Is Predestination Central in Calvinism?

There’s much more to Reformed theology than the doctrines of grace (TULIP).  Similarly, there’s more to the doctrines of grace than predestination.  This needs to be said and repeated since some say that the central dogma of Calvinism is predestination, that predestination is at the core of the doctrines of grace.  Michael Horton gave some helpful points to refute this error:

  1. Calvin was not the first Calvinist.  The standard medieval view affirmed unconditional election and reprobation and held that Christ’s redemptive work at the cross is ‘sufficient for the world, efficient for the elect alone.’  …On even the most controversial aspects of predestination, Calvin’s view can scarcely be distinguished from that of Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, Archbishop Thomas Bradwardine, and Gregory of Rimini.  …In fact, some of Luther’s strong comments in ‘The Bondage of the Will’ make Calvin moderate by comparison.
  2. Calvin was not the only shaper of the Reformed tradition.  Although his formative influence is justly recognized, he regarded himself as a student of Luther.  The Strasbourg Reformer Martin Bucer also left a decisive imprint on Calvin, as on a whole generation, including Archbishop Thomas Cramner.  …Heinrich Bullinger, John Knox, Jan Laski, Girolamo Zanchi, and Peter Martyr Vermigli were also among the many contemporaries of Calvin who shaped Reformed teaching, not to mention the following generations of leaders who refined and consolidated the gains of the sixteenth century.
  3. It is interesting that John Calvin never identified predestination or election as a central dogma.  He spoke of the doctrine of justification as ‘the primary article of the Christian religion,’ ‘the main hinge on which religion turns,’ the principal article of the whole doctrine of salvation and the foundation of all religion.’  Obviously he considered predestination an important doctrine.  But he was not only unoriginal in his formulation; he did not raise it to the level of a central dogma.  As B.B. Warfield has pointed out, Calvin’s emphasis on God’s fatherly love and benevolence in Christ is more pervasive than his emphasis on God’s sovereign power and authority.

“None of this is to diminish the obvious importance of election in Reformed theology, but it does serve to dissuade us from regarding it as a central dogma or as a uniquely Calvinistic tenent. …The truth is, there isn’t a central dogma in Calvinism, although it is certainly God-centered – and, more specifically, Christ-centered, since it is only in the Son that God’s saving purposes and action in history are most clearly revealed. …With Melanchthon and Bullinger leading the way, covenant theology emerged as the very warp and woof of Reformed theology.  Even this is not a central dogma, however, but more like the architectural framework.”

Michael Horton, For Calvinism, pp 28-30.

Shane Lems

A Dilemma of Universalism (Owen)

John Owen’s classic, The Death of Death, is not the easiest book to read, but it sure is worth the effort!  Since I’ll be preaching through the doctrines of grace later this Summer, I’m reading Owen’s book again as part of sermon preparation.  Here’s a helpful section I ran across this morning.  Owen said this is one of the dilemmas of Universalism:

God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for
1) either all the sins of all men,
or
2) all the sins of some men,
or
3) some sins of all men.

If the last (3), some sins of all men, then  all men have some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved; for if God enter into judgment with us, though it were with all mankind for one sin, no flesh should be justified in his sight: “If the LORD should mark iniquities, who should stand?” Ps. 130:3. We might all go to cast all that we have “to the moles and to the bats, to go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty,” Isa. 2:20, 21.

If the second (2), that is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world.

If the first (1), (all the sins of all men) why, then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, “Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.” But this unbelief, is it a sin, or not? If it is not sin, why should they be punished for it? If it is sin, then either Christ underwent the punishment due to it or he did not. If he did, then why must that hinder them from partaking of the fruit of his death more than their other sins for which he died?  If he did not undergo the punishment do to the sin of unbelief, then did he not die for all their sins.

Let them choose which part they will.

NOTE: I’ve edited the above a bit to make it easier to read.  The quote can be found in John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 10 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 173–174.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Cage Phase Calvinists (Newton)

Sometimes Calvinists are arrogant jerks.  They learn about predestination, limited atonement, etc., and this leads them to arrogantly think they know it all.  They don’t show much love, patience, or tenderness when talking about the things of God.   This is what has been called the “cage phase” Calvinist because a person like that belongs in a cage to keep him from doing more harm than good.

