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

TAKING ON THE CALVINISTS?

Many moons ago, when I was a wee lad in Belfast, I fought running battles with many foes. Red Indians…Daleks (from the 1960's TV Sci-fi programme "Dr Who") bank robbers… they were all taken on and finally beaten. Standard stuff for a boy growing up with an over ripe imagination. Pretty harmless too. None of my sworn enemies had anything to worry about. My guns weren't real and come to think of it…some of my enemies weren't real either. Especially the Daleks.

An apt illustration as we consider the great game which a few well meaning brethren play from time to time called: Taking on the Calvinists. It's not that there are no such thing as Calvinists or that there are no disagreements between Calvinist Christians and none Calvinist Christians…but sometimes well meaning and awfully sincere brethren do themselves no favours when they decide its time to clean up the town. From time to time I have a wee look round the anti-Calvinist sites. I try to be fair in my criticism, remembering that I once opposed Calvinism. I still cringe when I remember some of the things I said. Ignorance is no platform from which to speak. I had a look this morning at a web site which I have described as standard fare. There was nothing new and certainly nothing to challenge me in my Calvinism. However it did spark off this article which is designed to show non Calvinists how to avoid fighting battles that are not there to fight. What's the point in fighting an imaginary enemy? Who benefits? Certainly not the Calvinist whom I assume the writer is trying to win. We just smile weakly at some articles. Certainly not the writer whose credibility as a critic tends to suffer. Certainly not the ignorant who might believe the critic's words. It is the truth that sets men free… not make believe criticisms.

There were a few things I could take up in the article and speak about, but I will limit myself to one particular matter. The principle can be applied right across the board. Our friend in his battle against Calvinism states:

"The Word of God teaches that the Grace of God that bringeth salvation has appeared to all men (Titus 2:11). Since God has provided salvation for all men, and yet all do not come; that is proof enough that men do resist the Grace of God. The Bible gives clear instances of men resisting the Grace of God. Jesus stood over Jerusalem and said that He wanted to gather them unto Himself, but they would not (Matt. 23:37). When Stephen preached to the Jews he said that regarding their attitude toward God's Word they were stiff-necked and that they were resisting the Holy Spirit Who was calling them (Acts 7:51). The writer of Hebrews, when describing those who draw back unto perdition (Heb. 10:39), said that though they were sanctified by the blood of Christ, yet they had done despite unto the Spirit of Grace (Heb. 10:28,29). Here it is plain that the blood of Christ was available to them for salvation, but was refused. That the Spirit of God strives with sinners to bring them to repentance and faith is stated in Gen. 6:3. This verse also states that God will one day give man up when His grace is continually resisted."

The issue is: Can men resist the grace of God? Obviously our fiend believes they can and do. The strong implication is that Calvinists believe that they can't. Otherwise, what's the point mentioning the subject if we are in agreement? So the implication is very strong. If I were the non Calvinist critic, this is what I would do in these circumstances. It wouldn't really take that long and one way or the other, it is going to prove that I have done my homework and really do know what I'm talking about and therefore should be heeded. There are thousands of articles out there on Calvinism and why should mine be heeded?

I would adapt a twofold approach…just to safeguard myself. The more watertight arguments the better. These Calvinist boys sometimes fight back and start asking awkward questions. So I need to really know what I'm taking about. The Lord Jesus spoke about the man going out to war unprepared and who had to back down and sue for peace (Luke 14:31-32) and obviously the last thing I want is to have to back down in front of a Calvinist. My two fold approach would be:

[1] Find out just where the Calvinists have actually said that they do not believe that any one can resist the grace of God. Surely it's bound to be print somewhere? Calvin's Institutes would be a good place to start or the Westminster Confession of Faith. If I can prove it here…the battle is well nigh won. Problem! I don't have a copy of Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion nor the Westminster Confession of Faith Which really is a problem because these are standard works and the last thing I want to do is misrepresent the Calvinists. Is it a sin to attribute to someone something which they don't believe? And then berate them for it and call them nasty names? Will I have to give an account for it some day or can I just say that this is what I was told by someone else? Sounds an awfully bit thin. I suppose I better do my homework properly. I know what I'll do. I'll check it out on the internet. Good old GOOGLE gets it up for me in a millioneth of a second.

(A frustrating hour later…)

…Why did Calvin write so much? I can't find anything and the WCF doesn't actually say so either. What now?

2) Plan B. If you don't get in the front door…try round the back. Where there's a will (free or otherwise) there's always a way. I will look up Calvin again in his commentaries and maybe a couple of other Calvinist commentators on those verses which plainly teach that men can resist the grace of God. I have a sneaking suspicion that they will try and twist the meaning of these verses to teach the exact opposite of what it does teach.

