Calvinism: From God or Man? Introduction
Today we will be beginning a series of articles on Calvinism.
Though it is John Calvin who is given credit for this system of thought, in reality it was a man named Augustine many years earlier, who began this way of thinking. John Calvin is likely responsible for turning it into an outlined belief system and so it is in some ways attributed to him and it began to bear the name “Calvinism.”
So that no one thinks that I am “poisoning the well,” I will allow the Calvinists to define Calvinism for us. I will not give my definitions, but will simply use Calvinist’s words to help us determine what the belief system of Calvinism teaches.
After we do that, we will test the belief system of Calvinism. We will lay it out, as described by the Calvinist, hold it up to God’s Word, and see if it teaches what the Bible teaches. It is not my intent to misrepresent their doctrines and so, for that reason, I will with all sincerity, do my best to give their words, not mine to define their doctrines.
Calvinism, has 5 basic tenants and really all 5 lead to one conclusion, and that is this: Man does not have free will, to choose God or not to choose God; that everything in life that happens is by the decree of God. Now, by decree of God, they are saying not that God allows a thing to happen, but that God causes all things to happen. Now, again, as we go through some of these things, it is my hope that I am being honest about their belief system, as we will give their own words to you.
So, let us list the 5 basic beliefs of Calvinism. And we will use the acrostic “TULIP” to make it easier to follow.
Total Hereditary Depravity
First, The “T” in Tulip, stands for Total Hereditary Depravity. That is, that because of the sin of Adam, all people the moment they are born, are totally depraved. They are sinners at the moment of their birth. They are in rebellion against God, not because of anything they have done, but because of what Adam did long ago.
In his book called “Sovereign Grace An Examination of the Five Points of Calvinism” Brian Schwertley writes; “The fall of man has rendered man totally depraved. This means that from birth man’s heart is morally corrupt.” (Schwertley Pg2) http://www.swrb.com/newslett/actualNLs/five-points-of-calvinism.htm
Duane Edward Spencer in his book “Tulip: The Five Points of Calvinism in the Light of Scripture” writes: “Man is totally depraved in the sense that everything about his nature is in rebellion against God.”p.26 (Baker books pub. 1979 p. 26)
So that is what Calvin’s doctrine teaches.
This depravity is upon every person ever born. Notice another quote from Calvinist teachers.
Hence, even infants bringing their condemnation with them from their mother’s womb, suffer not for another’s, but for their own defect. For although they have not yet produced the fruits of their own unrighteousness, they have the seed implanted in them. Nay, their whole nature is, as it were, a seed-bed of sin, and therefore cannot but be odious and abominable to God. Hence it follows, that it is properly deemed sinful in the sight of God; for there could be no condemnation without guilt (Hill pg. 301)
Listen to Calvin explain then, how a person is saved from this state of being.
We have not the least hesitation to admit what Paul strenuously maintains, that all, without exception, are depraved and given over to wickedness; but at the same time we add, that through the mercy of God all do not continue in wickedness. Therefore, while we all labor naturally under the same disease, those only recover health to whom the Lord is pleased to put forth his healing hand. The others whom, in just judgment, he passes over, pine and rot away till they are consumed. (Calvin p374).
And so we have it! This is the Depravity of Calvinism, properly defined by the Calvinist.
It is clear from the Calvinist perspective, that at the moment we are born, we are completely and totally depraved and in rebellion against God. The only way out, is for God to force himself upon us, and the only way to stay faithful, is for God to force me to continue to stay faithful, as we shall soon see.
So that is the “T” – Total Hereditary Depravity
Then in the Acrostic TULIP we have the U, which stands for Unconditional Election. That is that before the world ever began, God arbitrarily, and unconditionally chose some to go to Heaven while others would unconditionally go to Hell. Now, I want to make this clear, according to the Calvinist, God did NOT look down through the corridors of time, and say, this person will be faithful so I will pick him, and this person will not be faithful so I will not choose him. It was completely arbitrary and had absolutely NOTHING to do with any man’s thoughts or actions whatsoever.
Louis Berkhof, in his book called “Systematic Theology” writes:
The “elect” are those chosen by God. The verb “to elect” simply means to choose. The doctrine of election refers to that eternal act of God whereby He, in His sovereign good pleasure, and on account of no foreseen merit in them, chooses a certain number of men to be recipients of special grace and of eternal salvation.” (Berkhof, pg 114)
And so we see then, that Calvinism shows us a God, who unconditionally elects people to go to Heaven and unconditionally through no actions of their own, condemns others to go to Hell.
Now, we will go through some of these things later, to find out if what they believe is the Truth. We are simply defining terms. In fact, we are allowing THEM to define their own terms for us.
Listen to the Words of John Calvin
Predestination, by which God adopts some to the hope of life, and adjudges others to eternal death, no one, desirous of the credit of piety, dares absolutely to deny. . . . Predestination we call the eternal decree of God, by which he has determined in himself what he would have to become of every individual of mankind. For they are not all created with a similar destiny; but eternal life is fore-ordained for some, and eternal damnation for others. Every man, therefore, being created for one or the other of these ends, we say, he is predestinated either to life or to death. (Calvin, Vol 2 pg 419)
Again, let us let Calvinists define their terms for us then we will hold those beliefs up to the Bible and see if they are true.
According to the Westminster Confession of Faith. This statement was prepared in 1647 and adopted by the Presbyterian churches of America. In the third chapter entitled, “Of God’s Eternal Decree,” is the following statement:
God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass... . By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.
These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and
good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his
glorious grace. As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto.
Wherefore they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by his Spirit working indue season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted,sanctified, and saved, but the elect only. The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth,… (Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics website.) http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/index.html?body=/documents/wcf_with_proofs/ch_III.html
And so it is, according to Calvinism, that God has chosen some to go to Heaven and some to go to Hell and it is not based upon ANYTHING. That’s what the phrase; “without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions,” means.
So, we see, that God is responsible, according to Calvinism, for the eternal salvation, and the eternal damnation of every individual. We also learn from that quote, that the number is so fixed that it cannot be changed in the least.
So we have the T- Total hereditary depravity, we have the U – Unconditional election, and now that brings us to the L – “Limited Atonement.”
That is, that Christ died, but his blood was only intended to atone for those who God had already elected and saved from all eternity. This of course depends heavily upon the first two ideas of Calvinism.
Again Schwertley says: “The Doctrine of Limited Atonement logically proceeds from the other well-established doctrines, such as God’s absolute sovereignty, total depravity, regeneration, election etc” (Monergism.com Website
And so in Limited Atonement we have the idea that Christ came to this earth to die, but that he did not die for one single person who was lost. We will discuss God’s sovereignty later and regeneration and all these other things. We are just giving the basic belief system of Calvinism, in their own words.
John Calvin writes in “The Institutes of Christian Religion” that “none are redeemed, effectually called nor justified, adopted, sanctified, nor saved, but the elect only.” (Calvin Pg. 217)
G.E. Lane says that limited atonement means that:
Christ died ACTUALLY TO SAVE sinners, not to make it POSSIBLE TO SAVE them. He did actually atone for sins on the cross, not merely make such an atonement possible. It is inconceivable that He died in vain as far as some were concerned, or that He left man anything to do, for “He shall see the of the travail of his soul and shall be SATISFIED (sic.)”(Isaiah 53:11). He must therefore have died only for the elect. If He died for all, then all would be saved. (Lane pg.2)
And so it is clear, to the Calvinist, that Christ came to this earth to save only those who were saved long ago, as they were unconditionally elected to be saved.
So that is the idea of Limited Atonement
Then, we have the “I” in the TULIP which stands for Irresistable Grace. Again listen to Schwertley: “The Calvinistic doctrine of efficacious grace can be understood only if one has a correct understanding of total depravity, and the doctrine of regeneration.”
He continues on the same page, and says: “ Because man is spiritually dead, only a radical, all-pervasive change in man’s heart can enable him to embrace Jesus Christ. In order for God’s grace to be sufficient for any man, it must be efficacious (having the power to produce a desired effect or we might say, not able to be resisted). Only the power of God working DIRECTLY upon the human soul can infuse it with new life.”
And so here it is. Here is a man- he cannot, according to the Calvinist, do anything in the world to even desire to change. He cannot think about God, he cannot want to make a change and do right, he has absolutely no free will to do anything spiritually. What has to happen is that God, by His HOLY SPIRIT must come and whether the man wants to change or not, (which he can not want to change, according to their teaching) so here is a man, who doesn’t even want to change, doesn’t care to follow God, but the Holy Spirit comes and FORCES, that is the irresistable part, he forces that man to change. And so again, man has no choice but to obey God.
