Eternal Security ~ Part 16

Arminian Theology ~ Part 2

In my last post, we took a brief look at Arminian Theology.  In this post, we continue to explore Doctrinal Affirmations of Arminian Theology and The Remonstrance. As a reminder, in order to ensure that I present the material on this topic and Calvinistic Theology without any preconceived bias, I have elected to utilize “The Moody Handbook of Theology” by Paul Enns as my source document.

Doctrinal Affirmations of Arminian Theology

Arminian doctrine is found in widely diversified groups today: Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Anglicans, Pentecostals, Free Will Baptists, and most Charismatic and Holiness Believers. The doctrinal views that will be presented here are generally representative of Arminianism (especially as held by Wesleyans), but because of the diversity of the denominations and groups holding to the general tenets of Arminianism, what is true in particular of one will not necessarily be true of all.

Not all the doctrines that are fundamental to the Christian faith will be discussed, but only those which particularly set Arminianism apart as distinctive. Continue reading “Eternal Security ~ Part 16”

Eternal Security ~ Part 15

Arminian Theology ~ Part 1

In my last post, we took a brief look at Jacobus Arminius.  In this post, we now turn to explore Arminius’ views of Scripture which have been distilled into what has been called Arminian Theology.  As a reminder, in order to ensure that I present the material on this topic and Calvinistic Theology without any preconceived bias, I have elected to utilize “The Moody Handbook of Theology” by Paul Enns as my source document.


Arminianism is a term used to describe the theological views of Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) and the movement that followed his teachings. The Arminian position was expressed in detail by followers of Arminius in the Remonstrance, a document produced in 1610, formally protesting the strict Calvinism in the Netherlands.  Recall that Arminius died in 1609.

Major theological emphases of Arminianism are:

  • Conditional election based on the foreknowledge of God;
  • God’s grace can be resisted;
  • Christ’s atonement was universal;
  • Man has a free will and through prevenient [anticipatory] grace can cooperate with God in salvation;
  • And, the believer may lose his salvation.

Although Arminianism is a product of a theological difference within the Reformed church, its theological views are held by diverse groups today. Methodist and Wesleyans adhere to Arminian doctrine, as also do the Holiness movement, many charismatics, and others such as the Free Will Baptists. Continue reading “Eternal Security ~ Part 15”

Eternal Security ~ Part 14

Brief Bio-Sketch of Jacobus Arminius [1]
(1559 ~ 1609)

In my last post, we concluded our initial exploration of Calvinistic Theology.  In this post, we now turn to explore Arminius’ influence on the Reformation and society in the sixteenth century and beyond.

As was true with Calvin, Arminius was a product of the Protestant Reformation albeit born fifty years after Calvin.  He was a Dutch theologian and founder of an anti-Calvinist Reformed theology.

Arminius was born in 1559 in the Netherlands during the Spanish occupation. His father, an armorer or smith, died around the time of the boy’s birth, so Arminius was educated under the direction and at the expense of family friends who recognized his abilities as a student. He had just entered Marburg University (Germany) when news came of the infamous Oudewater massacre by the Spanish. Arminius returned home to learn that his mother and several of his brothers and sisters had been among the victims. Continue reading “Eternal Security ~ Part 14”

Eternal Security ~ Part 13

Calvinistic Theology ~ Part 4

In my last post, we began to unpack the Five Points of Calvinism.   In this post, we will conclude our unpacking of the Five Points of Calvinism, as well as looking at Moody’s Summary Evaluation of Calvinistic Theology.  As a reminder, in order to ensure that I present the material on this topic and Arminian Theology without any preconceived bias, I have elected to utilize “The Moody Handbook of Theology” by Paul Enns as my source document.

Irresistible Grace

Grace “is the unmerited favor of God.” Calvinists emphasize the necessity of God’s grace in salvation. If man can do nothing to save himself, then God must act; God must provide grace in order that man might be saved. That is the work of irresistible grace, which is also referred to as special or efficacious (because it is effective) grace.

