Twins, not Rivals: Regeneration and Effective Calling in the Ordo Salutis

With and Through the Word: Rethinking Regeneration and Effectual Calling in the Reformed Ordo Salutis, Part 1

In the introduction of his volume on the Puritans, The Quest for Godliness, J. I. Packer observes the natural connection that exists between theology and practical living. Since theology is never neutral but always has an effect—good or bad, positive or negative—it is the responsibility of theologians to consider their work and the kind of influence it will have. And this warning goes for professional and lay theologians alike. Packer writes, “So one who theologises in public, whether formally in the pulpit, the podium or in print, or informally in the armchair, must think hard about the effect his thoughts will have on people—God’s people and other people.”1

This multi-part essay is one attempt to take account of a particular doctrine—the ordo salutis (“the order of salvation”)—and the effect a Reformed articulation of this doctrine has had on both our theology and praxis.

Specifically, the argument of this two-part article is that effectual calling and regeneration should be understood as twin realities in the Reformed articulation of the ordo salutis, not as two separate theological entities. The distinction that was established between these two facets of the ordo, it will be demonstrated, came as a result of Reformed theology’s insistence on the sovereignty of God’s grace in applying salvation to individuals. Nevertheless, the division of these two essential components of the Reformed ordo, it will be argued, was unwarranted, and brought about an undesirable separation between the Spirit of God and the Word of God in the application of salvation to the individual. Understanding effectual calling and regeneration as identical works of God helps maintain a strong connection between the Word and Spirit in the application of salvation, while also preserving a robust, Reformed doctrine of divine sovereignty.  

Upholding a sturdy connection between the Word and Spirit in the application of salvation to the individual is also pastorally beneficial: It helps retain a Christ-centered formulation of the ordo which in turn guards believers from subjectivity, introspection, and hyper-Calvinism.

A Brief History of the Ordo Salutis

Detailed study and articulation of the ordo salutis did not occupy theologians until the latter half of the 16th century, as questions concerning the application of Christ’s work to the individual believer became more prominent within the Church and demanded specialized answers. Prior to the Middle Ages, church theologians, immediately following the apostolic period and during the patristic era, worked to solidify foundational issues related to theology proper and Christology, then turning to matters related to the atonement prior to and at the turn of the millennium.2

It was not until the Middle Ages and during the time of the Reformation that careful attention was given to other important matters of soteriology.3 What impelled Reformed theologians in their development of a more detailed description of the ordo salutis was the conviction that Paul and the other New Testament writers taught that, “Behind the sinner’s faith in Christ, as well as behind every other spiritual grace he exercises, stands the salvific activity of the Triune God.”4 Robert Reymond continues,

In other words, they teach (1) that “salvation is of the Lord,” not only at the point of accomplishment but also at the point of application. Furthermore, they make it clear (2) that the divine application of salvation is not “one simple and indivisible act” but rather comprises a “series of acts and processes.”  Finally, they make it equally clear (3) that this “series of acts and processes” follows a very definite order, leading Reformed theologians to conclude that they may speak of this series as the “order of salvation” (ordo salutis).5

Questions related to justification, how the work of the Spirit interacted with the Church’s sacraments, and the doctrine of assurance came to the fore as debates ignited between the Roman Catholic Church and those who began to mistrust the Church’s long-standing teaching on such matters. Indeed, it was the very question of justification that led to the Protestant Reformation.6 Sinclair Ferguson explains,

Medieval theology was largely committed to a process of justification, and therefore placed great weight on the mode of preparation for grace. In the process of prevenient grace moving the will to hate sin and desire justice or justification (justitia), the individual was disposed to receive habitual grace. Imperfect sorrow for sin (attritio), which lacked the qualities of perfected grief (contritio), was compensated for by means of the sacrament of penance. No longer a once-in-a-lifetime rite providing the opportunity to return to the grace of baptism, penance thus became a regular feature in the ongoing process towards justitia. At root of this lay the Augustinian notion that justification meant to be made righteous (justum facere), not (as in the biblical theology of the Reformation) to be declared, or counted, or constituted righteous in God’s sight.7

Thus, much of the Reformation would lay special emphasis on the reversal of the medieval ordo salutis, arguing that justification must be logically prior to sanctification and not confused with it. Speaking of Martin Luther, Ferguson continues, “He now saw that Paul spoke not about his working for the attainment of righteousness, but about God’s provision of it in the gospel. A powerful rethinking took place in his understanding of the ordo salutis, and the text that he had misinterpreted by means of his Roman ordo salutis now instead became the open gate to Paradise.”8

