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


Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? (John 6:60)

Anything hard in the doctrines of God is hard only to the flesh and the carnal mind. Otherwise, His commandments are not grievous (1 John 5:3) Just as the Lord Jesus refused to round off the rough corners in His doctrine in John 6, neither can we water down the Doctrines of Grace. As Spurgeon said so long ago,

The old truth that Calvin preached, that Chrysostom preached that Paul preached, is the truth that I must preach to-day, or else be a liar to my conscience and my God. I cannot shape the truth. I know of no such thing as paring off the rough edges of a doctrine. John Knox’s gospel is my gospel. That which thundered through Scotland must thunder through England again. (MTP 4:78)

So this page is not in the business of scratching men's ears when they will not endure sound doctrine (2 Timothy 4:3) or heeding those whose great cry is "Prophesy unto us smooth things" (Isaiah 30:10) However, we do recognise that many people who presently oppose the Doctrines of Grace (and yet who benefit the most from them, being themselves numbered among the elect of God) do not fully understand them. In many cases, they have received but a caricature of them from other sources, or they have often put two and two together themselves and arrived at the grand total of five. If you desire to know more about these doctrines and especially some of the more "severe" elements (as they appear so at first glance) then this page is for you. Hopefully any prejudices you have will be removed, and you will come to see that these doctrines are indeed "founded on and agreeable to the word of God." We are not here dealing with those gross misconceptions of Calvinism which other people have fathered on us. We deal with these misconceptions elsewhere. We are dealing here with those things over which we can happily stand, once we get the opportunity to defend our stance. Sometimes questions can be fired at people, often loaded, with the worst possible interpretation put on their answers, and all to have them condemn themselves. This is a cool, calm and collected page, directed (as the title declares) to those who desire to learn more, as opposed to those who have some kind of axe to grind. Read on!


This is in many ways the root doctrine of Calvinism. That nothing, bar nothing, happens outside the secret will of God. While God's will is but one (as God is one) yet we must use this phrase to come to a correct understanding of the will of God. If God reveals His will as being that none should (say) commit murder, then where do we stand when we read that Cain murdered Abel? In this sense only, can we say that God's will is violated every single day. This is God's preceptive will. However, we believe that God's secret will never knows any frustration. See elsewhere for a good list of verses which teach the absolute sovereignty of God. We believe that this extends not only to "good events" but also to evil. The ultimate event, of course, was the cross of Jesus. Unless you believe that either [i] it was the best God could salvage from the circumstances or [ii] it wasn't God's plan at all and He still can't make head or tail of it, then you are back to concluding that the Lord Jesus really was delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: (Acts 2:23) that the Lord Jesus really did go as it was determined of Him (Luke 22:22) and that the wicked really did do whatsoever [God's] hand and [God's] counsel determined before to be done. (Acts 4:28) God planned the cross before the world began. It is my experience from talking to and reading the comments of non Reformed Christians that this is an aspect of the atonement they walk very gingerly upon. We can only ward off "God's plan B" objection by embracing the Calvinistic idea that all events, including the Cross, were preordained by God. Furthermore, it is not logical to say that God foreknew what would happened and ordained it so. Obviously if God saw it happening, then it would have happened whether God foreordained it or not.

(Note Acts 2:23 and Luke 22:22 still indict the sinner and so the Calvinist, with all His belief in the sovereignty of God, still rightly holds men responsible for their own sinful actions. This is not under any dispute.)

Again, if God has not ordained all things which come to pass (as Ephesians 1:11 says He did) then the comfort we can draw from Romans 8:28 is likewise limited. There we read: And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. Unless, of course, you are happy with the idea of God using what He is given from those "God free" spots all over the universe where He is not permitted to intervene/interfere (depending on how you view it).

God does not expect us to be able to understand it all. But He does expect us to believe that He really is enthroned and sovereign in all His ways and that ultimately, There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the LORD. (Proverbs 21:30)


You will notice here the qualification. If men meant by "freewill" that the sinner is a free agent (i.e. totally responsible for his actions) and that he is not a mere block of word, or bag of coal thrown around by God at will, then we would happily use this phrase. Some Reformed preachers including Spurgeon have used it as described above. In the Calvinistic context, Spurgeon said:

But is it not all idle talk, even to controvert for a single moment, with the absurd idea that man can fetter his Maker. Shall the purpose of the Eternal be left contingent on the will of man? Shall man be really his Maker’s master? Shall free-will take the place of the divine energy? Shall man take the throne of God, and set aside as he pleases all the purposes of Jehovah — compelling him by merit to choose him? Shall there be something that man can do that shall control the motions of Jehovah? It is said by some one that men give free-will to every one but God, and speak as if God must be the slave of men. Aye, we believe that God has given to man a free-will — that we do not deny, but we will have it that God has a free-will also — that, moreover, he has a right to exercise it, and does exercise it; and that no merit of man can have any compulsion with the Creator. Merit, on the one hand, is impossible; and even if we did possess it, it could not be possible that we could possess it in such a degree as to merit the gift of Christ. Remember, if we deserve salvation, man must have virtue enough to merit heaven, to merit union with Jesus, to merit, in fact, everlasting glory. You go back to the old Romish idea, if you once slip your anchor and cut your cable, and talk about anything in man that could have moved the mercy of God. "Well," saith one, "this is vile Calvinism " Be it so, if you choose to call it so. Calvin found his doctrine in the Scriptures.(New Park Street Pulpit 6:243-244)

However, the Non Reformed use it in a different way. They hold that every last sinner has been given the power to choose for himself. The sinner is not so dead in trespasses and in sins (Ephesians 2:1) as to be unable (because of sin) to choose Christ. He is not so lost (Luke 19:10) as to be totally unable to find his way back again to the right path. Sin has not crippled the sinner completely or robbed him of all his sight. All the preacher needs to do is to present a few well thought out arguments and let the sinner decide for himself. I am all for seeking to persuade sinners. I seek to prepare many thought out reasons for the sinner to think about. I preach them from my pulpit. I utilise them in the many tracts/gospel booklets I prepare, print and distribute indiscriminately, but still, I believe that my preaching must be attended to by the mighty, irresistible power of God before the sinner will believe. Men are not born again from within (common freewill logic) but born again from above. (John 3:3) Man is in total captivity to his sins (John 8:34) The leopard cannot change his spots (Jeremiah 13:23) and it takes the mighty grace of God to draw the sinner to Christ. While it is only his sinful will that's holds the sinner back (John 5:40) yet its hold is so strong, the sinner cannot come unless the Father draws him (John 6:44) It is not God who holds the sinner back. It is not God who (as it were) bore out the sinner's eyes so that he cannot see, or chained his feet or gave him wrong information as to mislead him. True, God sometimes withholds the means of grace to certain sinners. Even the Non Reformed have to admit this, but ultimately the sin and the inability lies heavy on the sinner. No man is in hell who ought not to be there. He is there because of his own personal sin.

Say what you will about the decree of God - His ordering of all things that come to pass - but as Calvin points out:

We must, therefore, acquiesce in the judgment of God, which pronounces man to be so enslaved by sin that he can bring forth nothing sound and sincere. Yet, at the same time, we must remember, that no blame is to be cast upon God for that which has its origin in the defection of the first man, whereby the order of the creation was subverted. And furthers it must be noted, that men are not exempted from guilt and condemnation, by the pretext of this bondage: because, although all rush to evil, yet they are not impelled by any extrinsic force, but by the direct inclination of their own hearts; and, lastly, they sin not otherwise than voluntarily. (Comments: Genesis 8:21)

This is the "free will" we contend for. In order to avoid confusion, Calvinists generally refer to it as "free agency" It does not match up with that which is commonly called "free will" and therefore may well prove to be a hard saying to some…but we cannot change it.