Calvinism seems to cause controversy, and while it is clear enough to me now, it was not always so. Therefore I thought I would write some notes about how I arrived at it.
The short answer is that it took a long time for me to become a Calvinist. I studied the history of Christian thought, and the development of it, and found the roots of Calvinism everywhere, in short, as Charles Spurgeon said, Calvinism is simply the Gospel itself, we use the word Calvinism because it is convenient, just like we use the word trinity to describe God.
But in our natural state, we are all non-Calvinistic in our thinking, it takes some scripture to renew our minds and point us in the true direction. I was no different, I initially recoiled from the doctrines of Calvinism, after all they don't exactly feed the flesh. But as I read more and more about theology I discovered people who gently and carefully showed from scripture the truth of Calvinism, and those who opposed it resorted to arguments that seemed almost desperate in their methods. For me it was like dominoes, one point of TULIP after another came into clear scriptural focus, until one day (June 6, 2005), the final point (the limited atonement) became clear to me.
This occured because each point that I was unclear on I read the arguments for and against until it became clear to me. It took a lot of time because I resolved to ignore arguments that were logic based or merely derived (by clever arguments) from scripture. I wanted clear scriptures themselves that stated the doctrines one way or another. Eventually, for every point of Calvinism, such scriptures were presented to me. So I resolved to present a nutshell version of it here. I also learned Calvinism in context, to avoid the pitfalls of Arminianism on one side, and Hyper-Calvinism on the other.
A lot of misinformation as to what Calvinism really says is out there. Certainly I had been told Calvinism was bad. The word "predestination" was whispered in dark tones like you would use to describe demonic activity, as if that single word was enough to both describe and destroy the theology of Calvinism. Nobody ever mentioned Arminianism to me either or managed any defense of the position. It was enough that Calvinism was bad, that was all that was ever said.
So, in the Charismatic/Pentecostal circles I travelled in, all I knew was that Calvinism was something to be avoided, an anachronistic semi-curse word that vaguely symbolized old out-dated thinking.
The Main Points of Calvinism
Calvinism, at the highest level, is simply the doctrine of grace:
eph 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves:
it is the gift of God:
eph 2:9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
We call this the doctrine of grace, that we are saved (justified) by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. That is the cry of the orthodox Christian throughout history, the rallying cry of Calvinists, and the most attacked doctrine of all time.
Calvinism also emphasizes that God is sovereign, He is not dependent upon any agency of man to do what He does. Man cannot save himself by any efforts, nor does man choose through his own will who gets saved and who doesn't. Those who believe they can pray and obtain anything without regards to the will of God are decidedly anti-Calvinistic for example. The doctrines of Calvinism that detail God's grace and sovereignty are commonly referred to with the mnemonic TULIP, one letter for each of the five points of Calvinism:
A necessary consequence of these doctrines is that salvation is of God from start to finish. There are scriptures that assert this position outright:
heb 12:2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; ...
Note that the core scripture of Calvinism explicitly refers to faith as a gift from God:
eph 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
The Perseverance of the Saints
My earliest confrontation with Calvinism (although I didn't know it by name at the time) was an internet ministry on Bible prophecy, (www.omegaletter.com). The guy briefly digressed from his usual prophetic topics and wrote a defense of grace and the once-saved-always-saved position. It wasn't very good, at least it didn't convince me at all.
I resolved to post a definitive rebuttal of the "ridiculous" in my mind once-saved-always-saved doctrine in his message forum. After carefully going through the Bible, I realized I couldn't do it. I spent several days on it too, trying to defend my position, and I just could not come up with a definitive Biblical argument that totally trashed the viewpoint. I didn't convince myself that it was true, but neither could I disprove it as the ridiculous doctrine I previously held it to be.
I ended up posting nothing at all, but I saved my bible study on the subject and reflected upon it from time to time. One conclusion I drew quite early was that the once-saved-always-saved position forced the conclusion that it is a lot more difficult to be truly saved than is generally thought; an idea I was already sympathetic to. The circles I travelled in taught that a simple prayer was enough and ignored scriptures on wheat vs. tares, obedience, etc. I had slowly been becoming aware that ignoring those scriptures was wrong. Thus my journey towards Calvinism began, it was over a year before it completed.