John Calvin, also guided by this new understanding of justification, sought to frame the biblical doctrines of salvation in a way the highlighted the necessity of the joint work of the Word and Spirit in applying the blessings of Christ’s work to the individual instead of attributing those blessings to the sacraments of the Church. Ferguson elaborates,

In the medieval church, the sacraments acted as milestones on the road to justification. Wherever Tridentine Catholicism held sway, all the blessings of union with Christ were attributed to and mediated through instrumental causation of the sacramental system, and especially the mass and Eucharist.  By contrast, in the Reformation teaching it was emphasized that the Holy Spirit brought the individual directly into fellowship with Christ, of which fellowship and sacraments were seen as signs and seals.9

Consequently, the question of how the Spirit applied the benefits of Christ’s work of redemption became an issue of serious importance during and immediately following the initial stirrings of the Reformation. As Reformation theology grew and matured from Luther to Calvin to those who would later take up their mantel, articulation of the order of salvation would be enlarged to include other important details.

Herman Bavinck explains, “Initially, Reformed theology usually treated the order of salvation under three headings: repentance, faith, and good works. But soon it saw itself compelled to expand this series and subsequently included a variety of topics: the call, illumination, regeneration, conversion, faith, justification, sanctification, and so on.”10

Thus, expansions were made in the Reformed articulation of the ordo in order to retain a robust view of God’s sovereign activity in salvation while remaining faithful to the biblical model that presented the application of salvation coming to individuals in a particular order. Significant development in the ordo following the Reformation would occur in the early 1600s.

William Perkins, a Puritan working in and writing from Cambridge, England,11 would formulate his understanding of the ordo based primarily on Romans 8:28-30 from which he would note the sequential ordering of the application of salvation to individuals in verse 30: “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Although controversy would later swell over questions, for example, of logical priority between regeneration and faith, Perkins’s “Golden Chain” would provide the context for such discussions for many centuries following.12

From within the Reformed tradition, then, began to emerge careful theological expression of God’s pattern in applying the benefits of Christ’s work of salvation to individuals.  Traditionally, the Reformed13 ordo has been understood as follows: (1) effectual calling; (2) regeneration, which gives rise to (3) faith, leading to (4) justification, and (5) sanctification, finally culminating in (6) glorification.14

In view of this formulation of the Reformed ordo, two things should be noted. First, it has been often observed that the distinction among these different facets of salvation are logical rather than chronological.15 While glorification is appropriately understood as possessing chronological distinction from the rest of the ordo (coming, as it does, at the end of a believer’s life), the other components—effectual calling, regeneration, faith, justification, and sanctification—are typically viewed as occurring, in actual experience, instantly and simultaneously.16

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Second, some theologians, as we will note a little later, take regeneration to occur prior to the effectual call.  The argument of this paper deals not so much with whether or not regeneration should come prior the effectual call, but whether a distinction should be made between these two components of the ordo at all.  

Nevertheless, there is, according to Ferguson, inherent danger in describing God’s application of salvation to the individual in such a strict, linear pattern like the one described above. The most significant problem is the potential to describe the application of salvation to the individual apart from Christ. While Perkins did not attempt to drive a thick chronological wedge between each feature of the ordo, there was an idea of causal order within his model: a previous aspect of the ordo (e.g. calling) giving rise to the next (e.g. justification) and so on.

As Reformed theology developed, the notion of cause and effect between each step in the ordo became even more pronounced.17 Ferguson, however, sees trouble in this development.  He writes,

When expressed in terms of the model of chain of causes and effects, the traditional ordo salutis runs the danger of displacing Christ from the central place in soteriology.  The fruits of his work may be related to one another in the chain of cause-and-effect sequence, rather than viewed fundamentally in relation to the work of the Spirit in bringing us into union and communion with Christ himself.18

Ferguson’s solution to the possible hazard of divorcing Christ from the application of salvation to the individual is not to dismantle the ordo, casting it aside as some overly speculative, logically driven theological construction from the distant past.  Instead, Ferguson suggests, drawing from Calvin, that union with Christ should be the framework within which we must formulate and understand the ministry of the Spirit to the individual believer.19

Ferguson observes two primary advantages in this move.  First, as we have already noted, Christ remains at the heart of our theology.  More specifically, it implies that we “cannot think of, or enjoy, the blessings of the gospel either isolated from each other or separated from the Benefactor himself.  This promotes a healthy Christ-centeredness in Christians living, and also safeguards evangelical teaching from the flaw of isolating the effects of the gospel from faith in Christ himself as both Savior and Lord.”20

