About John Calvin and his teaching
John Calvin was born on July 10, 1509. Being the son of wealthy and prominent parents and because of the ambition of the parents for the child's success, no educational holds were barred. Calvin attended both the College de la Marche and College de Montaigu as a student of theology with the intent of becoming a priest in the Roman Catholic church. As a student, Calvin was brilliant. Because of a disagreement Calvin's father had with the ecclesiastical hierarchy, he ordered young Calvin to change his study from theology to law. Changing his study, John went to Orleans for one year and then to Bourges. After his father's death, he returned to Paris and continued his study of theology and his study of law as well.
At about that time the Reformation Movement was gaining momentum in France. The Reformed doctrines were much discussed by the learned professors with the eager students. Melchior Wolmar lectured regularly in two of the universities Calvin attended; and he influenced Calvin in favour of the Reformation. A few years later, Calvin became good friends with Nicolas Cop, who later became the rector of the University of Paris. Together, Calvin and Cop often discussed the Reformation movement and doctrine. Finally, holding the Reformation views so strongly, they began to speak out. Cop delivered a sermon, entitled, "Christian Philosophy", which involved him deeply in trouble with the Catholic church; and as a result had to flee for his life. Calvin had helped Cop to formulate the sermon and because of his close ties with Cop, he too had to flee. Living under various names, Calvin wandered about for approximately two and one half years. Geneva, Switzerland, was to become Calvin's eventual home.
Not even intending to go to Geneva, he was detoured there from his route to Strasburg because of the war. At the time, he considered this an inconvenience and only intended to spend one night there. However, a man by the name of Farel, who had won the city of Geneva over to the Reformation Movement, learned that Calvin was there. Calvin had been seeking a refuge that offered peace and quiet where he could pursue his studies. Farel offered him that in Geneva; therefore, he stayed. John Calvin thought this to be God's actions in his behalf. He did leave Geneva for a short time to work in Strasburg, but because of the pleading of his friends in Geneva, he returned. The city of Geneva was John Calvin's to rule and it became one of the strongest cities in the world in the Reformation Movement; it was the central point out from which "Calvinism" spread.
Basing his doctrine on the Apostles' Creed, Calvin still insisted that the Roman Catholic Church "is our mother". He resisted Roman Catholicism in regard to its lax view toward sin, its doctrine concerning grace, and the temporal as well as spiritual power (papal infallibility). This, of course, put him in league with Luther and Zwingli and other Reformers. But again, his break with the Roman church was not as great as some of the other Reformers. We see this in some of his doctrinal positions.
· Hereditary Total Depravity (born bearing the guilt of Adam's sin; therefore, lost in sin even before birth).
· Unconditional Election (God has chosen the number and the ones who will be saved; that this number will not and cannot be changed).
· Limited Atonement (Christ's death was not for all the men in the world, but only those chosen by God's "unconditional election").
· Irresistible Grace (the Holy Spirit will directly operate on the hearts of those who are to be saved so that they cannot resist the salvation that God has provided for them).
· Impossibility of Apostasy (once saved, always saved, it is impossible for one to fall from God's saving grace once he has received it).
Hereditary Total Depravity
While the doctrine of "Hereditary Total Depravity" is referred to as Calvinism, it dates way back to Augustine and had been taught (and still is) by the Roman Catholic church long before Calvin. Roman Catholics believing in "baptismal regeneration" teach that an infant is lost until baptism (hence, infant sprinkling's source), but Calvinism denies the doctrine of "baptismal regeneration" - thus, a major difference. John Calvin did advocate the position that Adam's "original sin" (the guilt thereof) is passed from one generation to the next, that man is conceived in sin and by nature is a child of wrath, that from the moment of conception one is lost unless he is among the elect. In 1618, fifty-four years after Calvin's death, the Synod of Dordt took the doctrines taught by Calvin and formulated them into an aggregate called Canons of Dordt. This system of doctrine became known as Calvinism of which "Hereditary Total Depravity" is a part. Article 2 and 3 under the "Third and Fourth Heads of Doctrine" in the Canons of Dordt say: "Man after the fall begat children in his own likeness. A corrupt stock produced a corrupt offspring. Hence, all the posterity of Adam, Christ only excepted, have derived corruption from their original parents... Therefore all men are conceived in sin, and are by nature children of wrath, incapable of saving good, prone to evil, dead in sin, and in bondage thereto..." (Calvinism In The Light Of God's Word, C.A. Feenstra, page 68). In fact, this doctrine teaches that all men are lost as a result of Adam's sin and they are lost from the moment of conception. Therefore, a little child, the infant that has not yet learned right from wrong, and even the unborn child is doomed to burn in hell's fire for all eternity. Only the elect will be saved; therefore, the non-elect will be lost.