In his typical winsome and pastoral way, John Newton talked about this many years ago:

“I believe a too hasty assent to Calvinistic principles, before a person is duly acquainted with the plague of his own heart, is one principle cause of that lightness of profession which so lamentably abounds in this day, a chief reason why many professors are rash, heady, high-minded, contentious about words, and sadly remiss as to the means of Divine appointment.”

Newton wrote that in 1775, but could it also be said of the present?

This quote is found in Josiah Bull’s biography of Newton, But Now I See, p. 212.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Hypercalvinism, Election, and Godliness (Zanchi)

The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 5 Hypercalvinism is a serious distortion of the gospel and the grace of God.  In hypercalvinist circles you’ll hear sermons on election and reprobation, but you’ll rarely hear calls to faith and repentance.  Hypercalvinists don’t want to sound Arminian so they usually don’t use terms like “receive Christ” or “flee to Jesus.”  Hypercalvinism shows up in practice too: if someone is elect, no need to worry about how he or she lives, speaks, or acts.  He’s elect, all is well – we need not be too concerned if he sleeps through sermons, swears like a sailor, or drinks too much on days that end with “y”.  So goes unbiblical the hypercalvinist logic.

Biblical preaching, however, not only explains election and reprobation, it also calls people (including professing believers) to repentance and faith.  Biblical, Calvinistic preachers are not afraid to use terms like “receive Christ,” and “flee to Jesus; come to the Lord!” True Calvinists bow to Scripture and admonish professing believers who are not living according to Scripture.  In fact, in Reformed theology, we teach that the doctrine of election leads to godly – not godless – living (see WCF 3.6, 8).  G. Zanchi, a 16th century Protestant Reformer, said one argument (among others) for the preaching of predestination is this:

..Namely, that, by it, we may be excited to the practice of universal godliness. The knowledge of God’s love to you, will make you an ardent lover of God: and, the more love you have to God, the more will you excel in all the duties and offices of love. Add to this, that the scripture view of predestination includes the means, as well as the end. Christian predestinarians are for keeping together what God hath joined. He who is for attaining the end, without going to it through the means, is a self-deluding enthusiast. He, on the other hand, who carefully and conscientiously, uses the means of salvation, as steps to the end, is the true Calvinist.

Now, eternal life being that, to which the elect are ultimately destined; faith (the effect of saving grace), and sanctification (the effect of faith), are blessings, to which the elect are intermediately appointed.  “According as he hath chosen us in him, before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love” (Eph. 1:4). “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).  “Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God – Ye became followers of us and of the Lord” (1 Thess. 1:4, 6).  “God hath chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the spirit and belief of the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13).  “Elect, according to the foreknowledge [or, ancient love] of God the Father, through sanctification of the spirit, unto obedience” (1 Pet. 1:2).

I appreciate Zanchi’s words and Scripture quotes: the biblical view of predestination includes the means as well as the end.  Election and godly living go hand in hand.  God has lovingly and graciously chosen his people not so they can live however they selfishly see fit, but so that they love him and obey him.  Obedience to God is one fruit of election.

The above quotation is taken from Augustus Toplady’s translation of G. Zanchi’s The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination found on p. 294 of volume 5 of Toplady’s Works.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Jesus Came Not To Aid, But To Save (Warfield)

The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol. 5: Calvin and Calvinism One part of Reformed theology is sometimes referred to as “Calvinsim” or, as I prefer, “the doctrines of grace.”  Here’s how B.B. Warfield nicely described the God-centered aspect of the doctrines of grace:

What lies at the heart of his [the Calvinist’s] soteriology is the absolute exclusion of the creaturely element in the initiation of the saving process, that so the pure grace of God may be magnified. Only so could he express his sense of man’s complete dependence as sinner on the free mercy of a saving God; or extrude [force out] the evil leaven of Synergism by which, as he clearly sees, God is robbed of His glory and man is encouraged to think that he owes to some power, some act of choice, some initiative of his own, his participation in that salvation which is in reality all of grace.

There is accordingly nothing against which Calvinism sets its face with more firmness than every form and degree of autosoterism. Above everything else, it is determined that God, in His Son Jesus Christ, acting through the Holy Spirit whom He has sent, shall be recognized as our veritable Savior. To it sinful man stands in need not of inducements or assistance to save himself, but of actual saving; and Jesus Christ has come not to advise, or urge, or induce, or aid him to save himself, but to save him. This is the root of Calvinistic soteriology; and it is because this deep sense of human helplessness and this profound consciousness of indebtedness for all that enters into salvation to the free grace of God is the root of its soteriology that to it the doctrine of election becomes the ‘cor cordis’ [heart of the heart] of the Gospel.