Opponents of this doctrine might suggest that if grace is irresistible then God forces someone to come against his own will. That is not the idea of irresistible grace, according to Calvinists. It does not make someone come contrary to his will. Rather, irresistible grace makes the individual willing to come. Irresistible grace is the supernatural work of God whereby He works in the soul of the individual, changing the entire nature by the Ruach’s operation.

In the logic of Calvinism, God, through His Spirit, draws precisely those whom God unconditionally elected from eternity past and Jesus died for. Thus the purpose of God is accomplished. He elected certain ones, Jesus died for those very ones, and now through the Rauch, God dispenses His irresistible grace to them to make them willing to come. They do not want to resist. Continue reading “Eternal Security ~ Part 13”

Eternal Security ~ Part 12

Calvinistic Theology ~ Part 3

In my last post, we began to explore Five Points of Calvinism and the Doctrinal Affirmations of Calvinistic Theology.  In this post, we will continue to unpack the Five Points of Calvinism.   As a reminder, in order to ensure that I present the material on this topic and Arminian Theology without any preconceived bias, I have elected to utilize “The Moody Handbook of Theology” by Paul Enns as my source document.

Total Depravity

The word depravity means that because of sin’s corruption “there is nothing man can do to merit saving favor with God,” while total means that depravity “has extended to all aspects of man’s nature, to his entire being.” Calvin defined man’s depraved estate as follows: “All men are conceived in sin, and born the children of wrath, indisposed to all saving good propense [leaning or inclining toward, disposed] to evil, dead in sin, and the slaves of sin; and without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, they neither are willing nor able to return to God, to correct their depraved nature, or to dispose themselves to the correction of it.”

The Scriptures emphasize the depravity of man by man’s continual sinning (Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:10-18). The reason is that man is born a fallen creature with the pollution of sin (Psalm 51:5). Depravity also affirms the inability of man to do good (Matthew 7:17-18; John 15:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:3). Depravity further affirms man’s inability to understand the good (Matthew 13:14; John 1:11; 8:43; Acts 16:14; 1 Corinthians 1:18; 2:14; 2 Corinthians 3:12-18; Ephesians 4:18). Depravity also indicates man cannot desire the good (Matthew 7:18; John 3:3; 6:44; 8:43; 15:4-5; Ephesians 2:1). Continue reading “Eternal Security ~ Part 12”

Eternal Security ~ Part 11

Calvinistic Theology ~ Part 2

In my last post, we began to explore the basic tenets of Calvinistic Theology as well as its spread and affirmation to the faithful.  In my next post, we will begin to explore the Five Points of Calvinism and the Doctrinal Affirmations of Calvinistic Theology.    In order to ensure that I present the material on this topic and Arminian Theology without any preconceived bias, I have elected to utilize “The Moody Handbook of Theology” by Paul Enns as my source document.

Five Points of Calvinism

Calvin did not author the so-called “five points of Calvinism.” They originated at the Synod of Dort (1619) and are also a result of affirming the uniqueness of Calvinism over the centuries since. God as sovereign was central in the theology of Calvin, and that is reflected in the five points. The five points emphasize God in His sovereignty and grace but also man in his depravity and sin. The five points are popularly named: Total Depravity; Unconditional Election; Limited Atonement; Irresistible Grace; and Perseverance of the Saints. (Theologians have nicknamed these points T.U.L.I.P., a popular acronym based on the first letters of the doctrines.)

These five concepts are arranged logically and are contingent upon one another. If man is totally depraved, then he is unable to make an initial response to God; God must call man to salvation through unconditional election. God also makes provision for those whom He calls to salvation by the death of Jesus; He secures their salvation by the effectual call of the Holy Spirit and keeps them secure in order that they might receive the eternal life He has promised them. The accompanying table and the discussion that follows will give a more detailed explanation. Continue reading “Eternal Security ~ Part 11”

Eternal Security ~ Part 10

Calvinistic Theology ~ Part 1

In my last post, we looked at the influence that Calvin had on theology, education and church government.  In this post, we will begin to explore the basic tenets of Calvinistic Theology as well as its spread and affirmation to the faithful.  In order to ensure that I present the material on this topic and Arminian Theology without any preconceived bias, I have elected to utilize “The Moody Handbook of Theology” by Paul Enns as my source document.

The theology of Calvinism or the Reformed faith finds its roots in the writings of John Calvin, particularly as expressed in the Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin’s theology centers on the sovereignty of God, the other doctrines being tied to that premise. The theology of Calvin is restated in the form of many confessional statements that have been adhered to over the centuries in Europe, Britain, and America.

Spread of Calvinism

John Calvin’s influence was felt throughout Europe as his doctrinal teachings spread quickly. The Heidelberg Catechism, written in 1563 by friends of Calvin, influenced the Reformed churches in Holland, Germany, and America. The Belgic Confession, written in 1561 by Guy de Bray, became the standard of belief in the Dutch Reformed church. The Synod of Dort met in 1618-1619, condemned Arminianism and the Remonstrants (a doctrinal statement embodying the teachings of Jacobus Arminius), and reaffirmed Calvinistic doctrine as expressed in the Heidelberg and Belgic Confessions.

Colonization of America brought Calvinism to the North American shores. The standards of the Westminster Confession became the doctrine of the Presbyterian churches.

The Synod of Dort

In the Netherlands a conflict arose between the followers of Jacobus Arminius and the Calvinists. Calvinism was attacked for its teaching of predestination and reprobation as well as for other issues. The States General called a synod in 1618 to settle the issue, but the Arminians did not come as equals. Rather, the Remonstrants were summoned to present their doctrines, which were subsequently condemned. The synod reaffirmed the Heidelberg and Belgic Confessions. The following points were affirmed at Dort and are given here in synthesized form.

  • Of divine predestination. All men sinned in Adam and lie under the curse, but God made provision for salvation through the death of Yeshua. The fact that some and not others receive the gift of faith stems from God’s eternal decree of election [1] and reprobation. Election is unconditional, not based on God’s foreknowledge; before the foundation of the world and purely out of His grace and according to His sovereign good pleasure, God chose some to salvation. The non-elect are left to condemnation, yet God is not the author of sin.
  • Of the death of Yeshua. While the death of Yeshua is of infinite value and sufficient to save the whole world, His atoning death extends to the elect only.
  • Of the corruption of man and his conversion to God. Man was created in the image of God, but through the sin of Adam all mankind is corrupted. Sin has passed to the human race so that all people are born in sin and are children of wrath. But while man is incapable of saving himself, God accomplishes salvation for elect individuals through the operation of the Holy Spirit. Those whom He has chosen in eternity, He calls effectually in time. The faith that realizes salvation is itself a gift.
  • Of the perseverance of the saints. Whom God calls, He also delivers from the dominion and slavery of sin. Since God is faithful, He preserves those who believe to the end.
Westminster Confession

The Westminster Confession arose out of the stormy political scene in England during the reign of Charles I. Charles met with resistance when he attempted to impose episcopacy on the Church of Scotland and to conform its services to the Church of England’s Common Book of Prayer. A civil war erupted and Oliver Cromwell led the Puritan forces to victory. Charles I was beheaded in the process. In 1643 the English parliament commissioned the Westminster Assembly to develop the creed of the Church of England. The 121 English Puritan ministers met for 1,163 daily sessions from 1643 to 1649. The Westminster Confession of Faith, completed in 1646, affirmed a strong Calvinistic position and disavowed “the errors of Arminianism Roman Catholicism, and sectarianism.”

The following points summarize the Westminster Confession of Faith:

  • Scripture. The sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments are recognized to provide “divine inspiration, authority, and sufficiency as an infallible rule of faith and practice.” The traditions of Roman Catholicism, the Apocrypha, and humanism are to be rejected.
  • God. God, who is infinite in His being, exists as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. He is absolutely sovereign, having from all eternity, by His own free will, ordained whatever comes to pass. The triune God has created the world out of nothing in the space of six days. God, in His providence, upholds all things by His sovereign authority.
  • Man. Man fell from original righteousness and became dead in sin, that sin and death being imputed to all mankind. God originally entered into a covenant of works with Adam, but when he sinned, God enacted the covenant of grace. In his sin man lost all ability to will anything spiritually good.
  • Christ. Jesus Christ is of one substance with the Father; became virgin born; as the God-Man became the Mediator, offering a perfect sacrifice. Yeshua purchased reconciliation for all those whom the Father has given Him.
  • Salvation. Through His Word and His Spirit, God effectually calls all those whom He has predestined to eternal life. He renews their spirit and draws them to Jesus Christ. Hence, salvation is entirely by grace. God justifies these believers, declaring them righteous; He adopts them as His children; and He sanctifies them. Saving faith is a gift of the Spirit of Christ. Repentance is a doctrine to be preached along with saving faith. Good works are the fruit of a true faith.
  • Perseverance. Those whom God has saved can neither totally nor finally fall away from grace but shall persevere to the end and be eternally saved.
  • Assurance. Only true believers will have assurance that they are in the state of grace; unbelievers will not have that assurance.
  • Worship. God is to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served with all the heart, soul, and might. Worship is to be accorded the Father, Son, and Spirit and no one else. Prayer is to be offered to God. A lawful oath may be part of religious worship.
  • Civil duties. God has appointed those in authority, and believers ought to pray for them; believers may also be called on to serve as magistrates.
  • Divorce. Marriage is between one man and one woman. The innocent party may divorce when adultery or fornication has taken place.
  • Church. The universal church consists of the whole number of the elect; the visible church consists of those who confess their faith. All believers are united to Yeshua and are in a holy fellowship in the worship of God. The sacraments are the seals of the covenant of grace. There is in every sacrament a spiritual relation or sacramental union. Baptism is a sacrament and also a sign and seal of the covenant of grace. Baptism is rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling water on the person. The Lord’s Supper is spiritual nourishment and promotes growth in Yeshua. No remission of sins is made in communion; it is a commemoration. Yeshua has given authority to the church officers in which they enact church discipline. For the better government of the church there ought to be synods or councils.
  • Death and judgment. After death, bodies return to dust, but the soul immediately returns to God: the righteous are received into heaven; the wicked into hell. All authority has been given to Yeshua who will judge the world in righteousness.

In my next post, we will begin to explore the Five Points of Calvinism and the Doctrinal Affirmations of Calvinistic Theology.

Click here for PDF version.


[1] I will be dealing with the concept of election in subsequent posts.  For now, see the definition in Eternal Security ~ Part 2.

Eternal Security ~ Part 9

The Protestant Reformation and John Calvin ~ Part 2

In my last post, we began to explore the Protestant Reformation and John Calvin.  In this post, we will continue to explore Calvin’s influence on the Reformation and society in the sixteenth century and beyond.

Calvin’s Teaching and Influence on Theology [1]

The Huguenot scholar Joseph Scaliger in the generation after Calvin described him as “alone among the theologians.” Clearly he was the greatest theologian of his age. Yet he consistently tried to make the Scriptures, as interpreted by the Holy Spirit and experience, the source of his ideas. “Let us not,” Calvin admonished, “take it into our heads either to seek out God anywhere else than in his Sacred Word, or to think anything about him that is not prompted by his Word, or to speak anything that is not taken from that Word.”

In the past some have said that the sovereignty of God was Calvin’s central teaching. Today many Calvin scholars argue that he made no attempt to reduce the biblical message to any one central idea, but rather appreciated and retained the biblical teachings in their complexity, affirming, for example, both human responsibility and God’s sovereign control, as well as other teachings that seem inconsistent when paired.

Behind everything that he wrote is the idea suggested earlier by Augustine of Hippo (345-430) that God created human beings for fellowship with Himself. Lacking that fellowship, they are miserable and disoriented. Thus Calvin began his “Institutes of the Christian Religion” by stressing that all wisdom comes from a knowledge of God and of ourselves. The God-man relationship was so basic for Calvin that he argued that in knowing God we learn of ourselves, and vice versa.

Knowledge meant much more to Calvin than intellectual exercise. Rather, theological knowledge requires a moral response by the whole human personality. The whole person, including mind and body, is engaged in the spiritual relationship. The one goal of that “knowing” experience is the worship of God in obedience and gratitude.

