Cork Free Presbyterian Church, 10 Briarscourt (Annex) Shanakiel, Cork, Ireland Pastor: Colin Maxwell. Email: cfpc@esatclear.ie

SOME THOUGHTS ON THE VARIOUS MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT THE DOCTRINES OF GRACE, COMMONLY CALLED CALVINISM, EXPLAINED TO THOSE WHO STILL DOUBT THEIR SCRIPTURAL VALIDITY:

 "Well can I remember the manner in which I learned the doctrines of grace in a single instant. Born, as all of us are by nature, an Arminian, I still believed the old things I had heard continually from the pulpit, and did not see the grace of God. When I was coming to Christ, I thought I was doing it all myself, and though I sought the Lord earnestly, I had no idea the Lord was seeking me. I do not think the young convert is at first aware of this. I can recall the very day and hour when I first received those truths in my own soul - when they were, as John Bunyan says, burned into my heart as with a hot iron, and I can recollect how I felt that I had grown on a sudden from a babe into a man - that I had made progress in Scriptural Knowledge , through having found, once for all, the clue to the truth of God.

"One week night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher's sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me, "How did you come to be a Christian?" I sought the Lord. "But how did you come to seek the Lord?" The truth flashed across my mind in a moment - I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make my constant confession: "I ascribe my change wholly to God." [CH Spurgeon: Defence of Calvinism]

Like Spurgeon, quoted above, the writer was not of the Calvinistic faith when converted to Christ. I only began to be aware even of its existence listening every week to a fellow open air preacher in Belfast who, no matter what his text, always made his way to total depravity…unconditional election etc., At first, I fumed with several others, as my cherished doctrine of freewill * was demolished by this brother. Indeed, we used to encourage him to preach first, but only that we might go out after him "and repair the damage." However, the issue would not go away and I decided to investigate it further. Romans 9 was an obvious passage to go to and I left it very uncomfortable indeed with a forced interpretation which practically denied its central message.

I came to be convinced of the truth of God's sovereignty in salvation largely through reading Iain Murray's book: The Forgotten Spurgeon (Banner of Truth) Since then I have always been an exponent of that system of thought commonly called Calvinism but what is indeed the very heart of the gospel.

There is much that could be (and has been) written about Calvinism but it is not my purpose to go over old ground or duplicate what might be found elsewhere. Those who desire a positive declaration of the Doctrines of Grace should see the following web link to:

http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0385.htm#calling

These are a series of messages preached at the opening of Spurgeon's Metropolitan Tabernacle in London when a number of men preached on the five points of Calvin.

My intention on this page is to simply set forth a few things which Calvinists do not believe i.e. clear up a few misconceptions. There is a world of difference between Calvinism and hyper Calvinism. I have read quite a number of booklets etc., all setting forth to refute Calvinism when it is obvious that the refuter had not done his home work. The thoughts below might not convince Arminian believers of the truth of these doctrines, but hopefully it will enable them to understand Calvinists a little better.

* The term freewill has many connotations. It should not be opposed per se without having it defined. See below.

 We intend generally to give an appropriate quote from Calvin. This is not because we hold him to be of joint authority with the word of God but simply to show that the man himself after whom these doctrines have come to be named (the wisdom of which is debatable - but we are just taking things as they stand) refuted the misunderstandings that are attached to his name. A useful book for Calvin quotations is Calvin's Wisdom by Graham Miller subtitled: An Anthology Alphabetically Arranged and published by the Banner of Truth.

 1) CALVINISTS DO NOT BELIEVE IN FATALISM:

There is an old joke on the go about the Calvinist who fell down the stairs … and laying somewhat bruised at the bottom praised the Lord and said: "I'm glad that's that over!" Certainly we believe God worketh all things after the counsel of his own will (Ephesians 1:11) having ordained whatsoever comes to pass. But this is a far cry from fatalism. Fatalism places the running of the universe into the hands of blind random chance. Calvinists place the running of the universe in the hands of all wise, all loving and all just God. There is a world of difference.