Secondly, maintaining union and communion with Christ as the goal and center of the Spirit’s ministry protects individuals from an “unhealthy and unbalanced subjectivism in Christian experience.”21 Ferguson wisely observes,

It was never a logically necessary implication of the Parkinsian model that it would produce unhealthy and anxious introspection.  Yet, when severed from Perkins’ robust Christocentricity, it could and sometimes did lead to the development of an unhealthy subjectivism in which the location of present experience on the chain of salvation replaced Jesus Christ himself as the focus of attention and faith.22

Thus, keeping Christ central in the whole discussion of the Spirit’s application of salvation shields the individual from turning into himself to find assurance of the Spirit’s work and, instead, turns the believer to Christ and the Word to find and enjoy assurance.  We will explore these important pastoral implications a little later.  

Before we do, however, we need to examine how a specific feature within the Reformed ordo might be improved in order to bolster this Christ-centered approach to understanding the Spirit’s work in applying salvation to individuals.   

A New Inner-Principle: Made Between Effectual Calling and Regeneration

As a Reformed articulation of the ordo continued to develop and receive added nuance, it was necessary to maintain a robust affirmation of the sovereignty of God in the work of salvation and its application to the individual. This emphasis on sovereign grace was necessary since Reformed theology also affirmed the doctrine of total depravity—the belief that man cannot, in and of himself, bring himself to embrace God’s salvation since he exists in a state of spiritual death.  

Thus, most Reformed theologians, at the time Louis Berkhof penned his Systematic Theology in the early 1900s, “beg[an] the ordo salutis with regeneration or with calling [thus emphasizing] the fact that the application of the redeeming work of Christ in its incipiency a work of God.”23 It was also essential to stress the monergistic nature of salvation because other Protestants (Arminians, namely) were positing that regeneration be viewed synergistically—coming as a process of divine-human cooperation—rather than wholly a work of God.

Accordingly, no unanimity existed among Protestant theologians as to the exact way the ordo should be expressed.  Michael Horton explains,

The formulation of the ordo salutis was to a large extent provoked by challenges, from Rome but also especially from other Protestants. Where the principal concerns (sola gratia, sola fide, monergism) were considered sufficiently looked after, the rest of the issues related to the ordo were left somewhat fluid. . . . In fact, a century ago Bavinck could summarize the Reformed view in a way that places regeneration after imputation and the gift of the Spirit.  This is hardly a unanimous position . . .24

Charles Hodge

Charles Hodge, writing in the mid-1800s, noted significant ambiguity even within major Protestant confessions when it came to important features of the ordo. Commenting on the Apology for the Augsburg Confession, Hodge observed that, “regeneration [in the confession] is made to include justification. That is, it is made to include the whole process by which the sinner is transferred from a state of sin and condemnation into a state of salvation.”25

Although, as Horton notes, Hodge exhorted his readers to guard themselves from speculation on the exact mechanics of the new birth since its “metaphysical nature is left a mystery,” and it is “not the province of either philosophy or theology to solve that mystery,” errors, according to Horton, “still needed to be confronted.”26 Thus, in seeking to avoid both Manichean dualism on the one hand, and synergism on the other, Hodge asserted that,

This regeneration is physical rather than moral in nature, which simply meant that it was not something that was offered or presented to the will and understanding, but an effectual operation upon both that immediately imparted a new disposition or habitus . . .The point was to say that in regeneration the Spirit actually changes one’s disposition, so that the preaching of the gospel will be received rather than resisted.27

In answering the claims of contemporary preachers like Charles Finney and Nathaniel Taylor—men who reminded their listeners of the responsibility to convert themselves28—Hodge would assert that regeneration was instead a monergistic work of God, noting that God is “the giver of faith and repentance.”29 Hodge continues,

[Regeneration] is not an act which, by argument and persuasion, or by moral power, He induces the sinner to perform. But it is an act of which [God] is the agent.  It is God who regenerates.  The soul is regenerated. In this sense the soul is passive in regeneration, which (subjectively considered) is a change wrought in us, and not an act performed by us.30

In the two previous quotes, Hodge counters men like Finney and Taylor who argued that regeneration followed as a result of a sinner’s acceptance of the gospel. According to Hodge, regeneration was better understood as a change of the individual’s disposition wrought by the unilateral activity of the Holy Spirit and occurring prior to one’s acceptance of the gospel.

