The Historic Reformed Doctrine: Regeneration Precedes Faith
The following quotations from the various confessions of faith show that the doctrine "regeneration precedes faith" is a long recognized view of biblical Christianity, and is not something which is unorthodox. This particular doctrine is crucial for understanding the Reformed doctrine of predestination.
However we should not use the historic confessions to validate our doctrines, though these confessions are useful in maintaining doctrinal unity among like-minded Christians. Instead, we must turn to the Bible as the Bereans did. As it is written, "Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true." (Acts 17:11 NIV) The Bible must be the final and ultimate criteria for testing all Christian doctrines.
I first encountered this doctrine when I stumbled upon R. C. Sproul's book "Chosen By God" at the Tampines public library, which kindled my interest in the Reformed faith. Prior to this, my understanding of predestination was not very clear. Like most regular "charismatic" Christians, I held on to the Arminian doctrine of "born-again" Christians (i.e. "Faith precedes regeneration").
The London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689)
Chapter 10: Of Effectual Calling
2. This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, nor from any power or agency in the creature, being wholly passive therein, being dead in sins and trespasses, until being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit; he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it, and that by no less power than that which raised up Christ from the dead.
The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646)
CHAPTER X. Of Effectual Calling.
II. This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from any thing at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.
The Canons of Dordt (1618-1619)
The Third and Fourth Main Points of Doctrine, Human Corruption, Conversion to God, and the Way It Occurs
Article 12: Regeneration a Supernatural Work
And this is the regeneration, the new creation, the raising from the dead, and the making alive so clearly proclaimed in the Scriptures, which God works in us without our help. But this certainly does not happen only by outward teaching, by moral persuasion, or by such a way of working that, after God has done his work, it remains in man's power whether or not to be reborn or converted. Rather, it is an entirely supernatural work, one that is at the same time most powerful and most pleasing, a marvelous, hidden, and inexpressible work, which is not lesser than or inferior in power to that of creation or of raising the dead, as Scripture (inspired by the author of this work) teaches. As a result, all those in whose hearts God works in this marvelous way are certainly, unfailingly, and effectively reborn and do actually believe. And then the will, now renewed, is not only activated and motivated by God but in being activated by God is also itself active. For this reason, man himself, by that grace which he has received, is also rightly said to believe and to repent.
The Lutheran Book of Concord (1580)
Free Will, The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord
5. Against both these parties the pure teachers of the Augsburg Confession have taught and contended that by the fall of our first parents man was so corrupted that in divine things pertaining to our conversion and the salvation of our souls he is by nature blind, that, when the Word of God is preached, he neither does nor can understand it, but regards it as foolishness; also, that he does not of himself draw nigh to God, but is and remains an enemy of God, until he is converted, becomes a believer [is endowed with faith], is regenerated and renewed, by the power of the Holy Ghost through the Word when preached and heard, out of pure grace, without any cooperation of his own.
45. Therefore it is teaching incorrectly to assert that unregenerate man has still so much power as to desire to receive the Gospel and to be comforted by it, and that thus the natural human will cooperates somewhat [in a manner] in conversion. For such an erroneous opinion is contrary to the holy, divine Scripture, the Christian Augsburg Confession, its Apology, the Smalcald Articles, the Large and the Small Catechisms of Luther, and other writings of this excellent, highly [divinely] enlightened theologian.
The Canons of the Council of Orange (529 AD)
CANON 5. If anyone says that not only the increase of faith but also its beginning and the very desire for faith, by which we believe in Him who justifies the ungodly and comes to the regeneration of holy baptism -- if anyone says that this belongs to us by nature and not by a gift of grace, that is, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit amending our will and turning it from unbelief to faith and from godlessness to godliness, it is proof that he is opposed to the teaching of the Apostles, for blessed Paul says, "And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). And again, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8). For those who state that the faith by which we believe in God is natural make all who are separated from the Church of Christ by definition in some measure believers.