I’m a Calvinist. That means I subscribe to the 5 points of Calvinism. The Doctrines of God’s free and sovereign grace are more easily remembered by the acrostic TULIP. These 5 points of Calvinism were not invented by John Calvin. They came from the Synod of Dordt (1618-1619) where leading Reformed thinkers came together to answer to give an answer to the 5 points of Arminianism:
The Five Articles of Remonstrance are five points of Arminian theology written in 1610 by followers of Jacobus Arminius (1560—1609) outlining their disagreement with five key doctrines of Calvinism. The Five Articles of Remonstrance became a source of much controversy in the early Dutch Reformed Church of the Netherlands.
Remonstrants is the formal name given to adherents of Arminius (Jakob Hermandszoon in Dutch) who protested to the State of Holland in opposition to their Calvinist rivals. The term remonstrate means “to make a forceful, reproachful protest.”
After Arminius died in 1609, believers who shared his convictions came together in January 1610 to put down in writing their views concerning all the disputed doctrines. A document in the form of a remonstrance was drawn up by Jan Uytenbogaert, a leader of the Remonstrants and close friend of Arminius. It was signed by more than forty of Arminius’s followers.
The five articles were taken from the work of Arminius in his Declaratio Sententiae (1608). They briefly defined the Remonstrants’ doctrine and set the agenda for the resulting controversies. With only a few changes, the Five Articles of Remonstrance (also referred to as the Five Articles of Arminianism) were signed again and presented in July 1610 to the State of Holland as a plea for greater theological tolerance.
The Five Articles of Remonstrance heartily rejected Calvinistic positions, declaring that they were not contained in God’s Word or the Heidelberg Catechism. The Synod of Dort in 1619 deemed the five articles to be unedifying, dangerous, and not fit for preaching to Christian people. The points of protest are as follows:
Conditional predestination: Arminius taught that God elects individuals to salvation based on His foreknowledge of those who, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, believe in Jesus Christ and persevere in faith. This doctrine is sometimes called “conditional election.” In short, a person’s salvation is conditioned upon him or her choosing God. This first article refuted the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election, the view that God elects individuals to salvation based solely on His will and not on anything inherently worthy in the individual or any choice that he or she makes.
Universal, unlimited atonement: Arminian theology teaches that Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty for the sins of every person in the world. His saving grace is extended to all, but His atoning death becomes effective only in those who believe in Him and receive Him by faith. Calvinists believe in limited atonement—that Christ’s death only covered the sins of the elect.
Total depravity, or deprivation: The classic Arminian position is that “man has not saving grace of himself.” Salvation is by grace alone. Humans are incapable of exercising saving faith apart from God’s grace. This view did not diverge significantly from the Calvinist position of total depravity.
Grace is necessary but resistible: Arminianism rejects the Calvinist belief in irresistible grace, teaching instead that people have the free will to resist the grace of God and reject His call to salvation. The Calvinist doctrine of irresistible grace contends that, when God calls a person to salvation, he or she will inevitably be saved.
The possibility of falling from grace: In this fifth article, the Remonstrants did not utterly reject the idea of eternal security but admitted the need for further study, although it was later adopted as an established doctrine. Calvinists hold firmly to belief in the perseverance of the saints, meaning a person who is elected by God will continue in faith and will not permanently deny Christ or turn away from Him. The Remonstrants affirmed that believers are empowered to live a victorious life but also conceded the possibility that a person might exercise his or her own free will to turn away from Christ and lose salvation.
The conflict caused by the Five Articles of Remonstrance escalated with a counter-remonstrance in which the Remonstrants’ views were sharply attacked. Eventually, under Prince Maurice of Orange at the National Synod of Dordt in 1618—1619, the Five Articles of Remonstrance were officially condemned by the Canons of Dordt, and the Remonstrants were denounced as heretics.
For the next decade or so, the Remonstrants were prohibited from holding church services in the Netherlands. Those who did not comply were persecuted, imprisoned, or banished. With the arrival of Prince Frederick Henry after the death of Prince Maurice in 1625, the Remonstrants’ outlook began to improve. They could now build churches in the Netherlands and receive their banished preachers home again. But they were only tolerated and not officially recognized as an independent church community until after the revolution of 1795 when the church and state were separated in Holland.
Some more background on the Remonstrances – the Five Points of Arminianism.
- 1. Jacob Hermann was a Dutch theologian who lived from 1560 to 1609. He was best known by the Latin form of his last name–Arminius.
- 2. Although he was reared in the reformed tradition and taught in a Calvinistic seminary, Arminius had serious questions about sovereign grace as it was preached by the Reformers.
- 3. Several years after his death his students, called Arminians, formulated his concerns into five main points which they presented to the Dutch Parliament which had subscribed to the Reformed Doctrines of the Belgic and Heidelberg Confessions.
- 4. This “Remonstrance” was presented to the State of Holland and in 1618, a National Synod of the Church was convened in Dort to consider the teachings of Arminius in light of the Word of God.