Calvin also emphasized that what we know about God is strictly limited to what God has revealed. He has revealed in Scripture only what is profitable for human beings to know for a covenant relationship with him. Consequently, Calvin taught that Believers should not engage primarily in theological speculation but in moral edification. Knowledge that does not lead to holiness is off course. The “why” of God’s actions has not been revealed but remains a secret bound up in his inscrutable counsel. The Christian must simply affirm with the Bible that God is intimately connected with the universe and that He accomplishes “all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11ESV)

Calvin’s Teaching and Influence on Education and Church Government

In addition to theology, two areas in which Calvin made major contributions are education and church government. The excellence of his own educational training is attested by the fact that his writings have had a lasting effect on the French language. He is considered one of the creators of modern French prose. Perhaps more important, he encouraged the development of universal education. Calvin was convinced that for every person to be adequately equipped to “rightly divide” God’s Word, he or she had to be educated in language and the humanities. To that end he founded an academy for Geneva’s children, believing that all education must be fundamentally religious. The city’s university grew out of the academy, linked to evangelical preaching and offering an education comparable to the finest in Europe. Some have called the University of Geneva Calvin’s “crowning achievement.”

Calvin’s ideas on church government, which have had a powerful effect on political theory in the West, are regarded by other scholars as his greatest contribution. The representative form of government he developed was organized so that basic decisions are made at the local level, monitored through a system of ascending representative bodies, culminating in a national “general assembly” with final authority. At each level, power is shared with the laity, not controlled exclusively by the clergy or administrative officials. In emergencies the local church can function without meetings of the upper-level bodies; in the midst of a hostile culture the church cannot be destroyed by silencing the minister. As a result, the Calvinist church was able to survive, even flourish, under adverse conditions. It experienced severe persecution in Holland under Spanish occupation, in France (except during brief periods of toleration), in England under Queen Mary, in Scotland, in Hungary, and elsewhere.

In my next post, we will tackle the actual tenets of Calvinism.

Click here for PDF version.

[1] Most of the information in this post is taken from the “AMG Concise Church History” by John Hunt.

Eternal Security ~ Part 8

The Protestant Reformation and John Calvin ~ Part 1

In my last post, we explored God’s Sovereignty and Free Will.  In this post, we will explore the background behind the teachings of Calvinism.

One of the questions that I had when I first started to explore this whole subject of Eternal Security was why it took some 1,500 years after Yeshua’s resurrection and ascension for John Calvin to develop his doctrinal statements and then another 50 plus years for Jacobus Arminius to dispute Calvinism.   So, I decided to research what was going on in the church at that time.

The Protestant Reformation [1]

The Protestant Reformation was the turning point of modern church history.  The age of the Reformation bears a strong resemblance to the first century.  The way for Christianity was prepared by Moshe and the Prophets, the dispersion of the Jews, the conquests of Alexander the Great, the language and literature of Greece, the arms and laws of Rome, the decay of idolatry, the spread of skepticism, the aspirations after a new revelation, the hopes of a coming Messiah.

The Reformation was preceded and necessitated by the corruptions of the papacy, the decline of monasticism and scholastic theology, the discovery of a new world, the publication of the Greek Testament, the striving after national independence and personal freedom, and perhaps most importantly, the invention of the printing press that allowed the Scriptures to be shared eventually with the masses.

In 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany.  Catholicism and Protestantism represent two distinct types of Christianity which sprang from the same root, but differ in the branches.  Catholicism is legal Christianity which served to the barbarian nations of the Middle Ages as a necessary school of discipline; Protestantism is evangelical Christianity which answers the age of independent manhood. Catholicism is traditional, hierarchical, ritualistic, conservative; Protestantism is biblical, democratic, spiritual, progressive.

But Catholicism holds also a large number of “traditions of the elders,” which Protestantism rejects as extra-scriptural or anti-scriptural; such as the papacy, the worship of saints and relics, transubstantiation, the sacrifice of the mass, prayers and masses for the dead, purgatory, indulgences, the system of monasticism with its perpetual vows and ascetic practices, besides many superstitious rites and ceremonies.

