Coming Back Together: Effectual Calling and Regeneration as Twin Realities

Coming Back Together: Effectual Calling and Regeneration as Twin Realities (Part 2)

As I discussed in Part 1, Reformed theologians such as Hodge and Berkhof articulated their doctrine of regeneration to guard the larger doctrine of salvation from the encroachment of any synergistic view of conversion. By placing the creative act of the Spirit in regeneration prior to (or, at least, distinct from) the effectual calling and the external Word of the gospel, these theologians could ensure that man could claim no part in his conversion to Christ. Regeneration, an act performed by God alone upon the soul of the sinner, enabled the individual to respond to the gospel by granting him a new disposition inclined to God and Christ. With this new disposition, the individual could now positively respond to the effectual call, thus leading to justification and the other blessings contained in the ordo. This view, however, is problematic.

Horton, for example, wonders if the aim to shield the doctrine of salvation from synergistic penetration caused these Reformed theologians—and those who followed them—to make unbiblical and theologically unnecessary concessions.

One area of concession, Horton argues, concerns the idea of regeneration granting a new inner-disposition, or, as some have called it, an infused habit or habitus by which the individual is thus enabled to respond to the effectual calling. In the debate with Rome over justification, the Reformers had stridently opposed the Catholic Church’s insistence on infused habits in order to retain the forensic and external nature of God’s justifying act.1 In order to preserve the sovereignty of God in the work of salvation, however, Protestant theologians appeared to sanction the category of habitus. Horton explains,

Therefore, in opposition to Rome, when the central question was justification—Reformation theologies were suspicious of the language of infused habits, while encounters with various forms of synergism drove the Protestant scholastics back to the traditional categories of infused habits in order to affirm the logical priority of grace.2

An example of this inclination toward safeguarding divine sovereignty in salvation by appealing to infused habits is demonstrated by the Dutch Reformer, Alexander Comrie (1706-1774).3 Joel Beeke illustrates;

By accenting the habitus of faith, Comrie promoted divine grace as the sole cause of faith.  He said that it is the sole prerogative of the Holy Spirit to implant this habitus in the elect who are spiritually dead. In this implanting of faith, the sinner is utterly passive; with this implanting, he is engrafted into Jesus Christ; and from this implanting, the elect will become active in exercising faith.4

While the Protestant scholastic’s endorsement and use of the category of infused habits does not, in itself, disprove their position, it does suggest that their tendency to fortify the doctrine of salvation against any hint of synergism may have enticed them to make unwarranted theological moves.

Positing a distinction between regeneration and effectual calling also fixed a gap between the Word of God and the Spirit of God in the application of salvation to the individual. Although theologians like Berkhof wanted to retain the notion of God’s powerful speaking in the work of regeneration, the creative word spoken by God in regeneration was not the Word of the gospel, but a secret word spoken to the individual below the level of consciousness, enabling him to respond to the effectual call. Thus, although the Spirit’s work in regeneration was not strictly divorced from God’s speaking activity—God does speak the new disposition into existence—it appears that this speaking activity at the point of regeneration is not related to the external Word of the gospel. Thus, we have a situation where the Spirit is found working apart from the revealed Word of the gospel—the Spirit’s work in regeneration being, as B.B. Warfield contends, “mediated by nothing.”5

Horton suggests a better way to frame the relation of the Spirit and the Word’s activity in the application of salvation, finding a helpful solution in speech act theory.6 Instead of retreating back to the category of infused habits in order to uphold the sovereignty of grace in salvation, he recommends that we “treat the instrumentality of the Word in terms of both illocutionary and perlocutionary acts.”7 In other words, we should understand the Word’s role in regeneration as providing not only the content of the gospel, but also the production of the desired effect of this content; namely, the creation of new life which in turn brings the individual to embrace the gospel.

Accordingly, this formulation allows “the monergism that these [Reformed] writers rightly insist on affirming [to] be firmly defended without appeal to a regeneration that is logically prior to and separate from effectual calling through the gospel.”8 The move to infused habits to buttress sovereign grace is unnecessary since, “It is not immediacy that guards regeneration from synergism, but its divine source.”9 Removing any potential mediation between the individual and God—even if it is the truth of the gospel—in order to safeguard monergism is no longer required since the entire work of salvation still resides with God.