Hodge, in keeping with his argument that regeneration was a sovereign work of God, would also contend that regeneration was an immediate act of God upon the soul.  He explains,

[Regeneration] is immediate, as opposed to mediate, or through or by the truth.  When either in Scripture or in theological writings, the word regeneration is taken in the wide sense as including conversion or the voluntary turning of the soul to God, then indeed it is said to be by the Word.  The restoration of sight to the blind by the command of Christ, was an act of omnipotence. It was immediate. Nothing in the way of instrumentary or secondary cooperating influence intervened between the divine volition and the effect.  But all exercises of the restored faculty were through and by the light.  And without light, sight is impossible. Raising Lazarus from the dead was an act of omnipotence.  Nothing intervened between the volition and the effect.  The act of quickening was an act of God.  In the matter Lazarus was passive.  But in all the acts of the restored vitality, he was active and free.31

In this paragraph, Hodge, in his attempt to combat the idea that God grants regeneration upon one’s acceptance of the gospel, argues for the Spirit’s activity to occur apart from any mediation by the truth of the gospel. Thus, Hodge maintained that regeneration occurred subconsciously: “Regeneration, subjectively considered, or viewed as an effect or change wrought in the soul, is not an act. It is not a new purpose created by God (if that language be intelligible), or formed by the sinner under his influence. Nor is it any conscious exercise of any kind. It is something which lies lower than consciousness.”32

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So, by arguing that regeneration was an immediate (i.e. unmediated), unilateral work of God occurring somewhere below the believer’s consciousness, Hodge could uphold the sovereignty of God in salvation and guard the larger doctrine of soteriology from synergistic infiltration. We will note later how Hodge’s noble desire to preserve the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in salvation may have unwittingly divorced the Word and Spirit in the application of the benefits of Christ’s work to the believer, which, I will argue, bore unwelcome and pastorally unhelpful fruit. For now, however, we turn to another important Reformed theologian, Louis Berkhof.

Louis Berkhof

In his treatment of regeneration, Berkhof follows Hodge and begins by highlighting the monergistic nature of God’s work upon an individual’s soul. Berkhof writes, “Regeneration is a creative work of God, and is therefore a work in which man is purely passive, and in which there is no place for human co-operation. This is a very important point, since it stresses the fact that salvation is wholly of God.”33

Berkhof continues, noting the same essential characteristics of regeneration as Hodge. First, according to Berkhof, regeneration “consists in the implanting of the principle of the new spiritual life in man, in a radical change of the governing disposition of the soul, which, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, gives birth to a life that moves in a Godward direction.”34 Second, against Semi-Pelagianism and Roman Catholicism, regeneration is instantaneous change of man’s nature, not a “work gradually prepared in the soul.”35 Third, regeneration is understood to occur in the sub-conscious.  Elaborating this last point, Berkhof writes,

[Regeneration] is a secret and inscrutable work of God that is never directly perceived by man.  The change may take place without man’s being conscious of it momentarily, though this is not the case when regeneration and conversion coincide; and even later on he can perceive it only in its effects.  This explains the fact that a Christian man, on the one hand, struggle for a long time with doubts and uncertainties, and can yet, on the other hand, gradually overcome these and rise to the heights of assurance.36

Drawing from these three distinctions, Berkhof forms his definition of regeneration: “In the strictest sense of the word we may say: Regeneration is that act of God by which the principle of new life is implanted in man, and the governing disposition of the soul is made holy.37 Berkhof then follows his examination of regeneration with a short discussion of the effectual call. The new disposition mentioned in Berkhof’s definition of regeneration is what enables an individual to repent and believe the gospel.

The gospel, as Berkhof notes, comes to the individual by way of an external call: the general call to all mankind to repent of one’s sin and believe in Jesus Christ. For those upon whom he has chosen to bestow the blessing of salvation, God issues an internal call by which the Holy Spirit effectively applies the Word given in the external call to the heart of the individual.38 Given the apparent similarity between regeneration and the effectual call, it is no wonder that Berkhof turns from here immediately to a section explaining the relationship between effectual calling and regeneration.

The primary distinction Berkhof notices between regeneration and effectual calling is that regeneration, strictly understood, occurs somewhere in the subconscious life of an individual, whereas it is the conscious life of a person to which the effectual call is directed.  Berkhof explains,

Regeneration in the strictest sense of the word . . . takes place in the sub-conscious life of man, and is quite independent of any attitude which he may assume with reference to it.  Calling, on the other hand, addresses itself to the consciousness, and implies a certain disposition of the conscious life.  This follows from the fact that regeneration works from within, while calling comes from without. . . .Furthermore, regeneration is a creative, a hyperphysical operation of the Holy Spirit, by which man is brought from one condition into another, from a condition of spiritual death into a condition of spiritual life.  Effectual calling, on the other hand, is teleological, draws out the new life and points it in a God-ward direction.  It secures the exercises of the new disposition and brings the new life into action.39

