, as explained by Hopkinisian and Bellamite ministers, who expected the immediate activity of the Holy Spirit. Up until 1812, the theology of Hopkins and Bellamy continued as the most common forms of New light Calvinism. But in 1813, Archibald Alexander started Princeton Theological Seminary. Within 50 years, scottish Common Sense Realists outnumbered Hopkinsians and Bellamites, and by the end of the nineteenth century, the BIST system had replaced the BEST system as the most commonly used Inquiry Room system.
When he came to Princeton as it’s sixth president, it was thought he would bring healing between the Old Light and New Light Calvinists, who had split into competing churches in many places since the First Great Awakening. The way he did this was to replace the “religious affections” emphasis and supernatural idealism ideas of Jonathan Edwards (Edwards had served as President briefly 10 years before) with Scottish Common Sense Realism. The transformation quickly caused all four of the faculty to resign in the first year. Witherspoon’s theology replaced the supernatural explanation of regeneration with a metaphysical moral persuasion perspective. He thought the American New Light Calvinist approach of Jonathan Edwards, Joseph Bellamy and Samuel Hopkins would inevitably lead to skepticism or materialism. He thought Scottish Common Sense realism provided a more defensible position against infidelity because it was consistent both with reality and Christian orthodoxy.
The College of New Jersey was formed precisely to be an American New Light alternative to Harvard and Yale which were anti-revival. In 1742, David Brainerd was kicked out of Yale because he suggested that a certain instructor at Yale had less of the Holy Spirit than a chair. Jonathan Edwards tried to have him reinstated, but to no avail. Some said, “if it had not been for the treatment received by Mr. Brainerd at Yale, New Jersey College would never had been erected.”
The College of New Jersey taught the American New Light Calvinist theology of Jonathan Edwards until he died and John Witherspoon was made president in 1768. If Edwards had been alive when Witherspoon was brought in, I have no doubt he would have vehemently resisted the appointment the way he resisted the Old Light sabotage of the Log College in 1738. Witherspoon replaced Biblical supernatural spirituality with Enlightenment metaphysical material causation psychology. All manifestations of the Holy Spirit were liable then to be called “enthusiasm”.
SIMPLY PUT, SCOTTISH COMMON SENSE REALISM TAUGHT AT PRINCETON THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY WAS BASED ON THE VERBAL-AUGMENTATIVE THEORY (THE HOLY SPIRIT IS LIMITED TO QUICKENING SCRIPTURE TO THE UNDERSTANDING), WHILE THE AMERICAN NEW LIGHT CALVINISTS TAUGHT THE VERBAL -TRANSCENDENT THEORY (THE HOLY SPIRIT CAN SOMETIMES ACT IMMEDIATELY UPON THE HEART APART FROM SCRIPTURE).