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Order of Salvation

A Study of the Ordo Salutis

Calvinistic ordo salutis Arminian ordo salutis
External (universal / resistible)
Internal (limited / efficacious)
Prevenient Grace
(universal / resistible)
Regeneration / New Birth
(passive / monergistic)
External (universal / resistible)
Faith & Repentance

The Gifts of God
Faith & Repentance

Freedom of the Will
Justification Regeneration
(active / synergistic)
Adoption Justification
(perseverance assured)
Glorification Sanctification
(apostasy possible)

A.        The Call(s) to Salvation

We begin with what theologians refer to as the divine "call" of the gospel. In Matthew 22:14, we read, "For many are called, but few are chosen." John Calvin provides a helpful explanation of this:

"Nothing will be ambiguous if we hold fast to what ought to be clear from the foregoing: that there are two kinds of call. There is the general [or"external”] call, by which God invites all equally [both Ed and Jerry] to himself through the outward preaching of the word-even those to whom he holds it out as a savor of death (cf. II Cor 2:16), and as the occasion for severer condemnation. The other kind of call is special [and "internal"], which he deigns for the most part to give to the believers alone, while by the inward illumination of his Spirit he causes the preached Word to dwell in their hearts" (3.24.8).

What this means is that whereas everyone is called by God externally in that the gospel is preached to all, only the elect are called by God internally in that they alone are enabled to respond in saving faith. We see much the same thing in 1 Thessalonians 1:5, in which Paul declares that his gospel did not come to the Thessalonians "in word only but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction." Conceivably then, the gospel may indeed come to many in word only, that is to say, externally. They hear it with the ear but there is no response of faith in the heart. To others, the elect, the gospel comes not only in word but also in such a way that the Holy Spirit powerfully and efficaciously effects a saving response.

Although the Bible does not use the word "external" with reference to a call of God, the fact that God issues an invitation which is universal, yet ultimately ineffective, justifies its employment in our discussion. The external call may therefore be defined as the presentation of the gospel and offer of salvation to all sinners. This call or invitation to come to Christ to receive the forgiveness of sins is indiscriminate, which is to say it is not restricted to any one group, age, class, or nation.

·        The external call, therefore, is simply the command of God that all men everywhere should repent and believe in order that they might be saved (see Matt. 11:28; 28:19; Luke 24:47; John 16:7-8; Acts 17:30; Rev. 22:17). This call, because it is external only, may be resisted and refused (see especially Acts 7:51; John 16:7-11).


·        The "internal" call, on the other hand, may be defined as that summons by which God not only invites a woman externally in the gospel, but also internally enables her to respond to it. Thus the internal call is, in a sense, the external call with an added dimension. Attendant with the spoken word of the gospel is the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit which irresistibly secures a positive, saving response from the one called.

Consider the hypothetical example of twin brothers, Jerry and Ed, who are raised in the same home with the same influences and education, and regularly hear the same gospel preached every week at church. One day, Jerry professes his faith in Christ while his brother, Ed, remains stubbornly opposed to the claims of the gospel. What happened?


What I am saying is that although both Ed and Jerry heard the call of God in the gospel, only Jerry was given "spiritual ears" in order that he might make sense of it. Whereas both Ed and Jerry thought about what they heard in the gospel, only Jerry was given insight and understanding in order that he might recognize its truth. That Jerry heard, saw, understood, and finally believed the gospel of Jesus Christ is owing ultimately not to Jerry and his free will, but to the sovereign grace of almighty God.

This internal call by which Jerry was drawn to faith is an effectual call. In other words, it goes beyond simply presenting the truth of Christianity to the mind; it actually and always issues in a positive response of the mind. The internal call, because it comes only to the elect, is designed to secure, infallibly and effectively, the saving response which the external call alone could not.

Although the internal call which comes only to the elect is ultimately efficacious, it is not always immediately efficacious. Many of the elect hear the external call of the gospel for years and resist the summons in persistent, callous unbelief (even as Jerry did). But eventually, if they are elect, in God's appointed time they will believe. The elect, observes Calvin,

"are gathered into Christ's flock by a call not immediately at birth, and not all at the same time, but according as it pleases God to dispense his grace to them. But before they are gathered unto that supreme Shepherd, they wander scattered in the wilderness common to all; and they do not differ at all from others except that they are protected by God's special mercy from rushing headlong into the final ruin of death" (3.24.10).

B.         Irresistible Grace

See especially John 6:37-40,44,65 (and my study on that passage entitled, “Was Jesus a Calvinist?”) Is it proper then, to speak of this call as "irresistible"? Many Calvinists have objected to this adjective. For example, A. A. Hodge argues that "it is to be lamented that the term irresistible grace has ever been used, since it suggests the idea of a mechanical and coercive influence upon an unwilling subject, while, in truth, it is the transcendent act of the infinite Creator, making the creature spontaneously willing" (452). D. A. Carson agrees:

"The expression [irresistible grace] is misleading, because it suggests what the theologians themselves usually seek to avoid, viz. the idea that the inevitability of the coming-to-Jesus by those given to Jesus means they do so against their will, squealing and kicking as it were" (185).

