Our Faith by Emil Brunner
Emil Brunner is one of the great systematic theologians of the early twentieth century. Our Faith was translated by John W. Rilling, and published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, NY, 1954. This book prepared for Religion Online by Paul Mobley.
Chapter 23: Regeneration
None can understand the mystery of birth. The physician can "explain" how it comes about, and we can follow his "explanation." But as soon as we cease talking about the "something that originates in this way" and halt to think of ourselves as we know ourselves, what appeared as an explanation shows the face of a yet deeper mystery. "My life -- what does it really mean? Once I did not exist, I was born, now I am here, alive!" Such thoughts quiet all "explanations" and permit only that we marvel and say, "I cannot understand it at all." And yet, our quietness brings us before the fundamental question of existence. Our life is lived between two darknesses, the mystery of birth and the mystery of death. Birth means, "Here I am, I do not know why. I am what I am, I do not know why." And this, "Here I am as I am" cannot be spoken in the same manner as the words of the little lad who runs happily into the room, up to his mother, crying "Here I am!" Our words cannot be spoken thus, so happily, so simply, in so matter of fact a manner. We cannot say this "Here I am" and "As I am" without hearing something sigh within us, -- something of the feeling of a man who is hailed into police court or thrown into prison, and who now examines his cell, hurt, rebellious, sad, anxious. "Here I am -- why, really?" This question is concealed in every heart, but we scarcely note how it troubles us. We do not understand it.
Now, however, the cell door opens and we are told why our "Here I am, as I am" is so sad, anxious, and incomprehensible. God's Word tells us the secret of our life, created of God art thou, in His image, fallen from God hast thou, into sin! The Word of God, Jesus Christ gives you understanding of the meaning both of God's creation and our sin. When? How? We shall never understand this as long as we live, all we now know is, as far back as we can remember both have been present: that which comes from God and that which is against God, creation and sin. Already at the time a child is born both have had their share; they reach far back into the ancestry of the child, and all who are human beings have this double ancestry. Furthermore, the Gospel tells us that we are not only unhappy in this state but that in it we are cut off and lost from real life and from the truly good.
The Word of God says, secondly, that God pities us, that He saves us, the lost creation. He, against whom we live, is for us; he, without whom we live, comes to us. In Jesus Christ is given the double word -- God's inconceivable forgiveness and His promise of complete renewal. He shows us a picture totally different from what we see in ourselves. It is a picture of man truly, and perfectly undistorted, God's image. Whose picture is that? Your picture, says Christ -- it is you, through God's grace. God gives you this when you permit Him to draw you really and wholly to Him, when you believe and trust Him with all your heart.
When that happens, when a man really listens to God Himself, to Jesus Christ Himself -- what then? The Bible replies to this "what then?" with the word regeneration. Something has then taken place just as powerful and inconceivable as birth, the saying "Here I am as I am" finds a new meaning. "If any man is in Christ he is a new creature, old things are passed away, behold all things are become new." The old man still remains visible, but under the husk of the old, lives the new and begins to discard the old. Something visible begins to break forth from the invisible faith. It is love, a new manner of life, thought and speech, a new way of dealing with one's neighbor. It is not as though the old man simply disappeared, yet however a new life appears in transformations that give those, who know nothing of faith, something to think about and perhaps to ask about. Why has he changed so?
Do such things really happen? Or is this just a beautiful fantasy? No, says the Bible, there are such new men, whether they have names like Paul or Timothy, or, whether like the Philippian jailor, their names are un- known. Such renewal is to be found not only in the New Testament, but ever since then in every place where the Word of God concerning Jesus Christ is really believed "with the heart, not merely with the head" as Calvin says, -- wherever a son of man is bound anew with the heavenly Father by the power of the Holy Spirit.