A Concise Definition of Calvinism, its Relation to the Gospel, and its juxtaposition to Arminianism

Taken, adapted, and condensed from an ‘Introductory Essay to John Owen’s “Death of Death in the Death of Christ”’
Written by, J.I. Packer

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There is no doubt that Evangelicalism today is in a state of perplexity and unsettlement…

In such matters as the practice of evangelism, the teaching of holiness, the building up of local church life, the pastor’s dealing with souls and the exercise of discipline, there is evidence of widespread dissatisfaction with things as they are and of equally widespread uncertainty as to the road ahead. This is a complex phenomenon, to which many factors have contributed; but, if we go to the root of the matter, we shall find that these perplexities are all ultimately due to our having lost our grip on the biblical gospel. Without realizing it, we have during the past century bartered that gospel for a substitute product which, though it looks similar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing. Hence our troubles; for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in past days proved itself so mighty. The new gospel conspicuously fails to produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church. Why? We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character and content. It fails to make men God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this is not primarily what it is trying to do. One way of stating the difference between it and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be “helpful” to man—to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction—and too little concerned to glorify God. The old gospel was “helpful,” too—more so, indeed, than is the new—but (so to speak) incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God. It was always and essentially a proclamation of Divine sovereignty in mercy and judgment, a summons to bow down and worship the mighty Lord on whom man depends for all good, both in nature and in grace. Its center of reference was unambiguously God. But in the new gospel the center of reference is man. This is just to say that the old gospel was religious in a way that the new gospel is not. Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach men to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and His ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him. There is a world of difference. The whole perspective and emphasis of gospel preaching has changed.

From this change of interest has sprung a change of content, for the new gospel has in effect reformulated the biblical message in the supposed interests of “helpfulness.” Accordingly, the themes of man’s natural inability to believe, of God’s free election being the ultimate cause of salvation, and of Christ dying specifically for His sheep, are not preached. These doctrines, it would be said, are not “helpful”; they would drive sinners to despair, by suggesting to them that it is not in their own power to be saved through Christ. (The possibility that such despair might be salutary is not considered; it is taken for granted that it cannot be, because it is so shattering to our self-esteem). However this may be (and we shall say more about it later), the result of these omissions is that part of the biblical gospel is now preached as if it were the whole of that gospel; and a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth. Thus, we appeal to men as if they all had the ability to receive Christ at any time; we speak of His redeeming work as if He had done no more by dying than make it possible for us to save ourselves by believing; we speak of God’s love as if it were no more than a general willingness to receive any who will turn and trust; and we depict the Father and the Son, not as sovereignly active in drawing sinners to themselves, but as waiting in quiet impotence “at the door of our hearts” for us to let them in. It is undeniable that this is how we preach; perhaps this is what we really believe. But it needs to be said with emphasis that this set of twisted half-truths is something other than the biblical gospel. The Bible is against us when we preach in this way; and the fact that such preaching has become almost standard practice among us only shows how urgent it is that we should review this matter. To recover the old, authentic, biblical gospel, and to bring our preaching and practice back into line with it, is perhaps our most pressing present need. And it is at this point that Owen’s treatise on redemption can give us help.

“But wait a minute,” says someone, “it’s all very well to talk like this about the gospel; but surely what Owen is doing is defending limited atonement—one of the five points of Calvinism? When you speak of recovering the gospel, don’t you mean that you just want us all to become Calvinists?”

These questions are worth considering, for they will no doubt occur to many. At the same time, however, they are questions that reflect a great deal of prejudice and ignorance. “Defending limited atonement”—as if this was all that a Reformed theologian expounding the heart of the gospel could ever really want to do! “You just want us all to become Calvinists”—as if Reformed theologians had no interest beyond recruiting for their party, and as if becoming a Calvinist was the last stage of theological depravity, and had nothing to do with the gospel at all. Before we answer these questions directly, we must try to remove the prejudices which underlie them by making clear what Calvinism really is; and therefore we would ask the reader to take note of the following facts, historical and theological, about Calvinism in general and the “five points” in particular.

First, it should be observed that the “five points of Calvinism,” so-called, are simply the Calvinistic answer to a five-point manifesto (the Remonstrance) put out by certain “Belgic semi-Pelagians” in the early seventeenth century.

The Five Points of Arminianism

The theology which it contained (known to history as Arminianism) stemmed from two philosophical principles:

First, that divine sovereignty is not compatible with human freedom, nor therefore with human responsibility;
Second, that ability limits obligation. (The charge of semi-Pelagianism was thus fully justified.)

From these principles, the Arminians drew two deductions:

First, that since the Bible regards faith as a free and responsible human act, it cannot be caused by God, but is exercised independently of Him;

Second, that since the Bible regards faith as obligatory on the part of all who hear the gospel, ability to believe must be universal. Hence, they maintained, Scripture must be interpreted as teaching the following positions:

(1.) Man is never so completely corrupted by sin that he cannot savingly believe the gospel when it is put before him, nor

(2.) is he ever so completely controlled by God that he cannot reject it.

(3.) God’s election of those who shall be saved is prompted by His foreseeing that they will of their own accord believe.

(4.) Christ’s death did not ensure the salvation of anyone, for it did not secure the gift of faith to anyone (there is no such gift); what it did was rather to create a possibility of salvation for everyone if they believe.

(5.) It rests with believers to keep themselves in a state of grace by keeping up their faith; those who fail here fall away and are lost. Thus, Arminianism made man’s salvation depend ultimately on man himself, saving faith being viewed throughout as man’s own work and, because his own, not God’s in him.

 The Synod of Dort Responds With Five Points of Calvinism

The Synod of Dort was convened in 1618 to pronounce on this theology, and the “five points of Calvinism” represent its counter-affirmations. They stem from a very different principle—the biblical principle that “salvation is of the Lord”; and they may be summarized thus:

(1.) Fallen man in his natural state lacks all power to believe the gospel, just as he lacks all power to believe the law, despite all external inducements that may be extended to him.

(2.) God’s election is a free, sovereign, unconditional choice of sinners, as sinners, to be redeemed by Christ, given faith and brought to glory.

(3.) The redeeming work of Christ had as its end and goal the salvation of the elect.

(4.) The work of the Holy Spirit in bringing men to faith never fails to achieve its object.

(5.) Believers are kept in faith and grace by the unconquerable power of God till they come to glory.

These five points are conveniently denoted by the mnemonic TULIP:
     Total depravity,
     Unconditional election,
     Limited atonement,
     Irresistible grace,
     Preservation of the saints.

Now, here are two coherent interpretations of the biblical gospel, which stand in evident opposition to each other. The difference between them is not primarily one of emphasis, but of content.

