Cork Free Presbyterian Church, 10 Briarscourt (Annex) Shanakiel, Cork, Ireland Pastor: Colin Maxwell. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
SOME SERIOUS ANSWERS TO SOME SERIOUS QUESTIONS FOR CALVINISTS
Revised: 19th September, 2002
A personal friend of mine here in County Cork and an encouragement to me in the ministry has posted these questions on his church website. He is evidently a non Calvinist. I have sought to honestly answer his questions and so shed some light on what Calvinists do and do not believe and why we believe what we believe. His Questions/comments are indark blue…my answers/comments as ever in (bracketed red) Here goes…!
[What follows are some very simple, straight-forward questions for people who consider themselves "Calvinistic" in their approach to the Bible. The questions have been left simple so that Calvinism can be shown to be very complex compared to the Bible.]
[It is always ten times easier to ask one liner questions than to answer them. Calvinism is no more complex than any other branch of theology put into the position of having to explain itself. Even the Bible itself has "things hard to be understood" (2 Peter :16) although all things are plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge. Proverbs 8:9 CH Spurgeon would certainly disagree with the thought that Calvinism is "very complex" He could say:
"It is a fact that the system of doctrines called the Calvinistic, is so exceedingly simple and so readily learned, that as a system of Divinity it is more easily taught and more easily grasped by unlettered minds than any other. The poor have the Gospel preached to them in a style which assists their memories and commends itself to their judgements. It is a system which was practically acknowledged on high philosophic grounds by such no as Bacon, Leibnitz, and Newton, find yet it can charm the soul of a child and expand the intellect of a peasant." MTP Volume 7 p.556]
[Much of what John Calvin taught was good, and Biblical. But his ideas of predestination, limited atonement, and other doctrines are huge stumbling-blocks to the simple truth that, "God now commandeth all men everywhere to repent!"]
[Wherein lies these huge stumbling blocks? If God commands men everywhere to repent, any reference to the doctrines of grace as an excuse are only that - an excuse! Billy Sunday rightly observed that an excuse is just the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie. None of the great Calvinist preachers of the past ever considered this to be a stumbling block of any proportion.]
[So, here goes!]
Some Serious Questions for Calvinists
Why preach ‘repent or perish’ when the non-elect can’t repent and the elect can’t perish?
(Answer: We preach "repent or perish" because God commands all men everywhere to repent. (Acts 17:30-31) It falls to us as His witnesses to convey that command. The moral inability of the non elect to repent does not put them outside the pale of responsibility. The unsaved elect are perishing and will perish unless they repent. (Luke 13:3) Thankfully, the goodness of God leads them to repent (Romans 2:4) through the preaching of the gospel. The question is a good one as why we urge something upon people to do that they cannot naturally do. Why do we preach the 10 Commandments and exhort men to refrain from murder and adultery etc., when we know that they are unable to keep the law perfectly and offending in one point are guilty of all? Answer: We all do it because man's sinful inability does not remove him from the sphere of responsibility before God. The same holds for the requirement of faith and repentance.)
How can God hold the non-elect responsible for ‘not believing’ and damn them for it, when He deliberately did not give them the faith to enable them to believe in the first place?
(Answer: The non elect are damned for all their sins including the sin of unbelief. God is not under any obligation to give any one faith to believe - if He were, salvation would not be of grace. Grace, by its very definition, must be totally undeserved and beyond any obligation. Having said that, we can only answer that God's reasons for not purposing to save every last sinful son of Adam lies in Himself. The above question is an evangelical application of the thought in Matthew 11:25 i.e. "Why has God hid these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them unto babes?" leaving us only to say with the Lord Jesus, "Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight." (Matthew 11:26) I cannot go beyond the answer which the Lord Jesus gave.)
If Christ has already made an efficacious atonement for the sins of an elect person, is that elect person actually lost during the period prior to their being saved?