- 5. After 154 sessions which lasted seven month The Five Points of the Remonstrance were found to be contrary to the Scripture and were declared heretical.
- 6. The Five Points of the Remonstrance may be summarized:
FREE WILL. Arminianism teaches that man has a free will. The fall of man was not total. There is enough good left in man for him to will to accept Christ unto salvation.
CONDITIONAL ELECTION. Arminianism teaches that election is based upon the foreknowledge of God that certain persons will believe. Man’s act of faith is the condition for his being elected to eternal life, as God foresees him exercising his free will in positive volition towards Christ.
UNIVERSAL ATONEMENT. Arminianism teaches that God loves everybody without distinction and without exception and Christ died for everyone. Redemption was general not specific. The death of Christ provided grounds for God to save all men just as long as each person exercises his free will to accept Christ.
OBSTRUCTABLE GRACE. Arminianism teaches that since God wants all men to be saved, He has sent the Holy Spirit to woo all men to Christ. However, since man has free will he is able to resist God’s will for his life. Finite man on an individual basis resisting the calling of the Holy Spirit will and can frustrate God’s omnipotent.
FALL FROM GRACE. Arminianism teaches that it is possible for a saved person in a state of grace to sin in such as way as to fall from grace and to be forever lost.
So the Synod of Dordt gave a definitive answer to these 5 points of Arminian theology. These 5 Reformed points are known by the acrostic TULIP:
T = Total Depravity (Total Inability of Man)
U = Unconditional Election (Not conditioned on Man)
L = Limited Atonement (Particular or Effectual)
I = Irresistible Grace (Effectual Grace)
P = Preservation of the Saints (Eternal Security)
There are many variations and explanations of the titles and terms for particular emphasis and most of the time, but not always, the core of what is being taught is the same.
Total Depravity: Mankind is in such a state when they come into the world that they are in a state of condemnation and have a sinful nature, which makes them unable do anything acceptable to God. God says they are not good, not righteous, do not understand spiritual things, and will not or cannot seek after God unless God first gives spiritual life. Man’s will is even affected because of his sin nature. Natural man may act religious, moral and sincere but the Bible says they are spiritually and judicially dead.
Unconditional Election: Before the world was created, God, in His sovereignty, purposed to set His affection on and chose a group of people, not conditioned on anything they would do good in the future, but conditioned their election solely on the merit of the LORD Jesus Christ. These are people the sovereign God purposed to save before they even sinned. Unconditional Election is Christ-centered, in that, God set fourth Christ as being the One He looks to as the only cause of acceptance and to fulfill all the conditions required in the whole of salvation.
Limited Atonement: Jesus Christ died exclusively for the ones God purposed and chose before the world began to save. There will not be anyone for whom Christ died that will end up in hell. He effectively saves His people based on the merit of the Person and work of Christ crucified,fully satisfying the demands of the Law for their Justification by establishing righteousness for them as their Representative and Substitute, once and for all time. This Atonement is the center-piece and, therefore, the gospel aspect of TULIP.
Irresistible Grace: God, using the same power it took to raise Christ from the dead, works in the heart and mind of His elect people to give them eternal life by imputing the righteousness of Jesus Christ to their account and regenerating them by the Holy Spirit, giving them, both, faith and repentance to trust Him and reject their own righteousness, thus Justifying them. It is the creation of a brand new state and standing, what the Bible calls the New Man, created in righteousness and holiness.
Preservation of the Saints: God preserves His people based solely upon the work Christ done for them, which put them in the unchanging, legal state of Justification. This means they are not only forgiven but also placed in the state where sin cannot be imputed or charged to their account. They are both forgiven of all past, present and future sin and are judged perfectly righteous based on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. God actually dwells in the justified by His Spirit and works in them to produce good works by faith. God causes them to continue in the faith all their life, energizing them to grow in the grace and knowledge of the LORD Jesus Christ.
This is SOVEREIGN GRACE! Glory to God for raising up the Reformers to re-establish the supremacy and authority of God’s Word. The Roman Catholic church had lost the Gospel.
Here we found the 5 points of Calvinism (aka the Doctrines of Grace) expressed in a single verse of Scripture! John 6:44. Amazing!
Here are the 5 points of Calvinism as articulated by my friend Owen Holden:
T – We sinned against an infinitely holy God in Adam, we being dead not less alive in Adam have none of the righteousness which is required of us, as defined in the Decalogue, we must be someone who has never broken the law, and has only kept it, “Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?”
Isaiah 33:14 KJV
U – Since God must punish and will punish everyone who breaks His law(the covenant of works), there is nothing we can do to be reconciled back to communion with God, being guilty of Adam’s sin and dead(as bad as we can possibly be), God must choose us, and deliver us from the guilt of sin and dominion of sin, otherwise we must perish, but how can He have communion with people He must hate? And how can He give life to people He must punish and curse?