For me, the scripture that was the final nail in the coffin of the idea that people could lose their salvation was John 6:37-40.
joh 6:37 All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh
to me I will in no wise cast out.
joh 6:38 For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.
joh 6:39 And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.
joh 6:40 And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.
It was pointed out to me that Jesus says it twice in these verses, he won't lose a single one, and that He would be in violation of the Father's will if He did. He even states that the Father's will is that He should not lose even one. And it was also pointed out to me that it is impossible for Jesus to fail to follow the Father's will.
A classic verse used to defend the idea that you can lose your salvation is this one:
heb 6:4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have
tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,
heb 6:5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,
heb 6:6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
Notice the "if", it can be argued that this is a rhetorical question, the point is that it is not possible, not that it is, thus we turn the verse on its head when we try to use it to defend that one can fall away. Just a few verses later we find the following:
heb 6:9 But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.
Thus Paul confirms the idea that what he is really arguing for is that one cannot fall away.
Another argument for falling away is Jesus parable of the sower, where Jesus divides people into four groups:
The parable of the sower occurs twice in the new testament:
mat 13:18 Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower.
mat 13:19 When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.
mat 13:20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;
mat 13:21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.
mat 13:22 He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.
mat 13:23 But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
mar 4:14 The sower soweth the word.
mar 4:15 And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts.
mar 4:16 And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness;
mar 4:17 And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended.
mar 4:18 And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word,
mar 4:19 And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.
mar 4:20 And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred.
Of note is what seperates the final group from the other three. In both cases the focus is on the fruits, the true believers will bear fruit. Mathew adds that they understood the word, implying that proper understanding of the Word is necessary to bear fruit.
The Calvinistic view of the parable of the sower is that the second and third groups were never true believers, or as the scripture says, they had no root, and so either trial or temptation easily led them away from their false conversion experience.
Bible prophecy in fact chronicles the fate of three classifications of people:
The final fate of the false professors is described in Revelation: the false church is called the great harlot, the mother of abominations. Historically this symbol was thought to mean Romanism, but it now may have a wider scope in the sense that harlot spawns many, being the "mother" of them all. The symbol does not cover the non-Christian religions at all, but all those who name Christ, no matter how far from Biblical orthodoxy they may be, appear to be covered in this symbol. The harlot is still headquartered in Rome however as the Bible makes clear since the woman sits on seven hills (Rome is called the city of seven hills).
Once you understand the trifold classifcation system the Bible uses then things will become a lot more clear. Many scriptures (but not all) use this classification system and delineate between the three groups. Let us examine the parable of the wheat and the tares:
mat 13:24 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of
heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field:
mat 13:25 But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.
mat 13:26 But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.
mat 13:27 So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?
mat 13:28 He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?
mat 13:29 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.
mat 13:30 Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.
Notice carefully that the tares are sown among the wheat. We have learned from the previous parable that the seed is the word of God, and the wheat are the believers. In this parable the tares are the professing Christians who do not truly believe the word, they have no root of faith in themselves, they may have religion, zeal, self-righteousness, and all manner of false affectations (See Jonathan Edwards ) that make them nearly indistinguishable from the real thing, but they are not in the kingdom at all.
An interesting thing is that the tare is a real plant. When it grows it shoots out a sheaf on a stalk that looks exactly like wheat. Only at the most mature stage, when the sheaf opens, does it become clear that the tare sheaf is empty, and the wheat stalk contains grain. The symbolism can mean either the presence of fruits in the believer's life or it could mean the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. My opinion is it means both, since fruits are the evidence of the indwelling presence.