(Yes. He is like the sheep out in the mountain (Luke 15:3-7) Jesus came specifically to "Seek and to save that which was lost." Luke 19:10)
(As long as they remain in non belief, they remain in sin and so are condemned already. When they come to faith in Christ, then they are justified (Romans 5:1) and so the condemnation is lifted. This is an excellent question. If we apply it to the Christ-died-equally-for-every-last sinful-Son-of Adam theory, we might ask the question: "During the period before any one gets saved, how are they condemned already (for not believing) when their unbelief (which is a sin) has already been paid for on the Cross?" The problem is greater for the General Redemptionist believer than it is for the Calvinist. Indeed if Christ has paid the price of redemption even for people now in hell…why are they in hell at all? How many times does the price for sin need to paid? Has their unbelief (which is a sin) has already been paid for? If He did not die for their sin of unbelief…then He did not die for all their sins. Spurgeon rightly points out that there are a thousand times more horrors with the doctrine of General Redemption than are said to be associated with Particular Redemption.(Spurgeon's views on Particular Redemption)
(A reference to Matthew 11:20-27 A number of things. 1) It is a hypothetical observation: "If" This does not mean that it has no force…it's reality heightened the condemnation of those in Capernaum who wilfully despised their day of opportunity. 2) Why did the folk in Tyre and Sidon etc., not have the same opportunity as those in Capernaum? A non Calvinist protest at this point might be: "Is that fair?" Why are some people today left in total ignorance of the gospel while others are surrounded by gospel preaching churches? We may rightly say (today) that the Church has failed in her commission. But why has it been allowed to fail? Could God have overridden the failure? The history of Christian missions is full of men - both Calvinist and non Calvinist - who broke out of the failure because God opened doors for them. Why have more doors not been opened? Again…the answer lies in the passage itself: "Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight." (Matthew 11:26) I can but pray as a responsible believer that it will so please God to open the door for people to go and if it should be that He would have me specifically to go…then pack my bags and obey His will, believing, as I do, that every last man alive on earth today is to hear the message. 3) We may conclude that God withheld repentance from those men in Tyre and Sidon. They were not treated equally with the Children of Israel and were left to perish in their wilful and chosen sin.)
(When men refuse to repent and believe the gospel, they make a statement that they prefer sin to Christ. They do so often despite the striving of the Spirit of God. The purpose of such strivings is to leave them further without excuse. It magnifies the justice of God who rightly damns men for their stubbornness. No one in hell blames God for their damnation. They recognise that they have "destroyed [themselves]" (Hosea 13:9) Even Judas who went "as it was written of him" (Matthew 26:24) put the blame where it rightly belonged - on himself: "I have betrayed the innocent blood" (Matthew 27:3) As did Peter who said that "Judas by transgression fell" (Acts 1:25) Again the question is two-edged. What is the purpose of the Spirit so moving with men who later went to hell when, according to His foreknowledge, He knew that they would resist Him? No matter how hard He strove or tried? Why did God create such people in the first place? The questions are endless and they are deep for us all. Whatever purpose the Spirit has in striving with the non elect, no man can ever say that His sovereign purpose was to save them. If so…we are left with a frustrated God whose comments like: The LORD of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand…For the LORD of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? and his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back? (Isaiah 14:24/27) must not be taken too literally and can be watered down in the all important doctrine of salvation.)
If the following is true:
(We are moving here into the realm of the hypothetical: "If the following is true…" This leaves us a lot of movement, because the natural thing would be to say: "What if the following is not true…" and it may not be true either on the basis that it fails to state all the position or states something which is not believed at all. Whatever…we will seek to get at what Calvinists believe even if the statement falls short.)
* John Smith is deliberately foreordained to commit sin:
(Such foreordination makes sin certain but not necessary. John Smith commits such sin because he wants to. He despises the warnings of God, rejects the mercy of God to turn away from it and the mercy of God to be saved from it and is therefore allowed to free fall into his chosen sin. He has no one to blame but himself. Such is the case again and again in the Bible. This is the most consistent way in which we are to interpret the case of Pharaoh in Romans 9:17 or Judas in Luke 22:22 or Pilate and Herod etc., in Acts 2:23/4:27/28 or Shimei in 2 Samuel 16:11 etc. )Click here for Shedd's explanation on this point. I have supplied paragraph headings to make it even easier to read.