L – The Father, sent His only begotten Son to make His election consistent with His justice, as all men became sinners in Adam, so everyone Christ died for become righteous in Him, Christ fulfills the terms of the covenant God made with Adam, as the last Adam, born of a woman, made under the law. Christ as God incarnate can work out a perfect righteousness for the elect, by keeping the law while not in Adam, while being a perfectly righteous man. Christ makes atonement for sin by taking upon Himself the wrath of God on the cross by being made a curse for the elect, and dying for them, to deliver them from the punishment due to them for sin, by being punished as the God-man, since no mere man can expiate sin against God, only God can. So the righteousness which God demands of us in His law, is worked out for the elect, in His law keeping (since we have never kept the law) and propitiating the wrath of God for their breaking the law (since we have only broken the law).
I – Though Christ has worked out a righteousness for His people and purchased for them all spiritual blessings, by meriting them in obedience and removing the curse from them in His death, this righteousness must be applied to us. This righteousness is applied by faith, but we being dead cannot believe. So the Spirit of God first renews the elect through correct doctrine, giving the nature of sons, to love the law and hate sin, and then causes them irresistibly to believe the same doctrine by which they were made sons, and this faith as it receives Christ in the gospel, applies the righteousness of Christ to them, so that they are counted as perfect in God’s sight, as if they had perfectly kept the law.
P – Since this life and faith was purchased, by Christ it will continue to grow, as the end for which Christ removes our guilt is to bring us back to communion with God, sanctification which is the growth of the image of God in the elect after new life is given them, is the Spirit’s work in them, which causes them to walk more and more by faith, “whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” The law then which declared what we must be and were not, now tells us what we are objectively and principally which is a keeper of God’s commandments, and prophetically in that it tells us what we will be subjectively in a future life. “Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.”
Romans 8:30 KJV
Here is a wonderful article: A Defense of Calvinism as the Gospel
by Prof. David J. Engelsma
The term “Calvinism” is not the name by which we Calvinists prefer to have our faith called; nor do we prefer to call ourselves “Calvinists.” Calvin was the name of a man, a great servant of God, John Calvin. He was one of the Reformers by whom the Holy Spirit reformed the Church in the 16th century. To call ourselves “Calvinists” and our faith “Calvinism” leaves the impression that we follow a man and that these beliefs are the invention of a man. In fact, these terms originally were terms of derision used by our enemies, as were also the names “Christian” and “Protestant.” Therefore, from the very beginning, Calvinists called themselves “Reformed” or “Presbyterian.” Thus, they deliberately distinguished themselves from the other great branch of the Protestant Reformation, the Lutheran Church, which did call itself by the name of a man (contrary to the wishes of Luther himself).
Nevertheless, “Calvinism” and “Calvinist” are useful terms, today. They are widely known, even though that be, in part, through the attack upon, and reproach of, Calvinism by its enemies. Also, the name “Calvinist” is embraced by persons and churches who are not Reformed or Presbyterian but who confess those tenets of Calvinism which they call “the doctrines of grace.” “Calvinism” has come to stand for certain doctrines, a certain system of truth. We have no objection to calling these doctrines “Calvinism” as long as two things are clearly understood. First, it must be understood that not the man, John Calvin, but Holy Scripture is the source of them. Second, it must be understood that we who embrace these truths are not disciples of a man, Calvin, but are concerned exclusively to follow God’s eternal Son in our flesh, Jesus Christ, exactly by confessing these doctrines.
There are different ways of viewing Calvinism. Some have discovered political implications in Calvinism, e.g., strong opposition to every form of tyranny. Others have found Calvinism important for economics. Max Weber thought to trace the spirit of capitalism to Calvinism, indeed, to Calvinism’s doctrine of double predestination. We could examine Calvinism as a total world-and-life-view. It is more, much more, than a set of doctrines, and certainly much more than five points of doctrine. Like humanism or Marxism, Calvinism is a world-and-life-view with which a man takes a stand in every area of human life. Also, Calvinism involves one with the Church, the instituted Church, and is not only the personal beliefs of the individual; it is through and through ecclesiastical. With the early Church, Calvinism fervently holds that “outside the Church is no salvation.”
At its heart, however, Calvinism is theology, true religion; and this means doctrine. This is how we will be viewing Calvinism, here. We limit ourselves to a consideration of Calvinism as the Gospel.
Calvinism is the Gospel. Its outstanding doctrines are simply the truths that make up the Gospel. Departure from Calvinism, therefore, is apostasy from the Gospel of God’s grace in Christ. Our defence of Calvinism, then, will proceed as follows. First, we will show that Calvinism is the Gospel. This is necessary because of its detractors, who criticize it as a perversion of the Gospel. Second, we will defend it as the Gospel. In doing this, we carry out the calling that every believer has from God. Paul wrote that he was “set for the defence of the Gospel” (Philippians 1:17). I Peter 3:15 calls every believer to give an answer, an “apology” or defence, to everyone who asks us a reason for the hope that is in us. As the name indicates, Calvinism is a certain teaching associated with John Calvin; it refers to biblical doctrines that he propounded.
