The Ordo Salutis and the Westminster Standards

Each presbytery meeting, we usually have the opportunity to examine candidates for licensure and ordination.As you’d expect, these exams cover important topics pertaining to the doctrine of Scripture, theology proper, anthropology, Christology, soteriology, and ecclesiology. I enjoy these exams. It’s a joy to hear a candidate speak of his Lord Jesus Christ and the system of doctrine revealed to us in Holy Scripture.

The better exams usually include language from the Westminster Standards along with Scriptural references. Strong candidates demonstrate that they not only have portions of the standards memorized but have facility to work with them. They can convey important doctrines in their own words and demonstrate that they understand them and the key portions of Scripture upon which they rest.

One of the regular questions asked of candidates regards the ordo salutis or order of salvation. It refers to specific salvific benefits and how they relate to one another. Oddly enough, here people stray from the precise language of the standards opting for something of a pro forma golden chain description. Candidates often say the ordo salutis is election, effectually calling, conversion (which is faith and repentance), justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification. It is well-attested in our tradition and many respected theologians have developed such a chain in accord with Scripture. And so, I’m not surprised to hear this answer, but I often wonder why it never solicits any followup from the examiner or questions the floor. What exactly does a candidate mean?

For example, are we to understand this as a logical order? Is it a causal or even temporal order? And where is union with Christ? More importantly: what is the language of the Westminster Standards on these matters and how does it relate to Scripture (e.g. Romans 8:29–30; 1 Cor 1:30–31; 6:11, 2 Cor 3:18; et al)?

Shorter Catechism

Q. 32. What benefits do they that are effectually called partake of in this life?
A. They that are effectually called do in this life partake of justification, adoption and sanctification, and the several benefits which in this life do either accompany or flow from them.

Q. 36. What are the benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption and sanctification?
A. The benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption and sanctification, are, assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end.

Larger Catechism

Q. 66. What is that union which the elect have with Christ?
A. The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God’s grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectual calling.

Confession of Faith

10.1. All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that 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 unto 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.

11.1. Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness, by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.

12.1. All those that are justified, God vouchsafeth, in and for his only Son Jesus Christ, to make partakers of the grace of adoption, by which they are taken into the number, and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God, have his name put upon them, receive the Spirit of adoption, have access to the throne of grace with boldness, are enabled to cry, Abba, Father, are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by him, as by a father: yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption; and inherit the promises, as heirs of everlasting salvation.

13.1. They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them: the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified; and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.

What do you think?

Is a golden chain the only way to read the standards? Does such a reading do justice to the standards? Should we give more attention to our language regarding the ordo salutis in theological examinations? Does it even matter? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Russ McQueen

11 months ago

Seems to me the Golden Chain is like TULIP, or perhaps the Roman Road, in that it is a drastic short cut, knowledge of which leaves many hungry to understand the fuller context, pieces and parts. Maybe good to start kids or new believers on, but for Goodness sake, we should never leave them dangling there.

Just like we ought not omit and avoid big theological words and concepts, supposing they will only frustrate, confuse, and chase people from the pews. What once was called ‘teaching’ is too often considered intrusive, offensive, unnecessary, and insulting.

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