The Bible teaches that babies are born without sin - SINLESS. Only when one reaches the "age of accountability" does he become a sinner. This is when one has matured enough to know the real difference between right and wrong. Isaiah shows the differentiation as he states, "For before the child shall know to refuse evil, and choose the good, the land whose kings thou abhorest shall be forsaken." (Isaiah 7:16). David declares, in Psalm 106:37-38, that little children are innocent: "Yea, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto demons, and shed innocent blood of their sons and daughters." Ezekiel emphatically contradicts Calvinism's "Hereditary Total Depravity", saying, "Yet, say ye, Why? Dost not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him." (Ezekiel 18:19-20). Jesus proves and upholds the innocence of infants and all little children. "Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should lay his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for to such belongeth the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 19:13-14). Yes, little children are innocent - not totally depraved and lost - and we must become as innocent and guiltless as they are if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said, "Verily I say unto you, Except ye repent and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:2-3).
Surely all can see that this point of Calvinism contradicts the Bible. Let us hold to the Bible and reject any teaching which conflicts with its clear and emphatic teachings.
"Unconditional Election" is one of the major doctrines of Calvinism. Basically, this teaching says, since man is "totally depraved", he can do no good thing (even obey the commandments of God) in order that he might be saved. Therefore, God sends the Holy Spirit into his heart (in a mysterious work) to make him repent and then believe the word. Naturally, this makes God a respecter of persons because he "unconditionally" saves some - in fact, according to Calvinism, the number of saved persons has already been set by God and cannot be changed. The Canons of Dordt boldly declares, "This elect number, though by nature neither better nor more deserving than others, but involved with them in one common misery, God has decreed to give to Christ to be saved by Him, and effectually to call and draw them to His communion by His Word and Spirit; to bestow upon them true faith, justification, and sanctification; and having powerfully preserved them in the fellowship of His Son" (First Head of Doctrine, Article 7). Under the same Head, Article 11 says, "And as God Himself is the most wise, unchangeable, omniscient and omnipotent, so the election made by Him can neither be interrupted nor changed, recalled or annulled: neither can the elect be cast away, nor their number diminished". John Calvin himself said, "All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and accordingly, as each has been created for one or the other of these ends, we say we have been predestinated to life or to death".
Certainly, no man can say this doctrine agrees with what the Bible teaches about the "free moral agency" of man. Christ's invitation is "Come Whosoever Will". Man does have a part to play in his own salvation. God's gift of Christ was for the sake of all men. (Please read, John 3:16; Titus 2:11). Any man in the world can be saved if he will hear, believe and obey the gospel of Christ (Hebrews 5:8-9). Calvinism says it is God's will for men to be lost, but the inspired apostle Paul wrote that God, "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (I Timothy 2:4). The apostle Peter agrees with Paul, saying, "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9). Now, be it understood, God has provided the way of salvation for all men and all who will be saved will be saved in the same way, thus, allowing man to continue as a "free moral agent" in salvation or damnation.
Calvin's doctrine of unconditional election makes God a respecter of persons. Yet, the Bible says, "God is no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34-35). Look up and read Romans 2:11; 10:12; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25; and I Peter 1:17. All these verses emphatically declare that God is "no respecter of persons." How can Calvin say, "some are preordained to life eternal, others to damnation" without saying God is a respecter of persons? The gospel is to be preached to every "creature" (Mark 16:15-16) and those who believe and are baptised shall be saved. This then makes election conditional.