Protestantism, on the other hand, revived and developed the Augustinian doctrines of sin and grace; it proclaimed the sovereignty of divine mercy in man’s salvation, the sufficiency of the Scriptures as a rule of faith, and the sufficiency of Christ’s merit as a source of justification.  It also asserted the right of direct access to the Word of God and the throne of grace, without human mediators; secured Christian freedom from bondage; and substituted social morality for monkish asceticism.

The Reformation began simultaneously in Germany and Switzerland and swept with astonishing rapidity over France, Holland, Scandinavia, Bohemia, Hungary, England and Scotland. Since the seventeenth century it has spread by emigration to North America, and by commercial and missionary enterprises to every Dutch and English colony and every heathen land.

The Reformers, it should not be forgotten, were all born, baptized, confirmed, and educated in the Roman Catholic Church, and most of them had served as priests at her altars with the solemn vow of obedience to the pope on their conscience. They stood as closely related to the papal church, as the Apostles and Evangelists to the Synagogue and the Temple; and for reasons of similar urgency, they were justified to leave the communion of their fathers; or rather, they did not leave it, but were cast out by the ruling hierarchy.

The Reformation was at first a purely religious movement, and furnishes a striking illustration of the all-pervading power of religion in history. It started from the question:  What must a man do to be saved? How shall a sinner be justified before God, and attain peace of his troubled conscience? The Reformers were supremely concerned for the salvation of the soul, for the glory of the Messiah and the triumph of His Besorah. They thought much more of the future world than of the present, making all political, national, and literary interests subordinate and subservient to religion. The Reformation removed the obstructions which the papal church had interposed between Christ and the believer.

There are three fundamental principles of the Reformation:

  • The supremacy of the Scriptures over tradition;
  • The supremacy of faith over works;
  • And, the supremacy of the Christian people over an exclusive priesthood.
The Supremacy of Scripture

The objective principle of Protestantism maintains that the Bible, as the inspired record of revelation, is the only infallible rule of faith and practice; in opposition to the Roman Catholic coordination of Scripture and ecclesiastical tradition, as the joint rules of faith.

This is best stated in Luther’s defense of his theses when he declared the Five Solas of the Reformation:

  1. Sola Fide ~ Faith Alone
  2. Sola Scriptura ~ Scripture Alone
  3. Sola Gratia ~ Grace Alone
  4. Solus Christus ~ Christ Alone
  5. Soli Deo Gloria ~ To the Glory of God Alone

We must remember, however, that this wonderful progress was only made possible by the previous invention of the art of printing and by the subsequent education of the people. The Catholic Church had preserved the sacred Scriptures through ages of ignorance and barbarism; the Latin Bible was the first gift of the printing press to the world.

The Supremacy of Faith

The subjective principle of Protestantism is the doctrine of justification and salvation by faith in Yeshua; as distinct from the doctrine of justification by faith and works or salvation by grace and human merit.  Luther’s formula is sola fide (by faith alone).  Calvin goes further back to God’s eternal election, as the ultimate ground of salvation and comfort in life and in death.  But Luther and Calvin meant substantially the same thing, and agree in the more general proposition of salvation by free grace through living faith in Yeshua (Acts 4:12).

The Priesthood of All Believers

 The social or ecclesiastical principle of Protestantism is the general priesthood of Believers, in distinction from the special priesthood which stands mediating between Christ and the laity.  The Roman church is an exclusive hierarchy, and assigns to the laity the position of passive obedience.

In the New Testament every believer is called a saint, a priest, and a king. “All Christians,” says Luther, “are truly of the spiritual estate, and there is no difference among them, save of office alone. As St. Paul says, we are all one body, though each member does its own work, to serve the others. This is because we have one baptism, alike; one gospel, one faith, and are all Christians for baptism, gospel and faith, these alone make spiritual and Christian people.”