Jesus also delineates His classification of people in several other verses:
In the parable of the ten virgins Jesus says to the five foolish virgins:
mat 25:11 Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to
mat 25:12 But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
Again the symbolism (oil in lamps) for lack of the Holy Spirit inside them is evident. Notice he says He doesn't know them at all, not that He once did and they fell away. He echoes this in another verse:
mat 7:22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied
in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many
mat 7:23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
So again Jesus clearly delineates between three classes of people, those who are His, those who profess Him but do not serve Him, and those who don't profess Him at all. Notice the middle group, the professors are capable of great works and miracles.
Much of the evangelistic efforts of Calvinists in the past has focussed around awakening those who are tares to a realization of their awful state of existence, those who are comfortable living for self in His name, those who serve their flesh, but name Jesus, those who when push comes to shove, will deny Him if it is convenient for them, and those who are hyper-religious, but have no root of submission to Christ or a realization of their awful sinfulness inside themselves.
Jonathan Edwards (in one of the most famous works ever written on the subject) compared the false and the true signs of a believer in his Treatise Concerning Religious Affections. George Whitefield called them the "almost Christian" and devoted much of his preaching to the subject. Spurgeon called them tares just as the Bible does.
In the end on judgement day however, only a two-fold classification system is used, the sheep and the goats, and the tares are included among the goats.
If I haven't convinced you by now then I leave it to others to do a better job, the other supporting doctrines also add weight to this argument so please read on.
If you are convinced however, the two questions that came to my mind at this stage were:
Wheat vs. Tares
Other than the Jonathan Edwards link above, I can offer a small summary of ways to distinguish wheat from tares.
Tares generally fall into two categories, those making great efforts at their Christianity, and those making no effort. The no effort ones are easier to distinguish. The great effort ones however are making the efforts from the wrong motives, desire for glory, desire to please God (failing to understand they are pleasing to Him by virtue of the atonement), and in general are unsure of their salvation and have works thinking.
The self-righteous, religious (you have to do it my way, or believe exactly what I believe) are very often tares, although they don't know it. Fruits of the spirit are humility, gentleness, kindess, etc. Jonathan Edwards summed them all up into one word "graciousness". But the fruits of grace are also a tenacious clinging to Christ, no matter what happens they stick by Him, they may even fall into sin, but they always come back out of it eventually.
Another observation I think is relevant to wheat vs. tares, is tares have a stronger tendency to cling to false doctrines in the face of clear Biblical arguments to the contrary. The true Christian will willingly drop long-held doctrines that were once dear to them if it can be proved to them the Bible does not support their view. The true Christian can be deceived, and hold false doctrines, but in general submits to scripture as God's authoritative word.
How can I know I am truly born-again
This is the subject I want to develop in detail, eventually a seperate article may come out of this. (Note the article is now written: "How Do I know I am Truly Saved").
This doctrine has to be taught carefully, as Jonathan Edwards points out if you set the bar too low you fail to wake tares from the sleep of doom, and if you set the bar too high you make those truly born-again uncomfortable and in doubt of their salvation.
At the most basic level, what is your assurance you are saved and destined for heaven? The lowest requirement is simply faith in Jesus, and that faith is a gift from God as we have seen. So the very fact that you have faith in Jesus is the evidence you are saved. You don't need to look for a profound conviction experience, or any other external evidence.
Saving faith however has several things that come along with it. Those who truly believe in Christ will follow Him. They will deny themselves (from sin and self-seeking). They will have the increasing fruits of grace in their lives, a humble gracious character. And they will be loyal to God's word.
Striving to please God is no evidence of salvation, but understanding that one is already pleasing to God by virtue of one's faith is. A prideful spirit (I have it right and you don't) is not of God, but a humble loyal spirit is.
Another major point is true faith in Christ will cause you to want to obey Him. His word becomes the definition of truth, and you will scour it for answers to your questions as to how to live life according to His will. It becomes more than just His love letter to you, but also the commands of a benevolent all powerful King to His faithful and willing subjects.
John Reisinger points out that there are actually three assurances of salvation in his article Three Ways of Assurance . I have covered them here in passing, but more explicitly they are:
The above three things are actually evidences of your salvation, the three things God gives you so that you can know you are His.