What about Acts 7:51 where Stephen very clearly accused his listeners: Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Back to the Internet again and Calvin's commentaries. What does Calvin say on this verse?

"And those are said to resist the Spirit who reject him when he speaketh in the prophets. Neither doth he speak in this place of secret revelations, wherewith God inspireth every one, but of the external ministry; which we must note diligently. He purposeth to take from the Jews all color of excuse; and, therefore, he upbraideth unto them, that they had purposely, and not of ignorance, resisted God. Whereby it appeareth what great account the Lord maketh of his word, and how reverently he will have us to receive the same. Therefore, lest, like giants, we make war against God, let us learn to hearken to the ministers by whose mouth he teacheth us."

That's pretty clear, is it not? "Resisting the Spirit…purposely and not of ignorance resisted God…make war with God" From Calvin's own pen too. I can hardly use that! I can see my readers scratch their heads and wonder just what I am trying to prove.

I'll try someone else. Here's Matthew Henry. Standard Calvinistic fare again. And on the Internet too just in case you haven't got round to buying your first full Bible Commentary like countless thousands of Christians, Calvinist or otherwise have done now for over 300 years.

What does Matthew Henry say on these words?

"They, like their fathers, were not only not influenced by the methods God took to reform them, but they were enraged and incensed against them: 'You do always resist the Holy Ghost' 1. They resisted the Holy Ghost speaking to them by the prophets, whom they opposed and contradicted, hated and ridicule; this seems especially meant here by the following, 'Which of the prophets etc., In persecuting and silencing those that spake by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost they resisted the Holy Ghost…They resisted the Holy Ghost striving with them by their own consciences, and would not comply with the convictions and dictates of them. God's Spirit strove with them as with the old world, but in vain; they resisted him, took part with their corruptions against their conviction, and rebelled against the light."

What! Same again. Maybe old Henry wasn't a Calvinist? Can't say that because he further writes: "…in the hearts of God's elect, when the fulness of times comes, this resistance is overcome and overpowered, and after a struggle the throne of Christ is set up in the soul and every thought that had exalted itself against it is brought into captivity to it (2 Corinthians 10:4,5) That grace therefore which effects this change might more fitly be called victorious grace than irresistible."

So here are two standard Calvinist commentators and they both affirm that the grace of God may be resisted. In fact Matthew Henry isn't over fond of the term irresistible grace although he does contend for the concept that in the elect of God there comes a time when their resistance ends. Yet again this great Calvinist preacher and commentator admits that the Spirit of God can strive with men in vain. I certainly can't quote him.

I know what I'll do! I'll get something from the dreaded Arthur Pink. If ever there was a red hot Calvinist…it was Pink. In fact, not only so I have a book by him on "Man's Total Depravity" which is undiluted Calvinism but again, he's on the internet.

I'm bound to get something there. I see from the Scripture Index at the back that he mentions our verse in Acts 7:51 several times What does he say?

"When any part of God's revealed will is made known to men, they endeavour to banish it from their thoughts. They do not like to retain God in their thoughts (Romans 1:28) therefore they resist the strivings of the Spirit for obedient compliance (Acts 7:51)"

"Consequently, man's war against God is a double one: defensive and offensive. Defensively, he slights God's Word, perverts His gifts, resists the overtures of his Spirit (Acts 7:51)"

"A lifeless body has no responsibility, but a spiritually dead soul is accountable to God. A corpse in a cemetery will not 'despise and reject' Christ (Isaiah 53:3) will not 'resist the Holy Ghost' (Acts 7:51), will not disobey the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:8); but the sinner can and does do these very things and is justly condemned for them."

"Not only do men refuse to employ the means which God has appointed but they scorn His help by fighting against illumination and conviction…'Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost.' (Acts 7:51)"

Hmmm! Time for a radical rethink here! How can I pursue with the old anti-Calvinist line that these fellow Christians do not believe that the Spirit of God can be resisted? Is this the truth? How can I plead ignorance now that I have actually researched the issue for myself?

Maybe I should do the same again for some other of those things which I hear people say about Calvinists and maybe have even repeated myself. Like the following:

* Instead of telling people that God doesn't love all sinners, maybe I should look and see John Calvin said on John 3:16

* The free offer of the gospel (Luke 2:10 is a good place to look here)

* The willingness of God to save the sinner. (Try Calvin on 2 Peter 3:9 and see how you get on)

* Any other matter which I haven't actually checked out for myself but just been content to peddle on anyway.

So there you have it. That's what I would do if I were the non Calvinist critic. It means that when people come to my site, they know that they can trust what I am saying because they know that I will have done my homework. There's no substitute for doing it yourself.

THE END

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