Brief Bio-Sketch of John Calvin [2]

(1509 ~ 1564)

Into the beginning of the Reformation period, Calvin was born in 1509 was born in northwestern France, twenty-five years after the birth of Martin Luther. His actual name, Jean Cauvin, became “Calvin” years later when as a scholar he adopted the Latin form (Calvinus). His birthplace, Noyon, was an old and important center of the Roman Catholic Church in northern Europe. A bishop resided there; and the economic, political, and social life of the city revolved largely around the cathedral. From a middle-class status Calvin’s father, Gerard, after serving the church in various offices including notary public, had risen to become the Bishop’s secretary. As a result, young Calvin was closely tied to church affairs from the beginning. He was brought up with children of the aristocracy, a background that made him a much more refined reformer than the notoriously earthy Luther.

At age fourteen Calvin was enrolled in the University of Paris, the intellectual center of western Europe. Although Calvin pursued a career in theology, for several reasons his life took an unexpected turn. In 1528, just as Calvin had completed his master of arts degree, his father sent word for him to leave theology and study law. Dutifully, the son migrated to Orleans, where France’s best law faculty was located.

Little is known about Calvin’s conversion except that it occurred between 1532 and early 1534, when his first religious work was published. In 1536 Calvin published the first edition of his “Institutes of the Christian Religion.”  The work, which underwent several revisions before its final exhaustive edition in 1559, was without question one of the most influential handbooks on theology ever written.

In my next post or two, we will explore more of Calvin’s influence on theology, education and government.

Click here for PDF file.

[1] Most of the information in this section is taken from the “AMG Concise Church History” by John Hunt.

[2] Excerpts from “Who’s Who in Christian History” edited by J. D. Douglas and Philip W. Comfort.

Eternal Security ~ Part 7

God’s Sovereignty and Free Will

In my last post, we dug deeper into Hebrews 6:4-6 with some experts that have a different take on what the author of Hebrews may have meant when he wrote this passage.  In this post, we will explore a different, but I think related issue ~ God’s Sovereignty and Free Will.

In our American culture, we are raised to value our individual freedoms.  The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, known as the “Bill of Rights,” literally scream freedom and free will.  As a matter of fact, the Tenth Amendment specifically states that “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, or prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people (emphasis added).  In short, we are free to do whatever we want to do as long as we accept those consequences for doing something we are legally not entitled to do.  Clearly, I have the absolute right and free will to arm myself under the Second Amendment and the freedom to not exercise that right.

The concept of free will appears extensively in the writings of the Tanakh, but generally in relation to the “free will offerings” outlined in Leviticus 7:16;22:18, 21, 23; 23:38.  The concept is not as prevalent in the Brit Hadashah.  Yeshua stated, “No one takes it [His life] away from me; on the contrary, I lay it down of my own free will. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it up again. This is what my Father commanded me to do.” ~ John 10:18. Again, in relation to an offering, Sha’ul writes, I tell you they have not merely given according to their means, but of their own free will they have given beyond their means.” ~ 2 Corinthians 8:3. And in his letter to Philemon, Sha’ul writes,“but without your consent I did not want to do anything, so that your goodness would not be, in effect, by compulsion but of your own free will.” ~ Philemon 1:14 (NASB)

In “Rightly Dividing the Word,” Rev. Clarence Larkin [1] wrote:

“There is no question but that the “Doctrine of Election” is taught in the Scriptures, and that it applies not only to “service,” but to “salvation.” It is equally true that the “Doctrine of the Freedom of the Will” under certain conditions is also taught. We may not be able to reconcile the “Sovereign Will of God,” with the “Free-will of Man,” but that is no proof that they are not reconcilable. They are the corresponding halves of the Doctrine of Salvation, “Election” is the Godward side, and “Free-will” the manward side.”

I take from this statement that we have the free will to accept God’s gracious gift of salvation through faith in Yeshua and the free will to reject that offer.

A.W. Tozer [2] has this to say on the topic of free will in “The Attributes of God – Volume 1: A Journey into the Father’s Heart:”

“God is good toward all who accept His goodness. And for those who reject His goodness, there’s nothing that even the Almighty God can do if He’s going to allow man his free will—and I believe in free will. Free will was given as a gift of God—He’s given us a little provisional sovereignty out of His absolute sovereignty. He has said, “I’ll allow you, within a little framework, to be your own boss and to choose to go to heaven or to hell.” If a man will not take God’s goodness, then he must have God’s severity toward all who continue in moral revolt against the throne of God and in rebellion against the virtuous laws of God.”

