Gaffin on Ordo and Historia Salutis

Richard Gaffin?s work always makes for challenging and edifying reading, and his inaugural lecture as Charles Krahe Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary, published in the Fall 2003 issue of the Westminster Theological Journal is no exception. Three points were especially revealing:

1) In discussing the relationship between ordo and historia salutis , Gaffin helpfully distinguishes a narrower and broader sense of ordo salutis . In a narrow sense, it refers to a particular sequence of God?s acts by which redemption is applied to believers. In the broader sense, it refers simply to the fact that redemption IS applied to believers in an act that is distinct from the accomplishment of redemption. In this broader sense, in short, the historia / ordo distinction is simply another way of speaking about redemption accomplished and applied, without making any claims about the particular sequence of application or even whether there is a ?sequence?Eof application. Gaffin rightly attacks Barth for obscuring the distinction between historia and ordo (in the broader sense), and rightly insists that the broader sense of ordo is essential to the gospel. I would press this to say that in this broader sense the ordo IS the gospel (from one perspective); the good news is that God has in Christ formed a church whose members have the law written on their hearts through the Spirit.

2) Gaffin argues that Calvin?s ordo salutis (in the narrower sense) highlights union with Christ, summarizing Calvin?s ordo as ?union with Christ by (Spirit-worked) faith: being and continuing to be united with Christ by faith, faith that, through the power of the Spirit, ?embraces Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.?? Gaffin goes on to show that this ordo is reflected at several points in the Westminster Standards, though he admits ?not as clearly elaborated as one might wish.?E

3) Finally, Gaffin goes back to Calvin to show the benefits of an ordo that centers on union with Christ. He discusses Calvin?s treatment of justification and sanctification (or ?regeneration?E at length, pointing out the striking fact that Calvin treats regeneration by faith at great length before ever beginning to discuss justification: ?He addresses the removal of the corrupting slavery of sin before considering the abolition of the guilt it incurs.?E Gaffin suggests that this is partly for apologetic reasons, to demonstrate that the Protestant doctrine of justification does not promote ?spiritual slothfulness and indifference to holy living.?E Calvin responds to this charge by ?showing that faith, in its Protestant understanding, entails a disposition to holiness without particular reference to justification, a concern for Godliness that is not to be understood only as a consequence of justification.?E Gaffin draws this striking conclusion: ?Calvin proceeds as he does, and is FREE to do so, because for him the relative ?ordo?Eor priority of justification and sanctification is indifferent theologically. Rather, what has controlling soteriological importance is the priority to both of (spiritual, ?existential,?Efaith-) union with Christ. This bond is such that it provides both justification and sanctification (?a double grace?E, as each is distinct and essential. Because of this union both, being reckoned righteous and being renewed in righteousness, are given without confusion, yet also without separation.?E

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