Utilizing speech act theory, Horton clarifies further: “I suggest, therefore, that the external call includes the locutionary act of the Father’s speaking and the Son as illocutionary content.  The internal call (effectual calling), synonymous with regeneration, is the Spirit’s perlocutionary effect.”10 By formulating the relationship between effectual calling and regeneration in this way, we retain a strong connection between the Word and Spirit in the application of salvation to the individual, since in this case, “As in all of God’s works, the Spirit brings to fruition the goal of divine communication.”11

Although individuals are in need of the work of the Spirit in order to believe the gospel, the Spirit, at no time, works apart from the illocutionary content of the Word—he works with and through the Word in creating new life, rather than infusing a new habitus beneath the consciousness of the individual that responds to the content of the effectual call. According to Horton, “The Father never speaks apart from the Son, and the Spirit makes that Word, not another, bear fruit. It is the triune God who accomplishes all of this, yet always in a mediated manner.”12 Horton comments further, “Scripture repeatedly identifies God’s ‘creating power’ with the Word that is spoken. Like the original creation, the new birth is the result of a mediated speech-act.”[12]13

This new birth occurs as the “Father objectively reveals the Son, and the Spirit inwardly illumines the understanding to behold the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 4:6; cf. John 1:5; 3:5; 17:3; 1 Cor. 2:14), liberating the will not only to assent to the truth, but also to trust in Christ (Jer. 32:39-40; Ezek. 36:26; Eph. 2:1-9; Heb. 8:10).”14 Thus, by following Horton’s formulation, we preserve the monergistic nature of salvation and a strong connection between the Word and Spirit in the application of salvation to the individual.

To understand Horton’s argument, one must recognize the way Scripture speaks of the effectual nature of the Word in bringing about spiritual change in an individual. Perhaps the two most significant texts that demonstrate the Word’s role in regeneration are James 1:18 and 1 Peter 1:23. James 1:18 teaches that God used the word of truth to “bring forth” new believers—believers who would be “firstfruits among God’s creatures” (v.18b). Peter attributes the new birth directly to the word of God, reminding his readers, “you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.”  Whereas Berkhof desired to ascribe regeneration to a secret word spoken by the Spirit, Peter explicitly assigns the work of regeneration to the external Word of the gospel: “And this word [i.e. that word by which you were born again in verse 23] is the good news that was preached to you.”

At this point Berkhof argues that neither James 1:18 nor 1 Peter 1:23 prove conclusively that the Word mediates regeneration.  In these two texts, Berkhof contends that the words referring to the new birth in both contexts refer instead to actual birth, not the initial begetting.15 By arguing this way, Berkhof is able to maintain the distinction between the Spirit implanting a new principle (begetting) and the Word bringing about regeneration “in a broader sense.”16 Berkhof clarifies his point further: “The idea that [I Peter 1:23] refers to the new birth here, is favored by the fact that the readers are represented as having been born again out of a seed that was evidently already implanted in the soul, cf. John 1:13. It is not necessary to identify the seed with the Word.” The main difficulty with Berkhof’s argument is that “seed” does not need to refer to an inward principle given by the Spirit and separate from the “abiding word of God,” unless the distinction is assumed before coming to the passage. In the context of I Peter 1:23-25, it seems more natural to understand the “seed” to refer to the “abiding word of God,” since the word of God appears to be the focal point of the text. In other words, the “imperishable seed” to which Peter refers is the word of God, not some inward principle given by the Spirit.17

Robert Reymond, while acknowledging that the Westminster Confession of Faith does not make a distinction between regeneration and effectual calling, desires to separate the two by speaking of the gracious work of the Spirit in reference to regeneration. Reymond comments,

Paul employs the word [palingenesia] (“regeneration”) itself only once with reference to spiritual renewal of an individual: “Not by works which we have done in righteousness but according to his mercy he saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). But he elaborates the doctrinal notion elsewhere under the terminology of (1) lifegiving resurrection with Christ (Eph. 2:5)—“when you were dead in trespasses, he made us alive with Christ” (Col. 2:13)—“when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ” . . . and (2) the divine work of creation (2 Cor. 5:17)—“if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation” . . .18