Thus, Berkhof argues that regeneration fall prior to (and be considered distinct from) the effectual call in the ordo salutis. According the Berkhof, the application of salvation comes to an individual first through the external call of the gospel. Then, by a creative word (not the word preached in the external call of the gospel), God “generates new life, changing the inner disposition of the soul, illuminating the mind, rousing the feelings, renewing the will . . . This is regeneration in the strictest sense.”40

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Through regeneration, God grants the individual an “ear” by which to hear the effectual call.  Now that the individual’s disposition has been changed from sinful and rebellious to holy and willing he “yields to the persuasive influence of the Word through the operation of the Holy Spirit.  This is the instrumentality of the word of preaching, effectively applied by the Spirit of God. . . This effectual calling, finally, secures, through the truth as a means, the first holy exercise of the new disposition born in the soul.”41

Thus, Berkhof is careful to note what he calls the “efficient cause” of regeneration: it is neither the human will, nor the external truth of the gospel,42 but the Holy Spirit. In stating it in such terms, Berkhof anticipates the question of the Word’s role in regeneration.

We have already noted that Berkhof believed that the Spirit speaks a creative word in his work of regeneration. This creative word, however, is not the same as the external Word of the gospel.  In Berkhof’s scheme, the creative word is that by which the Holy Spirit begets new life and a holy disposition in an individual and thus enables that person to repent and believe.  

In order to preclude any misunderstanding, Berkhof desires to speak of the Word of God as instrumental in regeneration, while distinguishing the influence of the Holy Spirit from the influence of the Word of God, noting that the influence of the former is needed for reception of the latter.  Berkhof subsequently argues, following William Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology,

Regeneration is a creative act, by which the spiritually dead sinner is restored to life.  But the truth of the gospel can only work in a moral and persuasive way.  Such an instrument has no effect on the dead.  To assert its use would seem to imply a denial of the spiritual death of man . . . Regeneration takes place in the sphere of the sub-conscious, that is, outside of the sphere of conscious attention, while the truth addresses itself to the consciousness of man.  It can exercise its persuasive influence when man’s attention is fixed on it.43

The distinction that developed between the effectual call and regeneration, according to Berkhof, was a useful refinement within Reformed theology, and, in systematic presentations of the truth, something to retain.44

Berkhof’s Legacy

Several Reformed theologians have followed Berkhof’s lead in this regard. Thomas Oden, for example, maintains a distinction between the immediate work of the Spirit and the mediate work of the Word upon the individual in granting regeneration.45  Robert Reymond states his doctrine of regeneration in much the same way as Berkhof and Hodge, writing, “[Regeneration] is the subconscious implanting of the principle of the new spiritual life in the soul, effecting an instantaneous change in the whole man, intellectually, emotionally, and morally, and enabling the elect sinner to respond in repentance and faith to the outward or public gospel proclamation directed to his conscious understanding and will.”46

Wayne Grudem argues that regeneration must come prior to the effectual call in order to enable the individual to believe the gospel with saving faith. Accordingly, Grudem contends, “we can say that regeneration comes before the result of effective calling (our faith).”47

He continues, “As the gospel comes to us, God speaks through it to summon us to himself (effective calling) and to give us new spiritual life (regeneration) so that we are enabled to respond in faith. Effective calling is thus God the Father speaking powerfully to us, and regeneration is God the Father and God the Holy Spirit working powerfully in us, to make us alive.”48

The distinction articulated by these theologians between the effectual call and regeneration, however, does not find uniform historical support within the Reformed tradition—seventeenth century theologians, in order to preserve the unity of the Word of God and “the operation of [God’s] grace”49 in the application of salvation to individuals, either identified effectual calling as regeneration, or included regeneration within the effectual call.  Statements in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), and in both the Westminster Shorter (1647) and Larger (1648) Catechisms bear witness to this fact.50

The question posed by Horton at this point is whether forging a distinction between effectual calling and regeneration that came later is exegetically and theologically sustainable.51 It is this question I will examine in part two of this series.