Salvation is conditional. One must be in Christ if he is to be saved. Romans 3:3-5 and Galatians 3:26-27 teach us how one is to get into Christ. Ephesians 1:3,7 says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ... in whom we have redemption through his blood". The conditions God has set in order for one to be saved are: faith (Mark 16:15-16), repentance (Luke 13:3,5), confession of Christ as God's Son (Romans 10:9-10) and baptism (John 3:3-5; Acts 2:38). Let no one be deceived to believe that salvation is unconditional or that salvation is unconditional or that God is a respecter of persons. Let God be found true and Calvinism rejected.
Coupled with the doctrine of "Unconditional Election", is the doctrine of "Limited Atonement". This doctrine says that Christ did not shed His blood as an atoning sacrifice for all men, but rather only those "preordained to eternal life... predestined to eternal life" by God. Speaking of "Limited Atonement", Dr. Edwin Palmer said, "According to this position, man is totally depraved, and God, loving some with a great love, elected them, or in other words, determined that they should be saved. He sent Christ to die for them and them alone, thereby saving them. Thus, the atonement of Christ is limited to some and is not intended for all. Hence, the name "limited atonement". Under the "Second Head of Doctrines", the Canons of Dordt states in Article 8: "...it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation and language, all those, who were from eternity chosen to salvation." Steele and Thomas wrote, "But He came into the world to represent and save only those given Him by the Father. Thus, Christ's work was limited in that it was designed to save some and not others" (The Five Points of Calvinism).
The central error of the doctrine of "Limited Atonement" is its contradiction to the Bible's teaching that Christ died for all men. II Corinthians 5:15 states: "And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again." To the young preacher Timothy, the apostle Paul wrote, "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time." (I Timothy 2:5-6). "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man." (Hebrews 2:9). Please note with careful attention that I John 2:2 tells us, "And he is the propitiation (a means whereby sin is covered and remitted - Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, W.E.Vine, page 224) for our sins: and not ours only, but also for the whole world.. I Timothy 4:10 declares God to be "the Saviour of all men, specially those that believe." Repeatedly, the Bible says that God is not a respecter of persons, that He wills for no one to be lost but for everyone to be saved, and that through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ any man, anywhere can be saved. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God sent not is Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." (John 3:16-17). "The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared unto all men." (Titus 2:11).
Does this mean that all men will be saved? No. Does this mean that Calvinism is right when it says Christ's blood was shed for some but not for others - "Limited Atonement"? No! While Christ's blood was shed for all men and actually has the power to cleanse all men of their sins, all men will not be saved. (Please read Matthew 7:13-14, 21-23; 24:31-33, 41-46). Calvinism teaches "Limited Atonement" because it teaches "Unconditional Election". However, the Bible teaches that election is conditional. God does will for all men to be saved and has provided a sacrifice capable of making atonement for all sins of all men. But, man has a part to play in his own salvation. Man has to will to be saved and do the things necessary to cleanse his soul with the atoning blood of Christ. He must be baptised to contact the blood of Christ and wash away his sins (Romans 6:3-5; Acts 22:16) and then "walk in the light" to have "the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (I John 1:7). The invitation of God for election is made to all men. Jesus offers the invitation to all men, saying, "Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). The church, the bride of Christ as it is called, and the Holy Spirit perpetuate that invitation as shown by John in Revelation 22:17, "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely".
Christ died for every man. To deny it is to make God a respecter of persons, unjust and unmerciful - it changes the whole character and nature of God. Calvinism denies that Christ died to save all men. (Please read John 1:29; 4:42; 6:33,51; 8:12; 10:9; 12:32,47). The whole matter is summed up in Hebrews 5:8-9, "Though he was a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him". (Please also study Romans 6:17-18; I Peter 4:17; II Thessalonians 1:6-9).