There is assurance also in learning the true depths of our frailty, how pitifully weak our faith really is, and how God commits himself to carry us through to the end. If you look for strength in yourself you will never find it, always look to Him as He has promised to carry you through and raise you up on the last day.
Lastly, the Bible does not promise that all true children of God will attain full assurance of their salvation, rather we are commanded to seek it. So if you have doubts it does not mean you are not a true child of God.
If you still suffer from doubts, I suggest a thorough study of Calvinism (the Gospel) itself is one of the best ways to remove doubts of how earnestly and decisively Jesus intends to save you (you personally).
The total depravity of man is clearly spelled out in the Bible in my opinion.
There are several points to it, we are totally sinful, we have no desire to come to God. And we have no ability to do so even if we did have the desire. Often this touches on the free-will argument, Calvinism asserts that we have limited free-will, we are not capable of our own free-wills of living a sinless life, or earning our righteousness before God.
Total sinfulness is pretty clear, if we weren't totally sinful, we wouldn't need a savior, and we could just obey God's law and be done with it. Paul covers all of this pretty clearly in His epistles:
rom 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
rom 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Total sinfulness doesn't mean we can't do some good things, but that we are all stained and blackened by sin to the point none of us can actually do anything about it.
Lack of ability to come to God (live a sinless life out of our own efforts) is also easy to prove and is closely related:
rom 3:20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
Scripture asserts that if we even attempt to be justified by works that we are actually falling from grace (in danger of hellfire):
gal 5:4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.
The universal lack of willingness is proven easier if we first examine what salvation from our sins actually is. It is more than salvation from Hell, which is what the flesh wants it to be. It is also the ability to not sin (as much) anymore. People have no problem with giving lip service to Jesus if it means no Hell. But giving up their sins (repentance) is another matter entirely. People want to travel to Heaven in a hedonistic boat filled with sinful indulgences. Such a thing is not possible as John makes so abundantly clear in the following passage:
jo1 3:6 Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not
seen him, neither known him.
jo1 3:7 Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.
jo1 3:8 He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
jo1 3:9 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
jo1 3:10 In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.
Other passages add balance, as this passage alone would (incorrectly) lead you to believe that a sinless life after conversion is necessary to enter heaven. John set the stage for this passage by teaching the universality of sin:
jo1 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have
fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth
us from all sin.
jo1 1:8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
jo1 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
jo1 1:10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Nevertheless, doom is prophesied for those who continue in willing sin:
heb 10:26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of
the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
heb 10:27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.
heb 10:28 He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:
heb 10:29 Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
The point here, is that without grace, our destiny as willing sinners is assured without any possibility of salvation.
I do not wish to leave you in fear however, for it is clear that the truly born-again do fall into sin sometimes, but the mark that they are born-again is that they repent, ask for forgiveness, and get back up and try again. Nevertheless this is painful, and grieves us because we have wounded the God we love most. The true Christian mourns for their sins, and grieves over their wretched state. Paul describes this struggle that all Christians have when he cries out:
rom 7:24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
We are saved out of our sins, and saved from the terrible bondage to sin that we all have. Notice that all of the above passages are about our will (which is the same as the heart in the Bible). If we will to sin, meaning we deny Christ effectively in our heart, only then does the terrible punishment await.
The point is that when a true born-again believer falls into sin, their heart is not in it, they will be sorrowful and repentant, as they have wounded the very God they love most. But the willing sinner does not love God, nor does he know Him at all - which clearly distinguishes the true child of God from the tare that lives for self while professing Jesus.
joh 15:16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, ...
Arthur Pink points out this is the most hated doctrine of Christianity. He means the most hated doctrine among professing Christians. He calls it a humbling and flesh-withering doctrine. Contrast that with Hell which is the most hated doctrine of those who do not profess Christ.
Simply put, God decides in advance (from the foundation of the world) who is going to be saved. The words chosen, predestined, elect, foreknew, and appointed occur throughout the New Testament.
