By the “Ordo Salutis” is understood the series of acts or steps whereby the salvation which Christ has merited for His elect people is applied to them by the Holy Spirit of the exalted Christ. From this work the activity of the sinner himself is not indeed always consciously excluded. So, for example, Dr. Gerk. Vos in his definition uses the expression “subjectief toegeigend wordt”, and Dr. Bavinck says “Christ and His benefits are first actually applied and distributed in the internal calling, and from man’s side passively accepted in regeneration (en passief van s’ menschen zijde aanvaard)Dogm. Vol. IV, p. 100. Similarly Dr. Bavinck says that the calling, the preaching of the Gospel proceeds all the other benefits, for as a rule the Holy Spirit binds Himself to the Word (Vol. Ill, 602, IV, 13-14), and this is also reflected in the fact that he proposes the order: calling (with regeneration in the narrow sense, faith and conversion); justification, etc.
If now we would receive the impression from these expressions that these theologians were unsound or a bit Pelagian in their views our impression is soon corrected by a reading of their expositions, and it must only be regarded as a proof of some of the difficulties that lie in this field especially with respect to the first steps, namely, regeneration and faith. And especially in connection with the question of regeneration Dr. A. Kuyper states: It is to be lamented that so many theologians neglected to make the (threefold) distinction in the case of regeneration, and still more lamentable that our Forms of Unity make so little distinct mention which of the three they mean (Diet. Dogm., De Salute, p, 71),
The importance of this for our subject will be evident as we consider the further relation to our next step.
The “Unconscious” is not so much a theological as a psychological conception. It is especially in the last- century that the field of the unconscious has been ardently studied. We may perhaps distinguish three different angles from which to approach this field, namely, from, the inspired data of the Scriptures, by introspection and by experimentation making use especially of the highly developed laboratory apparatus of our day. At least this last, we immediately see, at once opens the field anew. But it is also especially in this last approach that great care must be taken to keep fully in view that which Scripture has infallibly told us about the essence of man, his soul and its spirituality. For it is precisely the doctrine of the soul as a distinct essence that gives meaning to the word “unconsciousness” in distinction from such theories as identify the soul with its actions, for example as the school of Wm. James which speaks of mind as a stream of thought or of consciousness. Rather we can undoubtedly speak distinctively of the soul’s reactions, her faculties, the soul as such, and her substance.
Hence though in the rather strict sense of the word we would mean by the “unconscious” that which is closely related to the conscious, that which lies just beneath the threshold in dormancy, yet for our subject we can also mean all that which pertains to the soul beneath that threshold of consciousness.
Thus the question of the Unconscious in the Ordo Salutis confronts us with several important problems.
The salvation in the phase of which we are speaking is the life of Christ—His life of (active) righteousness, holiness, love, covenant-fellowship. How can these things be a matter of unconsciousness?
He may of course maintain that the conscious cooperation of man in his salvation does not at all impugn the Divine initiative for Scripture plainly teach that, for example God converts and sanctifies man, while he at the same time converts and sanctifies himself. Or again, faith is a gift of God but man does the believing. Work out your salvation. . . . for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do. Thus we can readily and may freely speak of a conscious participation of the saved man in these steps of the Ordo Salutis.
But this surely becomes impossible when we come to the step of regeneration. The very term used by the sacred writers, though somewhat figurative, is exactly effective in emphasizing the fact that man is wholly passive, that he was dead but is made alive, that his inmost heart is changed. And though it might still be maintained that this death is not a physical but a spiritual death, and hence all activity is not lacking yet even then the term stresses the utter inability of the object to cooperate in any way.
But this question is brought to a sharper statement when we consider it in the case of an infant. This problem has undoubtedly not always been treated as objectively as many other points of doctrine, but leaving aside the questions of universal infant salvation, the salvation of all covenant infants, and baptism upon the presumption of regeneration, we may hold that infants can be saved.
However, when it is maintained further that they are saved by faith, since that is the rule of the Gospel, we again must ask, is this a conscious faith or an unconscious faith? And if the latter what does this mean? What is an unconscious faith? Is it believing? Does it perform any of the things, that faith as taught in Scripture does. Does it give the testimony of justification at the bar of the conscience? Does it sanctify by appropriating the fellowship and the spiritual virtues of Christ? Is there a faith that is only potentially faith? It seems to me that what is often called the habitus of faith is exactly what it expresses, namely, the habit of faith, which remains also in our sleep and in our “faithless” moments, but is much more of active faith than a potentiality is. And in the other hand the examples or analogies often borrowed from nature are easily misleading. We might say the potentiality of an oak lies already in the acorn, but we know that the rudiments are already these in the physical seed and that which finally becomes the oak is formed by the immanent power and providence of God through the years of growth.
Even when we would speak of faith as a function given with the creation of man, as is done by Dr. A. Kuyper (Encycl. II, 71-78) and Dooyeweerd (Wijsb. der Wetsidee, II, 227 ff.) we still only regard it as a neutral something which must still be given a positive soteriological tendency, but is not at all as such the receiving organ adapted to appropriate the gifts of salvation.
Finally, to apply the Scriptural principle, “faith is counted for righteousness” is not at all appropriate here, for it is exactly the conscious living faith that clings to Christ that receives testimony of God’s good pleasure.
Before I end this article I would also mention an ethical aspect that comes into consideration when we speak of the unconscious in our salvation. The Scriptures teach that God shall render to every man according to his works. This consideration is much more important than would appear from an isolated passage for this statement of principle occurs again and again throughout Scripture and is stated in very clear detail, for example, in Rom. 2:1-16, where the Apostle maintains the inexcusableness of man and the righteous, judgment of God by adducing the works that shall serve as the basis of the judgment that is to be revealed.
It is remarkable that also this consideration weighed very heavily with Dr. Greydanus (and is approve! by Dr. Schilder) when he chose for and defended the realistic participation of men in Adam’s transgression.
Now we may not, in the light of many federalists passages in Scripture, consider the realistic interpretation of the one passage, Rom. 5:12 as very convincing, but aside from this it is undoubtedly true that the relation between personal works and punishment or reward is not always sufficiently considered. I believe this can be said without in any way slighting the distinctive doctrines of pure grace, immediate imputation, irresistible (not only inseparable) grace.
In the light of these facts we may well reflect upon the question whether the salvation of infants, and even regeneration is unconscious or whether God indeed by a secret operation of His unwritten Word internally reveals Himself in His divine virtues and in His gifts of salvation (which by us are received by conscious knowledge and faith) to those who are the recipients of His life of love and fellowship.
But here we will surely love to exclaim as we reflect upon this hidden and unknown realm “0 the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable .ire His judgments and His ways past finding out.