There is a biblically-revealed, logical order to the work of salvation, one that highlights the glory of God’s work in Christ …
Geerhardus Vos is known for being a biblical theologian – in fact many would say Vos was the ‘father of Reformed biblical theology’. Yet this biblical theologian was also – already – a systematic theologian even before his best known writings on biblical theology emerged.
Vos’s Reformed Dogmatics has recently appeared in English translation for the first time thanks to Prof. Richard Gaffin, his team and Lexham Press. These volumes are basically gathered lecture ‘notes’ and follow a catechetical-style, question and answer format. Each of the five volumes is well worth reading carefully. In this and subsequent posts, I want to extract, highlight and reflect upon sections from Volume Four: Soteriology.
Q1. What is understood under the ordo salutis, the “order of salvation”?
The series of acts and steps in which the salvation obtained by Christ is subjectively appropriated by the elect …
In the answer to Q2, Vos notes that the classical biblical text for the ordo salutis, namely Romans 8:28-30, ‘gives us an ordered sequence’ by which to understand God’s work to glorify himself by saving sinners in Christ. It’s worth recalling what that key text teaches:
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 20 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
In the flow of Paul’s argument in Romans 8 these penultimate verses serve the purpose, among other things, of grounding and explaining God’s loving goodness towards believers and the Spirit’s intercessory work, particularly in the face of weakness, persecution and suffering. But in so doing, vv. 28-30 also open a revealed window for us into the wisdom of how God has so ordered the logic of salvation in a way that both blesses the believer and glorifies himself.
In Q2, Vos goes on to comment that this ‘subjective application of salvation obtained by Christ’ is organised in the way these verses reveal:
[It] does not occur at once or arbitrarily … There are a multiplicity of relationships and conditions to which all the operations of grace have a certain connection.
Without this order, Vos argues (with Romans 8 in mind),
[t]he fullness of God’s works of grace and the rich variety of His acts of salvation would not be prized and appreciated.
That is to say, as we come to see that there is an order to salvation and begin to grasp its aspects and interconnections more clearly from Scripture, we we will find ourselves more and more humbled by God’s gracious work for us and, by implication, our faith will be strengthened.
Vos adds that this insight from Romans 8 not only opens up a rich and deep theological vein to trace out more clearly in and on the basis of Scripture; it further teaches us to persevere in patience and to recall that God’s glory is his chief end (and ours), even in salvation:
Consequently, the Scripture gives us an ordered sequence (e.g., Rom 8:28-30). At the same time, this order shows us that even in what is most subjective the purpose of God may not be limited to the satisfaction of the creature’s longing for blessedness. If this were so, then the order that is slow and in many respects tests the patience of the children of God would be lost. But here, too, God works first of all to glorify Himself according to the principles of an eternal order and an immanent propriety.
Next up: but do Reformed theologians agree on the inner logic and connections of this ordo?