In “The Attributes of God – Volume 2: Deeper into the Father’s Heart,” Tozer expands on his doctrine of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will which in the interest of space, I only quote in part.

“The matter of man’s free will versus God’s sovereignty can be explained in this way: God’s sovereignty means that He is in control of everything, that He planned everything from the beginning.  Man’s free will means that he can, anytime he wants, make most any choice he pleases (within his human limitations, of course).  Man’s free will can apparently defy the purposes of God and will against the will of God.  Now how do we resolve this seeming contradiction?

Down through the years, two divisions of the church have attempted to resolve this dilemma in different ways. One division emphasizes the sovereignty of God, believing that God planned everything from the beginning, that God ordered that some would be saved and some lost, that Christ died for those who would be saved, but He didn’t die for the others who would not be saved. That is actually what followers of John Calvin believe.

On the other side, there are those who say that Christ died for all and that man is free to make his choice. But those who teach the sovereignty of God in this exclusive way say that if man is free to make a choice, then God isn’t sovereign.  Because if a man can make a choice that God doesn’t like, then God does not have His way.

God’s sovereignty means absolute freedom, doesn’t it?  God is absolutely free to do anything He wants or wills to do—anywhere, anytime, forever.  And man’s free will means that man can make any choice he wants to make, even if he makes a choice against the will of God.  There is where the theologians lock horns like two deer out in the woods and wallow around until they die. I refuse to get caught on either horn of that dilemma!  Here is what I see: God Almighty is sovereign, free to do as He pleases. Among the things He is pleased to do is give me freedom to do what I please.  And when I do what I please, I am fulfilling the will of God, not controverting it, for God in His sovereignty has sovereignly given me freedom to make a free choice.

And when I make a choice, I’m fulfilling His sovereignty, in that He sovereignly wills that I should be free to make a choice. If I choose to go to hell, it’s not what His love would have chosen, but it does not controvert nor cancel out His sovereignty. Therefore, I can take John Calvin in one hand and Jacob Arminius in the other and walk down the street. (Neither of them would walk with me, I’m sure, because Calvin would say I was too Arminian and Arminius would say I was too Calvinistic!)

But I’m happy in the middle. I believe in the sovereignty of God and in the freedom of man. I believe that God is free to do as He pleases and I believe that, in a limited sense, He has made man free to do as he pleases—within a certain framework, but not a very big one. After all, you’re not free to do very many things. You’re free to make moral choices. You’re free to do a few things, but not that many. But the things you are free to do are gifts from the God who is utterly free. Therefore, anytime I make a choice, I’m fulfilling the freedom God gave me and therefore I’m fulfilling God’s sovereignty and carrying it out.

God has said that those who follow Jesus Christ and believe in Him shall be saved, and those who refuse shall be damned. That’s settled—eternally, sovereignly settled. But you and I have freedom in the meantime, to do anything we want to do. And though most people think very little about it, we’re going to answer for that someday, according to the sovereign will of God.

God has certain plans that He is going to carry out. “The LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet” (Nahum 1:3KJV). When God is carrying on His plans, He is moving in a certain direction. When the enemy comes along (exercising the little freedom God has given him to be an enemy of God) and intersects the will and purpose of God, then there’s trouble. As long as we move in the will of God, everything goes smoothly. But when we get out of the will of God, then we have trouble on our hands.”

It’ hard for me to argue with Tozer.  I’m beginning to think I might be a Calvi-minian.  In my next post or two or three, I will explore Calvinism followed by Arminianism.

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[1]  Rev. Clarence Larkin (1850–1924) was an American Baptist pastor, Bible teacher and author whose writings on Dispensationalism had a great impact on conservative Protestant visual culture in the 20th century. His intricate and influential charts provided readers with a visual strategy for mapping God’s action in history and for interpreting complex biblical prophecies.

[2] Aiden Wilson Tozer (April 21, 1897 – May 12, 1963) was an American Christian pastor, preacher, author, magazine editor, and spiritual mentor.  For his work, he received two honorary doctoral degrees.