One proclaims a God who saves; the other speaks of a God Who enables man to save himself. One view presents the three great acts of the Holy Trinity for the recovering of lost mankind—election by the Father, redemption by the Son, calling by the Spirit—as directed towards the same persons, and as securing their salvation infallibly. The other view gives each act a different reference (the objects of redemption being all mankind, of calling, those who hear the gospel, and of election, those hearers who respond), and denies that any man’s salvation is secured by any of them. The two theologies thus conceive the plan of salvation in quite different terms. One makes salvation depend on the work of God, the other on a work of man; one regards faith as part of God’s gift of salvation, the other as man’s own contribution to salvation; one gives all the glory of saving believers to God, the other divides the praise between God, Who, so to speak, built the machinery of salvation, and man, who by believing operated it. Plainly, these differences are important, and the permanent value of the “five points,” as a summary of Calvinism, is that they make clear the points at which, and the extent to which, these two conceptions are at variance.

However, it would not be correct simply to equate Calvinism with the “five points.” Five points of our own will make this clear.

In the first place, Calvinism is something much broader than the “five points” indicate. Calvinism is a whole world-view, stemming from a clear vision of God as the whole world’s Maker and King. Calvinism is the consistent endeavor to acknowledge the Creator as the Lord, working all things after the counsel of His will. Calvinism is a theocentric way of thinking about all life under the direction and control of God’s own Word. Calvinism, in other words, is the theology of the Bible viewed from the perspective of the Bible—the God-centered outlook which sees the Creator as the source, and means, and end, of everything that is, both in nature and in grace. Calvinism is thus theism (belief in God as the ground of all things), religion (dependence on God as the giver of all things), and evangelicalism (trust in God through Christ for all things), all in their purest and most highly developed form. And Calvinism is a unified philosophy of history which sees the whole diversity of processes and events that take place in God’s world as no more, and no less, than the outworking of His great preordained plan for His creatures and His church. The five points assert no more than that God is sovereign in saving the individual, but Calvinism, as such, is concerned with the much broader assertion that He is sovereign everywhere.

Then, in the second place, the “five points” present Calvinistic soteriology in a negative and polemical form, whereas Calvinism in itself is essentially expository, pastoral and constructive. It can define its position in terms of Scripture without any reference to Arminianism, and it does not need to be forever fighting real or imaginary Arminians in order to keep itself alive. Calvinism has no interest in negatives, as such; when Calvinists fight, they fight for positive Evangelical values. The negative cast of the “five points” is misleading chiefly with regard to the third (limited atonement, or particular redemption), which is often read with stress on the adjective and taken as indicating that Calvinists have a special interest in confining the limits of divine mercy. But in fact the purpose of this phraseology, as we shall see, is to safeguard the central affirmation of the gospel—that Christ is a Redeemer who really does redeem. Similarly, the denials of an election that is conditional and of grace that is resistible, are intended to safeguard the positive truth that it is God Who saves. The real negations are those of Arminianism, which denies that election, redemption and calling are saving acts of God. Calvinism negates these negations in order to assert the positive content of the gospel, for the positive purpose of strengthening faith and building up the church.

Thirdly, the very act of setting out Calvinistic soteriology in the form of five distinct points (a number due, as we saw, merely to the fact that there were five Arminian points for the Synod of Dort to answer) tends to obscure the organic character of Calvinistic thought on this subject. For the five points, though separately stated, are really inseparable. They hang together; you cannot reject one without rejecting them all, at least in the sense in which the Synod meant them. For to Calvinism there is really only one point to be made in the field of soteriology: the point that God saves sinners. God—the Triune Jehovah, Father, Son and Spirit; three Persons working together in sovereign wisdom, power and love to achieve the salvation of a chosen people, the Father electing, the Son fulfilling the Father’s will by redeeming, the Spirit executing the purpose of Father and Son by renewing. Saves—does everything, first to last, that is involved in bringing man from death in sin to life in glory: plans, achieves and communicates redemption, calls and keeps, justifies, sanctifies, glorifies. Sinners—men as God finds them, guilty, vile, helpless, powerless, unable to lift a finger to do God’s will or better their spiritual lot. God saves sinners—and the force of this confession may not be weakened by disrupting the unity of the work of the Trinity, or by dividing the achievement of salvation between God and man and making the decisive part man’s own, or by soft-pedaling the sinner’s inability so as to allow him to share the praise of his salvation with his Savior. This is the one point of Calvinistic soteriology which the “five points” are concerned to establish and Arminianism in all its forms to deny: namely, that sinners do not save themselves in any sense at all, but that salvation, first and last, whole and entire, past, present and future, is of the Lord, to whom be glory forever; amen.

This leads to our fourth remark, which is this: the five-point formula obscures the depth of the difference between Calvinistic and Arminian soteriology. There seems no doubt that it seriously misleads many here. In the formula, the stress falls on the adjectives, and this naturally gives the impression that in regard to the three great saving acts of God the debate concerns the adjectives merely—that both sides agree as to what election, redemption, and the gift of internal grace are, and differ only as to the position of man in relation to them: whether the first is conditional upon faith being foreseen or not; whether the second intends the salvation of every man or not; whether the third always proves invincible or not. But this is a complete misconception. The change of adjective in each case involves changing the meaning of the noun. An election that is conditional, a redemption that is universal, an internal grace that is resistible, is not the same kind of election, redemption, internal grace, as Calvinism asserts. The real issue concerns, not the appropriateness of adjectives, but the definition of nouns. Both sides saw this clearly when the controversy first began, and it is important that we should see it too, for otherwise we cannot discuss the Calvinist-Arminian debate to any purpose at all. It is worth setting out the different definitions side by side.

NOTE 1: God’s act of election was defined by the Arminians as a resolve to receive sonship and glory a duly qualified class of people: believers in Christ. This becomes a resolve to receive individual persons only in virtue of God’s foreseeing the contingent fact that they will of their own accord believe. There is nothing in the decree of election to ensure that the class of believers will ever have any members; God does not determine to make any man believe. But Calvinists define election as a choice of particular undeserving persons to be saved from sin and brought to glory, and to that end to be redeemed by the death of Christ and given faith by the Spirit’s effectual calling. Where the Arminian says: “I owe my election to my faith,” the Calvinist says: “I owe my faith to my election.” Clearly, these two concepts of election are very far apart.

NOTE 2: Christ’s work of redemption was defined by the Arminians as the removing of an obstacle (the unsatisfied claims of justice) which stood in the way of God’s offering pardon to sinners, as He desired to do, on condition that they believe. Redemption, according to Arminianism, secured for God a right to make this offer, but did not of itself ensure that anyone would ever accept it; for faith, being a work of man’s own, is not a gift that comes to him from Calvary. Christ’s death created an opportunity for the exercise of saving faith, but that is all it did. Calvinists, however, define redemption as Christ’s actual substitutionary endurance of the penalty of sin in the place of certain specified sinners, through which God was reconciled to them, their liability to punishment was forever destroyed, and a title to eternal life was secured for them. In consequence of this, they now have in God’s sight a right to the gift of faith, as the means of entry into the enjoyment of their inheritance. Calvary, in other words, not merely made possible the salvation of those for whom Christ died; it ensured that they would be brought to faith and their salvation made actual. The Cross saves. Where the Arminian will only say: “I could not have gained my salvation without Calvary,” the Calvinist will say: “Christ gained my salvation for me at Calvary.” The former makes the Cross the sine qua non of salvation, the latter sees it as the actual procuring cause of salvation, and traces the source of every spiritual blessing, faith included, back to the great transaction between God and His Son carried through on Calvary’s hill. Clearly, these two concepts of redemption are quite at variance.