CALVIN: He next adds, Jehovah our God is just in all his works. In this clause the Prophet confirms his former teaching, and the phrase, God is just, appears like rendering a reason for his dealings; for the nature of God supplies a reason why it becomes impossible for anything to happen by the blind impulse of fortune. God sits as a judge in heaven; whence these two ideas are directly contrary to each other. Thus if one of the following assertions is made, the other is at the same time denied; if God is the judge of the world, fortune has no place in its government; and, whatever is attributed to fortune is abstracted from God’s justice. (Commentary on Prophecy of Daniel)

The providence of God, as it is taught in Scripture, is opposed to fortune and fortuitous accidents. (Institutes: 1:16:2)

2) CALVINISTS DO NOT BELIEVE THAT MEN ARE MERE ROBOTS OR PAWNS:

This flows from the above. We believe that men are free agents i.e. they are free to follow the dictates of their own will. We deny, however, that man's will is free in the sense that the will is always dictated to by the heart and man's heart is naturally sinful (Jeremiah 17:9/Proverbs 23:7) Man is the slave of sin and that slavery extends to his way of thinking and acting. But God still holds man responsible for his actions. It cannot be right that because man, through sin, loses his ability to serve or please God that he is no longer responsible to obey God's commands. Judas freely chose his deed in betraying the Lord Jesus, as did the Jewish nation at that time. God holds them both accountable and refers to this in explaining why they were punished accordingly. (Acts 1:25/2:23) If man was a robot or a pawn, then there could not be a hell awaiting him when he died unrepentant. Indeed, he would have nothing to repent of.

CALVIN: The blame lies solely with ourselves, if we do not become partakers of this salvation; for he calls all men to himself, without a single exception, and gives Christ to all, that we may be illuminated by him. (Commentary on Isaiah the Prophet)

 3) CALVINISTS DO NOT BELIEVE THAT MEN OWE THEIR DAMNATION PURELY TO THE DECREE OF GOD WITHOUT ANY REFERENCE TO MAN'S OWN SIN:

Both Calvinists and Arminians agree that there is such a thing as predestination from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) However some Arminians perceives that the Calvinist thinks that all men were viewed by God as being in a kind of state of neutrality and that He arbitrarily decreed that one would go to Heaven whilst another would go to Hell. This is not so. When God made His sovereign choice before time began, He viewed the whole human race as fallen in sin and so there were no neutrals. He could have left us all to be damned because of our sin and saved none. The wonder of grace is that He decreed to save any. If He was not obliged to save any, then He certainly was not obliged to save all. Spurgeon's maxim stands true: Salvation is all of grace…damnation is all of sin.

CALVIN: [The Reprobate] are not induced to sin, as the faithful are to act aright, by the impulse of the Spirit, but they are the authors of their own evil, and follow Satan as their leader. [Commentary on Genesis]

Such blinding and hardening…must be ascribed exclusively to the depravity of man. (Commentary on Isaiah the Prophet)

4) CALVINISTS DO BELIEVE THAT ALL MEN ARE DUTY BOUND TO REPENT AND BELIEVE THE GOSPEL:

Granted that there are some who call themselves Calvinists (but are in reality hyper Calvinists) who deny what is called duty faith and duty repentance. Since the Lord Jesus began to upbraid those cities wherein His mighty works were done because of they repented not (Matthew 11:20) and since the Holy Spirit reproves or convinces the world of sin because it believes not on Christ (John 16:7-9) we conclude that man, although unable to believe/repent in himself without divine strength (because of sin), is held fully responsible and therefore has a duty. If the sinner perceives himself here to be "caught between a rock and a hard place" … then isn't it time that he cried out to the Lord to save him? God says: Let him take hold of my strength, that he may make peace with me… (Isaiah 27:5)

CALVIN: It is the ordinary practice of Scripture, whenever redemption is mentioned, to exhort to repentance. (Commentary on Isaiah)

5) CALVINISTS DO BELIEVE THAT THERE IS A NEED FOR EVANGELISM:

Again, although there are hyper Calvinists who deny either verbally or by their actions that evangelism is unnecessary, yet true Calvinists will seek "by all means to win some" The great evangelists whose praise is still in the churches were Calvinists e.g. George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, Robert Murray McCheyne, John Bunyan etc., (to name but a few) William Carey, who has been called the Father of modern missionary endeavour, was a Calvinist. We evangelise because [1] it is commanded of God (Mark 16:15 etc.,) and [2] because God who has ordained the end (the ingathering of His elect) has ordained the ends thereto (evangelism). As above, we are not fatalists.