He who knows that it is God who has chosen him and not he who has chosen God, and that he owes his entire salvation in all its processes and in every one of its stages to this choice of God, would be an ingrate [ungrateful person] indeed if he gave not the glory of his salvation solely to the inexplicable elective love of God.

Benjamin B. Warfield, The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield: Calvin and Calvinism, vol. 5 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2008), 359–360.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Free Will or Free Grace? (Toplady)

The Works of Augustus M. Toplady (6 vols.)In 1773, Augustus Toplady wrote to a friend about his dialogue with an Arminian, Mr. Oliver.  It’s a longer discourse, but here’s a section where Toplady, who himself was an Arminian when young, recounted his own story:

When I was a lad of 15 or 16 years old, I was haranguing, in company, on the doctrine of free-will, as you are now. A good old gentleman rose from his chair, and coming to mine, held me by one of my coat buttons, while he spoke as follows: “My dear sir, you have been talking largely in favor of man’s free agency. Allow me to leave argument, and come to experience. How was it with you, when God first laid hold on you by effectual grace? had you any hand in procuring it? Nay, would you not have resisted and baffled God’s Spirit, if he had left you to your will?” I was more embarrassed with this question, than I was willing to show. Yet I had then too much pride to confess how much I was nonplussed by this calm and single interrogation. However, before I was eighteen, God was graciously pleased to enlighten me into that precious chain of truths which, through his good hand upon me, I still abide by.

Permit me, Mr. Oliver, to put the above question to you. I trust, you have experienced something of a work of God, upon your heart. What say you? Did you choose God, or did God choose you? Did he lay hold on you, or did you lay hold on him?

Oliver: I must own to you, that, before my conversion, I was one of the most abandoned swearers and drunkards in England. I received my serious impressions from Mr. Whitefield. On the day of the evening in which I first heard him preach, I suppose I had not sworn so few as forty profane oaths.

Toplady: Then it is very clear that your conversion, at least, was not conditional.

Oliver: I will not say, that I procured grace of myself. Nor will I say, how far I might have resisted it.

Toplady: I plainly perceive, that you are not disposed to return a direct answer to my first question. But, if you will not answer it to me, let me request you to take an early opportunity of answering it on your knees before God in prayer. Go to your closet, and pour out your heart in his presence: and beg him to show you, whether you was converted by free-will, or by free-grace alone. —— To this he gave little or no reply.

Augustus M. Toplady, The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 6 (London; Edinburgh: William Baynes and Son; H. S. Baynes, 1825), 175–177.

Shane Lems

Christ Calls First (Effectual Calling)

Christopher Love (d. 1651), a Welsh Presbyterian pastor, wrote an excellent book on effectual calling and election.  His main text was 2 Peter 1:10 (Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble. NASB).  In one section of this book, he talks about the comforts of effectual calling:

Jesus effectually calls a poor sinner before that sinner looks unto Jesus.  Should God require heaven upon the condition that you who had been first in the transgression should be first in seeking reconciliation, we would never have the enmity between God and us ended.  But behold, here is mercy and here is a ground of comfort, that though we are first in that transgression, Christ is the first in suing out reconciliation.  Jesus effectually calls poor sinners before they either call or look unto him at all (Is. 65:1).

Here you see, that Jesus goes out first to call you before you go out to call him.  And oh, what comfort this is!  Christ does not stay away until you call out to him; but he looks upon you before you look upon him.

We read that Matthew the publican was looking after his money, and, at that time, Jesus was looking after Matthew’s soul.  We read this of the disciples: while they were fixing their nets and looking after their fish, Jesus took the occasion with the hook of the gospel to catch them.  We read that Paul, while he was breathing out persecution against the church and raging with anger against the saints, was called to be a saint.

So this is very comforting.  God first looks after a sinner in his effectual calling before a sinner looks after Christ.  God first looks upon you, enlightens you by a sermon, and seizes your conscience by a command before you look unto him.

Or, in the sweet words of two great hymns:

I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew;
He moved my soul to seek him seeking me;
It was not I that found O Savior true; no I was found of thee.

and

Tis not that I did choose the, for Lord that could not be;
This heart would still refuse thee, hadst though not chosen me!

(The above quotes by Christopher Love are – slightly edited – found in Effectual Calling and Election, chapter 4.)

shane lems
hammond, WI