NOTE 3:  The Spirit’s gift of internal grace was defined by the Arminians as “moral suasion,” the bare bestowal of an understanding of God’s truth. This, they granted—indeed, insisted—does not of itself ensure that anyone will ever make the response of faith. But Calvinists define this gift as not merely an enlightening, but also a regenerating work of God in men, “taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by His almighty power determining them to that which is good; and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.” Grace proves irresistible just because it destroys the disposition to resist. Where the Arminian, therefore, will be content to say: “I decided for Christ,” “I made up my mind to be a Christian,” the Calvinist will wish to speak of his conversion in more theological fashion, to make plain whose work it really was:

“Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night:
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray;
I woke; the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off: my heart was free:
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.”

Clearly, these two notions of internal grace are sharply opposed to each other.

Now, the Calvinist contends that the Arminian idea of election, redemption and calling as acts of God which do not save cuts at the very heart of their biblical meaning; that to say in the Arminian sense that God elects believers, and Christ died for all men, and the Spirit quickens those who receive the word, is really to say that in the biblical sense God elects nobody, and Christ died for nobody, and the Spirit quickens nobody. The matter at issue in this controversy, therefore, is the meaning to be given to these biblical terms, and to some others which are also soteriologically significant, such as the love of God, the covenant of grace, and the verb “save” itself, with its synonyms. Arminians gloss them all in terms of the principle that salvation does not directly depend on any decree or act of God, but on man’s independent activity in believing. Calvinists maintain that this principle is itself unscriptural and irreligious, and that such glossing demonstrably perverts the sense of Scripture and undermines the gospel at every point where it is practiced. This, and nothing less than this, is what the Arminian controversy is about.

There is a fifth way in which the five-point formula is deficient. Its very form (a series of denials of Arminian assertions) lends color to the impression that Calvinism is a modification of Arminianism; that Arminianism has a certain primacy in order of nature, and developed Calvinism is an offshoot from it. Even when one shows this to be false as a matter of history, the suspicion remains in many minds that it is a true account of the relation of the two views themselves. For it is widely supposed that Arminianism (which, as we now see, corresponds pretty closely to the new gospel of our own day) is the result of reading the Scriptures in a “natural,” unbiased, unsophisticated way, and that Calvinism is an unnatural growth, the product less of the texts themselves than of unhallowed logic working on the texts, wresting their plain sense and upsetting their balance by forcing them into a systematic framework which they do not themselves provide. Whatever may have been true of individual Calvinists, as a generalization about Calvinism nothing could be further from the truth than this. Certainly, Arminianism is “natural” in one sense, in that it represents a characteristic perversion of biblical teaching by the fallen mind of man, who even in salvation cannot bear to renounce the delusion of being master of his fate and captain of his soul. This perversion appeared before in the Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism of the Patristic period and the later Scholasticism, and has recurred since the seventeenth century both in Roman theology and, among Protestants, in various types of rationalistic liberalism and modern Evangelical teaching; and no doubt it will always be with us. As long as the fallen human mind is what it is, the Arminian way of thinking will continue to be a natural type of mistake. But it is not natural in any other sense. In fact, it is Calvinism that understands the Scriptures in their natural, one would have thought, inescapable meaning; Calvinism that keeps to what they actually say; Calvinism that insists on taking seriously the biblical assertions that God saves, and that He saves those whom He has chosen to save, and that He saves them by grace without works, so that no man may boast, and that Christ is given to them as a perfect Savior, and that their whole salvation flows to them from the Cross, and that the work of redeeming them was finished on the Cross. It is Calvinism that gives due honor to the Cross. When the Calvinist sings:

“There is a green hill far away,
Without a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified,
Who died to save us all;
He died the we might be forgiven,
He died to make us good;
That we might go at last to Heaven,
Saved by His precious blood.”

—he means it. He will not gloss the italicized statements by saying that God’s saving purpose in the death of His Son was a mere ineffectual wish, depending for its fulfilment on man’s willingness to believe, so that for all God could do Christ might have died and none been saved at all. He insists that the Bible sees the Cross as revealing God’s power to save, not His impotence. Christ did not win a hypothetical salvation for hypothetical believers, a mere possibility of salvation for any who might possibly believe, but a real salvation for His own chosen people. His precious blood really does “save us all”; the intended effects of His self-offering do in fact follow, just because the Cross was what it was. Its saving power does not depend on faith being added to it; its saving power is such that faith flows from it. The Cross secured the full salvation of all for whom Christ died. “God forbid,” therefore, “that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Now the real nature of Calvinistic soteriology becomes plain. It is no artificial oddity, nor a product of over-bold logic. Its central confession, that God saves sinners, that Christ redeemed us by His blood, is the witness both of the Bible and of the believing heart.

The Calvinist is the Christian who confesses before men in his theology just what he believes in his heart before God when he prays. He thinks and speaks at all times of the sovereign grace of God in the way that every Christian does when he pleads for the souls of others, or when he obeys the impulse of worship which rises unbidden within him, prompting him to deny himself all praise and to give all the glory of his salvation to his Savior. Calvinism is the natural theology written on the heart of the new man in Christ, whereas Arminianism is an intellectual sin of infirmity, natural only in the sense in which all such sins are natural, even to the regenerate. Calvinistic thinking is the Christian being himself on the intellectual level; Arminian thinking is the Christian failing to be himself through the weakness of the flesh. Calvinism is what the Christian church has always held and taught when its mind has not been distracted by controversy and false traditions from attending to what Scripture actually says; that is the significance of the Patristic testimonies to the teaching of the “five points,” which can be quoted in abundance. (Owen appends a few on redemption; a much larger collection may be seen in John Gill’s The Cause of God and Truth.)

So that really it is most misleading to call this soteriology “Calvinism” at all, for it is not a peculiarity of John Calvin and the divines of Dort, but a part of the revealed truth of God and the catholic Christian faith. “Calvinism” is one of the “odious names” by which down the centuries prejudice has been raised against it. But the thing itself is just the biblical gospel.