Mark Webb points out why such a negative reaction to such a comforting doctrine occurs. Election attacks the very foundation of those who are trusting in works to save them. It pulls the rug out from under them. This is why Arthur Pink describes this doctrine as separating the sheep from the goats (saved vs. unsaved) like no other.
We are responsible to believe in Christ and repent to be saved, yes. But God gives us the ability to do so. I say this because there are some who twist this doctrine and say God's election is independent of whether you profess Christ (this is one of the views labelled as Hyper-Calvinism and is to be avoided). If true it would mean that we have no way to determine if we are saved or not, since our actions and beliefs are meaningless. This carries the idea of predestination way beyond its Biblical meaning.
It was pointed out to me that the truth is that God does all, and we do all also. It is not half and half, or all God and none of us. God gives us a will to follow Him and true Christians will use it gladly.
Mr. Webb also points out that only by humbling ourselves before Christ and asking Him to save us can we truly be saved. The doctrine of election is the most humbling of all doctrines, as it tells us there is no good in us at all. Many professing Christians resist this doctrine, and they resist it violently, and thus they behave like the Pharisee who thanked God he was not like the tax collector standing next to him. But Jesus said it was the tax collector who begged for forgiveness with full acknowledgement of his desperate state of vile sinfulness who went away justified and that the proud Pharisee who was trusting in his own works was not justified (saved) at all. John MacArthur says you must totally abandon all hope in yourself, all self-righteousness, pride, and come to the deep realization of your total hopelessness and sinfulness before you can even enter the narrow gate. Jonathan Edwards wrote that often God lets people attempt to reform themselves for years, before they finally come to a realization of their own spiritual bankruptcy and are ready to truly yield to Christ.
All of the above stresses that it is much more difficult to enter the narrow gate than is commonly taught, in complete agreement with the words of our Lord:
luk 13:24 Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.
Often dead babies come into the argument at some point, as election is (falsely) criticized as sending all dead babies to Hell. Election states that God can choose to save all, some, or none of the babies who die. It asserts that God implies He saves them all, (my belief is that all dead babies go to heaven). but nowhere does He explicitly promise to do so. Various forms of theology place all babies in hell. Sacramentarians of various forms say that only baptized babies make it to heaven. These positions deny election and are refuted by (post-Spurgeon) Calvinism.
Unlike babies however, for all those who grow up and are capable of hearing the Gospel there is no salvation apart from hearing and believing the Gospel of Christ.
The doctrine of election is the part of the doctrine of grace that gives us our greatest joy, security, and peace. God chose us, we did not choose Him. The evidence He chose us is our very faith itself, the gift of God, for Christ promises to cast out none who come to Him:
joh 6:37 All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.
The above verse is what caused me to stop worrying that maybe I wasn't
one of the elect, and that I would strive for something I could never
have. Election properly taught does not bring
condemnation or fear, but peace in our hearts, love for the eternal
Father who chose us, and joy in our sure salvation.
For a more full treatment of how you can know you are saved see:
Assurance of Salvation: Can I Really Be Sure? - by John G. Reisinger
This was the last of the doctrines of Calvinism I was convinced of. Arthur Pink takes credit for the final straw. He so clearly lists the scriptures that support this viewpoint.
I want to say a few words about the atonement itself before I discuss its scope. There are many interpretations of the atonement, but the one orthodox Christians use is the substitutionary atonement: that Jesus died in your place for your sins, and paid the full price for them on the cross. In this view (and only this view as far as I know) Jesus' death on the cross was absolutely necessary, nothing less would have satisfied God's perfect justice that demands every sin be paid for.
Many have a mistaken view that distorts God by overemphasizing either His love or His holiness (and comensurate judgement). God is both simultaneously and never changes. Hell is eternal punishment for sins (not eternal seperation from God as is popularly said today). Salvation by grace is God's mercy and lovingkindness to spare some of His children what they rightly deserve, eternity in Hell. As you can see, this too is a flesh withering doctrine which is why people try to squirm out of it in their theology.
