We must carefully distinguish among the acts of God and their ‘mutual connection’ when considering what the Bible teaches about the way of salvation.
In Q. 5 Vos notes briefly that Gisbertus Voetius (Dutch theologian, 1589-1676) is one example of an earlier Reformed classification of divine acts in a threefold manner:
- Reconciliation, justification and adoption are divine acts that alter our status before God.
- External calling and other ‘moral acts’ are those that are directed towards ‘the will of man with moral suasion’ but do not ‘transform inwardly’.
- Regeneration and glorification are divine acts that actually change us within.
Vos registers his approval of Voetius’ classification by commenting that ‘the main features are drawn quite correctly here’.
With Q. 6 Vos moves on to ask ‘What distinctions must we make with a view to arriving at a clear overview of these different acts in their mutual connection?’ His answer is to point to four key distinctions:
- Judicial acts vs. Re-creating acts.
The former bring about a change of our relationship and status before God (e.g. justification). The latter actually produce a change inwardly in our condition (e.g. sanctification).
- Acts Under/In vs. For.
God acts in such a way to apply salvation by means of acts that relate differently to the ‘consciousness of the sinner’. Acts such as regeneration are not consciously known by the sinner whereas acts such as justification are communicated to ‘the sinner’s consciousness of acquittal and merits of Christ’.
- Removing vs. Establishing acts.
Sin must be removed. Righteousness must be enabled. Repentance relates to the former; regeneration to the latter. Vos insists that ‘these two – removing the old and establishing the new – accompany each other at every point’ in God’s gracious work in the sinner.
- Breakthrough vs. Further impact.
God’s grace break in dramatically for the sinner. This relates most nearly to regeneration. And God’s grace continues to impact, renew and ‘develop’ the sinner who is saved by grace. This relates most closely to sanctification and the ongoing character of mortification and vivification.
Next up: How do these four different ‘groups’ of acts interrelate and how might they offer us important diagnostic questions for considering each step of the ordo salutis?