Calvin was a Frenchman, born in 1509 and died at 55 in 1564, who lived during the Reformation of the Church, a contemporary of Martin Luther. He was converted from Roman Catholicism early in his life, “by a sudden conversion,” he tells us in his preface to his commentary on the Psalms, “since I was too obstinately devoted to the superstitions of Popery to be easily extricated from so profound an abyss of mire,” and laboured on behalf of the Protestant Faith all the rest of his life. He lived and worked in Geneva, Switzerland as a pastor and theologian. His labour was prodigious. He preached almost daily; did an immense pastoral work; carried on a massive correspondence; and wrote commentaries, tracts, and other theological works. He is remembered especially for his great work on Christian theology, Institutes of the Christian Religion (which still exercises great influence, which every professing Protestant could profitably read and which every critic of Calvinism ought to have studied, if he wishes to be taken seriously), and for his commentaries on almost every book of the Bible. Calvin’s Protestant contemporaries recognized his outstanding gifts, especially in theology and exposition of Scripture. They referred to him simply as “the Theologian.”
Calvin’s influence in all the world, already during his lifetime and ever afterwards, was tremendous. Luther, of course, stands alone, as the founder of the Protestant Reformation. But Calvin, benefiting from Luther, outstripped even Luther in influencing the Church of Christ in all the world.
In the history of the Church, Calvinism is the name for the faith of the Reformed and Presbyterian branch of the Protestant Reformation. These Churches were called “Reformed” in Germany, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands. In England, Scotland and the north of Ireland, they were called “Presbyterian.” This faith was early expressed in written confessions, or creeds. Among the confessions of the Reformed Churches are the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession of Faith and the Canons of Dordt. The great Presbyterian creeds are the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Westminster Catechisms. All of these confessions are in essential agreement.
The Reformed and Presbyterian Churches insisted that the teaching embodied in these creeds, that which is now called Calvinism, was the revelation of God in Holy Scripture. Calvinism bases itself on Scripture. It holds fully the Protestant principle of sola scriptura (Scripture alone). The doctrine of Scripture is the very foundation of Calvinism. It is a mistake, therefore, to define Calvinism apart from its belief concerning Scripture.
The Bible is the only authority in and over the Church. It is this because it is the inspired Word of God, as II Timothy 3:16claims: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” As such, Scripture is the “infallible rule” (Belgic Confession 7). It may not be ignored, questioned or subjected to criticism, but must be received, believed and obeyed. This is vital for Calvinism because Calvinism teaches many things about which man complains, “These are hard sayings, who can hear them?” For Calvinism, the question is not, “will men in the 20th century like these things?” But the question is, “Does the Word of God say so?”
Calvinism is concerned to proclaim the Scriptures. The preaching of Scripture, both within the Church and outside the Church, is the central interest of Calvinism. It is false to conceive of Calvinism as a theoretical, abstruse science carried on by heady intellectuals in ivory towers. With the entire Reformation, it wanted, and wants today, to preach the Gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes.
Calvinism, then, can rightly be viewed as certain basic doctrines, the so-called “five points of Calvinism.” But even here, a word of caution is in order. Historically, it is something of a misnomer to call these doctrines “Calvinism.” On these doctrines, there was no difference between Luther and Calvin. These two leading Reformers were in agreement in their teaching on the doctrines of predestination, the depravity of the fallen man and justification by faith alone. Indeed, almost without exception, all of the Reformers embraced what we now call “Calvinism.” Besides, the “five points of Calvinism,” as five particular doctrines that distinguish Calvinism, originated after Calvin’s death. They were formulated by a Synod of Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, in 1618-l619, the Synod of Dordt, in response to an attack on these five doctrines by a group within the Reformed Churches that were known as the Remonstrants or Arminians. This Synod set forth, confessed, explained and defended these five truths in the Canons of the Synod of Dordt. But it was Calvin who developed these truths, systematically and fully; and therefore, they came to be called by his name.
Total depravity is one of the five points of Calvinism. This doctrine teaches that man, every man, is by nature sinful and evil—only and completely sinful and evil. There is in man, apart from God’s grace in Christ, no good and no ability for good. By “good” is meant that which pleases God, namely, a deed that has its origin in the faith of Jesus, its standard in the Law of God and its goal in God’s glory. From conception and birth, every man is guilty before God and worthy of everlasting damnation. This is man’s plight because of the fall of the entire human race m Adam, as Romans 5:12-21 teaches: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned …” Not only is every man guilty from conception and birth, but he is also corrupt or depraved. This depravity is total. One aspect of this misery of man is the bondage, or slavery, of man’s will. The will of every man, apart from the liberating grace of the Spirit of Christ, is enslaved to the Devil and to sin. It is willingly enslaved but it is enslaved. It is unable to will, desire or choose God, Christ, salvation or the good. It is not free to choose good.
It is not Calvinism, that God forces men to sin or that men sin unwillingly, but that the natural man’s spiritual condition is such that he cannot think, will or do anything good. On this doctrine, Luther and Calvin were in perfect agreement. Luther, in fact, wrote a book called The Bondage of the Will in which he asserted that the fundamental issue of the Reformation, the basic difference between genuine Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, is this issue, whether the will of the natural man is bound or free. Calvinism shows itself as pure Protestantism by its confession concerning the will in the Westminster Confession of Faith:
Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto. When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, he freeth him from his natural bondage under sin, and by his grace alone enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good … (9:3-4).