CALVIN: God commands the gospel to be preached indiscriminately to all. (Commentary on Genesis)

6) CALVINISTS DO NOT KNOW WHO THE ELECT ARE:

The writer once heard an Arminian preacher take up a comment of Spurgeon along this line. When Spurgeon first met his wife to be, she had not yet openly confessed the Lord, but was showing evidences of grace. Spurgeon said that he perceived that she was already a Christian. Now, out of the many ways Spurgeon could have worded this e.g. I knew she was a Christian…I knew she was born again…I knew that she belonged to Christ…or was in union with Him etc., he worded like this: I knew that her name was in the Lamb's Book of Life. This comment was produced as evidence that Calvinists claim to have access to the Lamb's Book of Life. Silly isn't it? Admittedly I have only ever heard one frustrated preacher at it, but let us lay that spectre to rest. We don't…at least not before they profess faith in the Lord Jesus. Then we can urge them to make their calling and election sure.

CALVIN: As we cannot distinguish between the elect and the reprobate, it is our duty to pray form all who trouble us, to desire the salvation of all men. (Commentary on Psalms)

7) CALVINISTS DO BELIEVE IN THE FREE OFFER OF THE GOSPEL:

Click here to see this point fully developed

Again, hyper Calvinists will only offer Christ to those whom they discern to be spiritually awakened enough to receive it, but true Calvinists will offer Christ freely to all men, assuring all that there is salvation if they will prevail of it. Whitefield's sermons and Spurgeon's are full of gospel invitation without any limitations of any kind. Here is how Arthur Pink closed one sermon preached in 1927:

Why not believe in him for yourself? Why not trust his precious blood for yourself, and why not tonight? Why not tonight, my friend? God is ready, God is ready to save you now if you believe on him. The blood has been shed, the sacrifice has been offered, the atonement has been made, the feast has been spread. The call goes out to you tonight. 'Come, for all things are now ready.' (Studies in the Scriptures 1927)

We note how Paul in his great sermon in Acts 13 made good use of the phrase "unto you" when preaching, including those great words of v38:

Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins:

Yet we read that many to whom these words were spoken rejected them. Here is indiscriminate preaching at its best.

CALVIN: The gospel is to preached indiscriminately to the elect and to the reprobate… (Commentary on Isaiah)

God offers his word indiscriminately to the good and bad… (Commentary on Ezekiel)

8) CALVINISTS DO BELIEVE THAT THE HOLY SPIRIT CAN BE FINALLY RESISTED:

Stephen said so: Ye stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. (Acts 7:53) There is a time when the Spirit of God stops striving with men (Genesis 6:3) and this is when they resist His convictions and He "leaves them alone in their darkness to dwell" But we believe that the elect cannot always resist Him - that there comes a time when the Spirit prevails and they are born again. We call this irresistible grace.

Let me point out something here. When Arminian Christians offer up petitions to God for the lost: "Lord, save my love ones…" etc., they are praying Calvinistic prayers. Arminianism effectively teaches that God has done everything that He can do since He cannot interfere with man's free and sovereign will. Calvinism teaches that God needs to do everything and we can consistently ask Him to do more and save our lost ones etc., Thank God for inconsistent Arminians! Keep praying!

CALVIN: God…closes up the way of salvation against those who spurn the Holy Spirit, the only true guide. (Commentary on Hebrews)

9) CALVINISTS DO NOT BELIEVE THAT CHILDREN WHO DIE IN INFANCY ARE DAMNED:

Spurgeon answers this misconception (which he calls among other things: the wicked calumny and the basest lie ever uttered):

We say, with regard to infants, Scripture saith but very little, and, therefore, where Scripture is confessedly scant, it is for no man to determine dogmatically. But I think I speak for the entire body, or certainly with exceedingly few exceptions, and those unknown to me, when I say we hold that all infants are elect of God and are therefore saved, and we look to this as being the means by which Christ shall see of the travail of his soul to a great degree, and we do sometimes hope that thus the multitude of the saved shall be made to exceed the multitude of the lost. Whatever views our friends may hold upon the point, they are not necessarily connected with Calvinistic doctrine. I believe that the Lord Jesus, who said, "Of such is the kingdom of heaven," doth daily and constantly receive into his loving arms those tender ones who are only shown, and then snatched away to heaven. Our hymns are no ill witness to our faith on this point, and one of them runs thus:

"Millions of infant souls compose the family above."