Reymond continues by noting the apostle John’s continual reference to the new birth in both his gospel and his first epistle (John 1:13; 3:3-7; I John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1; 5:4; 5:18) and by mentioning the monergistic source and practical effects of regeneration.19 From here, Reymond develops his definition of regeneration—a definition, as we have already seen, that appeals to the subconscious implantation of an inward principle that enables a person to respond to the call of the gospel.20

But does Reymond’s textual evidence warrant the formulation of his definition of regeneration? Certainly, the texts that speak of the work of raising the dead to life refer to the Spirit’s gracious work, but they do not necessitate that we understand this work as the granting of an inward principle apart from the external word of the gospel. It follows the pattern of Scripture better to view the creation of life as issuing from the powerful Word of God (Genesis 1:1; Psalm 33:6; 2 Corinthians 4:4ff; John 6:63; 11:43).  God brings new life into existence, not apart from his Word, but by his Word.

Thus, when we come to passages such as Ephesians 2:1-8, Colossians 2:13 and 2 Corinthians 5:17, where we find that God graciously and powerfully brings men who are dead in sin to life, we do not need to understand these texts as suggesting that spiritual life is given apart from the revealed Word—the broader context of Scripture should move us to understand this transition from death to life as being effected by the Word of God with the Spirit of God. Furthermore, Titus 3:5, where Paul reminds his readers that they were washed by the “regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit,” does not demand that we establish a category of inward principles given by the Holy Spirit apart from the Word, since we have other texts that attribute the same activity (that of washing and cleansing) to the revealed Word (see especially John 15:3; and Ephesians 5:26). Even John’s many references to divine “begetting,” must be understood alongside texts that support the notion that this act of God is mediated by the word of the gospel (James 1:18; I Peter 1:23-25).  Horton’s comments at this point are especially illuminating:

Is it not the case that in attributing all efficacy to the Spirit’s power, Scripture typically represents this as occurring through the word of God that is ‘at work’ in its recipients (I Thess. 2:13; cf. Rom. 8:14-16; I Cor. 2:4-5; 4:12-13; 2 Cor. 4:13; Gal. 3:2; Eph. 1:17; I Thess. 1:5; Titus 3:5)—specifically, that message of the gospel, which is the ‘power of God for salvation’” (Rom. 1:16; 10:17; I Thess. 1:5)?21

In other words, in making a theological distinction between effectual calling and regeneration where the former acts on the consciousness of the individual and is received only as the result of the work of the latter in the subconscious life of the individual, we appear to be forming divisions where Scripture does not. The texts above used by Berkhof, Reymond and others should not be exploited to support the idea that in regeneration the Spirit grants an inward principle of new life that in turn enables a person to respond to the effectual call. Rather, these texts, understood alongside the entire Biblical context, indicate that God’s effectual call has brought about its intended result: the creation of new life by the Word of the gospel and the Spirit of God. By combining these two facets of the ordo we will find not only theological coherence, but pastoral assistance as well. To this subject we now turn.       

Looking Outward, Not Turning Inward: Pastoral Implications of Understanding Regeneration as Effectual Calling

One concern—already noted by Sinclair Ferguson—inherent in the very discussion of the ordo salutis is the danger of separating the blessings of salvation from the author of salvation, Jesus Christ. In my judgment, the distinction that arose between the effectual call and regeneration further perpetuates this danger rather than offering remediation.  Although the doctrine of sovereign grace in salvation is certainly essential in providing genuine assurance to believers—a tenant Reformed theologians sought to preserve in their theological refinements of regeneration—it is the argument of this paper that maintaining the distinction between regeneration and effectual calling actually undermines a Christ-centered approach to the ordo and, in turn, weakens our doctrine of assurance and opens the door to other unhealthy tendencies in the Christian life.