Toward Understanding Calvinistic Salvation from Supralapsarianism, Infra-lapsarianism, Amyraldianism, and Congruism Perspectives

Taken and adapted from, “The Plan of Salvation”
Written by B.B. Warfield.

photo-by-hrishikesh-karambelkarflickr

AS OVER AGAINST…

…all attempts to conceive the operations of God looking to salvation universalistically, that is as directed to mankind in the mass, Calvinism insists that the saving operations of God are directed in every case immediately to the individuals who are saved. Particularism in the processes of salvation becomes thus the mark of Calvinism. As supernaturalism is the mark of Christianity at large, and evangelicalism the mark of Protestantism, so particularism is the mark of Calvinism. The Calvinist is he who holds with full consciousness that God the Lord, in his saving operations, deals not generally with mankind at large, but particularly with the individuals who are actually saved. Thus, and thus only, he contends, can either the supernaturalism of salvation which is the mark of Christianity at large and which ascribes all salvation to God, or the immediacy of the operations of saving grace which is the mark of evangelicalism and which ascribes salvation to the direct working of God upon the soul, come to its rights and have justice accorded it. Particularism in the saving processes, he contends, is already given in the supernaturalism of salvation and in the immediacy of the operations of the divine grace; and the denial of particularism is constructively the denial of the immediacy of saving grace, that is, of evangelicalism, and of the supernaturalism of salvation, that is, of Christianity itself. It is logically the total rejection of Christianity.

The particularism of the saving operations of God which is thus the mark of Calvinism, it is possible, however, to apply more or less fully (or, shall we say, with more or less discernment?) in our thought of the activities of God relatively to his sinful creatures (or shall we say, broadly, relatively to his creatures?). Thus differing varieties of Calvinism have emerged in the history of thought. As they are distinguishable from one another by the place they give to particularism in the operations of God, that is as much as to say they are distinguished from one another by the place they give to the decree of election in the order of the divine decrees.

Some are so zealous for particularism that they place discrimination at the root of all God’s dealings with his creatures. That he has any creatures at all they suppose to be in the interest of discrimination, and all that he decrees concerning his creatures they suppose he decrees only that he may discriminate between them. They therefore place the decree of “election” by which men are made to differ, in the order of decrees, logically prior to the decree of creation itself, or at any rate prior to all that is decreed concerning man as man; that is to say, since man’s history begins with the fall, prior to the decree of the fall itself. They are therefore called Supralapsarians, that is, those who place the decree of election in the order of thought prior to the decree of the fall.”

Others, recognizing that election has to do specifically with salvation, (that is to say, that it is the logical prius, not of creation or of the providential government of the world, but of the salvation of sinful man), conceive that the principle of particularism, in the sense of discrimination, belongs in the sphere of God’s soteriological, not in that of his cosmical creation. They therefore think of “election” as the logical prius not of creation, or of the fall, but of those operations of God which concern salvation. The place they give it in the order of decrees is therefore at the head of those decrees of God which look to salvation. This implies that it falls into position in the order of thought, consequently upon the decrees of creation and the fall, which refer to all men alike, since all men certainly are created and certainly have fallen; and precedently to the decrees of redemption and its application, since just as certainly all men are not redeemed and brought into the enjoyment of salvation. They are from this circumstance called Sublapsarians or Infralapsarians, that is, those who, in the arrangement of the decrees in logical order, conceive the place of the decree of election to be logically after that of the fall.

There are others, however, who, affected by what they deem the Scriptural teaching concerning the universal reference of the redemption of Christ, and desirous of grounding the universal offer of salvation in an equally universal provision, conceive that they can safely postpone the introduction of the particularistic principle to a point within the saving operations of God themselves, so only they are careful to introduce it at a point sufficiently early to make it determinative of the actual issue of the saving work. They propose therefore to think of the provision of salvation in Christ as universal in its intent; but to represent it as given effect in its application to individuals by the Holy Spirit only particularistically. That is to say, they suppose that some, not all, of the divine operations looking to the salvation of men are universalistic in their reference, whereas salvation is not actually experienced unless not some but all of them are operative. As the particular saving operation to which they ascribe a universalistic reference is the redemption of Christ, their scheme is expressed by saying that it introduces the decree of election, in the order of thought, at a point subsequent to the decree of redemption in Christ. They may therefore be appropriately called Post-redemptionists, that is, those who conceive that the decree of election is logically postponed to the decree of redemption. In their view redemption has equal reference to all men, and it is only in the application of this redemption to men that God discriminates between men, and so acts, in this sense, particularistically.

It is obvious that this is the lowest point in the order of decrees at which the decree of election can be introduced and the particularistic principle be retained at all. If the application of the redemption of Christ by the Holy Spirit be also made universalistic, that is to say, if the introduction of the particularistic principle be postponed to the actual issue of the saving process, then there is obviously no particularism at all in the divine operations looking to salvation. “Election” drops out of the scheme of the divine decrees altogether, unless we prefer to say, as it has been cynically phrased, that God is careful to elect to salvation only those who, he foresees, will in the use of their own free will elect themselves. All Calvinists must therefore be either Supralapsarians or Sub- (or Infra-) lapsarians, or, at least, Post-redemptionists which is also to be Anteapplicationist.

Nevertheless, we do not reach in the Post-redemptionists, conceived purely from the point of view of this element of their thought, the lowest possible, or the lowest actual, variety of Calvinists. Post-redemptionists may differ among themselves, if not in the position in the order of decrees of the decree of election (for still further to depress its position in that order would be to desert the whole principle of particularism and to fall out of the category of Calvinists), yet in their mode of conceiving the nature of the work of the Holy Spirit in applying redemption, under the government of the decree of election; and as to the role of the human spirit in receiving redemption. A party has always existed even among Calvinists which has had so large an interest in the autonomy of the human will, that it has been unwilling to conceive of it as “passive” with respect to that operation of God which we call regeneration, and has earnestly wished to look upon the reception of salvation as in a true sense dependent on the will’s own unmoved action. They have, therefore, invented a variety of Calvinism which supposes that it is God indeed who selects those who shall savingly be brought to Christ, and that it is the Holy Spirit who, by his grace, brings them infallibly to Christ,(thus preserving the principle of particularism in the application of salvation), but which imagines that the Holy Spirit thus effectually brings them to Christ, not by an almighty, creative action on their souls, by which they are made new creatures, functioning subsequently as such, but purely by suasive operations, adapted in his infallible wisdom to the precise state of mind and heart of those whom he has selected for salvation, and so securing from their own free action, a voluntary coming to Christ and embracing of him for salvation. There is no universalism here; the particularism is express. But an expedient has been found to enable it to be said that men come voluntarily to Christ, and are joined to him by a free act of their own unrenewed wills, while only those come whom God has selected so to persuade to come (he who knows the heart through and through) that they certainly will come in the exercise of their own free will. This type of thought has received the appropriate name of “Congruism,” because the principle of its contention is that grace wins those to whom it is “congruously” offered, that is to say, that the reason why some men are saved and some are not lies in the simple fact that God the Holy Spirit operates in his gracious suasion on some in a fashion that is carefully and infallibly adapted by him to secure their adhesion to the gospel, and does not operate on others with the same careful adaptation.