John Murray, in Arminianism and the Atonement. shows us that the limited (partial or particular) atonement idea is simply that Christ died for His people only, and that His death secured infallibly their salvation. Arminianism states the reverse, the atonement was for all, but secured nothing.
My son asked my why would God send anyone to Hell. I explained to him that the proper question was why would God allow anyone into Heaven since we all so richly deserve Hell. I explained that God's highest purpose is His Glory, love is His second priority. It does not seem a loving act to send people to Hell. But God's holiness and righteous judgement is not at all slighted by people suffering eternal punishment in Hell. Thus God is glorified both by people going to heaven (His love) and by people going to Hell (His holiness). God is not pleased by people having to go to Hell, but His righteous judgement demands it.
It must be said that the merciful offer of salvation is made to all and there is God's love being expressed fully. But (in support of the total depravity doctrine) only the elect will ever receive it, since only by God's grace do we have any ability or desire to know God.
The actual reformation quote is: "The atonement is sufficient for all, but efficient only for the elect".
Note: There is a mild form of Hyper-Calvinism (known as High-Calvinism) that denies the atonement is sufficient for all. Also known as double-predestination, it supposes that God creates some expressly for salvation and some expressely for eternal judgement. The primary objection to this view is that it would seem to be a violation of God's character to accuse Him of the remarkably sadistic act of creating people just so He could torment them eternally. Some very notable figures in history such as Augustus Toplady and Arthur Pink held the High-Calvinist view, and it remains within the bounds of true Christianity. High-Calvinism is alive and well today too.
Vanilla Calvinism holds to the single-predestination view, which says that while God does predetermine who gets saved, the others are merely passed over for reasons God does not give us. To me this is just another manifestation of the Biblical paradox of free-will vs predestination. The Bible teaches both are in full force at all times. For those who receive salvation, God takes full credit. But for thos who don't, they are held fully responsible for their sins, and for rejecting Christ's Gospel. So while it is a paradox, we must remain true to what the Bible says, even if we cannot fully understand it.
Note: it is not a requirement for salvation to understand this correctly either, the Arminians take the opposing viewpoint, emphasizing free-will over God's predestination, and remain within the bounds of orthodoxy.
Spurgeon in arguing for the partial atonement points out that if Jesus paid the price for the sins of all, then why do some still go to Hell? If He made such a sacrifice, was not His sacrifice partially in vain? Did not God somehow fail in His purpose? These things are of course impossible, God cannot fail in His purposes (or He would not be omnipotent or even God at all) any more than He can lie or deny Himself.
John Reisinger points out that those who believe in universal atonement actually believe in no atonement on the cross. Sins were not actually paid for on the cross at all, but rather only the potential of later forgiveness was created on the cross. This is similar to the governmental atonement theory, which is popular among Arminians. Honest Arminians are sooner or later forced to admit that they don't believe in the substitutionary atonement at all. The biblical atonement, in the sense that Spurgeon wrote about it, is that Jesus actually paid for the sins of the elect on the cross. Please understand that election and salvation (the moment of the new birth) are seperate events.
Spurgeon's argument alone didn't do it for me however, as I wanted more than an argument, I wanted scriptures that proved the point. Arthur Pink finished the job for me and gave me those very scriptures. Here are some of the scriptures in support of the partial atonement that Arthur Pink points out:
isa 53:8 ... for the transgression of my people was he stricken.
mat 1:21 ... for he shall save his people from their sins.
joh 10:11 ... the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.
joh 10:15 ... and I lay down my life for the sheep.
Notice He dies for His people, He saves His people from their sins, and He dies for the sheep only (not the goats). Those were the scriptures that clinched it for me along with the understanding that salvation is offered to all. Those fine distinctions had to be made in order for it to fit properly.
This says that when the convicting power of God's Holy Spirit hits someone, He will always accomplish His purpose. Meaning that nobody can say no when the Holy Spirit means to convict them and bring them to salvation. A proper understanding of it is that He secures the cooperation of our wills. In the vernacular, we say that only God can change a heart. Theologians call it the effectual calling, which distinguishes it from the general call to salvation that is given to all.