First, as we observed in our survey of the Reformed development of the doctrine of the ordo and, more specifically, regeneration, the content of the gospel soon became dislodged from the Spirit’s work in creating new life in the individual. It is not difficult to imagine how the object of the gospel, the incarnate Word, could then be displaced from formulations of the ordo salutis—the focal point of the ordo now became what the Spirit does in the subjective life of the individual, rather than upon the Word to whom the believer is now united through faith. Ferguson observes how the subtle distinction that appeared between the effectual call and regeneration after the seventeenth century served to loosen the work of the Spirit in regeneration from its Scriptural moorings. He writes,

. . . in many seventeenth-century writers, effectual calling and regeneration tended to be treated as synonyms.  Only in the continuing development of evangelical theology did [regeneration] come to be used in the more limited and particular sense of the inauguration of new life by the sovereign and secret activity of God.  While this served to focus attention on the power of God in giving new life, when detached from its proper theological context it was capable of being subjectivized and psychologized to such an extent that the term “born again” became dislocated from its biblical roots.22

By allowing these two components of the ordo—effectual calling and regeneration—to drift apart, Reformed theology, in my judgment, provided the ground for overly subjective approaches to assurance and to the Christian life. Now, instead of being encouraged to turn outward to the content of the effectual call—the external Word of the gospel and the incarnate Word of the Father—in order to find assurance, individuals are summoned to seek the enabling power of a new inward principle in order to find assurance or even the warrant to believe the gospel. Although this may not have been the explicit teaching of Reformed theologians who articulated a distinction between effectual calling and regeneration, it does seem like an inevitable implication.

Charles Spurgeon encountered the problem of troubled sinners complaining about the warrant to believe in the gospel, stating that unless they were sure of God’s work in their life, they did not have the right to believe on Christ. Iain Murray explains;

That a work of God in the heart is necessary in order that a sinner comes to faith Spurgeon never doubted, on the contrary he preached it clearly but it is not with that work that the sinner is to be concerned; his attention is to be fixed on the warrant. God has much to do in us but requires nothing of us before we come to Christ. The way to faith and the warrant of faith are not the same things. Sinners, says Owen, “are not directed first to secure their souls that they are born again, and, then afterwards, to believe; but they are first to believe that the remission of sin has been tendered to them in the blood of Christ . . . nor is it the duty of men to question whether they have faith or not, but actually to believe; and faith in its operations will evidence itself.”23

On the other hand, Horton’s proposal, while not solving all the problems related to assurance24 and Hyper-Calvinism, does deliver significant pastoral help by drawing the eyes of the individual away from himself and the nebulous inner-workings of his heart to the objective content of the effectual call. If it is the effectual call that brings about the saving change in a believer, it makes sense to turn to the content of that call—the Word of the gospel and the Word incarnate—in order to find both assurance and the warrant to believe, not to the discovery of an inward principle.25

This approach appears to respect the functional integrity of the individual as well.  Ferguson is careful to note in his section on regeneration that the Spirit’s work upon a person does not violate the composite nature of that individual. He explains, “Scripture does not view the Spirit’s operations on the mental, volitional, and affectional powers as independent of the integrity of the individual, as though the regeneration of an individual is an abstract event. Rather, the individual is a thinking-willing-affective creature, a whole person.”26 Nevertheless, even though Ferguson helpfully observes that, “Regeneration and the faith to which it gives birth are seen as taking place not by revelationless divine sovereignty, but within the matrix of the preaching of the word and the witness of the people of God” (cf. Rom. 10:1-15), and that “Word and Spirit belong together,”27 he must finally appeal to an unmediated work of the Spirit in order to maintain his commitment to the monergistic nature of regeneration.

Furthermore, by positioning regeneration in a realm separate from the effectual call, Ferguson and others perpetuate the confusing division made in Reformed theology between the willingness to believe and the actual act of believing. In his discussion of efficacious grace, Paul Enns notes that God’s work in applying salvation to individuals involves the Holy Spirit rendering the person willing to believe in Jesus Christ.28 This clarification is made in order to counter the argument that Reformed theology portrays a God who brings people to faith in Christ against their will. In order to maintain the sovereignty of grace while simultaneously avoiding the complaint that the Reformed doctrine of salvation violates the individual’s volition, theologians have sought to emphasize that by God’s work of regeneration, a person is made willing to believe. As we have seen, this willingness to believe the gospel is supplied immediately (i.e. unmediated) by the Holy Spirit as an infused principle. In my judgment, this kind of language, where one’s willingness to believe is distinguished from the one’s act of believing, is inherently problematic. While I am sympathetic with the desire to protect Reformed soteriology from the claim that it overthrows the composite integrity of the individual (i.e. according to their nature as a thinking-feeling-willing person), is it not more accurate to say, in light of Horton’s proposal, that instead of making a person willing to believe, God, in his act of effectual calling, actually creates a believer?