Stating the doctrine of "Irresistible Grace" in modern palance, Billy Graham wrote, "Being born again is altogether a work of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing that you can do to obtain this new birth... In other words, there is nothing you can do about it... The new birth is wholly foreign to our will." (Peace with God, page 146). In Calvinism's chain of doctrines, "Irresistible Grace" is an important link. Without it the whole system fails. (It falls with it too!) Calvinism teaches that all men are born "Totally Depraved" (they can do no good thing whereby they might be saved), but out of all these, God has "Predestinated and Foreordained" a specific number that cannot be changed, even though they were no better than the rest, who have been "Unconditionally Elected" to salvation - and since God foreknew whom He would save, because He chose them specifically, Christ did not die that all men might be saved, but rather died only for those God had chosen; hence, "Limited Atonement". Now, since man cannot do anything for himself in regard to his own salvation (he is totally depraved, remember) and since God has chosen him to be saved, unconditionally elected him, and through the blood of Christ made atonement for him specifically - somehow or other God has to make that man receive His grace! Thus, Calvinism teaches "Irresistible Grace" or as Billy Graham said, "In other words, there is nothing you can do about it" .
How does Calvinism's "Irresistible Grace" work? From the Canons of Dordt (Third and Fourth Heads, Articles 11 and 12) we learn that when God chooses when one is to be saved, He "powerfully illuminates the mind by His Holy Spirit... He opens the closed and softens the hardened heart... He quickens; from being evil, disobedient, and refractory, He renders it good, obedient, and pliable; actuates and strengthens it... this is regeneration... which God works in this marvellous manner are certainly, infallible and effectually regenerated, and do actually believe". Billy Graham preaches it thusly, "No man can ever be saved unless the Holy Spirit in supernatural, penetrating power comes and works upon your heart. You can't come to Christ any time you want to, you can only come when the Spirit of God is drawing and pulling and wooing". (Nashville Sermons, pages 18,20). Calvin could not have said it better himself. Concerning this action of the Holy Spirit, Steele and Thomas wrote, "This special call is not made to all sinners but it is issued to the elect only! The Spirit is in no way dependent upon their help or co-operation for success in His work for bringing them to Christ. It is for this reason that Calvinists speak of the 'efficacious', 'invincible', or 'irresistible'. For the grace which the Holy Spirit extends to the elect cannot be thwarted or refused, it never fails to bring them to true faith in Christ!" (The Five Points of Calvinism, page 49).
There is not one passage in all the Bible which directly or indirectly teaches Calvinism's doctrine of "Irresistible Grace". In fact, it contradicts and conflicts with the Bible. The Bible says that faith comes from the word of God. Romans 10:17 says, "So belief cometh of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ". Acts 18:8 says, "...and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptised". Paul emphatically declares, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is revealed the righteousness of God from faith unto faith: as it is written, But the righteous shall live by faith" (Romans 1:16-17). I Corinthians 1:21 informs us that it pleases God "through the foolishness of preaching" to save them that believe the gospel. God has instructed that the gospel be preached to "every creature" and that those who believe and are baptised will be saved (Mark 16:16). Calvinism would make God a respecter of persons, but the Bible says He is not. It is God's will for all men to be saved; therefore, salvation is conditioned only on man's will. God always is willing for all men to be saved. "This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth" (I Timothy 2:3-4). Hebrews 5:8-9 says, "Though he was a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became unto all them that obey him the author of eternal salvation". When man hears the gospel (facts to be believed, commandments to be obeyed, and promises to be received) and obeys it, God will save him (Romans 16:17). There is no supernatural work of the Holy Spirit upon the heart. It is the word which pricks the heart (notice Acts 2:47). Calvinism is false doctrine that denies what God has done and demands more of Him than He will do. Let all men accept God as He reveals Himself in the Bible and reject Calvinism.