A warning must, however, be added to the effect that the designation “Congruists” is so ambiguous that there exists another class bearing this name, who are as definitely anti-Calvinistic as those we have in mind are, by intention, Calvinistic in their conception. The teaching of these is that God the Holy Spirit accords his suasive influences to all alike, making no distinction; but that this universalistically conceived grace of the Holy Spirit takes effect only according as it proves to be actually congruous or incongruous to the state of mind and heart of those to whom it equally is given. Here it is not the sovereign choice of God, but a native difference in men, which determines salvation, and we are on expressly autosoteric ground. The danger of confusing the Calvinistic “Congruists” with this larger, and definitely anti-Calvinistic party, has led to the habit of speaking of the Calvinistic Congruists rather by the name of their most distinguished representative, (who, indeed, introduced this mode of thinking into the Calvinistic churches), Claude Pajon, Professor in the Theological School at Saumur in France in the middle of the seventeenth century. It was his predecessor and teacher in the same school, Moses Amyraut, who first formulated in the Reformed Churches the Post- redemptionist scheme, of which Pajonism is a debased form. Thus the school of Saumur has the bad eminence of having originated, and furnished from the names of its professors the current designations of, the two most reduced forms of Calvinism, Amyraldianism or Hypothetical Universalism as it is otherwise called, and Pajonism, or Congruism as it is designated according to its nature.

We have thus had brought before us four forms of Calvinism;

and these, as we believe, exhaust the list of possible general types: Supralapsarianism, Sub- (or Infra-)lapsarianism, Post-redemptionism (otherwise called Amyraldianism, or Hypothetical Universalism), and Pajonism (otherwise called Congruism). These are all forms of Calvinism, because they give validity to the principle of particularism as ruling the divine dealings with man in the matter of salvation; and, as we have seen, the mark of Calvinism is particularism. If now, particularism were not only the mark of Calvinism but also the substance of Calvinism, all four of these types of Calvinism, preserving as they all do the principle of particularism, might claim to be not only alike Calvinistic, but equally Calvinistic, and might even demand to be arranged in the order of excellence according to the place accorded by each in its construction to the principle of particularism and the emphasis placed on it. Particularism, however, though the distinguishing mark of Calvinism, by which it may be identified as over against the other conceptions of the plan of salvation, in comparison with which we have brought it, does not constitute its substance; and indeed, although strenuously affirmed by Calvinism, is not affirmed by it altogether and solely for its own sake. The most consistent embodiment of the principle of particularism is not therefore necessarily the best form of Calvinism; and the bare affirmation of the principle of particularism though it may constitute one so far a Calvinist, does not necessarily constitute one a good Calvinist. No one can be a Calvinist who does not give validity to the principle of particularism in God’s operations looking to the salvation of man; but the principle of particularism must not be permitted, as Pharaoh’s lean kine devoured all the fat cattle of Egypt, to swallow up all else that is rich and succulent and good in Calvinism, nor can the bare affirmation of particularism be accepted as an adequate Calvinism.

Post-redemptionism, therefore (although it is a recognizable form of Calvinism, because it gives real validity to the principle of particularism), is not therefore necessarily a good form of Calvinism, an acceptable form of Calvinism, or even a tenable form of Calvinism. For one thing, it is a logically inconsistent form of Calvinism and therefore an unstable form of Calvinism. For another and far more important thing, it turns away from the substitutive atonement, which is as precious to the Calvinist as is his particularism, and for the safeguarding of which, indeed, much of his zeal for particularism is due. I say, Post-redemptionism is logically inconsistent Calvinism. For, how is it possible to contend that God gave his Son to die for all men, alike and equally; and at the same time to declare that when he gave his Son to die, he already fully intended that his death should not avail for all men alike and equally, but only for some which he would select (which, that is, because he is God and there is no subsequence of time in his decrees, he had already selected) to be its beneficiaries? But as much as God is God, who knows all things which he intends from the beginning and all at once, and intends all things which he intends from the beginning and all at once, it is impossible to contend that God intends the gift of his Son for all men alike and equally and at the same time intends that it shall not actually save all but only a select body which he himself provides for it. The schematization of the order of decrees presented by the Amyraldians, in a word, necessarily implies a chronological relation of precedence and subsequence among the decrees, the assumption of which abolishes God, and this can be escaped only by altering the nature of the atonement. And therefore the nature of the atonement is altered by them, and Christianity is wounded at its very heart.

The Amyraldians “point with pride” to the purity of their confession of the doctrine of election, and wish to focus attention upon it as constituting them good Calvinists. But the real hinge of their system turns on their altered doctrine of the atonement, and here they strike at the very heart of Calvinism. A conditional substitution being an absurdity, because the condition is no condition to God, if you grant him even so much as the poor attribute of foreknowledge, they necessarily turn away from a substitutive atonement altogether. Christ did not die in the sinner’s stead, it seems, to bear his penalties and purchase for him eternal life; he died rather to make the salvation of sinners possible, to open the way of salvation to sinners, to remove all the obstacles in the way of salvation of sinners. But what obstacle stands in the way of the salvation of sinners, except just their sin? And if this obstacle (their sin) is removed, are they not saved? Some other obstacles must be invented, therefore, which Christ may be said to have removed (since he cannot be said to have removed the obstacle of sin) that some function may be left to him and some kind of effect be attributed to his sacrificial death. He did not remove the obstacle of sin, for then all those for whom he died must be saved, and he cannot be allowed to have saved anyone. He removed, then, let us say, all that prevented God from saving men, except sin; and so he prepared the way for God to step in and with safety to his moral government to save men. The atonement lays no foundation for this saving of men: it merely opens the way for God safely to save them on other grounds.

We are now fairly on the basis of the Governmental Theory of the Atonement; and this is in very truth the highest form of doctrine of atonement to which we can on these premises attain. In other words, all the substance of the atonement is evaporated, that it may be given a universal reference. And, indeed, we may at once recognize it as an unavoidable effect of universalizing the atonement that it is by that very act eviscerated. If it does nothing for any man that it does not do for all men why, then, it is obvious that it saves no man; for clearly not all men are saved. The things that we have to choose between, are an atonement of high value, or an atonement of wide extension. The two cannot go together. And this is the real objection of Calvinism to this compromise scheme which presents itself as an improvement on its system: it universalizes the atonement at the cost of its intrinsic value, and Calvinism demands a really substitutive atonement which actually saves. And as a really substitutive atonement which actually saves cannot be universal because obviously all men are not saved, in the interests of the integrity of the atonement it insists that particularism has entered into the saving process prior, in the order of thought, to the atonement.

As bad Calvinism as is in Amyraldianism, Pajonism is, of course, just that much worse. Not content with destroying the whole substance of the atonement, by virtue of which it is precious, (“Who loved me, and gave himself up for me”) it proceeds to destroy also the whole substance of that regeneration and renovation by which, in the creative work of the Spirit, we are made new creatures. Of what value is it that it should be confessed that it is God who determines who shall be saved, if the salvation that is wrought goes no deeper than what I can myself work, if I can only be persuaded to do it? Here there is lacking all provision not only for release from the guilt of sin, but also for relief from its corruption and power. There is no place left for any realizing sense of either guilt or corruption; there is no salvation offered from either the outraged wrath of a righteous God or the ingrained evil of our hearts: after all is over, we remain just what we were before. The prospect that is held out to us is nothing less than appalling; we are to remain to all eternity fundamentally just our old selves with only such amelioration of our manners as we can be persuaded to accomplish for ourselves. The whole substance of Christianity is evaporated, and we are invited to recognize the shallow remainder as genuine Calvinism, because, forsooth, it safeguards the sovereignty of God. Let it be understood once for all that the completest recognition of the sovereignty of God does not suffice to make a good Calvinist. Otherwise we should have to recognize every Mohammedan as a good Calvinist. There can be no Calvinism without a hearty confession of the sovereignty of God; but the acknowledgement of the sovereignty of God of itself goes only a very little way toward real Calvinism. Pajon himself, the author of Calvinistic Congruism, advanced in his fundamental thought but little beyond a high variety of Deism.

