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

Comfort on the Deathbed (Or: A Pastor’s Most Important Resource)

Simon Goulart was a Reformed theologian and pastor from France who served in Geneva in the middle of the 16th century.  His preaching and teaching were solidly biblical, clearly doctrinal, and very applicable.  One example of this is his biblical comfort he gave to Christians on their deathbed.  Scott Manetsch gives a good summary of Goulart’s pastoral care:

As Christians approach death, Goulart recognizes, they are frequently tempted to doubt God’s promised salvation and despair of their future hope.  In this spiritual drama, Satan is especially active.  Goulart’s discourse ‘Remedies Against Satan’s Temptations in our Final Hour’ enumerates the stinging accusations and doubts that Satan launches against God’s children as they struggle on their deathbeds.  The voice of Satan accuses: ‘You are a miserable sinner, worthy of damnation.’  ‘Your sins are too great to be forgiven.’  ‘How do you know that the promise of the gospel pertains to you?’  ‘Are you certain that your repentance and faith are genuine?’  ‘How do you know that you are among God’s elect?’  In response to each of these attacks, Goulart provides the faithful Christian a ready answer, drawn from the pages of Scripture.

For example, when Satan questions the believer’s election, the Christian responds: ‘All true believers are sheep of Jesus Christ, elected in him to eternal life.  Psalm 23 says that ‘The Lord is my Shepherd.’  And Psalm 100 says ‘Know that the Lord is God.  It is he who has made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.’  So too, Jesus Christ says in John 10, ‘My sheep hear my voice.’  I have heard this voice and heeded it.  Thus, I am one of the sheep of this Great Shepherd, who has given his life to bring me into his sheepfold, having rescued me from your jaws, O roaring lion.’

Clearly, Goulart believed that God’s Word was to serve as the pastor’s most important resource in caring for Christians on their deathbeds.  Scripture is like a ‘pharmacy’ for wounded souls, he asserted.  It offers a ‘secure harbor for agitated consciences.’

The above quotes were taken from Scott Matnetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors, p 297-298.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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

Grace Makes Us Lovers of the Law (Augustine)

On Grace and Free Will by [St. Augustine] Here’s Augustine on love, law, grace, predestination, and choice:

Let no one, then, deceive you, my brethren, for we should not love God unless He first loved us. John again gives us the plainest proof of this when he says, “We love Him because He first loved us.”

Grace makes us lovers of the law; but the law itself, without grace, makes us nothing but breakers of the law. And nothing else than this is shown us by the words of our Lord when He says to His disciples, Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” For if we first loved Him, in order that by this merit He might love us, then we first chose Him that we might deserve to be chosen by Him.

He, however, who is the Truth says otherwise, and flatly contradicts this vain conceit of men. “You have not chosen me,” He says. If, therefore, you have not chosen me, undoubtedly you have not loved me (for how could they choose one whom they did not love?). “But I,” says He, “have chosen you.” And then could they possibly help choosing Him afterwards, and preferring Him to all the blessings of this world? But it was because they had been chosen, that they chose Him; not because they chose Him that they were chosen.

Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on Grace and Free Will,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Peter Holmes, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 459–460.

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

Not For Works Which We Have Done (Toplady)

The Works of Augustus M. Toplady (6 vols.) I always like reading the original words of the solid hymns we know and love.  As I was looking through Augustus Toplady’s hymns in volume 6 of his Works I recently came across “How Vast the Benefits Divine.”  Here are the original words, which are based on 2 Timothy 1:9 – He has saved us and called us to a holy life — not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time… (NIV).

