Reproduced from Primitive Baptist Faith and Practice by Elder W.S. Craig.
I think much confusion of mind, and the consequent errors of statement, often result from giving the same meaning to these two terms, and it is my purpose to point out what I believe are some very important distinctions.
Conversion, while often used otherwise, should be used with reference to a change of mind, views, intentions or purposes; while regeneration is a creative work and means to quicken, “born again,” or give spiritual life. Men may be converted from one error to another; or from error to truth; or from truth to error; for the process is only mental and is generally accomplished by persuasive arguments or evidence, or what they may accept as evidence, which they may receive from others, or from their own meditations or reasonings. But regeneration is a divine work which is accomplished by the direct power of the spirit of Almighty God upon the soul when it is wholly destitute of the least spark of spiritual life. The soul or spirit of man is entirely passive in this miraculous work, and no earthly hand or influence can possibly aid or assist in the least.
So while there may be earthly means used in conversion, nothing short of heavenly-means of the divine power can possibly regenerate. Men in their vanity and blinded zeal are compassing sea and land making proselytes, but are entirely powerless to give a single one of their converts a new heart or spiritual life. Exhortations, persuasions and arguments may very often affect and change the mind, but such feeble means cannot change any one from nature to grace, for this is a radical change. A change of mind or intentions is very far different from giving life to the dead.
Conversion may in some respects be considered a moral act; but regeneration never. Exhortations to morality and right living are certainly commendable; but regeneration is not a duty, for men are not commanded to be “born again.” Men may justly, and certainly should thank others who have converted them from errors; but they should always be very careful to give all the praise and glory to their most merciful God for the gift of eternal life, if He has through His mercy and pity made them partakers of His grace, and called them out of nature’s darkness into His marvelous light (1Pe 2:9), which enables them to so plainly see and keenly feel themselves to be sinners. Men with all their combined zeal and moneyed efforts cannot in the least aid or assist the gracious Lord in the genesis of spiritual life. Our nation surely would be far better off if all this vain and boasted work of converting, and so-called saving, the whole world was directed into better channels. Men should not undertake that which positively is not within their ability, for their labors are only destined to failure.
The work of regeneration is confined exclusively to Almighty God, but conversion is far from being confined to man. Men may aid others to acquire a correct knowledge of many things that may come within their power and abilities, and this is certainly in many respects very commendable; but they positively cannot aid the least in that spiritual life-giving work which is so far above and beyond all earthly power. They may teach the head or cultivate the intellect; but they absolutely cannot change the heart. They may even teach gospel truth in the letter, but they cannot convey the life and spirit of it. And it is surely an awful delusion that giving of a head-knowledge of Jesus Christ is the means of making people His children. If all of any one’s knowledge of the blessed Savior is but historical or head-information, where have they any valid claim of a better faith than the devils? Jas 2:19; Mr 1:24. It is most surely through the work of free and sovereign grace alone in regeneration that any one has a saving, feeling or heart knowledge of that glorious and blessed Redeemer. God only has the power to impart such knowledge. Saving faith is His work. Joh 6:29; Eph 1:19; Php 1:29; 1Pe 1:21. The devils never possessed the least particle of this knowledge.