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. J. I. Packer, The Quest for Godliness (Wheaton: Crossway, 1990), 15.
  2. Sinclair Ferguson, The Holy Spirit (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996), 94.
  3. This is not to suggest that some thought was not given to these matters. Augustine, in the fifth century, articulated a doctrine of predestination, while also drawing a distinction between what would later become known as the effectual calling and general calling.  See Gregg R. Allison, Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 478-479.
  4. Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 704.
  5. Reymond, Theology, 704.
  6. Ferguson, Holy Spirit, 95.
  7. Ferguson, Holy Spirit, 95.
  8. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, 95-96.  Ferguson notes that the expression ordo salutis can be traced back to F. Buddeaus, Institutiones Theologiae Dogmaticae (1724) and J. Karpov, Theologia Revelata Dogmatica (1739).  The idea of an ordo in the application of salvation to the individual believer, however, preceded its technical theological designation that came during the time of Protestant orthodoxy, as we have seen in our brief examination of the medieval understanding of justification (see Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, 262n3).  
  9. Ferguson, Holy Spirit, 96.
  10. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 565.
  11. Joel R. Beeke and Randall J. Pederson, Meet the Puritans (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2006), 469-480.
  12. Ferguson, Holy Spirit, 98.
  13. There are some theologians who fall within the Reformed tradition but who do not accept this order.  Millard Erickson, for example, understands the order to be (1) Effectual calling, (2) Conversion (which includes faith and repentance); and (3) Regeneration.  The desire to turn from sin to Christ is given in the effectual call—regeneration is given upon repentance and faith.   See Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 944-959.  Bruce Demarest also places regeneration after conversion, understanding the Spirit’s effectual call providing the desire to please God, subsequently leading to repentance and faith, which, in turn, brings about regeneration.  See Bruce Demarest, The Cross and Salvation (Wheaton: Crossway, 1997), 246.
  14. G. N. M. Collins, “Order of Salvation,” in The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A.  Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 870.
  15. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, page 97, writes, “The motivation in the older classical discussions of the ordo salutis was to discover not a chronological arrangement, but a logical one; the order in view was not primarily one of temporal priority, but was focused on logical relationships, on an order of nature.”  See also William Shedd, Dogmatic Theology ed. Alan Gomes (Philipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2003), supplement 6.3.6, 785.
  16. Sanctification, within the Reformed scheme, designates not only the progressive transformation of the individual into the image of Christ over his entire lifetime, but also a definitive breaking with sin at the moment of conversion. It is therefore fitting to assert that a kind of definitive sanctification occurs instantaneously along with the other facets of salvation, distinct from the others only in logical rather than chronological order.  See R. E. O. White, “Sanctification,” in The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker: 2001), 1052; Sinclair Ferguson, “The Reformed View” in Christian Spirituality: Five Views on Sanctification, ed. by Donald L. Alexander (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1988), 57.  See also Erickson, Christian Theology, 944-45.
  17. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, 98-99.  Despite later developments within the Reformed ordo salutis, William Perkins’ own scheme was remarkably Christ-centered.  Richard Muller writes, in his article, “Perkins A Golden Chaine: Predestinarian System or Schematized Ordo Salutis?” in The Sixteenth Century Journal 9 (1978) on pages 76 and 77, “But prior to Perkins’ time no one had so meticulously placed the person of the mediator in such a central systematic relation to the [divine] decree and its execution.  The ordo salutis both originates and is effected in Christ. . . .Perkins’ diagram, therefore, has as a primary emphasis the explicit application of Christ’s work to each phase of the ordo salutis.” Ferguson will also take note of Perkins’ Christocentricity below.
  18. Ferguson, Holy Spirit, 99.
  19. Ferguson, Holy Spirit, 100-101.  Indeed, Calvin himself cautions us in this regard when he writes, “First, we must understand  that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us” (John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion ed. John T. McNeill [Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960], 1:537).  Therefore, any formulation of the ordo salutis that seeks to be faithful to Scripture must place the discussion within the framework of union with Christ. Post-reformation theologian Peter Van Mastricht also saw union with Christ as the ultimate goal of entire ordo. Richard Muller writes, “Mastricht now proceeds in brief to set forth the ordo salutis: justification, adoption, sanctification, glorification, the end and fruit of which is union and communion with Christ.”  See Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 293.
  20. Ferguson, Holy Spirit, 102.
  21. Ferguson, Holy Spirit, 102.
  22. Ferguson, Holy Spirit, 22.
  23. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 418.
  24. Michael Horton, Covenant and Salvation (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2007), 234.
  25. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology in Three Volumes (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), III: 3.
  26. Horton, Covenant and Salvation, 234.
  27. Horton, Covenant and Salvation, 234.
  28. Finney and Taylor were frustrated by what he perceived to be the results of high-Calvinism; namely, the tendency of the willfully unrepentant to use the doctrine of divine sovereignty as an excuse to remain disobedient to the call of the gospel.  Thus, Finney developed a doctrine of regeneration that viewed man’s turning from sin and God’s work of regeneration as the same event.  Gregg Allison explains, “In particular, Finney articulated his view of regeneration, including repentance and faith, in opposition to the prevailing Calvinistic views.  He opposed the usual distinction made between regeneration and conversion, a distinction that he considered to be ‘arbitrary and theological, rather than biblical. . . .In both alike God and man are both active and their activity is simultaneous.  God works or draws, and the sinner yields or turns or—which is the same thing—changes his heart or, in other words, is born again.’  Finney underscored one reason for his strong objection to this distinction: ‘It leads the sinner to wait to be regenerated, before he repents or turns to God.  It is of most fatal tendency to represent the sinner as under a necessity of waiting to be passively regenerated before he gives himself to God” (Historical Theology, 493.  Allison quotes Charles Finney’s Lectures in Systematic Theology: New Expanded Edition, ed. Dennis Carroll, Bill Nicely, and L. G. Parkhurst Jr. [Minneapolis: Bethany, 1994], 271 and Finney’s Lectures on Revival [Minneapolis: Bethany, 1988], 13). Taylor also tried to distance himself from the idea that man should passively wait to be regenerated by God. Douglas Sweeny explains, “Taylor believed it ‘of vital importance to show, that there are acts which are not sinful—and yet which may be done, and which must be done, by the man or he will never be regenerated.’  Convinced that this work of God would not take place without the free exercise of human will, Taylor tried diligently to remove the passivity ingrained by Hopkinsian and high Calvinist views of providence” (Nathaniel Taylor, New Haven Theology, and the Legacy of Jonathan Edwards [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003], 113.