In other words, "irresistible grace" is said to imply that the sinner wants to resist but cannot; he is forced against his will to believe what he otherwise would have rejected.

Both A. A. Hodge and D. A. Carson have a point. I concur that perhaps the unwise and overzealous use of this expression might issue in a misunderstanding of biblical Calvinism. However, it must also be noted that all Calvinists concede that inwardly and subjectively, that is, beneath the level of consciousness, the Holy Spirit effects a transformation of the mind and will which inevitably and irresistibly issues in the conscious acquiescence of the person to the truth of the gospel. Prior to this effectual transformation, the person is unwilling to believe. Subsequent to it, he is willing to believe and, in fact, does believe. If God did not at some point make us willing to believe we would forever have remained unwilling and consequently lost. In this sense the grace of effectual calling and regeneration is, properly speaking, irresistible. When we consciously reflect upon and eventually embrace the gospel by faith, we do so willingly, not unwillingly, because antecedent to that decision God in his grace made us willing. This, of course, is what Jesus was referring to in John 6:57: "All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me" (italics added).

This is the glory and miracle of grace, that God, through the Holy Spirit, is able to transform a stubborn, rebellious, and unbelieving will into a passionate, obedient, believing will without violating the integrity of the individual or diminishing the voluntary nature of one’s decision to trust Christ for salvation.

C.        Regeneration or the New Birth

This obviously prompts us to ask another question. What precisely was it that the Holy Spirit did in Jerry that he did not do in Ed? What was it, if anything, that the Holy Spirit did in Jerry that elicited the appropriate response to the call issued in the gospel? The answer is regeneration. Or to use an expression that everyone today knows, Jerry was "born again." Jerry believes the gospel because there has taken place within him a radical and spiritually pervasive transformation in which his mind, soul, heart, indeed his entire personality has been renewed by the Spirit of God.

Who or what is the cause of this radical spiritual transformation that the Bible refers to as "regeneration" or being "born again"? Pelagians understand regeneration to be nothing more than reformation, a mere exchange of one set of habits for another set (achieved, of course, by a free act of will). Since man is not constitutionally depraved, that is, depraved by nature, being at worst the innocent victim of bad examples and other circumstances beyond his control, he does not need re-creation, only redirection.

Arminians believe that regeneration is brought to pass by the divine will and human will working in conjunction with one another. Or if they say that God alone regenerates, he does so only when and because the individual believes by a free act of will, or does not resist the overtures of grace. For example, we are told that "God cannot and to say the same thing - will not regenerate a heart that will not admit him. God respects the sovereignty-within-limitations with which he endowed man at creation" (William MacDonald, 86).

Calvinists insist that the sole cause of regeneration or being born again is the will of God. God first sovereignly and efficaciously regenerates, and only in consequence of that do we act. Therefore, the individual is passive in regeneration, neither preparing himself nor making himself receptive to what God will do. Regeneration is a change wrought in us by God, not an autonomous act performed by us for ourselves. Man's status in regard to regeneration is that of a recipient, not a contributor. Man is spiritually, in relation to regeneration, what Lazarus was physically, in relation to resurrection: dead, passive, unable to do anything at all, wholly subject to the will of him who gives life and breath to whomever he desires. Consequently, as Shedd explains,

"the new life is not implanted because man perceives the truth, but he perceives the truth because the new life is implanted. A man is not regenerated because he has first believed in Christ, but he believes in Christ because he has been regenerated. He is not regenerated because he first repents, but he repents because he has been regenerated" (2b:509).

In the doctrine of regeneration we are asserting that beneath and before all positive human response to the gospel, whether faith, repentance, love, or conversion, there is a supernatural, efficacious, and altogether mysterious work of the Holy Spirit. This work of the Spirit is both prior to and the effectual cause of all activity on the part of man. To sum up, the Holy Spirit regenerates a person in order that a person may convert to God.

What we have been looking at is the order or process in which salvation is received by the elect of God. We have been concerned with how the Good Shepherd draws his sheep unto himself. As is frequently the case, the hymnwriter has a way of bringing it all together in a most satisfying way:

"I know not why God's wondrous grace

To me He hath made known,

Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love

Redeemed me for His own.

I know not how this saving faith

To me He did impart,

Nor how believing in His Word

Wrought peace within my heart.

I know not how the Spirit moves,

Convincing men of sin,

Revealing Jesus thro' the Word,

Creating faith in Him.

But I know whom I have believed,

And am persuaded that He is able

To keep that which I've committed

Unto Him against that day."