In Horton’s proposal, the effectual call, where the Spirit works with and through the Word to bring about new life, there is no necessity to form a gap between one’s willingness to believe and one actually believing. When God speaks his saving Word to an individual, they believe. Also, by removing the pre-conscious-faith phase of willingness, we guard assurance from becoming overly subjective. Thus, those who are troubled with the assurance of their salvation are not encouraged to look into themselves to discover if they are willing to believe; rather, they are called to believe.  This exhortation to believe, then, turns people away from themselves to the content of the effectual call—Jesus Christ and the Word of the gospel. It is by looking to the object of faith more than ruminating on faith itself that gives rise to genuine assurance.       

Concerning this last point—that assurance is sustained by looking away from faith and looking to Christ—John Piper offers counsel to those who might find themselves ministering to people who have doubts about whether they belong to God. Piper writes,

Christians in the darkness of depression may ask desperately, How can I know that I am truly a child of God? They are not usually asking to be reminded that we are saved by grace through faith. They know that. They are asking how they can know that their faith is real. God must guide us in how we answer, and knowing the person will help us know what to say.29

Piper then offers four pieces of advice to aid us in ministering to others (or ourselves!) who are mired in this kind of miserable condition. It is the second upon which I want to focus.  Piper writes,

Or . . . we might say, “Stop looking at your faith, and rivet your attention on Christ.  Faith is sustained by looking at Christ, crucified and risen, not by turning from Christ to analyze your faith. Let me help you look to Christ.  Let’s read Luke 22-24 together.” Paradoxically, if we should experience the joy of faith, we must not focus much on it. We must focus on the greatness of our Savior (emphasis added).30  

Accordingly, the individual is turned away from looking into themselves for the comfort of assurance, and looking to Christ and his Word.  

Again, however, this emphasis upon the effectual calling should not lead us to conclude that an individual can bring about his own salvation. The argument of this series in general and this article in particular is not that a person can supply himself with salvation or the assurance of salvation—both are the work of the Spirit (John 3:3-8; Romans 8:16). Rather, it is to demonstrate how the reassembling of the effectual call and regeneration into one theological entity has the potential to turn individuals away from subjective preoccupation with themselves in their search for assurance to the content of the effectual call by which they were saved. If Luther is correct in his observation that sin is not only turning away from God (aversio a Deo), but also a curving in on oneself (incurvatio in se ipsum),31 it seems that formulating the ordo in a way that brings the attention of the individual back to a Word outside himself offers much to remedy this problem.

Conclusion

Herman Bavinck noted over one-hundred years ago that, “The history of the order of salvation convincingly highlights its importance, not only for the enrichment of our knowledge but above all practically for the conduct of our life.”32 The contention of these essays is that Bavinck is right: How we frame our understanding of the ordo salutis not only affects other important theological formulations; it has serious—and sometimes unanticipated—implications for our practical lives and pastoral ministry. By bringing regeneration back under the heading of the effectual call within the framework of Horton’s speech-act theory, we remain more faithful to Scripture’s presentation of how God applies salvation to individuals. By tying God’s creative act in regeneration to both the Word and the Spirit, and by avoiding the unnecessary category of infused, subconscious habits or principles, we help to maintain an articulation of the ordo that is more Christ-centered and thus, pastorally beneficial.  


Originally from Montana, Derek received his M.Div. and Ph.D. in systematic theology from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY). He previously served as the managing editor of The Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry and adjunct professor of theology at Southern Seminary. Derek currently serves as an associate pastor at Grace Bible Fellowship of Silicon Valley and on the peer review boards of The Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry and The Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies.

