Apr 20, 2009

S. H. Ford on Ordo Salutis

The following was written by Dr. S. H. Ford and concerns the debate over the "ordo salutis" and the relationship of faith to regeneration and new birth.


A pure speech among those who desire to strive together for the faith of the gospel, and especially among ministers who labor together, is certainly most desirable. Disputes and vain janglings about terms often result in aberrations and confusion. Whether regeneration precedes repentance and faith, or whether it is the immediate consequence of faith, has long been, and still is, a question debated, often with considerable feeling. The doctrine that the first work done for the sinner, in the process of conversion, is his regeneration, and that he is then, and may continue long, a regenerate unbeliever, appears to many sound Christians an evident absurdity. And yet, if, as is acknowledged, the sinner is "dead in trespasses and sins" how absurd to speak of his exercising living, saving faith, before he has been made alive, or regenerated!

The supporters and opposers of each of these statements or doctrines have unsparingly exposed the inconsistencies or absurdities of the other. The logomachy has been continued and is almost endless. Logic and metaphysics have been brought into requisition to draw distinctions without a difference; and to-day, the introduction of the question in a company of preachers, or a ministers' meeting, will awaken interest and debate sooner than almost any other subject.

In the present article the aim is not so much the thorough investigation of the subject as to call the attention of ministers to the use of terms which will convey the meaning of the inspired word, without at once suggesting to the mind a train of objections and arguments against a supposed theory. In fact, if Bible terms for spiritual things were invariably and scrupulously used, a pure speech would in almost all cases be followed by a pure theology.

There is one great fact, one momentous truth, in connection with this controversy, concerning which all Christians are agreed. They know from God's word; they know from their own inner and outer history; they know from every page of the world's history, and from every-day's observation, that man is depraved, deeply, ruinously ; and that without an entire change, he is lost, ruined forever. Concerning this there can be no question among Christians. They are farther agreed, that, "except a man be born again," or from above, as the original reads, "he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." This change, all Christians agree, is spiritual. It is wrought in the soul by the Holy Spirit. It is an internal, spiritual renovation—"a change of mind, of heart; taking effect on the understanding, when it is enlightened; on the conscience, when it is convinced; on the will, when it is subdued; on the affections, when they are refined and purged; on the whole man, when he is renovated by the renewing of his mind, and created anew in Christ unto good works." About all this, converted men and women entertain but one view. They "know they have passed from death unto life," and that the Spirit is the author of this gracious and glorious change. To enlighten the darkened understanding, to awaken the slumbering conscience, to subdue the stubborn will, to break up the great deep of the heart, to make willing in the day of His power,—this is the work of the Eternal Spirit, effected through the word.

Now, the question is,—by what terms are his merciful operations on the soul designated in the inspired word? The result of his agency is, most undoubtedly, a new, holy, and glorious life. But the incipient workings on the conscience, the understanding, and heart—producing compunction, conviction, repentance—what terms shall we use in speaking of these? Now there are serious objections to the use of the word regeneration when speaking of this first awakening of the sinner to a sense of danger and of sin. The principal and most serious objection is, that the Bible never uses this term to describe it. Indeed, this objection is sufficient to lead to an entire abandonment of the use of the word regeneration in this connection."

"We have thus examined the only places where the term palig-genesia (regeneration) occurs, and in neither case does its usage warrant its application to the first work of the Spirit on the awakened soul. From this we conclude that it is incorrect to say that the sinner is first regenerated, that he then penitently seeks Christ, and exercises faith in his finished work.

To find the term which should always be used to denote the Spirit's first effectual work upon the heart, as well as the order of that gracious influence, let us turn to the sixteenth chapter of John, where more is said concerning the mission of the Spirit than in all the Bible beside.

"Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove (margin, convince) the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment." The word elegzie, translated "reprove" in the text, and "convince" in the margin, has a stronger sense in the original. It means, to convince unto conviction. Coverdale and Cranmer, translators, have it rebuke. It is the same word used by Paul to Titus, 1:9: "That he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince (elegzein)." Also thirteenth verse : "Whereupon rebuke (elegxe) them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith." That is, convince them cuttingly (apotomoos). The word translated sharply is figurative—borrowed from the surgeons, who, in curing their patients, are sometimes obliged to cut their flesh in such a manner as to give them great pain. Titus was to convince with an earnestness, "whereby the consciences of the offenders being awakened, would sting them bitterly" (Me. Knighf).

Here, then, is the meaning of the word used by Christ to describe the work of the Spirit on the sinner's heart—"He shall convict of sin, because they believe not in me." That is, "frown upon, or convict by proof." We therefore conclude that the first part of the Spirit's work in conversion, is to produce in the mind a deep conviction of sin and guilt, and consequent danger. " He Shall


The experience of every Christian accords with this teaching. The first light that gleamed in upon the darkened understanding was the conviction that we were sinners, guilty before God. The first awakening of conscience was the utterance of its decisions, condemning. To stand trembling before God a convicted sinner, helpless, ruined, is what every converted man has experienced. This may be called "quickening," being begotten, and such other figurative terms; but it is, in fact, a conviction of guilt, and condemnation, and to call it by that name would avoid all the confusion which the figurative words introduce. The convinced and converted sinner will fall before God and plead for mercy. Convicted of sin because he believes not in Christ, he is led by the Spirit, through the instrumentality of truth, to Jesus the Lamb of God, in whom is righteousness and life. None but the convicted sinner will repent; none but the convicted will believe. He that "believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is Born." For "we are the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ."

This article must here close, with the expectation of investigating more at length this important subject." (pg. 903-07)

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