FAITH AND THE NEW BIRTH ARE
I have received a few emails from Reformed
Baptists which focus on what is sometimes called the "ordo salutis" of
salvation, an expression which came into use in theological works of the not too
distant past (Berkhof, Systematic Theology, page 468).
One brother asked
me if faith precedes regeneration or does regeneration precede faith, as if this
is necessarily a logical "either or" proposition.
The basic flaw
of the "pre-faith regeneration" theory taught by Louis Berkhof and
some other pedobaptists, and evidently shared or adopted by some modern
Calvinists, is the theory that the spiritual life which is involved in
salvation can be isolated as a separate entity from an experimental
faith-union with Christ thru faith, thus creating the theoretical
phenomena of a "regenerated unbeliever." Conversely, the theory that
union with Christ thru faith is essential before the New Birth creates a
similar theoretical phenomena of an "unregenerate
Berkhof, for example, goes so far as to classify
"regeneration" as something "hyper-physical" (page 471). This apparently
implies the weird notion that the "life" in regeneration has a biological
The "logic" sometimes proposed by those who espouse this theory
is that faith is the "effect" of regeneration as its cause or source. So
they conclude that regeneration must therefore exist "before" faith as a
matter of "cause and effect."
But this is not necessarily logical;
in fact, in regard to many things it is obviously illogical in regard to
"cause and effect." For examples:
Physical life in a person is the
source of breath, but one does not exist apart from the other. Whereas life may
be the source of breath, when there is no breath there is no life.
is the source or cause of heat, but they are co-existent. Is there such a thing
as fire without heat?
Deity is the essence of God's Person, but His
personal attributes are simultaneous to His essence. Does Deity, the essence of
God's Person, exist "before" an attribute of God such as His eternity or His
The mind is the source or cause of conscious thought, but
one does not "precede" the other.
A father is the source or cause of a
son, but fatherhood and sonship exist simultaneously.
Water is the source
or cause of wetness, but we don't have one before the other.
fact is, there cannot be an actual "cause" unless there is simultaneously an
Whereas an effect cannot exist without having been caused,
the cause is not actually a cause unless it actually causes an effect. To
illustrate, as a cause God is the Creator, but only so because of His
creation, the effect.
So in regeneration, or the New Birth, the
Holy Spirit's using the Word is the source or cause of regeneration, but it does
not exist separate from or before faith. The Spirit's work is to create faith
efficiently by His power and instrumentally by the Word or Gospel.
He does not work apart from means, and the means is the Truth of the
The theory espoused by Berkhof and some others of our time is --
according to Berkhof -- not in accord with the views of Luther, Calvin, the
Confessions, and seventeenth century writers (Puritans) (Systematic
Theology, pages 466, 468, 470, 476). Its thesis is that the use of the Word is
not an essential means in the Spirit's work of regeneration (pages 471-476).
God does not ordinarily work but by
means, and does not produce anything without them which may be done with
them. God does not maintain the creatures by a daily creation, but by
generation; he maintains that faculty of generation in them by the means of
health and nourishment, and that by the means of the fruits of the earth, and
does all this according to the ordinance he fixed at the creation, when he
appointed every kind of creatures their proper food, and bestowed his blessing
upon them, 'Increase and multiply.' So according to the method God has set of
men's actions, it is necessary that this regeneration should be by some
word as an instrument, for God has given understanding and will to man.
We cannot understand anything, or will anything, but what is proposed to us by
some external object; as our eye can see nothing but what is without us, our
hand take nothing but what is without us, so it is necessary that God by the
word should set before us those things which our understandings may apprehend,
and our wills embrace.
The Confessions attribute the
New Birth to Holy Spirit, and they always affirm that the Spirit's work is in
conjunction with His use of the Word or Gospel as the means. -- Bob L.
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