It seems particularly worth while to make these things explicit, because there is perhaps nothing which more prejudices Calvinism in the general mind than the current identification of it with an abstract doctrine of sovereignty, without regard to the concrete interests which this sovereignty safeguards. In point of fact the sovereignty of God for which Calvinism stands is not only the necessary implicate of that particularism without which a truly religious relation between the soul and its God cannot exist; but is equally the indispensable safeguard of that complementary universalism of redemption equally proclaimed in the Scripture in which the wideness of God’s mercy comes to manifestation. It must be borne well in mind that particularism and parsimony in salvation are not equivalent conceptions; and it is a mere caricature of Calvinistic particularism to represent it as finding its center in the proclamation that there are few that are saved.” What particularism stands for in the Calvinistic system is the immediate dealing of God with the individual soul; what it sets itself against is the notion that in his saving processes God never comes directly into contact with the individual-is never to be contemplated as his God who saves him-but does all that he does looking to salvation only for and to men in the mass. Whether in dealing with the individual souls of men, he visits with his saving grace few or many, so many that in our imagination they may readily pass into all, does not lie in the question. So far as the principles of sovereignty and particularism are concerned, there is no reason why a Calvinist might not be a universalist in the most express meaning of that term, holding that each and every human soul shall be saved; and in point of fact some Calvinists (forgetful of Scripture here) have been universalists in this most express meaning of the term. The point of insistence in Calvinistic particularism is not that God saves out of the sinful mass of men only one here and there, a few brands snatched from the burning, but that God’s method of saving men is to set upon them in his almighty grace, to purchase them to himself by the precious blood of his Son, to visit them in the inmost core of their being by the creative operations of his Spirit, and himself, the Lord God Almighty, to save them. How many, up to the whole human race in all its representatives, God has thus bought and will bring into eternal communion with himself by entering himself into personal communion with them, lies, I say, quite outside the question of particularism. Universalism in this sense of the term and particularism are so little inconsistent with one another that it is only the particularist who can logically be this kind of a universalist.

And something more needs to be said- Calvinism in point of fact has as important a mission in preserving the true universalism of the gospel (for there is a true universalism of the gospel) as it has in preserving the true particularism of grace.

The same insistence upon the supernuralistic and the evangelical principles, (that salvation is from God and from God alone, and that God saves the soul by dealing directly with it in his grace) which makes the Calvinist a particularist, makes him also a universalist in the scriptural sense of the word. In other words the sovereignty of God lays the sole foundation, for a living assurance of the salvation of the world. It is but a spurious universalism which the so-called universalistic systems offer: a universalism not of salvation but, at the most, of what is called the opportunity, the chance, of salvation. But what assurance can a universal opportunity, or a universal chance, of salvation (if we dare use such words) give you that all, that many, that any indeed, will be saved? This universal opportunity, chance, of salvation has, after two thousand years, been taken advantage of only by a pitiable minority of those to whom it has been supposed to be given. What reason is there to believe that, though the world should continue in existence for ten billions of billions of years, any greater approximation to a completely saved world will be reached than meets our eyes today, when Christianity, even in its nominal form, has conquered to itself, I do not say merely a moiety of the human race, but I say merely a moiety of those to whom it has been preached? If you wish, as you lift your eyes to the far horizon of the future, to see looming on the edge of time the glory of a saved world, you can find warrant for so great a vision only in the high principles that it is God and God alone who saves men, that all their salvation is from him, and that in his own good time and way he will bring the world in its “entirety to the feet of him whom he has not hesitated to present to our adoring love not merely as the Saviour of our own souls, but as the Saviour of the world; and of whom he has himself declared that he has made propitiation not for our sins only, but for the sins of the world. Calvinism thus is the guardian not only of the particularism which assures me that God the Lord is the Saviour of my soul, but equally of the universalism by which I am assured that he is also the true and actual Saviour of the world. On no other ground can any assurance be had either of the one or of the other. But on this ground we can be assured with an assurance which is without flaw, that not only shall there be saved the individual whom God visits with his saving grace, but also the world which he enters with his saving purpose, in all the length and breadth of it.

The redemption of Christ, if it is to be worthily viewed, must be looked at not merely individualistically, but also in its social, or better in its cosmical relations.

Men are not discrete particles standing off from one another as mutually isolated units. They are members of an organism, the human race; and this race itself is an element in a greater organism which is significantly termed a universe. Of course the plan of salvation as it lies in the divine mind cannot be supposed to be concerned, therefore, alone with individuals as such: it of necessity has its relations with the greater unities into which these individuals enter as elements. We have only partially understood the redemption in Christ, therefore, when we have thought of it only in its modes of operation and effects on the individual. We must ask also how and what it works in the organism of the human race, and what its effects are in the greater organism of the universe. Jesus Christ came to save men, but he did not come to save men each as a whole in himself out of relation to all other men. In saving men, he came to save mankind; and therefore the Scriptures are insistent that he came to save the world, and ascribe to him accordingly the great title of the Savior of the world. They go indeed further than this: they do not pause in expanding their outlook until they proclaim that it was the good pleasure of God “to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things on the earth.” We have not done justice to the Biblical doctrine of the plan of salvation therefore so long as we confine our attention to the modes of the divine operation in saving the individual, and insist accordingly on what we have called its particularism. There is a wider prospect on which we must feast our eyes if we are to view the whole land of ‘ salvation. It was because God loved the world, that he sent his only-begotten Son; it was for the sins of the world that Jesus Christ made propitiation; it was the world which he came to save; it is nothing less than the world that shall be saved by him.

What is chiefly of importance for us to bear in mind here, is that God’s plan is to save…

…whether the individual or the world, by process. No doubt the whole salvation of the individual sinner enters into the full enjoyment of this accomplished salvation only by stages and in the course of time. Redeemed by Christ, regenerated by the Holy Spirit, justified through faith, received into the very household of God as his sons, led by the Spirit into the flowering and fruiting activities of the new life, our salvation is still only in process and not yet complete. We still are the prey of temptation; we still fall into sin; we still suffer sickness, sorrow, death itself. Our redeemed bodies can hope for nothing but to wear out in weakness and to break down in decay in the grave. Our redeemed souls only slowly enter into their heritage. Only when the last trump shall sound and we shall rise from our graves, and perfected souls and incorruptible bodies shall together enter into the glory prepared for God’s children, is our salvation complete.