Now Calvinists will try to get around the idea that God “forces” a person to obey.
For instance, Edwin H Palmer in his book called “The Five Points of Calvinism” states:
“Contrary to what most people think, the Calvinist teaches that man is free--one hundred percent free--free to do exactly what he wants. God does not coerce a single one against his will. And Just because man is free, man is a slave. Just because man does what he wants to do, man has no free will. (which is different from saying that he is free)...” (Palmer, pg 35)
He also states:
“Incidentally, the Christian has no free will either. He may technically have the external option to choose or reject Christ, but basically he does not. Christ will not let him reject Him.” (Palmer, pg36)
Now we must fight back the urge to break this quote apart. We may save it for a later time. But, we bring this to attention, to show you that its very difficult even for Calvinists, to make sense of their own doctrines.
Be that as it may, the end result is still the same, Man has no freedom to Choose, and so, in the end, God is the one who forces salvation and damnation upon people. At least, according to Calvinism.
Calvinism teaches that God comes, and irresistably, that is he gives a person no choice, but rather forces a change upon the heart of the individual. So that he then must follow God.
Perseverance of the Saints
And then we have the “P” in TULIP – which stands for Perseverance of the Saints.
That is, that a person who has been elected, and “regenerated” can never lose his salvation.
Again here is Schwertley “This doctrine refers to the biblical teaching which says that those whom God loved before the foundation of the world and chose in Christ, who are regenerated by the Holy Spirit and truly believe in Jesus Christ as He is presented in the Scriptures, will be preserved by God their entire lives until death, and therefore cannot lose their salvation.” (Monergism.com Website
He goes on to say: “This does not mean that true believers cannot backslide and commit grievous sins. They sometimes do, but they cannot totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace." (ibid)
Thomas Ridgely, in his “Commentary on the Larger Catechism” says “it is certain that true believers may fall into very great sins; but yet they shall be recovered and brought again to repentance.” (Ridgely, Vol. 2 pg. 167)
And so, according to Calvinism, a person cannot, under any circumstance, lose his eternal salvation.
We have in Calvinism the TULIP. Notice please, that under each of these categories, man has no free will at all. We have no choice as to have anything to do with our salvation at all.
That God, from all eternity, has pre-determined and caused every event that happens in this life and has not given free will to mankind to choose or not choose to be saved.
In Total Hereditary Depravity we see that when we were born, we came into this world, against God, terrible sinners, though we had no choice in the matter.
In Unconditional Election we either were elected to go to Heaven or we were elected to go to Hell and there is nothing we can do about it either way. So again, we have no free will to change anything about our salvation.
In Limited Atonement we found out, that Christ came to die, ONLY for the elect. Since we don’t know which we are, we have no idea if Christ came to die for us. If we are elected, we will be saved, by the blood of Christ. If we were not elected, Christ’s blood was not shed for us in the first place. Again, I have no responsibility to salvation at all.
In Irresistible Grace we have the Holy Spirit, coming to change the hearts of man, and FORCING him to obey God, regardless of whether he wants to or not. The point is, that in Calvinism, man bears absolutely no responsibility to his salvation or damnation because man has no choice at all in the matter.
In Perseverance of the Saints we have the idea that God will stop believers from falling away. Even if they go astray and do all kinds of sin, God will not allow them to be lost eternally, but will make sure that they repent before they die.
Man has nothing to say about it. Man, according to the Calvinist, is not responsible for where he spends eternity. If he is saved, it is at the hand of God and if he is lost, it is at the hand of God.
So we ask this question: Does mankind bear any responsibility in his own salvation or not?
Now we have read a great many quotes from men to try to understand Calvinism.
I want to end this first article, by simply reading one passage of scripture. As we read it together, I want you to honestly look through this scripture and see if God believes that mankind has anything at all to do with his salvation.
Ezekiel 18 (KJV)
1The word of the LORD came unto me again, saying,
2What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge?
Notice here, we have a father does something, and the son is held responsible for it. This is the very idea of total depravity.
3As I live, saith the Lord GOD, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel.
4Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.
5But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right,
6And hath not eaten upon the mountains, neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, neither hath defiled his neighbour's wife, neither hath come near to a menstruous woman,
7And hath not oppressed any, but hath restored to the debtor his pledge, hath spoiled none by violence, hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment;
8He that hath not given forth upon usury, neither hath taken any increase, that hath withdrawn his hand from iniquity, hath executed true judgment between man and man,
9Hath walked in my statutes, and hath kept my judgments, to deal truly; he is just, he shall surely live, saith the Lord GOD.
10If he beget a son that is a robber, a shedder of blood, and that doeth the like to any one of these things,
11And that doeth not any of those duties, but even hath eaten upon the mountains, and defiled his neighbour's wife,
12Hath oppressed the poor and needy, hath spoiled by violence, hath not restored the pledge, and hath lifted up his eyes to the idols, hath committed abomination,
13Hath given forth upon usury, and hath taken increase: shall he then live? he shall not live: he hath done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him.
14Now, lo, if he beget a son, that seeth all his father's sins which he hath done, and considereth, and doeth not such like,
15That hath not eaten upon the mountains, neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, hath not defiled his neighbour's wife,
16Neither hath oppressed any, hath not withholden the pledge, neither hath spoiled by violence, but hath given his bread to the hungry, and hath covered the naked with a garment,
17That hath taken off his hand from the poor, that hath not received usury nor increase, hath executed my judgments, hath walked in my statutes; he shall not die for the iniquity of his father, he shall surely live.
18As for his father, because he cruelly oppressed, spoiled his brother by violence, and did that which is not good among his people, lo, even he shall die in his iniquity.
19Yet say ye, Why? doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live.
20The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.
21But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
22All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live.
23Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?
24But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die.
25Yet ye say, The way of the LORD is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal?
26When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them; for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die.
27Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.
28Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
29Yet saith the house of Israel, The way of the LORD is not equal. O house of Israel, are not my ways equal? are not your ways unequal?
30Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.
31Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
32For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.
Notice, these are not MY words. This is God’s Word. And he says:
The son does not bear the sin of the father, each is responsible for his own sin. And then, he says, if you want to live, you better repent. Turn he says.
It appears that, God wants us to understand:
- We are not born in Sin (Ezek 18:20) The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son:
- God did not Elect some to Salvation and others to Damnation. vs 23 Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live? … vs 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye. He wants all men to turn and be saved.
- By these same verses, we learn of God, that He has given man the right to choose. It is clear from this passage alone that God is saying to those who believe in Total Hereditary depravity, that they are simply wrong. Vs 28 says, he considers, that is he thinks about what he has done, and he chooses to turn away from evil. It doesn’t say, God forced himself upon him and caused him to turn away.
- To those who believe God has taken away man’s free will, that they are simply wrong.
- To those who believe that a person cannot “fall away” - here were Children of God and God is telling them, in vs 31 and 32, to stop sinning and to MAKE THEMSELVES a new heart. God is not making them a new heart, they have to do it, by obeying his Word. Then he says, that they need to turn from the evil ways, and LIVE. The implication therefore is, if they did not turn, they would die. What would die? Notice vs 4; Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.
- The soul is what is at stake
I have not said anything about Calvinism. I have allowed their words to determine their doctrine and then we simply read a single passage of scripture, that’s all, just one Chapter out of the whole Bible. That one chapter has shown us that Calvinism does not hold up to the word of God. We shall have plenty more to say on this topic later. Please continue to follow this series as we will look into each of these separately to see if what Calvinism teaches is the Truth.
Spencer, Duane Edward “Tulip: The Five Points of Calvinism in the Light of Scripture” p.26 (Baker books pub. 1979 p. 26)
Hill, A.M. “Holiness and power” pg. 301Reprint 2010 binpublishing
Calvin, John “Institutes of Christian Religion” p374).
Berkhoff, Louis Berkhof, “Systematic Theology” Pg 114 GLH Publishing 2017
Lane, G.E. “What is Calvinism? Sword and Trowel, Vol XI 1972 p.2
Palmer, Edwin H. “The Five Points of Calvinism” pub. Baker books 1999
Ridgely, Thomas “Commentary on the Larger Catechism” http://digitalpuritan.net/thomas-ridgley/ vol 2 p 167