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  1. The very Reformation hinged on the argument that God’s declaration of “righteous” over the believing sinner was based on the work of Christ alone and was in no way dependent upon what had been or would be wrought inside the believer by the Holy Spirit via the sacraments or otherwise.
  2. Horton, Covenant and Salvation, 236.
  3. Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson, Meet the Puritans, 753-756.
  4. Joel R. Beeke, The Quest for Full Assurance: The Legacy of Calvin and His Successors (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1999), 220. Beeke continues, “Thus, Comrie’s stress on implantation (synonymous with regeneration) was never separate from the living out of conversion.  Ultimately, Comrie’s definition of regeneration included the initial moment of new life as well as the entire process of sanctification. Nevertheless, his accent was first on the impartation of new life; then, second, on the actus of faith—through both must still be attributed to divine grace.”
  5. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, 125.
  6. For a simple and helpful discussion of the mechanics of speech act theory, please see Gregg R. Allison, “Speech Act Theory and its Implications for the Doctrine of the Inerrancy/Infallibility of Scripture,” in Philosophia Christi 18 (Spring 1995), 1-9.
  7. Horton, Covenant and Salvation, 237.
  8. Horton, Covenant and Salvation, 237.
  9. Horton, Covenant and Salvation, 241.
  10. Horton, Covenant and Salvation, 240.  Emphasis original.
  11. Horton, Covenant and Salvation, 240.
  12. Horton, Covenant and Salvation, 241.
  13. Horton, Covenant and Salvation, 237. At the end of the preceding paragraph, Horton writes, “With the older Reformed writers, we still affirm the necessity of the Spirit’s sovereign wok in inwardly regenerating hearers while affirming that this operation beyond the mere hearing the external Word nevertheless occurs with it and through it.”
  14. Horton, Covenant and Salvation, 240.
  15. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 475.
  16. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 475.
  17. See Wayne Grudem, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: I Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 90-91; Peter Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,1990), 77-78; Karen H. Jobes, Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament: First Peter (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 123-130; John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries: The First Epistle to Peter, Vol. 22 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 56-57. Calvin understands the “corruptible seed” to be set in opposition to the incorruptible [i.e. imperishable] seed, which is the word of God.  Nevertheless, it is interesting, given Calvin’s comments on 1 Peter 1:23, that he appears to make such a sharp distinction between the inner working of the Spirit and the external working of the Word in his Institutes. Calvin writes, “If anyone wants a clearer answer, here it is: God works in his elect in two ways: within, through his Spirit; without, through his Word. By his Spirit, illuminating their minds and forming their hearts to the love and cultivation of righteousness, he makes them a new creation. By his Word, he arouses them to desire, to seek after, and to attain that same renewal” (I: 322). Although Calvin, in this passage from his Institutes, is attempting to emphasize a person’s need of the Spirit for spiritual progress, I note two faults in his description of the Spirit’s work. First, Calvin does not allow the Word to work inwardly on the individual—this work he leaves to the Spirit alone. Second, he attributes the creative power to the Spirit alone—a power that is also attributed to the Word throughout Scripture. Both of these statements seem to undermine Calvin’s comments on First Peter 1:23-25 where Calvin attributes the new birth to the word of the gospel.
  18. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology, 719.
  19. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology, 719.  Christopher D. Bass, in his book, That You May Know: Assurance of Salvation in I John (Nashville: B & H, 2008), 114-115, argues, based on context, that the “seed of God” in I John 3:9 refers strictly to the Holy Spirit. He does, however, recognize that there are other legitimate interpretations of this phrase, referring to J. du. Preez in his article, “‘Sperma autou’ in I John 3:9’ in Neotestamentica 9 (1975): 105-106, where he provides six different interpretations for “seed of God” in John 3:9: (1) the children of God; (2) the proclaimed word of God; (3) Christ; (4) the Holy Spirit; (5) new life from God; (6) the new nature. Although I do not want to quibble over Bass’s desire to see the Holy Spirit here as the agent of regeneration (in this we are agreed), I am not convinced that even the general context of I John necessitates that we understand “seed of God,” in 3:9 as referring strictly to the Spirit of God apart from the Word of God for three reasons: (1) John himself referred centrality of the “word of life” in the introduction to his epistle (1:1); (2) the context of I John 3:1-7 does not mention the agent of regeneration explicitly; (3) we have seen from our discussion of I Peter 1:23-25 that “seed” can refer unambiguously to the Word of God where the Word is the effectual cause regeneration. In other words, I do not think I John 3:9 can, by itself, support the idea that seed is necessarily the Holy Spirit working apart from the Word. In this case, I believe Horton is asking the right questions when he writes, “Does the Spirit ever implant a seed other than his Word?  And is that Word ever a mere principal or silent operation rather than a vocal, lively, and active speech” (Horton, Covenant and Salvation, 239)?