Another of the five points of Calvinism is the truth of limited atonement. There is deliverance for fallen men only in Jesus Christ, God’s eternal Son in our flesh. This deliverance occurred in the death of Christ on the cross. His death was atonement for sins, inasmuch as He satisfied the righteousness of God, suffering the penalty of God’s wrath in our stead who deserved that wrath because of our sins. Jesus’ death was efficacious; it saved! It saved everyone for whom He died. It removed, in full, the punishment of everyone in whose stead Jesus died. He atoned for some, particular men, not for all without exception His atonement was limited as regards the number of men for whom He died and whom He redeemed. They are “His people” (Matthew 1:21); His “sheep” (John 10:15: “I lay down my life for the sheep”); and “as many as (the Father) hast given (Jesus)” (John 17:2).
It is not Calvinism, that any, even one, who seeks salvation will be denied, but that the death of Jesus saved, that it was efficacious, that it was not in vain.
The Lord Jesus, by his perfect obedience and sacrifice of himself, which he through the eternal Spirit once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of his Father; and purchased not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father hath given unto him. To all those for whom Christ hath purchased redemption, he doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same … (Westminster Confession 8:5, 8)
Irresistible grace or efficacious grace is a third of the five points of Calvinism. This doctrine refers to the actual saving of fallen men by the Holy Spirit, in applying to them the redemption accomplished on the cross. This work of salvation is wholly the work of God; it takes place by grace alone. Negatively, this means two things. First, the salvation of a man is not something that any man deserves, or makes himself worthy of, in any way. Second, salvation is not a work that man accomplishes, in whole or in part. Man does not co-operate with God in bringing about his salvation. Positively, that salvation takes place by grace alone means that salvation is freely given to men by God, merely out of His love and goodness. Also, it means that this salvation is accomplished by God’s power, the Holy Spirit. He regenerates; He calls; He gives faith; He sanctifies; He glorifies. This work of saving and the power of grace by which the Holy Spirit performs this work are efficacious. In carrying out this work, the Spirit and His grace do not make a man’s salvation possible, but effectually save him. It is not on the order of a mere attempt by God that depends, ultimately, on the man whom God tries to save and that may, therefore, be frustrated and come to naught; but it is on the order of a work of creation that sovereignly and unfailingly makes the man whom God is pleased to save a new creature in Jesus Christ.
It is not Calvinism, that God forces men, kicking and screaming, into heaven, but that God makes a man willing, who before was unwilling. In the Canons of Dordt, the Reformed believer describes the saving work of irresistible grace this way:
… it is evidently a supernatural work, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, astonishing, mysterious, and ineffable; not inferior in efficacy to creation, or the resurrection from the dead … so that all in whose heart God works in this marvellous manner, are certainly, infallibly, and effectively regenerated, and do actually believe … (III/IV:12)
The doctrine of the perseverance of saints, or “eternal security,” as some call it, follows from the truth of irresistible grace. Not one person to whom God gives the grace of the Holy Spirit will perish, because that grace and Spirit preserve him unto the perfect salvation of the day of Christ.
It is not Calvinism, that one may do as he pleases and still be saved or that a saint can never fall into sin. Against the charge that the doctrine of perseverance implies that one may do as he pleases and still go to heaven, Calvinism replies that the Holy Spirit preserves us by sanctifying us, by strengthening our faith and by giving us the gift of endurance. As for the “melancholy falls” of Christians, the saints can, and sometimes do, fall into sin, even “great and heinous sins,” but the indwelling Spirit, never wholly withdrawn from them, brings them to repentance. Calvinism imparts to all true believers the inestimably precious comfort of the “certain persuasion, that they ever will continue true and living members of the church; and that they experience forgiveness of sins, and will at last inherit eternal life” (Canons of Dordt V:9).
All of the salvation described above has its source in God’s eternal election. The truth of election is another of the characteristic Calvinistic doctrines. God has from eternity elected or chosen in Christ, some of the fallen human race—a certain, definite number of persons—unto salvation. This choice was unconditional, gracious, and free; it was not due to anything foreseen in those who were chosen. Reprobation is implied. God did not choose all men; but He rejected some men, in the eternal decree. It makes no essential difference whether one views reprobation as God’s passing by some men with His decree of election in eternity (which is, in fact, a divine decision about their eternal destiny), or whether one views it as a positive decree that some men perish in their sin, their unbelief and disobedience. Election and reprobation make up predestination, the doctrine that God has determined the destiny of all men from eternity. This truth is regarded, not inaccurately, as the hallmark of Calvinism. The very heart of the Reformed Church is election, God’s gracious choice of us sinners, guilty and depraved, worthy only of damnation, unto salvation.
