William C. Nichols of International Outreach Ministries, makes some keen observations as a preface to his edition of Burgess’s work. His insights are remarkably salient for our current Reformed culture. Nichols argues that over the centuries, the Christian Church has encountered several movements that have tried to substitute something else for true conversion. There are those in certain quadrants of the modern “reformed” landscape that fit these descriptions perfectly.
The first substitution for true conversion according to Nichols is baptismal regeneration. This group tends to place too much emphasis on the sacrament of Baptism (we would find this emphasis prevalent in the CRC, URC, Can. Ref, and the Protestant Reformed Church). A misunderstanding of the Covenant of Grace has lead many in these groups to sacramentalize conversion when the sign is given to our children. There is no inward probing of the conscience in the preaching, no discrimination in the application, and a general belief that all who are members of the Church are in the kingdom. We have Abraham Kuyper to thank for this in his wide departure from the Second Reformation and Secession of 1834.
The second substitute for true conversion is the opposite extreme- decisional regeneration. This substitute teaches that so long as you, by your free will, embrace Christ and sign on the dotted line (or back of your Gideon Bible), you posses salvation. Billy Graham the neo- Finneyian has lead countless souls to believe that they are the masters of the own destiny and are capable of saving themselves by availing the will to the merits of Christ. This is very pleasing to natural man and makes God a simple by standard in election. It is however unbiblical.
The last substitute that Nichols insists is a substitute for true conversion is something he calls intellectual regeneration. His premise is, because true doctrine is so rare in the Church today, when someone comes to embrace the doctrines of grace, the Law, etc they believe that they are saved by the very fact that they posses true doctrine. This error is very prevalent in many Reformed congregations in our day. “Good education may have changed their mind”, says Nichols, “but that does not mean the Spirit of God has changes his heart and life”(p. ii).
How careful we must be in our day to stay clear of these subtle substitutes for true conversion. Baptism is a blessing (a covenant sign and seal), reaching out in faith- a must, and doctrine of the greatest importance; but heresy is often the amplification of certain truths to the neglect of others. Burgess help us identify and traverse these errors in an effort to uncover or discover a soundness in saving faith (that is knowledge, assent, and trust in Christ alone).