Heidelcast 21: What is the Order of Regeneration and Faith?

Today’s Heidelcast answers mail on the question of whether it is to the living or to the dead that God gives faith. Dan writes to ask “I believe, at least inferentially, that the Canons of Dort teach that regeneration logically precedes faith. I was wondering the Canons of Dort speak of the timing of regeneration and faith?” There have been Reformed theologians who have said that God the Spirit makes sinners alive and they may spiritually alive and may remain in this state for some time before they actually come to faith. The reason that some took this approach was to guard against the error of the Remonstrants/Arminians, who taught that we are regenerated because we believe. Of course, this is exactly backwards. It contradicts Paul’s doctrine of sin in Ephesians 2. By nature, after the fall, in Adam, we are “dead in sins and trespasses.” Scripture does not say that we are weak, ill, or merely wounded. Dead means dead. It means unable. It means that we are not only unable but that, by nature, in Adam, we are at war with God. By nature we hate him. We can only come to faith when the Spirit sovereignly, freely, graciously raises us to life. In Heidelberg Catechism (as in the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dort) we confess that he does this (Rom 10) through the preaching of the Holy Gospel. In Reformed theology we don’t have to choose between God’s free, sovereign work in sinners and his use of instruments and means. It’s not either…or. It’s both…and. In the same way, we haven’t stipulated exactly when we come to faith but, contrary to some calls to get rid of the order of salvation in Reformed theology (and see also here), in confessional Reformed theology we certainly have a logical order, just as Paul does in Romans 8. It is the dead God to whom God gives new life, it is to the living he gives faith, and it is through faith we are justified and it is the justified who are mystically united to Christ. Reformed theology isn’t that difficult. Here’s the episode:

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  1. most helpful – thank you

    I can see – contra Arminians – that belief cannot precede regeneration, but if belief follows, is there not then still the possibility of a second Arminian opening – that some choose belief after regeneration while others do not.

    Perhaps differences in the ordo and historia can resolve this

  2. I remember reading Murray’s Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, he didn’t want to come down dogmatically on the order between repentance and faith; any thoughts there?

    • I think I heard you insist that only believers can repent, but Murray says, at the beginning of the chapter on Faith & Repentance: “The question has been discussed: which is prior, faith or repentance? It is an unnecessary question and the insistence that one is prior to the other futile. There is no priority.”

      It seems to me conceivable that repentance could precede faith; in a properly-preached sermon, could not somebody be convicted by the Law, understanding the gravity of their sin, grieving over it, and resolving to turn from it (and yet perhaps even despairing), until Law is followed by Gospel, to which they then respond in faith?

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