Election is the fountain of all salvation! As such, it is the ultimate, decisive, convincing proof and guarantee that salvation is gracious—that salvation does not depend upon man, but upon God; that salvation is not man’s idea, but God’s; that salvation is not man’s work, but God’s; that salvation is not due to man’s decision for God, but to God’s eternal decision for man.
This is how Calvin himself viewed predestination—as the final, conclusive, incontrovertible testimony to, and guarantee of, gracious salvation. Therefore, in his definitive edition of the Institutes (1559), Calvin treated predestination at the end of Book III, after his treatment of redemption in Christ and his treatment of the application of redemption by the Holy Spirit. Calvin wrote,
We shall never feel persuaded as we ought that our salvation flows from the free mercy of God as its fountain, until we are made acquainted with His eternal election, the grace of God being illustrated by the contrast—viz, that he does not adopt promiscuously to the hope of salvation, but gives to some what he denies to others” (3.21.1).
The Gospel proclaims man’s misery as total depravity, including the bondage of his will. Ephesians 2:1 diagnoses the spiritual condition of the sinner, prior to the quickening of the Spirit of Christ, thus: “dead in trespasses and sins.” Spiritually dead, the sinner is lacking all good, any ability for good, and both the power and the inclination to effect a change in this condition. Himself is helpless and his condition, hopeless—the helplessness and hopelessness of death. Romans 8:7-8 passes the same judgment upon fallen man: “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” The “carnal mind” is human nature as it is by virtue of natural birth. Its condition is such that it is incapable of being in subjection to God’s law. Those who are in the flesh are those who are not born again by the Spirit of Christ, those who are outside of Christ. Their spiritual condition is such that they are incapable of pleasing God; all that they are able to do is sin. For a sinner to will and to do of God’s good pleasure, God must work in him both the willing and the doing, by the Spirit of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:13).
The Gospel proclaims the death of Christ as a death that effectively redeems some men, rather than as a death that merely makes salvation possible for all men. Scripture teaches limited atonement. Jesus Himself taught this about His own death inJohn 10:15: “… and I lay down my life for the sheep.” A little further in the same chapter, the Lord specifically states that some men are not included among “the sheep”: “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you” (v. 26). He died for some men, “the sheep,” in distinction from other men, who are not of His sheep. Jesus described His death similarly in Matthew 20:28: “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for [Greek: ‘in the stead of’] many.” The important point is not so much that He spoke of those for whom He died as “many,” not as “all,” as it is that he spoke of His death as the ransom given in the stead of others. By dying, He paid the ransom-price to God on behalf of many sinners. He did this by taking their place, giving up his own life where theirs was forfeit. The effect of this death is that everyone for whom He died is freed from sin, death and hell. Not one for whom He died will perish. None may perish, for the ransom is paid. This Gospel (and there is no other) was preached already by the evangelistic prophet, Isaiah, inIsaiah 53: the suffering Christ bears away the iniquities of God’s people by being smitten of God as their substitute.
The Gospel proclaims an irresistible grace, as the power that saves elect sinners. It cannot be otherwise, if the sinner is “dead in trespasses and sins.” Having taught this in Ephesians 2:1, the apostle goes on to teach irresistible grace in verses 4-5: “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved).” The saving of the sinner, in every case, is God’s raising him from the dead, comparable to Jesus’ wonders of raising the physically dead. Now two things are true about resurrection: it is the act of God alone, in which the one who is raised does not cooperate; and it is effectual—God never fails to accomplish the resurrection of any whom He purposes to raise. In verse 10 of this chapter, Paul likens the work by which we were saved to the work of creation, thus making dear that this work is exclusively the work of God the Creator, and not at all the work of the creature that is created: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works …” Jesus explained that salvation takes place by the sovereign drawing-power of Almighty God, in John 6:44: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.”
The Gospel proclaims the perseverance of the saints. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one” (John 10:27-30). Jesus gives eternal life to every one of His sheep; and not one of those saints shall ever perish. It is impossible that anyone could pluck a saint out of God’s hand, that is, cause a regenerated child to fall away to perdition. The reason is not the strength of the saints, but the power of the grace of God (“my Father … is greater than all”). These words of Jesus make plain that the comforting truth of perseverance depends upon election and irresistible grace. The saints persevere, because the Father gave them to Jesus and because Jesus gives (not: tries to give, but: gives) them eternal life.
As the source and foundation of salvation, the Gospel proclaims divine election. This truth is on the very face of the entire Old Testament Bible: God chose Israel unto salvation, rejecting the other nations. The mediator of the old covenant tells Israel, “the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the LORD loved you …” (Deuteronomy 7:6-8).
In perfect harmony with this obvious truth of the old covenant, the mediator of the new covenant traces every aspect of His salvation back to divine election. His life-giving death stems from election: “that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him” (John 17:2). His priestly pity and intercessory prayer are regulated by election: “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine” (John 17:9). His saving revelation of the truth to men depends upon election: “I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world …” (John 17:6). The coming of men to Him in true faith is effected by election: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me …” (John 6:37). His preservation of men in faith and His resurrection of these men in glory are due to election: “… that of all which he bath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day” (John 6:39).