The redemption of the world is similarly a process. It, too, has its stages: it, too, advances only gradually to its completion. But it, too, will ultimately he complete; and then we shall see a wholly saved world. Of course it follows, that at any stage of the process, short of completeness, the world, as the individual, must present itself to observation as incompletely saved. We can no more object the incompleteness of the salvation of the world today to the completeness of the salvation of the world, than we can object the incompleteness of our personal salvation today (the remainders of sin in us, the weakness and death of our bodies) to the completeness of our personal salvation. Every thing in its own order: first the seed, then the blade, then the full corn in the ear. And as, when Christ comes, we shall each of us be like him, when we shall see him as he is, so also, when Christ comes, it will be to a fully saved world, and there shall be a new heaven and a new earth, in which dwells righteousness.

It does not concern us at the moment to enumerate the stages through which the world must pass to its complete redemption. We do not ask how long the process will be; we make no inquiry into the means by which its complete redemption shall be brought about. These are topics which belong to Eschatology and even the lightest allusion to them here would carry us beyond the scope of our present task. What concerns us now is only to make sure that the world will be completely saved; and that the accomplishment of this result through a long process, passing through many stages, with the involved incompleteness of the world’s salvation through extended ages, introduces no difficulty to thought. This incompleteness of the world’s salvation through numerous generations involves, of course, the loss of many souls in the course of the long process through which the world advances to its salvation. And therefore the Biblical doctrine of the salvation of the world is not “universalism” in the common sense of that term. It does not mean that all men without exception are saved. Many men are inevitably lost, throughout the whole course of the advance of the world to its complete salvation, just as the salvation of the individual by process means that much service is lost to Christ through all these lean years of incomplete salvation. But as in the one case, so in the other, the end is attained at last: there is a completely saved man and there is a completely saved world. This may possibly be expressed by saying that the Scriptures teach an eschatological universalism, not an each- and-every universalism. When the Scriptures say that Christ came to save the world, that he does save the world, and that the world shall be saved by him, they do not mean that there is no human being whom he did not come to save, whom he does not save, who is not saved by him. They mean that he came to save and does save the human race; and that the human race is being led by God into a racial salvation: that in the age-long development of the race of men, it will attain at last to a complete salvation, and our eyes will be greeted with the glorious spectacle of a saved world. Thus the human race attains the goal for which it was created, and sin does not snatch it out of God’s hands: the primal purpose of God with it is fulfilled; and through Christ the race of man, though fallen into sin, is recovered to God and fulfills its original destiny.

Now, it cannot be imagined that the development of the race to this, its destined end, is a matter of chance; or is committed to the uncertainties of its own determination. Were that so, no salvation would or could lie before it as its assured goal. The goal to which the race is advancing is set by God: it is salvation. And every stage in the advance to this goal is, of course, determined by God. The progress of the race is, in other words, a God-determined progress, to a God-determined end. That being true, every detail in every moment of the life of the race is God-determined; and is a stage in its God- determined advance to its God-determined end. Christ has been made in very truth Head over all things for his Church: and all that befalls his Church, everything his Church is at every moment of its existence, every “fortune,” as we absurdly call it, through which his Church passes, is appointed by him. The rate of the Church’s progress to its goal of perfection, the nature of its progress, the particular individuals who are brought into it through every stage of its progress: all this is in his divine hands. The Lord adds to the Church daily such as are being saved. And it is through the divine government of these things, which is in short the leading onwards of the race to salvation, that the great goal is at last attained. To say this is, of course, already to say election and reprobation. There is no antinomy, therefore, in saying that Christ died for his people and that Christ died for the world. His people may be few today: the world will be his people tomorrow. But it must be punctually observed that unless it is Christ who, not opens the way of salvation to all, but actually saves his people, there is no ground to believe that there will ever be a saved world. The salvation of the world is absolutely dependent (as is the salvation of the individual soul) on its salvation being the sole work of the Lord Christ himself, in his irresistible might.

It is only the Calvinist that has warrant to believe in the salvation whether of the individual or of the world. Both alike rest utterly on the sovereign grace of God.” All other ground, is shifting sand.

The Happy Calvinist !?!

by Ian Hamilton

11B.B. Warfield, the great Princeton theologian, said that the fountainhead of Calvinism does not lie in its theological system, but in its ‘religious consciousness’. What he meant is that the roots of Calvinism are planted in a specific ‘religious attitude,’ out of which unfolds (as day follows night) a particular theology. He wrote,

“The whole outworking of Calvinism in life is thus but the efflorescence of its fundamental religious consciousness, which finds its scientific statement in its theological system” (5.354) This is what so many miss in their assessment of, or espousal of, Calvinism. It is not first and foremost a theological system; it is more fundamentally a “religious attitude”, an attitude that gives inevitable birth to a particular, precise, but gloriously God-centered and heart-engaging system of theology.

The Formative principle of experimental Calvinism

GloryWarfield was adamant that the ‘formative principle’ of Calvinism is not what so many imagine – the doctrine of predestination – but the glory of the Lord God Almighty! So, the fundamental question posed in Calvinism is not “How can I be saved?”, but “How shall God be glorified?” . Let me again quote Warfield:

“He who knows that it is God who has chosen him and not he who has chosen God, and that he owes his entire salvation in all its processes and in every one of its stages to this choice of God, would be an ingrate indeed if he gave not the glory of his salvation solely to the inexplicable elective love of God” (5.360).

The foundational experience of experimental Calvinism

a) It brought to Isaiah first a deep felt awareness of his sinfulness – “woe to me… I am ruined…”!! When Isaiah ‘saw’ God as he is, he was not left standing – he was not left proud and dispassionate – he was deeply humbled! There is little doubt that Isaiah already was a believing servant – but a stranger to the pulse-quickened sense of God’s ineffable greatness – Isaiah was seeing himself as God saw him – this is experimental Calvinism .

b) It brought Isaiah a new sense of Israel’s corruption (v5) – his encounters with “the King” caused him to see through the façade of Israel’s religion cf 1:10ff. – onlookers would have complimented Israel on the ‘healthy state’ of its religion – but when a man has had a sight of the majesty of God, he sees not only his own sinfulness, but the sinful state of his own generation – of his own .

c) It brought to Isaiah a deep, personal awareness of God’s forgiving grace – as he is overwhelmed by his sinful uncleanness and un-doneness, God mercifully sends an angel to bring him God’s forgiving grace – a live coal from the altar of sacrifice – a coal which becomes the symbol of the basis on which God forgives sinners – touches Isaiah’s lips – inner pain, but “Behold… your guilt…”

To the forgiven sinner, ‘forgiveness’ is a humbling, overpowering, captivating word.

imagesCA3SAWYPNowhere is this more highlighted in our Lord’s encounter with the “sinful woman” in Luke 7:47. The extravagance of her devotion to the Lord acutely embarrassed Simon the Pharisee, Jesus’ host. Jesus’ response is one that ought to humble all of us: “He who is forgiven little, loves little”. The depth of our love to the Savior is in proportion to the depth of our experience of and appreciation of his forgiving grace. It cannot be said too often that the primary pulse-beat of the gospel is the love of God. It was God’s love that caused him to send his only begotten Son to be the propitiation for our sins. It is God’s love that caused the apostle John to exclaim, “Behold what manner of love is this, that we should be called the children of God”. John’s language is filled with unspeakable wonder. He can hardly take in the grace that is revealed in the Father’s love – “From what country is this love of the Father?” His love is literally out of this world. There is nothing clinical or cold in John’s language; rather, it is the language of overwhelmed wonder. The sheer wonder of God’s amazing grace, his undeserved, indeed ill-deserved love to judgment-deserving sinners, is not a peripheral note in Calvinism. How could it be, when God’s love gave birth to the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ?

