The recent show at Reformed Forum on union with Christ has generated a lively exchange (some of which spilled over to Old Life). As he did at Old Life, David has produced a number of quotations from Reformed theologians on the ordo salutis that suggest the unionists have their work cut out for them if they are going to claim that John Murray or Dick Gaffin hung the union moon. For instance (thanks to David):
The sinner receives the initial grace of regeneration on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ. Consequently, the merits of Christ must have been imputed to him before his regeneration. But while this consideration leads to the conclusion that justification logically precedes regeneration, it does not prove the priority of justification in a temporal sense.
A. A. Hodge wrote:
The second characteristic mark of Protestant soteriology is the principle that the change of relation to the law signalized by the term justification, involving remission of penalty and restoration to favor, necessarily precedes and renders possible the real moral change of character signalized by the terms regeneration and sanctification. The continuance of judicial condemnation excludes the exercise of grace in the heart. Remission of punishment must be preceded by remission of guilt, and must itself precede the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart. Hence it must be entirely unconditioned upon any legal standing, or moral or gracious condition of the subject. We are pardoned in order that we may be good, never made good in order that we may be pardoned. We are freely made co-heirs with Christ in order that we may become willing co-workers with him, but we are never made co-workers in order that we may become co-heirs.
These principles are of the very essence of Protestant soteriology. To modify, and much more, of course, to ignore or to deny them, destroys absolutely the thing known as Protestantism, and ought to incur the forfeiture of all recognized right to wear the name.
And James Buchanan wrote:
It has sometimes been asked—Whether Regeneration or Justification has the precedency in the order of nature? This is a question of some speculative interest, but of little practical importance. It relates to the order of our conceptions, not to the order of time; for it is admitted on all hands that the two blessings are bestowed simultaneously. The difficulties which have suggested it are such as these,—How God can be supposed, on the one hand, to bestow the gift of His Spirit on any one who is still in a state of wrath and condemnation,—and how He can be supposed, on the other hand, to justify any sinner while he is not united to Christ by that living faith which is implanted only by the Spirit of God? But such difficulties will be found to resolve themselves into a more general and profound question; and can only be effectually removed, by falling back on God’s eternal purpose of mercy towards sinners, which included equally their redemption by Christ, and their regeneration by His Spirit. The grand mystery is how God, who hates sin, could ever love any class of sinners,—and so love them, as to give His own Son to die for them, and His Holy Spirit to dwell in them. The relation which subsists, in respect of order, between Regeneration and Justification, is sufficiently determined, for all practical purposes, if neither is held to be prior or posterior to the other, in point of time,—and if it is clearly understood that they are simultaneous gifts of the same free grace; for then it follows,— that no unrenewed sinner is justified,—and that every believer, as soon as he believes, is pardoned and accepted of God.
All of which leads to the point that the Reformed tradition has not been uniform on the ordo salutis. How could it be since the ordo is one of the great mysteries of the faith — the Spirit of God working invisibly in the hidden corners of the human soul?
If the Reformed tradition has witnessed (and by implication tolerated) a variety of views on the ordo salutis, what is so crucial to the unionist position? One answer might be historical. Today’s church has neglected a doctrine that has been central to the Reformed tradition. But is union solely the possession of Reformed Protestantism? Last I checked, Luther believed in and taught union with Christ. And so have various Reformed theologians who then proceeded to situate union in relation to the application of redemption in a variety of ways.
Another answer is that the gospel is at stake in the doctrine of union. I sometimes believe that unionists sound as if getting union right is on the order of fidelity to the gospel.
Or it could simply be a matter of doctrinal fine tuning. If we spend a little more time on union then other matters of the faith become clearer or pastorally beneficial.
But given the decibel level of unionists’ arguments (not to mention the length of their interviews), I am not sure that historical accuracy or a doctrinal tune-up is an adequate explanation. That would leave the gospel as the matter at stake in debates over union.
If anyone can help me understand the union ruckus, I’d be grateful.