Election has a prominent place in the Gospel preached by the apostles. It is the cause of the salvation of every one who is saved, and the source of every blessing of salvation: “… the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings … according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:3-4). Upon eternal predestination was forged the golden (and unbreakable) chain of salvation: “Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Romans 8:30). The entire river of the mercy of God in Jesus flows out of His will of election; and the sovereign graciousness of this will is illustrated by this, that God hardens some men according to His eternal decree of reprobation: “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth” (Romans 9:18).
There can be no ignoring of these doctrines, called “Calvinism”; if they are not preached and confessed, they are denied. Every preacher, every Church, every member of every Church must take a stand regarding them, and does take a stand. It is impossible not to. For they are writ large on the pages of Scripture, as essential elements of the gospel. Whoever rejects Calvinism embraces the only alternative to Calvinism—a system of doctrine that is opposed to Calvinism in every point.
Does a man reject total depravity? Then he believes that fallen, natural man yet retains some good and some ability for good, specifically a will that is able to make a decision for Christ; that man outside of Christ is not dead in sins, but merely sick, that is, not dead, but alive.
Does a man reject limited atonement? Then he believes that Jesus died for each and every human being without exception. Because both Scripture and the hard facts of life teach that some men do perish in hell, this advocate of universal atonement believes that the death of Jesus did not actually atone for sins at all, but merely made atonement possible; that the cross was not the payment of the ransom in the stead of every one for whom Christ died, but merely an example of love; that the suffering of the Son of God did not effectually satisfy the justice of God by bearing sins away, but merely …? Did what? Anything at all? And if not, was He really the eternal Son of God in the flesh?
Does a man reject irresistible grace? Then he believes that God’s call to salvation and the grace of the Holy Spirit depend upon the acceptance of the sinner by the exercise of his “free will,” so that God’s grace can be defeated and fail. Further, he believes that, whenever a sinner does come to Jesus in true faith and receives salvation, this is not due to the grace of God, but to the good will of the sinner.
Does a man reject the perseverance of saints? Then he believes that every believer can fall away and perish at any time, including himself.
Does a man reject predestination? Then he believes that the ultimate source and foundation of salvation is man’s choice, decision and will.
In the end, there are two, and only two, possible faiths. The one maintains that all mankind lies in death; that God in free and sovereign grace eternally chose some; that God gave Christ to die for those whom He chose; that the Holy Spirit regenerates them and calls them efficaciously to faith; and that the Spirit preserves these elect, redeemed and reborn sinners unto everlasting glory. This is Calvinism.
The other faith maintains that fallen man retains some spiritual ability for good, some life; that God’s choice of men depends upon their exercise of the ability for good that is in them; that Christ’s death depends upon that good in man; and that the attainment of final glory depends upon that good in man. This is the enemy of Calvinism. This is the enemy of the Gospel! For Calvinism proclaims salvation by grace; the other faith preaches salvation by man’s will and works and worth.
Calvinism is the Gospel! God’s Gospel is the message of wholly gracious salvation. This does not mean that Calvinism is inoffensive. On the contrary! Calvin himself took note, long ago, of the offensiveness of the truth that he taught, with reference specifically to total depravity:
I am not unaware how much more plausible the view is, which invites us rather to ponder on our good qualities than to contemplate what must overwhelm us with shame—our miserable destitution and ignominy. There is nothing more acceptable to the human mind than flattery … if a discourse is pronounced which flatters the pride spontaneously springing up in man’s inmost heart, nothing seems more delightful. Accordingly, in every age, he who is most forward in extolling the excellence of human nature, is received with the loudest applause (Institutes 2.1.2).
But the offensiveness of Calvinism to men is nothing other than the offence of the cross of Christ. In Galatians 5:11, Paul speaks of “the offence of the cross,” an offence that ceases only in the preaching of a cross-denying heresy. The cross of Christ, which is the very heart of the Gospel, is not pleasing to man, or acceptable to him. “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness” (I Corinthians 1:23). The cross, as the cross of the eternal Son of God in our flesh, shows the extent of fallen man’s misery: he can be saved only by the death of the Son of God. Words finally fail to do justice to the greatness of the misery of the sinner, brought out by the cross: utterly lost, completely ruined, totally depraved. The cross shows that salvation is of the Lord, wholly of divine grace, and not at all of man. As the cross of the Prince of life, the cross is powerful to save. Nothing and no one can nullify or defeat the blood and Spirit of Christ crucified. The Gospel of the cross is this message: “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Romans 9:16).
Just because this is the message of Calvinism, Calvinism is offensive to men. It is offensive to proud man to hear that he is spiritually dead, totally devoid of anything pleasing to God, unable at all to save himself, nothing more than a child of wrath. But this is the judgment passed upon him in Calvinism—and in the Gospel. It is offensive to proud man to hear that salvation is exclusively God’s free gift and sovereign, gracious work. But this is what Calvinism—and the Gospel—proclaim.
Just because of this, Calvinism is good news! It is Gospel, glad tidings! As the message of grace, it comforts us and all those who, by the grace of the Spirit, believe in Christ. Only this message provides hope for lost, sinful, and otherwise hopeless men. There is salvation, only because salvation is gracious.