Is it not true, however, that many of us who call ourselves “Reformed” have lost the “sense” of the sheer wonder of this amazing love? Before sovereign grace is a truth to defend, it is a captivating truth to glory in.

d) It brought Isaiah to yield his life unreservedly to God! “Here am I…” – no cajoling, no pleading – the response of a man to whom inexplicable, sovereign grace has come. Grace costs us nothing, but it demands everything (Matthew 8:18-22; 10:37-39). Here is the reflex action of a man who has ‘seen’ the Lord and felt the power of his presence and grace. This is experimental Calvinism! The story of William Borden of Yale wonderfully illustrates the point. Borden had long prepared to serve as a missionary in the Far East. He had been an outstanding student with a passion for mission. After some years travelling throughout America calling young men “to go east and preach the gospel of Christ”, he at last set sail himself for Burma. On reaching Alexandria, he was struck down with cerebral encephalitis. He would never see Burma. He would die in Alexandria. As he lay dying he overheard someone saying, “What a waste”. With the little energy he had, Borden replied, “No reserve! No retreat! No regrets!” This is the life of the experimental Calvinist. It is a life of unconditional surrender to the saving lordship of Jesus Christ.

The Fundamental features of experimental Calvinism

seekSo, what then are the evident marks of experimental Calvinism? Calvinism is not a theological theory, a religious philosophy that compels the mind but leaves the shape of your life untouched and unmoved. Biblical truth reforms and re-styles the believer’s life. So with Calvinism, it leaves it indelible marks wherever it takes root in a person’s life. What are those marks?

a) The Experiential Calvinist honours God’s unconditional sovereignty. How? By consistent prayer. Nothing more honours God’s unconditional sovereignty. Here is Warfield’s description of Calvinism: “Christianity on its knees” cf Acts 4:24ff.; Acts 2:42. The demise of the church prayer meeting is deeply indicative of spiritual atrophy. “You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.” (John Bunyan).

“When God deigns to bless his people, he sets them a-praying for the blessing which he desires to give them” (Matthew Henry).

Can we dare call ourselves “Calvinists” if prayer is not one of the pulsebeats of our congregational and personal life? Surely it is prayer that most manifests our conviction that God the Holy Spirit is the great convincer, convicter, and applier of Christ’s saving merits to sinners. Calvinists are pre-eminently “pneumatic Christians”. “Prayer is evangelism shorn of all its carnal attractions.”

b) The Experimental Calvinist lives before God’s face – this alone cultivates heart-humility and acknowledges our indebtedness to God’s unconditional sovereignty, cf 1 Corinthians 4:7. What is pride? The attempt to share in the glory that belongs to the King on the throne. The ‘sight’ of our own heart as it appears to God dismantles all our proud conceits.

c) The Experimental Calvinist shapes all of live by the revelation of God’s unimpeachable holiness – “Be holy, for I am holy!” cf Ephesians 1:4; Romans 8:29; Titus 2:14.

d) The Experimental Calvinist exercises trustful dependence on God to fulfil all He has purposed. It is so easy to take the “lower ground,” to resort to unbiblical expediencies in God’s work. This can be seen in ‘worship’ and ‘evangelism’, sometimes more influenced by the principles of a fallen culture than by the precepts of God’s living Word.

Amidst the struggles with “world, flesh and devil,” with a Christian evangelical culture that is drowning itself in shallowness and trivia, the experimental Calvinist draws the sweetest comfort and encouragement from knowing that the unconditional sovereign Lord is fulfilling perfectly – if mysteriously – his perfect, holy, eternal purposes. There must inevitably be a “reserved agnosticism”, cf Romans 11:33ff. Here we encounter experimental Calvinism – the doctrines of grace lead him to adoring wonder and worship. Theology’s first resting place is doxology!

e) The Experimental Calvinist loves God’s Law – all-round obedience! Experimental Calvinism seeks to give God’s holy Law the place in the believer’s and church’s life that God’s holy Word gives it. Commenting on the phrase in Galatians 4:5, “to redeem those under law,” Calvin says, “We must here observe, the exemption from the law which Christ has procured for us does not imply that we no longer owe any obedience to the doctrine of the law, and may do whatever we please: for the law is the everlasting rule of a good and holy life.” Again, commenting on Galatians 3:25, “Now that faith has come we are no longer under the supervision of the law,” Calvin writes: “Is the law so abolished that we have nothing to do with it? I answer, the law, so far as it is a rule of life, a bridle to keep us in the fear of the Lord, a spur to correct the sluggishness of our flesh… is as much in force as ever, and remains untouched.” Calvin is simply echoing the teaching of Christ: John 14:15 cf 1 John 2:3-6.

imagesCA8YOXXSMore than ever, we need today to affirm and reaffirm the abiding relation of God’s holy law to God’s holy people. Faced today with incipient antinomianism, the duties and responsibilities of the moral law are seen by many to have no place in the believer’s life. “If the law might be disannulled as to new creatures, then why doth the Spirit of God write it with such legible characters in their hearts? … Now that which the Spirit engraves upon the heart, would Christ come to deface and abolish?” (Thomas Manton on Psalm 119, 1.5).

John Coquhoun in his “A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel,” endorses Calvin’s teaching and expresses what was the mainstream Puritan understanding of the Christian’s relationship to the Law of God:

“All who are united to Christ, and justified for his righteousness imputed to them, are dead to the law as a covenant; not that they may be without law to God, but that they may be under the law to Christ; not that they may continue in disobedience, but that they may be inclined and enabled to perform sincere obedience in time, and perfect obedience through eternity, to the law as a rule of life. One design of their being delivered from the obligations of the law in its Federal form is that they may be brought under the eternal obligation of it as a rule of duty in the hand of the adorable Mediator” (p. 260).

Let me end as I began: the great question in Calvinism is: “How shall God be glorified?” Listen to Warfield:

“It is the contemplation of God and zeal for his honour which in it draws out the emotions and absorbs endeavour; and the end of human as of all other existence, of salvation as of all other attainments, is to it the glory of the Lord of all… It begins, it centers, it ends with the vision of God in His glory: and it sets itself before all things to render to God His rights in every sphere of life” (358). – Romans 11:36-12:1-2.

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