  29. Hodge, Systematic Theology, III: 31.
  30. Hodge, Systematic Theology, III: 31.
  31. Hodge, Systematic Theology, III: 31.
  32. Hodge, Systematic Theology, III: 32.
  33. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 465.
  34. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 468.
  35. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 468.
  36. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 469.
  37. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 469.
  38. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 469-70.
  39. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 471.
  40. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 471.
  41. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 471.
  42. By stating that the truth is not the efficient cause of regeneration, Berkhof means to answer the argument given by Charles Finney and others that the Holy Spirit presents the truth of the gospel to the unbeliever so that, through the moral persuasion of the Spirit and the Word, the sinner might convert himself.  Berkhof considers such a view unacceptable since “The truth can be a motive to holiness only if it is loved, while the natural man does not love the truth, but hates it Rom 1:18,25. Consequently the truth, presented externally, cannot be the efficient cause of regeneration” (473).  Regeneration is needed in order to bring a person to love the truth “so as to be saved” (II Thessalonians 2:10).
  43. Berkhof, in maintaining a distinction between the influence of the Spirit and the influence of the Word and the immediacy of the Spirit’s work in regeneration, favorably quotes Shedd at length: “Dr. Shedd says, ‘The influence of the Holy Spirit is distinguishable from that of the truth; from that of man upon man; and from that of any instrument or means whatever.  His energy acts directly upon the human soul itself.  It is the influence of spirit upon spirit; of one of the Trinitarian persons upon a human person.  Neither the truth, nor a fellow-man, can thus operate directly upon the essence of the soul itself” (474; see William Shedd, Dogmatic Theology [New York: No Publisher Given, 1891-1894], 500.  See reference to the most recent edition of Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology in footnote 15 of this essay).
  44. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 471.
  45. Thomas C. Oden, Systematic Theology Volume Three: Life in the Spirit (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2006), 165.
  46. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology, 720-721.  It is interesting to note that Reymond, only a few pages earlier in his discussion of the effectual call, appears to locate regeneration within the effectual call, saying, “‘Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Christ freely offered in the gospel’ (Shorter Catechism, Question 31). By the regenerating work of his Spirit, God the Father irresistibly summons, normally in conjunction with the church’s proclamation of the gospel, the elect sinner in to fellowship with, and into the kingdom of, his Son Jesus Christ.  His call is rendered effectual by the quickening work of the Spirit of God the Father and God the Son in the hearts of the elect” (718). Immediately after this section, however, Reymond continues by defining regeneration apart from the effectual calling claiming that the “Scriptures have much to say about the gracious work of the Spirit” (719).
  47. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 700.  Grudem, however, also notes that Scripture presents effectual calling and regeneration occur at the same time.  “But it is more difficult to specify the exact relationship in time between regeneration and the human proclamation of the gospel through which God works in effective calling.  At least two passages suggest that God regenerates us at the same time as he speaks to us in effective calling: Peter says, ‘You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God . . . .That word is the good news that was preached to you’ (I Peter 1:23-25).  And James says, ‘He chose to give us birth through the word of truth’” (James 1:18 NIV).  This admission will become very significant as we examine Horton’s speech act theory.
  48. Grudem, Systematic Theology, 700.
  49. Grudem, Systematic Theology, 470.
  50. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 470.  Under the heading, “Of Effectual Calling,” the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) reads, “1) All those whom God hath predestined unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of the state of sin and death, in which they are by nature to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ, enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.  2) This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything 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 by it.”  The Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647), to the question, “What is effectual calling,” answers, “Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, He doth persuade us and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ freely offered in the gospel.”  The Larger Catechism (1648), under the question, “What is effectual calling,” reads, “Effectual calling is the work of God’s almighty power and grace, whereby (out of his free and special love to His elect, and from nothing in them moving Him thereunto) He doth, in His accepted time, invite and draw them to Jesus Christ, by His Word and Spirit, savingly enlightening their minds, renewing and powerfully determining their wills, so as they (although themselves dead in sin) are hereby made willing and able freely to answer His call, and to accept and embrace the grace offered and conveyed therein  (Joel R. Beeke and Sinclair B. Ferguson, Reformed Confessions Harmonized [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999], 91-93).
  51. Interestingly, it appears that Reformed theologian, John Murray, writing in 1955 did not follow Hodge or Berkhof by neatly separating regeneration and the effectual call.  In his book, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1955), 96, Murray appears to link the two under one theological heading. Murray writes, “God’s call, since it is effectual, carries with it the operative grace whereby the person called is enabled to answer the call and to embrace Jesus Christ as he is freely offered in the gospel.  God’s grace reaches down to the lowest depths of our need and meets all the exigencies of the moral and spiritual impossibility which inheres in our depravity and inability. And that grace is the grace of regeneration.”
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Derek Brown
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5 comments
  • Hi Derek, first of all thank you summarising this topics in layman language.
    As a lay person, I wonder why any (as far as I read) proposed ‘order’ of salvation seldom (never??) explain how could a person who is dead in sin and unable to understand anything spiritual (e.g. 1 Corinthians 2:14) ‘out-of-blue’ could appreciate his/her sinfulness. And more than that, appreciate Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection, believe in HIM and became a Christian, ie ready to live a worshipful live in allegiance to Jesus the King?
    Don’t you think the onset of the ‘order’ must be somewhere, way back, prior to any human;s response (whatever it is). Reading the Bible (without reading ‘theology’, if it is possible) seems to bring me to biblical verses like Exekiel 11:19, 20; Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrew 8:10 and similar verses? It seems to me that those verses very clearly teach
    that it is God’s grace of a NEW HEART of flesh that starts the while process rolling. No other way is possible. All stages after that is simply ‘grace upon (initial) grace”.
    I would appreciate your comments to enlighten my non-theological mind.
    Many thanks. Soli DEO Gloria – Zach in Perth.

