THE design of this work has included from the beginning a brief yet prominent place for a view of those holy and glorious truths which are commonly known as the “doctrines of grace.”
These views of divine truth are often so connected with the Reformer’s name as to be termed “Calvinistic.” Not that Calvin was the first to teach them. They are the doctrines, that is, the teachings, of the Bible, of the Lord Jesus, of Paul. They are the truths that have ennobled kingdoms, animated martyrs, broken the chains of sin, and opened the gate of life.
They are the truths that have produced rich fruit in life, and given comfort in death to uncounted thousands of believers.
Yet, partly because Calvin was used of God to revive much truth that had been obscured by error, and partly because he taught these doctrines as a system of truth, they have received the designation of Calvinism.
The difference between what is called the Arminian view and that which is known as the Calvinistic may be briefly stated thus. The former teaches that man by nature has both will and power to turn to God, to repent, believe, obey, and do all that the gospel requires. The latter teaches that man by nature has neither will nor power to produce any spiritual desire or act; and that therefore the work of grace is begun, continued, and completed entirely and alone by the sovereign grace of God.
I can never forget being as a child entranced by reading in a book of astronomy how the older astronomers placed the earth in the center, and taught that the sun and the whole universe of stars revolved around this globe. And how the astronomers of a later century placed the sun in the center of our system; and thus brought order out of confusion.
Something like this occurred on an after day when by divine teaching the sweet “doctrines of grace” were revealed in their majesty, and applied in their power.
Let it be realized here that this is not a theological work, either of doctrine or of experience. This brief outline of doctrine is only intended to illustrate the life of Calvin; and this fact must limit both thought and expression.
The doctrines known as Calvinistic are usually stated as five, though a larger number might be given. But the usual classification will answer the present purpose; and for the sake of conciseness they will be given in their proper sequence. 1. The first of these great truths is “Original Sin.” By this is meant that, as a result of the Fall of the first Adam, all his descendants are born in a fallen condition, and destitute of spiritual life. That every person, at his first birth, is “dead in trespasses and sins,” without will to what is good, and without power to repent and believe.
Original sin consists in apostasy from God, alienation of the will, a darkened condition of the understanding, and a complete infection of the whole being, body and soul. This is abundantly plain from the Word of God, and is made feelingly plain to those who by the Spirit of God are “convinced of sin.” We are thus “by nature children of wrath,” that is, subject to the wrath of God.
All practical sin is the result of original sin, as the fruit grows upon the tree, as the stream issues from the fountain.
This foundation truth is of vital importance. To miss its import is to be liable to every error, and the prey of every “wind of doctrine.” Therefore, “marvel not that I said unto thee, ye MUST be born again” ( John 3:7). 2. The second great truth is the doctrine of Election. This word simply means choice. By the doctrine is meant the sovereign, free, eternal, unmerited, and unalterable choice on the part of God of persons to everlasting life and salvation. With this doctrine is usually joined that of Predestination, which is the eternal decree of God, determining that certain events shall take place. The word “predestination,” as a noun, does not occur in the New Testament; but the verb translated “predestinated” occurs six times ( Acts 4:28; Romans 8:29,30; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 1:5,11). The English word does not appear at all in the Revised Version.
With this doctrine it is also usual to attach that of Reprobation, which is indeed a necessary consequence. By this is meant, when properly understood, the decree of God which justly leaves some persons where their sin has placed them. The Westminster Confession says of this: “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, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath, for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice.”
These twin truths can be abundantly proved from Scripture; and our wisdom is to bow to whatever is taught in that holy treasury of truth.
The word translated “election” occurs seven times in the New Testament ( Acts 9:15: “a vessel of election unto Me”; Romans 9:11; 11:5, 7, 28; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Peter 1:10).
The adjective translated “elect” or “chosen” occurs twenty-three times in the New Testament. The verb “to elect” or “to choose,” that is, on God’s part, occurs twenty times. We have therefore fifty occurrences of this doctrine in the New Testament.
This truth is hated by the carnal mind of man, and many are the objections raised against it. All of these are very familiar, both by experience and by argument; but every objection vanishes and melts away in the sweet light of God’s Word when applied with power. Were this the place for a controversial view of this holy truth, the ground could be taken from under the feet of any objector by one simple argument: If God can save all men, and all men are not saved, it follows that the exercise of His power is withheld; and this must logically amount to a sovereign choice of those who are saved.
I have sometimes in ministry asked a question, leaving the answer to the court of the conscience of the hearer: Two dying robbers were crucified with the Lord of life; why was one saved, and not the other? There can ultimately be only one answer to this question. 3. The third great truth is known by the expression “Particular Redemption.” By this is meant that the atonement of Christ is not universal, either in its intention or its application. This naturally follows upon a divine choice of persons; redemption being effected for those who were ordained to eternal life and chosen to salvation.
The objection urged against this truth based upon the word “all” and the word “world” falls at once to the ground upon an examination of the words.
The objection raised that this doctrine excludes any from salvation is a very weak one in the mouth of an Arminian, who professes to believe that a redeemed person may be finally lost. Were this the intended place, it could be proved that the Arminian system is illogical and absurd as well as unscriptural.
Redemption is described in Scripture as “precious” ( Psalm 49:8), “plenteous” ( <19D007> Psalm 130:7), and “eternal” ( Hebrews 9:12).
Redemption is the payment of a price for the object bought. The price was the blood of Christ. The object purchased was the “church of God.” From redemption flow all new covenant blessings, life, godly sorrow, faith, forgiveness of sin, adoption, love, peace. 4. The fourth great truth known as “Calvinistic” is that of “Effectual Calling.” By this is meant that all who are chosen to life and redeemed by blood shall, at an appointed time, be quickened into life by the Holy Spirit, and be called by grace into the knowledge of the truth.
The word “effectual” is used to distinguish this call from the open, or outward, call of the gospel as it is preached, which is universal wherever it comes. “Unto you, O men, I call; and My voice is to the sons of man” ( Proverbs 8:4). “For many are called, but few are chosen” ( Matthew 22:14).
This outward call in preaching may be refused ( Proverbs 1:24; Hebrews 12:25), rejected ( John 12:48), put away ( Acts 13:46), neglected ( Hebrews 2:3), and disobeyed ( 1 Peter 4:17).
But the “effectual call” is holy ( 2 Timothy 1:9), almighty ( Romans 1:16), attracting ( John 12:32), quickening ( John 5:25), effective ( 1 Thessalonians 1:5), and irresistible ( Romans 8:27). 5. The fifth great “doctrine of grace” is that of the Final Preservation of all those who are chosen. By this is meant that, as they have been chosen to salvation by God the Father, redeemed by God the Son, and quickened by God the Holy Spirit, they will receive grace so to endure to the end as that they must infallibly be saved.
To reason against this is to question the wisdom, will, love, grace, and even the power of God. It is to charge Him with fickleness of purpose and inability to accomplish that which He intended and began.
Three scriptures occur to the mind in penning the last sentence; and with them this chapter must close. “And this is the Father’s will which sent Me, that of all which He hath given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day” ( John 6:39). “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand” ( John 10:28). “Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” ( Philippians 1:6).
The objections to these high and holy truths are best met by appeal to the unerring Word. No argument can stand against what is written there. Yet, remembering the haughty malice of one heart in days long gone by, what remains but tender compassion for those who now oppose, and a desire for their salvation. Others there are who find these doctrines stones of stumbling in their path, yet sincere, tender, willing to learn: these we love to take by the hand to the Great Infallible Teacher, and leave them with Him in the sweet light of His Written Word.