Those who deny irresistable grace are effectively denying that God is sovereign, for the decision as to who is saved and who is not is placed into the hands of man.
Some terminology comes along with this doctrine:
Hopefully is is obvious that I am teaching monergism, and divine predestination. If you search the New Testament for the words chosen, elect, predestined, foreknew, and appointed, most of the scriptures surrounding election will come up (and there are a lot of them surprisingly, given how much disagreement there is with this doctrine). Irresistable grace has no meaning without election, so I present a few scriptures supporting election here:
act 2:47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
act 13:48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
pe1 2:8 And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which
stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.
pe1 2:9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:
th1 1:4 Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.
eph 1:11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, (NAS)
The doctrine of election is also present in the Old Testament, as God chose Israel not of it's own merits, but of His good pleasure:
deu 7:7 The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.
rom 11:4 But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.
Note that every single scripture above has God making the choice of who will serve him and who will not. The number of scriptures supporting election (and thus irresistable grace) is huge.
But how about some scriptures that more directly address irresistable grace? The Bible gives us these as well:
co1 12:3 Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.
Salvation is routinely expressed as a gift. People twist this around and say that we must receive it for it to be effective, but this idea is foreign to scripture. When God wants to give a gift, He gives it, plain and simple. In my opinion the scriptural case here is iron-clad and no further argument is necessary.
When I came to a full understanding of the doctrines of grace my level of peace was greatly increased. I found freedom from fear and striving, freedom to glorify God, and freedom from judging others (because they somehow failed to make the right decision for God), and freedom from pride in believing I had done the right thing when others had not. I also found myself free to present the Gospel in a scriptural way, no longer struggling with seeker-friendly concepts.
My joy increased too, because I understood that our place in Christ is assured by Him and not us, and that He has our back, and promises to keep us through anything and everything that comes our way.
Liberation from works thinking allows me to say "abba" Father without reservation or fear that somehow I am not all He wants me to be. I know my justification is not of me at all, it is a free gift from Him and He intends us to rejoice in it. Hallelujah and God be praised!
Is Arminianism Heresy? Are Arminians saved?
This is a question I struggled with, and I am of the opinion that popular Arminianism as it exists today is not necessarily a soul-killer, but I am also of the opinion that most Arminians (who are generally ignorant of the meaning of that label) are in fact unsaved, I am referring to charismatics mostly, who have piled a lot of other false doctrines on top of their Arminianism.
Here is a strongly high-Calvinistic article advocating the viewpoint that Arminianism is full-blown soul-killing heresy:
The "christ" of Arminianism
It paints a pretty black-and-white picture. My belief is that the Synod of Dort that originally condemned Arminianism had exactly that black-and-white viewpoint too. But they stand out in history as the exception and not the rule.
I struggled for a long time with Spurgeon's assertion that Arminians could be saved. I learned that Augustine also faced a theology that could be branded as Arminianism and he took the same position.
Augustine was the chief defender of the faith against the Pelagian heresy, and was scathing in his attacks of Pelagius and his doctrines. But when faced with an early form of Arminianism he treated it quite differently, he wrote to them as brothers in Christ who were in error. I found John Calvin essentially in agreement with Augustine on those points, and R. C. Sproul of today. I even attempted to apply mathematical logic to the problem, and came to the same conclusion, and you can read that elsewhere on my site.
R.C. Sproul points out that Arminianism affirms sola fide (faith along), but denies sola gratia (grace alone), as it teaches synergism.
As Spurgeon said, Arminianism is a slippery slope, swallow a few more false doctrines and your ship sinks. And in our modern period where doctrine is abandoned in favor of feelings, the possibility that an Arminian can be saved is remote in some corners of the Church.
For further reading.
I also recommend you read about Calvinism from the great Calvinists themselves, such as Calvin, Edwards, Whitefield, and Spurgeon. Or any of the more modern Calvinists too. See my historical links page on my website.