* Is hated by God before He is born
(Is hated by God before He is born is inadequately stated. It would be more balanced and therefore more truthful to say that the non elect are hated by God because they are viewed as being sinful in Adam. Contrary to popular opinion, they are not viewed in a state of neutrality but in a state of sin. The elect are chosen undeservingly out of a mass of sinful humanity and the rest are passed by. The wonder, as ever, is not how did God hate Esau…but how did God ever love Jacob?)
* Is predestined to go to hell before he is born
(As above…to leave out the sin element is to change the whole face of what Calvinists believe. Reprobation is made up of two parts. In the case where God passes viewed-as-sinful men by and leaves them in their sin…this is sovereign. Such preterition does not make man a sinner nor is it the grounds on which men are condemned to hell. Men go to hell because of sin (Ezekiel 18:4) Condemnation is a judicial act and proceeds solely on the grounds of personal guilt. This is also John Calvin's position: "Accordingly we should contemplate the evident cause of condemnation in the corrupt nature of humanity - which is closer to us - rather than seek a hidden and utterly incomprehensible cause in God's predestination." Institutes 3:23:8)
* Cannot repent because God deliberately refuses to give him the gift of repentance
(Again inadequately stated. The immediate cause of man's inability to repent is his sinful heart. It is true that God deliberately withholds repentance from some men, but this is not the immediate cause of their inability. Sin blinds the mind and heart. God simply declines to open the heart and leaves them to their chosen sin. There is no obligation on God to give any repentance, and so it is said to be the goodness of God (Romans 2:4) and the grant or gift of God (Acts 11:18) when He does.)
* Cannot believe because God deliberately refuses to give him the gift of faith
(As above…only substitute the word faith for repentance. Saving faith likewise is the gift of God. All men have not faith (2 Thessalonians 3:2)
* Was not, is not and never will be loved by God in the slightest degree
(Very few Calvinists believe that even the non elect was not, is not and never will be loved by God in the slightest degree. Most of us believe that The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works. (Psalm 145:9) evidenced by His sending of rain - a real blessing in the east - upon the just and unjust (Matthew 5:45) etc., Many of us hold that the world which God so loved in John 3:16 is the whole world of elect and non elect alike. This, for instance, was John Calvin's position; as his comments on John 3:16 prove:
For God so loved the world. Christ opens up the first cause, and, as it were, the source of our salvation, and he does so, that no doubt may remain; for our minds cannot find calm repose, until we arrive at the unmerited love of God. As the whole matter of our salvation must not be sought any where else than in Christ, so we must see whence Christ came to us, and why he was offered to be our Saviour. Both points are distinctly stated to us: namely, that faith in Christ brings life to all, and that Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish.
God tells us that He would have all men to be saved…but none of us (Calvinist and non Calvinist alike) can go as far as to say that He has purposed to save all men. Unless you are prepared to go back to the thought of a frustrated God playing second fiddle in His own universe, we cannot get round this doctrine. I just accept it by faith, content to know that God knows, and that whatever His reasons may be…they are just and good and wise.)
* Was deliberately excluded from the group of people Jesus died for on the cross so that salvation was intentionally and for ever put completely out of his reach:
(Again, the sinner will blame himself for missing out on salvation. The ultimate cause of damnation is unbelief (Mark 16:15-16) Men will lament forever in hell with the thought…why was I so foolish as to neglect so great salvation, freely offered to me? Why did I chose sin when God said "Choose life"? etc.,)
Then, how is it John Smith’s fault that he will end up burning forever in the lake of fire?
(As said…the immediate cause of His damnation is his own personal sin which he, in his folly, clung to and refused to forsake (Isaiah 55:6-7) Nothing more and nothing less.)
Bible - "Ye MUST be born again!"
