On the differences between regeneration and conversion:
Abstract of Systematic Theology
by Rev. James Petigru Boyce, D. D., LL. D.,
Joseph-Emerson-Brown Professor of Systematic Theology
in The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
First published in 1887
“VI. There is not only antecedence, but in some cases an appreciable interval.
1. This is true even of conversion regarded as a mere turning to God. Between it and regeneration must intervene in some cases some period of time until the knowledge of God’s existence and nature is given, before the heart turns, or even is turned towards that God.
(1.) This must be true of all infants and of all persons otherwise incapable of responsibility, as for example idiots.
(2.) There is no reason why it should not be true of some heathen. The missionaries of the cross have been sought by men, who knew nothing of Christianity, but whose hearts, unsatisfied with the religion of their fathers, were restlessly seeking for what their soul was crying out.
2. It is still more manifestly true of full Christian conversion.
(1.) The Scriptures teach this in many examples of persons pious, holy, and fearing God, yet unacquainted with the full truth which secures union with Christ.
Ethiopian Eunuch: Acts 8:26-40.
Paul: Acts, chapter 9, 22 and 26. Galatians, chapters 1st and 2d.
Cornelius the Centurion: Acts 10:2.
Lydia: Acts 16:14.
(2.) The experience of ministers in all ages with persons seeking and attaining salvation confirms this idea. The attainment of conversion may be marked by stages. The sinner is at first totally indifferent. The word produces on him no effect. Then (1.) There is an evident willingness to give serious attention to the truth of God. God has opened the heart as he did that of Lydia. (2.) There is conviction of sin, sense of its vileness, and of its dangerous effects. (3.) The soul, oppressed by these, strives to do something by which to attain salvation, but finds all in vain. (4.) At last accepting the truth of God’s word it rests in trust of a personal Saviour.
VII. The term conversion is not technically applied to any change, except that which follows upon regeneration, and consists in the Godward turning of one heretofore turned entirely away from God. The return of men who have backslidden, or fallen into grievous sin, is also called “a return to God,” and such a return is possibly what is called “conversion” in Peter’s case. Luke 22:32. But conversion is theologically used exclusively of the first act.”