Perseverance of the Saints
Call it "Perseverance of the Saints" or "The Impossibility of Apostasy", or "Once saved, always saved", it is the Calvinistic doctrine saying anyone who has been saved by the grace of God cannot so sin as to be eternally lost. This is the necessary conclusion to the doctrines of Calvinism - Total Hereditary Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement and Irresistible Grace. "By the term 'perseverance of the saints' we mean that if a person is once saved he is always saved and can never slip from God's saving grace." (The Five Points of Calvinism, page 59). In the Canons of Dordt, Fifth Head of Doctrine, Article 6, we read, "But God... according to His unchangeable purpose of election, does not wholly withdraw the Holy Spirit from His own people..., nor suffer them to proceed so far as to lose the grace of adoption and forfeit the state of justification... nor does He permit them to be totally deserted, and plunge themselves into everlasting destruction". Article 8 states that "they neither totally fall from faith and grace nor continue to perish finally in their backslidings". Article 9 says, "whereby they surely believe that they are and ever will continue true and living members of the Church". On page 56 of The Five Points of Calvinism, Steele and Thomas say, "The elect... are also kept by the almighty power of God. All those who are spiritually united to Christ through regeneration are eternally secure in Him. Nothing can separate them from the eternal and unchangeable love of God. They have been predestined unto eternal glory and are therefore assured of heaven". From Tract Number 86, pages 13-14, of "The Christian Reformed Church - What It Teaches", we read, "God will not suffer those who are joined to Christ in true faith to totally fall from faith and grace... believers will persevere in the way of salvation to the end." Over and over again, Calvinists say that one cannot fall from the saving grace of God.
"Ye are severed from Christ, ye who would be justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace" (Galatians 5:4). Of this verse, E.M. Zerr said, "Fallen from grace, to lose out in divine favour. This statement of the apostle completely overturns the doctrine labelled 'once in grace, always in grace'". Though Galatians 5:4 is speaking in the past tense, Hebrews 6:4-5 is emphatically to be understood in the past tense - "For as touching those who were once enlightened and tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and tasted of the good word of God, and the powers of the age to come, and then fell away, it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance...". Not only had some fallen from saving grace before the writing of Galatians and Hebrews, but Paul prophesied that some would apostatise in the future. Paul wrote, "But the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the later times some shall fall away from the faith giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons" (I Timothy 4:1). Paul reveals in II Thessalonians 2 that there would be a "wholesale" apostasy from the faith before Jesus would return. Carefully read verses 1 through 12. Since the falling away was certain, is it not reasonable for the inspired men to warn against falling away from God? On your own read: I Corinthians 10:12; II Peter 3:17; Hebrews 3:12-14; Romans 14:13; Hebrews 12:14-15. All these passages and many more warn against falling. Now if it is impossible to fall from God's grace, why would the Holy Spirit and inspired writers take such great pains to warn against it? If one cannot fall because it is impossible for him to fall, it would be absurd and downright foolish to warn against falling. If not, why not? The Bible plainly teaches that some have fallen, that some are now falling, and that some will fall in the future (lest Christ come).
Let us consider one of the parables Jesus taught to see whether He taught "once saved, always saved". Luke 8:4-15 records the parable of the soils. We see seeds falling in four different places: the wayside, the rocks, the thorny ground, and the good soil. "The seed is the word of God". We see those that fell on the wayside, hear but do not believe - the devil comes and takes them away. Secondly, we see those among the rocks, "Receive the Word with joy... who for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away". Thirdly, we see those sown among thorns being suffocated, unable to bear fruit, having fallen back into worldliness. Fourthly, we see seed planted in the good soil "Having heard the word, hold it fast, and bring forth fruit with patience". The middle two of these seeds fell away and only the last continued. Other parables that Jesus gave which prove that one can fall away include:
· The parable of the Lord and His steward (Luke 12:42-46).
· The parable of the law of forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35).
· The parable of the vine (John 15:1-6).
In conclusion we note that one does not have to hold all the tenets of Calvinism to be Calvinistic. He may hold only one. But, as brother G.K. Wallace has said, if he holds one he can be made to admit that he holds them all - unless he gives up the one. Let us ever be on guard against the doctrines of Calvin. "Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God" (II John 9). Calvin is not Christ. Calvin is but a man and his doctrines are the doctrines of men. "But in vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precept of men" saith Jesus Christ (Matthew 15:9).
By Tommy J. Hicks
Return to the General Articles page
Home / Bible studies / Bible Survey / Special Studies / General Articles / Non-Bible Articles / Sermons / Sermon Outlines / Links / Questions and Answers / What Saith The Scriptures /Daily Devotional / Correspondence Courses / What is the Church of Christ / Book: Christian Growth / Website Policy / E-mail / About Me /