"Toplady, one of the keenest of Calvinists, was of this number. ‘In my remarks,’ says he, ‘on Dr. Nowell, I testified my firm belief that the souls of all departed infants are with God in glory; that in the decree of predestination to life, God hath included all whom he decreed to take away in infancy, and that the decree of reprobation hath nothing to do with them.’ … John Newton, of London, the friend of Cowper, noted for his Calvinism, holds that the children in heaven exceed its adult inhabitants in all their multitudinous array. Gill, a very champion of Calvinism, held the doctrine, that all dying in infancy are saved. An intelligent modern writer, (Dr. Russell, of Dundee) also a Calvinist maintains the same views; and when it is considered that nearly one-half of the human race die in early years, it is easy to see what a vast accession must be daily and hourly making to the blessed population of heaven." (CHS Sermons Vol 7:385)

As Spurgeon rightly observes, the scripture says very little about the subject at all and so we cannot be dogmatic, but I believe that the whole tenor of Scripture would point us in the direction that little children dying in infancy are saved.

CALVIN: Discharge now your virulence against God, for precipitating into eternal death innocent babes torn from their mother’s breasts. Whosoever detests not this blasphemy, when it is openly detected, may curse me to his heart’s content. (Secret Providence of God p65)

10) CALVINISTS DO NOT BELIEVE THAT THE "5 POINTS OF CALVINISM" ARE ALL THAT THERE IS TO BE KNOWN ABOUT THE WORD OF GOD:

The so called 5 points were not "highlighted" by Calvinists at all but by Dutchman Jacob Arminius who lived in 17th Century Holland. Arminius challenged the truthfulness of these doctrines and subsequently it is here the theological battles have raged. Of course there are Calvinists who cannot see beyond these particular doctrines, just as there are Dispensationalists who cannot see beyond Bible prophecy or Wesleyans who cannot see beyond the doctrine of the Second Blessing etc., Every doctrine has its adherents who live and breathe nothing else. That in itself does not make any doctrine wrong. The great classic theological works written by Calvinists cover pretty extensively other subjects. They are balanced and there is no evidence that all roads lead to unconditional election or particular redemption. Dr Paisley commented once that we should not be taken up just with the 5 buttons, but preach the whole garment and there is a lot of balance and wisdom in that comment.

Since the 5 points controversy followed nearly two centuries after Calvin's death, obviously we cannot find any reference to it as such in his writings. It is evident however from the massive selection of Bible commentaries which we have on many of the various parts of scripture that Calvin believed in preaching the whole counsel of God. Even Jacob Arminius who vehemently opposed his teachings wrote:

Next to the perusal of the Scriptures. Which I earnestly inculcate, I exhort my pupils to peruse Calvin's commentaries, which I extol in loftier terms that Helmich himself: for I affirm that he excels beyond comparison in the interpretation of Scripture, and that his commentaries ought to be more highly valued than all that is handed down to us by the Library of the Fathers: so that I acknowledge him to have possessed above all others, or rather above all other men, what may be called an eminent gift of prophecy." (Quoted by CH Spurgeon in Commenting and Commentaries)

  1. CALVINISTS DO APPEAL TO SINNERS WHEN PREACHING THE GOSPEL:

It must be said that there are those who think that unless the preacher asks the congregation at the end of the sermon to "bow their heads and close their eyes" and put a hand in the air if they want to be saved and come to the front to the strains of "Just as I am without one plea" then there was no appeal. This is not so. Some preachers are not comfortable with such procedures, but they will still urge and plead with sinners to be saved. True, there are hyper Calvinists who do not make urgent verbal appeals, but true Calvinists will employ language such as used by Arthur Pink above.

CALVIN: Yet it is highly useful to us, that the Evangelist introduces Christ exclaiming aloud, Let all who thirst come to me. For we infer from it that the invitation was not addressed to one or two persons only, or in a low and gentle whisper, but that this doctrine is proclaimed to all, in such a manner that none may be ignorant of it, but those who, of their own accord shutting their ears, will not receive this loud and distinct cry. (Commentary on John's Gospel)

12) CALVINISTS DO NOT BELIEVE THAT ONCE YOU ARE SAVED, YOU CAN LIVE AS YOU LIKE AS YOU CANNOT BE LOST:

Again a good doctrine has been abused and the abuse is held up as the genuine article. Calvinists believe that once a man is saved, the evidence will be holiness in the life. Christ saves His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21) A man who professes to be saved but insists on living like the devil is only evidencing how deluded he is and how false his profession. See accompanying article to this point.

CALVIN: No man…is a believer who is not also a saint…no man is a saint who is not a believer." (Commentary on Ephesians)  

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