    • Zach,

      Thank you for your comments, brother. I would encourage you to read the forthcoming final post of this series (part 2) because that’s where I will propose my view (following Michael Horton) on how God’s grace works in the believer through the ordo salutis. This might clarify things a little.

      I agree with you that it is God’s effectual (not prevenient) grace that must precede man’s response to the gospel. In fact, the ordo begins with predestination and election, where God unconditionally chooses whom he will save. When God moves (in time) to save the person whom he has elected from before the foundation of the world (eternity past), Scripture is clear, as you have noted, that God does this in such a way that his work precedes the response of the believer. A sinner must be raised from the dead before he can do anything of a spiritual nature (e.g., Eph 2:1ff; 1 Cor 2:11-16). That’s what Burkof, Hodge, et al were seeking to defend. They were zealous to make sure that God’s total sovereignty and man’s utter inability were maintained throughout the whole Reformed salvation scheme. Therefore, they argued for an understanding of regeneration where the creation of a new inner “habit” precedes the effectual calling and the faith of the sinner.

      As I will attempt to demonstrate in part 2, this separation of regeneration and effectual calling leads to theological and practical (pastoral) trouble. So, I agree wholeheartedly with your contention that a new heart must precede everything else in the Christian experience of salvation. How we frame that theologically in terms of the ordo is up for some debate. Let’s continue the discussion after part 2!

      Derek

      • Thank you brother for your prompt response. I look forward to reading part 2.
        Blessings,
        Zach

  • Having some sort of problem getting rest of your three parts. I like the presentation although it raises questions of the issue of regeneration and presumptive regeneration in infant baptism which was my research input which pulled up your site. Well done want the other two parts too!

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