Calvin - "Ye are, or ye are not already chosen to be born again! So don't worry!" (this is not a quote, but a summary)
(ANSWER: It is true to say that we are either born again or we not. Just as it is true to say that we are either saved or not…justified or not…condemned or not. If we are not saved or justified…then we certainly need to be! And we certainly need to be born again. All men, whether elect or reprobate, must be born again. Calvin's statement regarding the state of men's heart is therefore most scriptural. The elect's regeneration may be decreed from eternity (Surely this is the belief of all Christians, whether Calvinistic or not. Can it be that one who is now born again was not chosen to the new birth from eternity?) and may be infallibly sure to happen…but until it happens, they are still unregenerate and in the depravity of their sins and under condemnation (Ephesians 1:4/2:3)
However…It is a misrepresentation to father on Calvin, the words "So don't worry" (Calvin wrote to a challenger so long ago: "If you will attack my doctrine, why not at least show candour enough to quote my own language.") These words are neither a quote or even a summary of his position. It is an over zealous imagination at work! If a summary, then they must be based on something which he has said to that effect. Something either explicit where he uses words to the effect "So don't worry!" or something implicit where he denies man's responsibility and so implies that man can sit back and do nothing. Unless we embrace the Roman Catholic idea that man can either regenerate or help regenerate his own heart, then we must admit that the new birth is the sole work of God. But this does not rob the sinner of his responsibility and subsequently Calvin,the soulwinner, teaches that the sinner is to seek God. I will forbear multiplying quotes - Calvin's commentaries are readily available on the internet - and it is just a matter of looking up those verses which teach man's responsibility. His comments, for instance, on Isaiah 55:6 (Seek ye the Lord) and also Matthew 11:12 (The Kingdom of Heaven taken by force) are found below. Note that both of them deal with those folk who would effectively say: "So why worry?"
Isaiah 55:6WHILE HE IS FOUND. "The time of finding" is here used not exactly in the same sense as in Psalm 32:6, but as the time when God offers himself to us, as in other passages he has limited a fixed day for his good-pleasure and our salvation. (Isaiah 49:8) Yet I readily admit that it likewise denotes the time when necessity prompts us to seek God’s assistance; but we ought chiefly to remember that God is sought at a seasonable time, when of his own accord he advances to meet us; for in vain shall indolent and sluggish persons lament that they had been deprived of that grace which they rejected. The Lord sometimes endures our sluggishness, and bears with us; but if ultimately he do not succeed, he will withdraw, and will bestow his grace on others. For this reason Christ exhorts us to walk while it is day, for the night cometh when the means of pursuing our journey shall be taken from us. (John 12:35) We ought to draw high consolation from being assured that it is not in vain for us to seek God. "Seek," says Christ, "and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened; ask, and it shall be given to you." (Matthew 7:7)
Matthew 11:12 VIOLENT TAKE THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN BY STORM:The meaning therefore is, A vast assembly of men is now collected, as if men were rushing violently forward to seize the kingdom of God; for, aroused by the voice of one man, they come together in crowds, and receive, not only with eagerness, but with vehement impetuosity, the grace which is offered to them. Although very many are asleep, and are no more affected than if John in the wilderness were acting a play which had no reference to them, yet many flock to him with ardent zeal. The tendency of our Lord’s statement is to show, that those who pass by in a contemptuous manner, and as it were with closed eyes, the power of God, which manifestly appears both in the teacher and in the hearers, are inexcusable. Let us also learn from these words, what is the true nature and operation of faith. It leads men not only to give, cold and indifferent assent when God speaks, but to cherish warm affection towards Him, and to rush forward as it were with a violent struggle.
The claim that Calvin believed the sinner had nothing to worry about falls far short of truth. What is to be gained by propagating something is that is untrue?)
It is so much more important to be a Bible-believer, instead of a Calvin-believer!
(I agree completely. 100%. I only believe Calvin when what he says is in agreement with the word of God. Where he parts company with the Bible, I must disagree with him. This, of course, can be said of any commentator or preacher.)
HELPFUL PAGES ON THIS SITE REGARDING THE CALVINISTIC CONTROVERSY:
SOME THINGS NON CALVINISTS SHOULD KNOW ABOUT CALVINISM:
CRITICISING CALVINISM - HOW TO DO IT!
RETURN TO CALVINIST INDEX:
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