  20. Horton, Covenant and Salvation, 720.
  21. Horton, Covenant and Salvation, 239.
  22. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, 117.
  23. Iain Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper Calvinism (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2002), 72.  Murray quotes, John Owen, The Works of John Owen, Vol. 6 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2000), 598.  Murray continues, “God works in the heart and with the promises, and to treat the inward work of God as though it were over against the duty of believing the promises, as Hyper-Calvinism generally does, is to cause confusion to seeking souls. This confusion can be seen in the words of Joseph Hussey, on the first Hyper-Calvinists, who declared: ‘We ought to declare the gospel in the encouragements of it unto salvation.  But offers [i.e. general invitations, promising salvation to all who repent and believe] are no encouragements to salvation . . . Encouragements are the operations of His grace.’”  Murray here quotes Peter Toon, The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism in English Non-Conformity 1689-1795 (London: The Olive Tree, 1967), 82.
  24. It is important for ministers to remember that the assurance of our salvation is multi-faceted. Different truths will be emphasized for different situations—offering one ready-made answer for every person who is struggling with their assurance not only displays a kind of pastoral laziness, it fails to recognize the many ways in which the Scripture itself deals with the problem of assurance.  Christopher Ross, referring to the tests of assurance in the letter of I John writes, “We simply cannot have one pat answer that we try to apply to every situation.  People struggle with assurance for a number of reasons, and John’s teaching sufficiently flexible to deal with all of them.  Sometimes we might focus more on the atoning sacrifice of Christ while at other times we take them to the numerous tests of life.  For each different struggle, though, the answer always comes straight from the pages of Scripture” (That You May Know, 193).
  25. Graeme Goldsworthy, in Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006), 176-177, has some helpful comments here.  Although these comments are not related directly to the issue of effectual call, they do highlight the problem of an overly subjective approach to assurance and faith.  “An aspect of Catholicism that Protestants have rejected is the reversal of the relationship of objective justification to its subjective outworking or sanctification.  Another way of putting this is that the focus on the grace of God at work in the historic gospel event of Jesus Christ is muted compared to the emphasis on the grace of God as a kind of spiritual infusion into the life of the Christian. The gospel is seen more as what God is doing in me now rather than what God did for me then. The focus is on Jesus living his life in and through me now, rather than the past historic event of Jesus of Nazareth living his life and dying for me.  When the legitimate subjective dimension of our salvation begins to eclipse the historically and spiritually prior objective dimension, we are in trouble. The New Testament calls on the repenting sinner to believe in Christ, to trust him for salvation.” In footnote 13 on page 177, Goldsworthy notes how Jesus himself drew Nicodemus’ attention away from the subjective nature of regeneration to the content of the gospel. Goldsworthy writes, “I have heard, more than once, this exhortation [to ask God for the New Birth] given on the basis of John 3:7. ‘Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again.’”  But this is not a command to get oneself born again. Jesus tells Nicodemus in the indicative, not the imperative, that it is necessary for one to be born again. When Nicodemus presses the question, ‘How…?’ Jesus finally puts the answer in terms of believing in him” ([v.15] v.16).
  26. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, 124.
  27. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, 126.
  28. Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago: Moody Press, 1989), 335. Enns leans on Berkhof here, quoting from his Systematic Theology, p. 436, “Special grace is irresistible . . . .by changing the hearting it makes man perfectly willing to accept Jesus Christ unto salvation and to yield obedience to the will of God.’”
  29. John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 217.
  30. John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God, 218.
  31. Oswald Bayer, Martin Luther’s Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 182-183.
  32. Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, III:564.
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Written by
Derek Brown
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4 comments
  • Should the first sentence of the second last paragraph have a ‘not’ in there somewhere: “… should not lead …”? Perhaps I’m misreading or misunderstanding. But, really, a great piece. Thank you!

  • Bill,

    Thank you. I just changed it. There definitely should have been a “not.”

    Derek

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Written by Derek Brown
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