by Larry White July 5, 1985
John Calvin 1509 - 1564
He was a Frenchman trained in the law. He was a Catholic - a Swiss reformer. Augustine, another Catholic in the 5th century taught Total Depravity, but Calvin took it to its logical end. Resolute and often harsh with those who opposed him, he established himself and his theological system at the heart of a "city of God" in the Swiss capital. Calvin's whole thought revolved about the concept of sovereignty: "the sovereignty of God in his universe, the sovereignty of Christ in salvation, the sovereignty of the scriptures in faith and conduct."
At age 26-27 he wrote the Institutes of the Christian Religion. (see Handbook of Denominations, p. 205)
Calvinism was adopted in:
- The Westminster Confession of Faith on July 1, 1643 for the Presbyterians, (they stress individual Predestination which is Unconditional Election).
- The Philadelphia Confession of Faith in 1742 for the Baptists, (they stress Perseverance).
- The New Hampshire Confession of Faith on June 24, 1830 for the Baptists. (Hiscox Standard Baptist Manual)
- The Methodists and the Episcopalians also have adopted Calvin's teachings.
-- Total Depravity (Inherited evil nature and guilt from Adam)
-- Unconditional Election (Sovereign predestination)
-- Limited Atonement (That Jesus only died for the elect)
-- Irresistible Grace (God's call cannot be disobeyed)
-- Perseverance of Saints (Eternal security. Once saved - always saved)
There are logical conclusions that must follow with any doctrinal system. Calvinism is logically based on the first tenet of inherited absolute depravity. Therefore it follows:
- Since man inherited the sin of Adam, we are born totally evil - completely, utterly and absolutely depraved, and unable to do any good - unable to find God - unable to choose good over evil. →
- If this be true, how could man be saved but that God would make the choice for him? If all men are depraved, then the choice by God would be without regard to their condition or character. →
- Therefore since God elected certain individuals to eternal salvation and this number cannot be changed by even one soul - when Christ died, he died for only these individuals. →
- Now, since God made the choice and man is totally depraved and unable to come to God on his own - therefore the elect must be irresistibly called by the unilateral operation or the effectual working of the Holy Spirit. →
- Since God made the choice and there was nothing the elect could do to resist being saved - then God is not going to allow them to be lost. →
- If a man is not elected, then he cannot believe or come to God and will not be saved - and there is nothing he or anyone else can do about it.
Spectrum of Thought:
Pelagianism is a doctrinal system that is the polar opposite of Calvinism. It was started by a monk (Pelagius) who taught:
- That there was no such thing as original sin, and therefore,
- There is no baptismal regeneration, no damnation of unbaptized infants, and no hereditary taint of Adam's sin.
- Man has perfect freedom of the will and has no absolute need of God's grace to set him right.
- Man, though aided in various ways by divine grace, is virtually the author of his own salvation.
So there seems to be somewhat of a spectrum in the thinking of men concerning the sovereignty of God and the freewill of man. On one extreme is Calvinism that teaches that God's sovereignty is absolute and ultimately overrules the will of man. Then on the other extreme there is Pelagianism that teaches that the will of man enables him to pull himself up and save himself.
Between these two extremes there is another idea called Synergism. It is the doctrine that God's grace must be met by man's will, and with man's obedient cooperation, together effect his sanctification and ultimate salvation. I believe that a fair hearing of the scriptures by good and honest hearts will prove this middle position to be correct.
The preaching of God's salvation is an effort at persuasion. Like Paul says, "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men." (2Cor.5:10-11). This factor of persuasion sheds much light on man's condition before God. He is not a robot or unthinking creature that has no choice, he is rather created in the image and glory of God. Our nature is personal and divine. God is "bringing many sons unto glory", but he is not forcing anyone or excluding anyone from the offer. "Whosoever WILL, let him come and take the water of life freely." (Rev. 22:17). Love, any love, must me a choice. Choosing to love is the personal nature of God and also of we his children.
The Weakest Link:
A chain of logical argument is no stronger than its weakest link. The truth of the controversy hinges on whether or not man has a free will in making a choice of salvation.
T < U < L < I < P
Prove one wrong and the whole system fails.
1. If Total Depravity is proved false.
If we are not born in sin (not Totally Depraved) then it follows that each individual has made the choice to either continue in sin or repent and do the will of God. And if I make the choice of my own free will - then it wasn't God who made the choice for me, (not an Unconditional Election). If God is letting me make the choice - then Christ died for all men, especially for those who believe, (1Tim.4:10; not a Limited Atonement). Also if it is my choice, then the Holy Spirit cannot make me obey, (not an Irresistible Grace). Also, if it is my choice, I can sin so as to fall away, (had no Perseverance).
(Scriptures that show T is wrong. Eze.18; Mat.19:14)
2. If Unconditional Election is proved false.
If I was born totally depraved and God does not individually elect to save me - I will be lost because I cannot choose the good. However, if God left the choice to me (no individual predestination) then I can choose the good and was not born totally depraved.
(Scriptures that show U is wrong. 1Tim.2:1-6; 2Pet.3:9)
3. If Limited Atonement is proved false.
If Christ died for all men - then I must have a choice, and therefore am not totally depraved.
(Scriptures that show L is wrong. Heb.2:9; 1Jno.2:1-2)
4. If Irresistible Grace is proved false.
If there is no irresistible grace - (unilateral working of the Holy Spirit) then I can resist and therefore must have a choice and hence, not totally depraved.
(Scriptures that show I is wrong. Jno.12:47-48; Jno.8:24)
5. If Perseverance of the Saints is proved false.
If there is no Perseverance of the saints, then a saved person can rebel against God and be lost and therefore must have a choice. He can resist the Spirit, and make the election of God null and void - and if there is no unconditional election, he must have been born not totally depraved.
(Scriptures that show P is wrong. Heb.6:4-6; 2Pet.2:1; Gal.5:2-4)