Defending Calvinism is simply a matter of defending the Gospel. Therefore, we do not defend it apologetically, or defensively, or even as if its fortunes were doubtful, dependent on our defence. As the truth of God, Calvinism stands, and will stand—victorious, invincible. God Himself maintains it; and God Himself sends it forth on an irresistible course of conquest throughout the world.
Calvinism is the Gospel for every age. It is the truth for which and by which the Reformation of the Church of Jesus Christ took place in the 16th century. The Gospel has not changed since that time; Jesus Christ in His truth is the same yesterday and today and for ever. But the truth of the Gospel is largely lost and buried in the Protestant Churches in our day, including many who pride themselves on being “fundamental” and “evangelical.” The Gospel is perverted by a message that is essentially the same as that message against which the Reformation fought and which on its part bitterly opposed the Reformation. In those days, Rome preached a salvation that had to be earned by man’s own works, as indeed it still preaches today; Rome taught that men were righteous before God, in part, by their own works, as indeed it still teaches today. In our day, the Protestant Churches teach and preach that salvation depends upon man’s own will; they proclaim that the sinner must achieve his own salvation by willing. This “gospel” of much of Protestantism and the “gospel” of Rome are one and the same. Essentially, there is no difference between them. This is the reason why many Protestant Churches, preachers, evangelists and people find it possible to co-operate closely with the Roman Catholic Church, especially in the work of evangelism; and this is the reason why a great reunion with Rome on the part of many Protestants is in the offing. Rome says, “Salvation depends upon man working;” modern Protestantism says, “Salvation depends upon man willing.” Both are saying the same thing: “Salvation depends upon man.” The apostle lumps both of these variations of the same basic doctrine together in Romans 9:16, and condemns them: “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.”
Having condemned these heresies, Paul declares that the source of our salvation is God showing mercy—only God showing mercy; he proclaims that salvation depends upon God showing mercy—only upon God showing mercy. This is the message of Calvinism; and because it is, our defence of Calvinism is a bold, uncompromisingly, unashamed defence. We say of Calvinism what B. B. Warfield once said of it: “the future of Christianity—as its past has done—lies in its hands.”
We repudiate the false accusations made against Calvinism, and the caricatures made of it. Men say of Calvinism that it is destructive of good works and of the law of God, that it produces careless Christians. Men say that it is destructive of zeal for preaching and missions. Men say that it is terrifying to poor consciences, that it is cold and hard, and that Calvinists are all head and no heart. These are old charges, hoary with age. You will find them, almost word-for-word, lodged against the apostle, Paul, and the Gospel that he preached (cf. Romans 3:8, 31; 6:1f.; 9:19ff.).
Would that men were not so ready to accept the caricature of Calvinism contrived by its enemies, but rather let Calvinism speak for itself, in its confessions. Read the Heidelberg Catechism or the Westminster Catechisms and see for yourself whether Calvinism is hard and cold and cruel or whether it is warm and comforting. Read the Belgic Confession or theWestminster Confession of Faith and see whether Calvinism goes lightly over the law of God and over the good works of the Christian man or whether it trembles before the law, stresses sanctification and insists on the necessity of good works. Read the Canons of Dordt, the Reformed creed that is unsurpassed in its statement of predestination and in its defence of salvation by grace alone, and see whether Calvinism cuts the nerve of a lively preaching of the Gospel, including the serious call of the Gospel to all who come under the preaching. See also the tenderness of the Reformed Faith towards penitent sinners and its deep pastoral concern for afflicted consciences.
At the same time, we Reformed people and churches must refute the caricatures of Calvinism by our life and deeds. This also belongs to an “apology for Calvinism.” We do well to take heed to ourselves, as well as to our doctrine. Are we zealous for good works? Are we ready to preach the Gospel to every creature and to give an answer to every man that asks us a reason for the hope that is in us? Do we manifest ourselves as joyful, hopeful, confident saints? This we will do, by God’s grace, if we live out of the truth of Calvinism, that is, the Gospel.
We have a powerful motive for defending Calvinism. For one thing, as the Gospel it is the only hope for sinful men—the only power of God unto salvation, the only means of the gathering and preserving of the Church.
Even more compelling, Calvinism glorifies God. The glory of God is the heartbeat of Calvinism, and the heart of hearts of every Calvinist. Calvin’s enemies have always seen this and have sneered at him as “that God-intoxicated man.” Calvinism gives the magnificent answer to the question, “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. & A. 1). But the glory of God is the goal of the Gospel, that is, the goal of God Himself through the Gospel: “… to the praise of the glory of his grace” (Ephesians 1:6). His glory He will not give to another (Isaiah 42:8). “Of him, and through him, and to him are all things;” to Him, therefore, be glory for ever (Romans 11:36).
2 responses to “Calvinism Explained”
Good article. I love the doctrines of Grace 🙂
Thanks, brother! Me too. Praise the Lord for His redeeming grace!