  1      HOW vast the benefits divine,
Which we in Christ possess,
Sav’d from the guilt of sin we are,
And call’d to holiness.
   2      But not for works which we have done,
Or shall hereafter do;
Hath God decreed on sinful worms,
Salvation to bestow.
      3      The glory, Lord, from first to last,
Is due to thee alone;
Aught to ourselves, we dare not take,
Or rob thee of thy crown.
     4      Our glorious surety undertook
To satisfy for man,
And grace was given us in him,
Before the world began.
        5      This is thy will, that in thy love
We ever should abide,
And lo, we earth and hell defy,
To make thy counsel void.
    6      Not one of all the chosen race,
But shall to heav’n attain;
Partake on earth the purpos’d grace,
And then with Jesus reign.
        7      Of Father, Son, and Spirit, we
Extol the threefold care,
Whose love, whose merit, and whose pow’r,
Unite to lift us there.

Augustus M. Toplady, The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 6 (London; Edinburgh: William Baynes and Son; H. S. Baynes, 1825), 415.

Shane Lems

Before You Sought Him (Bernard)

It’s not for nothing that in his Institutes John Calvin cited Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153) more than a few times.  The doctrines of grace were not absent in the Medieval era!  One very bright spot of Bernard’s writings is “Sermon 84” on the Song of Songs.  This sermon is on Songs 3:1: “On my bed night after night I sought him whom my soul loves” (NASB).  In it Bernard talks about seeking and finding the Lord.  He starts like this:

“It is a great good to seek God; I think nothing comes before it among the good things the soul may enjoy. It is the first of its gifts and its ultimate goal.”

Bernard then explains that the soul seeking God finds unending joy in abundance.  It’s not like joy and desire are gone once a person finds God.  But there’s more to it.

“Now see why I have said this as a preliminary. It is so that every soul among you which is seeking God will know that He has gone before and sought you before you sought Him. Otherwise you may turn a great good into a great evil for yourself. For from great goods can arise evils no less great, when we treat as our own the good things God gives and act as though they were not gifts, not giving God the glory (Lk 17:18).”

In other words, Bernard says it is important to realize that God seeks us before we seek him.  If we don’t understand this, we’ll rob God of his glory:

“If someone says, “Perish the thought, I know that it is by the grace of God that I am as I am” (1 Cor 15:10), yet is eager to take even the smallest credit for the grace he has received, surely he is a robber and a thief (Jn 10:1)? Let such a man hear this, “Out of your own mouth I judge you, wicked servant” (Lk 19:22). What is more wicked than for a slave to usurp his master’s glory?”

Instead, Bernard wrote, ‘The soul seeks the Word, but she has first been sought by the Word.”  And where does the soul get the will to seek?  “From the visitation of the Word, who has already sought her.”

“That seeking has not been in vain, because it has made the will active, without which there can be no return [to God]. …’Seek your servant’ [the Psalmist] says [Ps. 119:176], so that he who has been given the will may also give the power to act…”

Here’s the heart of it – which sounds like Augustine (“I would not have sought You unless You had first sought me”).

“I have sought,” she says, “him whom my soul loves” (Sg 3:1). This is what the kindness of Him who goes before you urges you to do, He who both sought you first and loved you first (1 Jn 4:10). You would not be seeking Him or loving Him unless you had first been sought and loved. You have been forestalled not only in one blessing (Gn 27:28) but in two, in love and in seeking. The love is the cause of the seeking, and the seeking is the fruit of the love; and it is its guarantee. You are loved, so that you may not think that you are sought so as to be punished; you are sought, so that you may not complain that you are loved in vain. Both these sweet gifts of love make you bold and drive diffidence away, and they persuade you to return and move you to loving response. Hence comes the zeal, the ardor to seek him whom your soul loves, for you cannot seek unless you are sought and now that you are sought you cannot fail to seek.”

I know it’s a rich paragraph; you may have to read it again!  Basically, Bernard is highlighting the divine initiative and priority of the sovereign grace of God.  He loved and chose us before we loved and chose him.  And no one can come to Christ unless God sovereignly draws him (John 6:44). But, as Bernard said (echoing Scripture’s teaching), “now that you are sought, you cannot fail to seek!”

The above quotes are found in Bernard of Clairvaux, Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works, ed. John Farina, trans. G. R. Evans, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1987).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI