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The Great Debate: Calvinism & Arminianism

Tom Pennington • Selected Scriptures

  • 2006-04-23 PM
  • Systematic Theology
  • Sermons


Few words have the capacity to spark more interest, excitement, and even antagonism in Christian circles than the words Calvinism and Arminianism. I've been in churches where one or the other of those words was considered to be a four-letter word. You probably have as well. I have sat in churches where one of those was held up even above the Scripture itself, it seemed, in importance. There is a very difficult--This is a very difficult issue, I should say, to spell out, to understand, and to represent clearly. Both of these have been misunderstood and misrepresented in the history of the church, and yet few people really understand what the debate is all about.

In fact, I came across a cartoon (that was some time ago) in which two men are talking, and one comes up to the other one and says, "I know all about that Calvinist stuff". The other friend says, "you don't know beans about it". But he says, "oh yes I do, I've studied this subject til the cows come home". The friend says, "I'll bet you can't even name the five points." "Oh, you mean the famous tulip acrostic." "Yeah, if you can articulate each of the five doctrines perfectly, I'll move to the Easter Islands." his friend said.

"No problem. First there is—first there's "total insensibility", yeah, that's it. And then there's "unconditional guarantee", yeah that's the "U". "L" stands for limited time only. That's it. "I" is for irrefutable arguments. I'd almost forgotten that one. And then, last but not least, we have the letter "P"—proper—po--oh yes, yes, "preservation of wildlife". The next frame shows his friend with his suitcases walking into the Easter Island saying, "I just didn't think he could do it."

Unfortunately, that is all too common. In my experience, whenever this issue is discussed there is a lot of heat but very little light, a lot of passion but very little knowledge. Tonight, I'd like for us to turn on the light and try, together, to bring some understanding to this debate. Now, tonight's going to be a little different than most Sunday nights. Frankly, it's going to be a little more like a history and theology lesson than a message. That's okay. That's important for you to understand. And just know that's what we're going to do tonight. Those of you who are visiting with us, know that it's not exactly like this every Sunday night, although not entirely different.

Also, you need to know that I'm not going to attempt to prove all of the conclusions, because what I share tonight, we have built on over the last two to three months as we've gone through the doctrine of salvation. If you've missed those, then I encourage you to go get the CDs, go on the internet, and listen because, really, that provides a foundation for what we'll discuss tonight.

Let's begin with a brief history of the debate. There are certain major acts, if you will, in the history of the drama of this debate. It does not begin in sixteenth century Geneva with a man by the name of John Calvin. In fact, the debate begins in a small way right after the death of the apostles in the time of the early church fathers. Now the early church fathers wrote very little about the issues of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. However, they did, when they wrote of it, emphasize sovereignty in salvation. If you're interested, John Gill has in his book The Cause of God and Truth hundreds of quotations from the period of the early church fathers to show that they tended to land on the sovereignty of God in salvation.

But the debate really came into its own when you come to the period of the 400s. Augustine versus Pelagius. Pelagius was a British monk who professed Christ in 400AD. In 410 he traveled to Africa where he met Augustine. And the two very sharply disagreed. Pelagius was especially shocked and angered by this line in Augustine's Confessions.

Give me the grace, O Lord, to do as You command, and command me to do what You will. O holy God, when Your commands are obeyed, it is from You that we receive the power to obey them.

That angered Pelagius because Pelagius saw that as an attack on human goodness, and on human responsibility. How in the world could you tell God to give you the power to do what God had told you to do? Well, Pelagius denied any transfer of corruption from Adam to us, to his posterity. He denied what we call "original sin". He argued that human nature is good at its core, and able to do all that God commands it to do, including repent and believe the gospel. His favorite line, Pelagius's was, "if I ought, I can."

Augustine of course, argued exactly the opposite. He argued that no man has the capacity to obey God because of his fallenness, including the command to believe in Christ, and that man's only hope for salvation is that God acts.

Well, there were other minor skirmishes in the debate, but the next major act comes in the reformation, the reformers. Luther and Calvin both follow the same path as Augustine, arguing that man's depravity demanded that God initiate salvation. Calvin, however, was the more precise of the two—the more comprehensive. He was also more exegetical. He taught constantly. Five times a week Calvin preached an expository message. And because of that, a body of doctrine grew out of his teaching. Over his, I believe, 55 years or so, Calvin continued to refine his major work which was called The Institutes of the Christian Religion. The first draft of that (with a minimal number of chapters) was written when he was still in his twenties. But throughout his life, he continued to add to and refine that work. So, his teaching in this area of God's work in salvation vs human responsibility had the greatest and longest lasting influence of any of the reformers.

He died (Calvin did) on May 27, 1564. But his teaching continued in his students. In fact, there's an interesting little tidbit. Calvin was once ridiculed by one of his antagonists because he had no children. His response was, "Well, God gave me a little son and took him away, but I have myriads of children in the whole Christian world." And that's true. His teaching birthed the rest, the fallout, if you will, of the reformation.

Now the next major skirmish, and really the largest skirmish on this issue comes at what's called the Synod of Dort, the Synod of Dort. This deserves a more careful look. Let's look at it together. From 1602 to 1609 (so we're now about fifty years after the death of Calvin) a man by the name of Jacob Arminius was a professor of theology during those years at the University of Leiden in Holland. In 1609 he died. A year after his death (a year after Arminius died) his students, his followers (who later came to be called Arminians) drew up five articles of faith based on what Arminius had taught them when he was a professor of theology. They presented these five articles to the state of Holland in the form of what was called a remonstrance.

Remonstrance is just a protest. They were protesting what was being taught by the official Church of Holland's doctrinal statement. The Arminians, the followers of Arminius, demanded that the official doctrinal statement of the Church of Holland be changed in these five ways that offended them and were contrary to the teaching of Arminius. As a result of all of this, it was some eight years later, in November of 1618 that the leadership of Holland called a national synod (a meeting of all the leaders of the church) to examine the views of Arminius and particularly these five articles of faith that had been presented to them. There were eighty-four Dutch delegates and twenty-seven from various German states, from Switzerland, from England, from Scotland. And after a hundred and fifty-four sessions and over seven months, the synod reached a decision. A lot like our congress, it seems like a lot of time to get not much done. But they finally reached a decision. And they unanimously rejected Arminius' teaching.

But they felt that the rejection itself wasn't enough. They felt they needed instead to write a rebuttal, if you will, of the five articles of faith that the followers of Arminius had presented. They wrote it in a slightly different format, but essentially responding point by point to those five articles from the followers of Arminius. And that's where the five points of Calvinism come from. The result of the document they wrote to rebut (to respond to) the five articles that the followers of Arminius had said "you've got to change the doctrinal statement of the church because of these five areas". They responded to those very specifically, and the result was called "the five points of Calvinism" through the years. Calvin, now, at this point, has been dead for more than fifty years, but what he taught was still reflected in the doctrinal position of the Church of Holland. They were accurately reflecting what Calvin taught, but more than that, they were reflecting what they believed the Scriptures taught.

Now when you step back and look at the chief proponents of these two schools of thought—first of all taking Calvinism. It comes in various labels. You'll hear people referred to as Calvinism, The doctrines of grace (referring to those five points), Sovereign grace (that is grace that is sovereign from God), or Reformed. Now, that last one can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but if you're talking about the doctrine of salvation, and you say you're reformed in your doctrine of salvation, then you--you mean that you're Calvinistic. Who embraced Calvinism through church history? Here are a few names that come to mind. Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Matthew Henry the commentator, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, and my--my own mentor Martyn Lloyd-Jones. As far as the groups, through church history, that have embraced Calvinism—Presbyterians, obviously. In their founding most Baptists were. Southern Baptists were. You've heard perhaps of the Founder's Movement. That is a push to return to the original doctrinal statement of the Baptist Churches. Bible Churches—some of them are Calvinistic, etc.

Now, when you look at Arminianism, it comes with various labels as well. Someone who embraces Arminianism is called an Arminian, or in some cases a Wesleyen, because he was the most famous proponent after Arminius himself. And sometimes the label Semi-Pelagian is used. Although that's not entirely accurate, it is sometimes used. And I'm not going to take time to define that because I don't have the time. I have it in my notes, but I'm just going to move on. Alright, but really the key man who in modern times has been the promoter of Arminianism—of course I've already mentioned Pelagius, but Arminius wouldn't have anything to do with Pelagius. Pelagius went much farther. In fact, Pelagius' views were called heretical by the church, rightfully so. And then you have Wesley, who becomes the major proponent. The denominations would be the Methodists, now in today's world most Baptists, Wesleyan churches, Pentecostals, Church of the Nazarene, and so forth would all be strongly Arminian in their background. And of course, it cuts across a lot of different party lines. I'm kind of painting in large brush strokes here. But it gets much more complicated than this.

Let's go now to the crux of the issue. What's it all about? What is at the heart of the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism. I think it can be reduced to three questions.

Question Number One is: Who initiates salvation in the human heart? Who initiates salvation in the human heart? Now there have been many ways that that question has been answered in church history, but there are only essentially two opposite perspectives. Some answer it—Arminianism answers it—man initiates the work of salvation in the heart, and God responds to that. Calvinism says God initiates the work of salvation in the human heart and man, then, responds to God. I'm not going to take time to exegete the text because we've looked at it a number of times, but let me remind you of Romans 8. Romans 8:29. Starting in verse 28, he says of course that God is causing all things to work together for good to those who are called. And then he explains what he means. Verse 29, "For those whom God foreknew, he predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and those whom He predestined He called, and those whom He called he justified, and those whom he justified, he glorified."

Now if the text means anything at all, it means here that in eternity past God initiated salvation. We'll talk in a little bit about the disagreement about how He made that choice, but there's no question that in eternity past God made a choice of certain people whom He then called in time, whom He justified, and whom He glorified. There isn't a single "I" as the subject of the verb in that sentence. It's all "He" God. God acted. God initiated.

The second question that comes to mind is: who is sovereign over salvation? Is it God or is it man? Has God willingly abdicated His sovereignty in the area of salvation, and has now done everything He can do to secure man's salvation, and just sits back, sort of frantically watching and hoping that the sovereign will of man will choose Christ? Or did God continue to be sovereign in salvation, choosing in eternity past whomever He would, and then in time, in spite of depravity and inability, draw those people to Christ? Well, we've studied it in great detail, but you remember John 6:44. "No one can come to me [Jesus said] unless the Father who sent Me draws him"

The answer to the first question, "who initiates salvation in the human heart?" from a biblical standpoint, as we've gone through our study, that one's easy. God does. Who is sovereign over salvation? God is. Jesus makes it clear here. No one (that's a universal negative) can (that speaks of ability). No one has the ability to come to Me. That speaks, that's a phrase that Christ often used of salvation. Not a single person has the ability to come to Me for salvation unless (here's the concession), the only concession, or exception, I should say, to that, the only exception is: unless the Father who sent Me draws him. Who is sovereign over salvation? Jesus made it very clear, God is.

The final question that I think is at the crux of the debate is "who accomplishes regeneration?" Regeneration of course being the new birth. The implanting of a new disposition—a new set of desires-- in the human heart. Does God the Holy Spirit regenerate the sinner first, unaided by human effort or co-operation? If that's true, then it's called monergism. Don't be scared of the word. It comes from two words. Mono meaning one and ergon, a Greek word meaning work. It means "one" is working, that is God is working. Is God the Holy Spirit the one working to bring regeneration, and working alone? Or does man have to co-operate with the Holy Spirit to accomplish regeneration? If so, then we have what theologians call synergism. "Syn" meaning "together" and "ergon" meaning "work". That is, God and man working together to accomplish regeneration.

Well, again, without taking the time to fully exegete the text, let me encourage you to turn to Ephesians 2. Let's answer the question briefly. Who accomplishes regeneration? The images in Ephesians 2 couldn't be clearer. "And you [Paul says in verse 1] were dead in your trespasses and sins." I have often mentioned to you that when I was in seminary I worked in a mortuary, a funeral home. I saw a lot of dead bodies. Paul's image here is profound. He doesn't say "and you were sick in your trespasses and sins". He doesn't say, "and you were struggling in your trespasses and sins". He says, "you were dead in trespasses and sins." unable to accomplish anything. There's one thing about a dead person. They can do nothing.

And Paul gets to the point in verse 4. "Even though you were dead, God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, [now go back and grab the subject of this next verb, God] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved). And [God] raised us up with Him, and seated us up with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus." You were dead, had no ability to respond, and God, and here's the image of regeneration, made you alive. He gave you new life. Who accomplishes regeneration? God did.

Dead sinners cannot co-operate to produce regeneration any more than Lazarus could co-operate in his resurrection. Alan Cairns, in his excellent little Dictionary of Theological Terms says, "any activity on Lazarus part was the result of the divine impartation of life"—a proof of it--but in no way a contributory factor to it. Who accomplishes regeneration? God does.

There's the crux of the debate. Those three questions really are what lie at the heart of this debate. But I want us to go further than that and deeper than that, because I want us to go into the specific issues. What exactly are the issues? Well, remember that there were five articles that the followers of Arminius presented to the state of Holland, and the Synod of Dort responded to those five articles with five points of their own. Out of that has come a summary of the debate (the issues that are some of the key doctrines), and they have been popularized by the acronym "TULIP, TULIP".

The "T" stands for "total depravity". Total depravity, or I actually prefer radical depravity. Total implies the person's as bad as they can be. Nobody's as bad as—well, nobody I know is as bad as he could be. There may be someone like that. But because of God's restraining grace, because of His goodness, He restrains sin in our society at large, and He restrains it individually as well. So, by total, we don't mean everyone's as bad as they could be. We mean radical—that is, it affects all parts of who they are. There's no part of your person or mine that is exempt from depravity. That's the "T".

The "U" in "TULIP" stands for unconditional election. I prefer sovereign grace. That is, God chooses—and we'll look at each of these specifically in a moment—but God chooses in eternity past, unconditioned on anything in me or in you. He simply chose on the basis of sovereign grace.

The "L" stands for limited atonement, which is really a bad name. That's the problem with acrostics or alliteration. It often obscures the truth, and really what Calvinists teach here is definite atonement. That is, Christ died for those people whom God had elected in eternity past. We'll talk about this at length in a moment.

The "I" in "TULIP" stands for "irresistible grace". Irresistible grace. Again, I prefer "effectual grace". It's not as if the teaching of Calvin was that God dragged somebody kicking and screaming into the kingdom. It's not irresistible in that sense. The point is God makes that person willing. You want to come to Christ. You long to come to Christ. It's effective, or effectual grace.

And then finally, the "P" stands for "perseverance", which is perfectly fine. "Perseverance". That is, the believer will continue in faith.

Now, what I want to do is go through each of those five. That's an outline of what we're going to do over the next few minutes. We're going to go through each of those five, and we're going to contrast what the followers of Arminius teach, or have taught, and what those who have embraced Calvinism taught. So, you're going to see these side by side, each of these issues compared. And then we'll try to come to some conclusions.

Alright, let's start with the issue of total depravity. In my little slide here, you'll notice that I'm going to keep the views of Arminianism on the left, and I'll have Calvinism on the right. So, when you talk about this issue, the Arminians talk about human ability. The Calvinists, on the other hand, talk about total depravity. Let's see how this plays out. When we talk about human ability, and I know this one's going to be particularly small. The next one won't be quite this small, but there's a lot on this slide. So, stay with me, alright? Arminianism says, about man, that he has been affected by the fall, but he's not helpless. That God has graciously, rather, enabled every sinner (God has graciously enabled every sinner) to repent and believe through something that Arminians call prevenient grace. God has given a form of grace to every sinner, every person who's ever been born, and that grace enables that sinner to repent and believe, should they choose.

Arminianism goes on to say that each sinner possesses a free will and his eternal destiny depends on how he uses that free will. His will is in no way enslaved to sin. He can choose either his own way and sin and evil, or he can choose God's way. He has the power to co-operate with God's Spirit and be regenerated, or to resist God's grace and perish. So, the sinner needs the Spirit's assistance, but he doesn't need to be regenerated by the Spirit before he can believe. He has the ability in and of himself to believe. Faith is, and this is key, man's act, and it comes before the new birth. The faith, in the Arminian scheme, is the sinner's gift to God. It is man's contribution to salvation. By the way, I'm not in any way here (you need to know this) I'm pulling from documents that clearly reflect the views of these positions. I'm not caricaturing either of them. Okay? I'm not setting up a straw man so I can knock it down. I want you to see what these two positions teach.

Now, when you come to the Calvinistic side of this slide, talking about the human ability factor, the Calvinist says because of the fall, man is unable of himself to savingly believe the gospel. He's dead. He's blind. And he's deaf to the things of God. And his heart, moreover, is deceitful, and it is desperately corrupt. His will is in bondage to his evil nature, therefore he will not, in fact he cannot, choose good over evil in the spiritual realm. So, the Spirit has to work. The Spirit has to make the sinner alive and give him a new nature so that he can believe. In the Calvinist's mindset, faith is not something man contributes to salvation, but it's part of God's gift to man. God enables man to believe. He gives faith as a gift. It is God's gift to the sinner, not the sinner's gift to God.

Now, you can see, as you look down those two slides, that these two views are in diametric opposition to each other. Hence, the debate. You cannot hold both of these. You have to choose because they are in complete opposition to each other. Now, when we went through the issue of man's ability (we studied this in detail) over about four or five weeks so I'm not going to recap that here. Let me just urge you again, and I'll say this for the last time (just know the reason I'm not proving anything here is because we've already gone through the Scriptures in great detail). So, go back, and listen if you've forgotten or if you didn't have a chance to listen. But when we studied the Scripture on this issue, it was absolutely crystal clear that man is hopeless. He is dead, he is blind, he has no capacity to respond to God. He cannot come, as Jesus said in John 4—or excuse me John 6:44, unless God does a work in him, unless God draws him. And so, the Scriptural evidence here seems to pretty clearly weigh on the side of Calvinism.

Let's move to the next one, the issue of election. Both the Arminians and Calvinists believe in election. You have to deal with election. Now, there were people in churches when I grew up who just ignored that word. You know, it's not in the Bible. I don't want to deal with it. Well it is in the Bible. You have to deal with it. And both Arminians and Calvinists are honest enough with the text to say, "we've got to deal with this". What is taught in the Scripture regarding election? And essentially, again, they're at opposite ends of the spectrum. Because Arminians say that election is conditioned on something, and Calvinists say, no, it is not conditioned on anything. Now, let's go through this again in—in some detail, as well. Arminians teach that God chose certain individuals for salvation before the foundation of the world. They believe that. You have to believe that. Ephesians 1 couldn't be clearer. This happened. But the question is, why.

And Arminianism teaches that God selected those, only those whom he knew would, of themselves freely believe the gospel. The story goes that God looked down the corridors of time, and He saw that certain people would believe, and therefore on the basis of what He sees, their willingness to believe, He chooses them. I know they're going to believe, so I'm going to choose them. Election was determined, or conditioned upon, what man would do. And the faith which God foresaw was not given to the sinner by God but resulted solely from the exercise of man's own choice. God chose those and only those whom He knew would of their own free will choose Christ. So, the sinner's choice of Christ, not God's choice of the sinner is the ultimate cause of salvation in this mindset, in this scheme.

Now, let's go to the Calvinistic theme. They say, Calvinists teach, that election is unconditional. That is, God chose individuals, again, before the foundation of the world. But the reason was different. His choice, they say, was not based on anything in you or in me. It wasn't based on whether or not we would believe, whether or not we would repent, how good we were, whether we were, whether we would be obedient, nothing. God's choice had nothing to do with who you are or what you would do. God gives faith and repentance to those individuals whom He selected. Well, you say, why did He select them? Well the Calvinist says, because He selected them. It's just like, in Deuteronomy where God says to Israel, I have loved you. You say well why? Why, God, did you set Your love on Israel? What does He say? Because I loved you. I have loved you because I loved you. And that's what Calvinism says about God's election of believers. Election was not determined or conditioned upon any virtuous quality or act foreseen in us, but basically, those whom God elected, He brings through the power of the Spirit to a willing acceptance of Christ, and God's choice of us, not our choice of Christ is therefore the ultimate cause of salvation.

Again, you see these are diametrically opposed. Which one is closest to the Scripture? Well, we went through election in great detail. It's clear, when you look at this that the Calvinistic approach is much more what Scripture teaches. In fact, it is what Scripture teaches, as we went through it in great detail. Election, God's choice of us had nothing to do with you and nothing to do with me, and by the way, if you weren't here for that, I answered some of those arguments about—well, what about God looking down the corridors of time. There are a number of Scriptural arguments that undermine that, that make that contrary to what Scripture teaches, so I encourage you again to study that.

Now we come to the extent of the atonement. That is, how far will the benefits of the death of Christ go? The Arminian speaks of a universal atonement. That is, the benefits of Christ's death are universal, whereas the Calvinist speaks of limited (which they don't particularly like to use that word) or particular, or definite. Let's look again at what they mean. Let's start with the Arminian position. It says Christ's redeeming work made it possible for everyone to be saved, but did not actually secure the salvation of anyone. So, in other words, it made possible the salvation of everyone, but it didn't actually save anyone. Although Christ died for all men, and for every man, only those who believe in Him are saved. And His death enabled God to pardon sinners on the condition that they believe, but it didn't actually put away anyone's sin. Christ's redemption then becomes effective only if man chooses to accept it. It's conditioned on man's response.

The Calvinistic view in particular or definite atonement says Christ's redeeming work was intended to save the elect only, and actually secured salvation for them. His death was a substitutionary endurance of the penalty in the place of specified sinners—that is, those sinners chosen before the foundation of the world. Christ's redemption secured everything necessary for their salvation, including the faith which unites them to Him. The gift of faith, then, comes by the Spirit to those for whom Christ died, guaranteeing their salvation. I'm going to come back to this one in a little bit because this is really the most controversial one, and I want to deal with it a little more specifically, directly.

Let's move on to the "I"—"resistible, or irresistible grace". Resistible or effectual. Arminianism teaches that the Spirit calls inwardly those who are called (all of those who were called outwardly by the gospel). In other words, every time you hear the gospel, the Spirit is tugging at your heart, and urging you to come, at the same time you're hearing that gospel. He does all that He can to bring every sinner to salvation, but because man has a free will, man can resist the Spirit's call. The Spirit can't regenerate the sinner until he believes, and so until the sinner responds, the Spirit cannot give life. So, the Spirit's work, (His genuine work to call a person to salvation) can be resisted, so even though the Spirit wants a person to come, He has it not in His capacity to draw them. God's grace is not invincible. He can and often is resisted and thwarted by man.

Calvinism, on the other hand, teaches "effectual, or irresistible grace". But remember now, some of you have to cull back in your memories. We talked about two kinds of calls. The general call which is the gospel call. Every time somebody hears the gospel that's what's called the external or the general call.

But in addition to that, Calvinism says, the Holy Spirit extends to the elect a special inward call at that same time that inevitably brings them to salvation. The external call can be rejected. Everybody that hears the gospel doesn't respond in faith. But the internal call (the work of the Spirit) which is made only to the elect always results in conversion, when the Spirit accomplishes that. By means of the special call that the Spirit irresistibly draws sinners to Christ. Not compelling them against their will, but rather, giving them the willingness and the desire to pursue Christ. The Spirit graciously causes the elect sinner to co-operate, to believe, to repent, to come freely and willingly to Christ. That's what we mean by irresistible.

Again, when you look at what the Scripture teaches about this (we looked at it in some detail), you discover that God in the call (the effectual call). If you're fuzzy on this, go back and listen to the message on the effectual call. God calls sinners to Himself in a way that's compelling, and which they do come, and so we look at this point, and the way the Scripture definitely falls on the side of what is popularly called Calvinism. God's grace is invincible. It never fails to result in the salvation of those to whom it is extended.

And then finally, you have that fifth point, "perseverance", or as Arminianism teaches, falling from grace. Arminianism says that those who believe, those who have genuinely believed, who really are saved, can lose that salvation by failing to keep up their faith, etc. Failing through a variety of things. Now, on this point, not all Arminians have agreed. There's been debate among Arminians on whether or not, once a person is genuinely saved, whether or not they can lose that faith. Calvinism, on the other hand says that all who were chosen by God, then redeemed (given faith by the Spirit) are eternally saved, and they are kept by God's power, in faith, and they will persevere in faith to the end. Again, we just studied this recently. There's no question but what Scripture falls on the right side here, the Calvinistic side in terms of the weight.

So, in summary, let's look at it this way. According to Arminianism, salvation comes through the combined efforts of God and man. Man's response being the main factor. God has provided this universal salvation for everyone, but that provision becomes effective only for those who of their own free will choose to co-operate with Him and accept His offer of grace. And your will plays the decisive role. Therefore you, not God, determine who will receive the gift of salvation.

According to Calvinism, on the other hand, salvation is accomplished only by the power of God. The Father chose, the Son died, the Spirit makes His death effective by bringing the elect to faith and repentance, causing them to willingly obey the gospel. The entire process is God's work, and it's by grace alone, thus God, not man, determines who will be the recipients of the gift of salvation.

Those are the two contrasts between Arminianism and Calvinism. Now, again, there's so much more that can be said about those points, but in the time we have, there was nothing more that I could say.

So, let me give you this question. So, which of these does our church believe and teach? Well, if you've been listening over the last several months, you already know. But let me tell you. Our elders unanimously agree that God is sovereign in salvation. That salvation becomes ours by sovereign grace. All of us who serve as elders in this church are at least "TU-IPs". That is, leave the L out and all of us are there. That is, we believe in total depravity. We believe in unconditional election. We believe in irresistible grace. And we believe in the perseverance of the saints. Those are absolutely essential. Because without any one of those, God is not sovereign in salvation. And we all believe and embrace that God is sovereign in salvation. The elders also agree, and this is important for you to know, that the issue of the extent of the atonement (that is limited atonement, as it is called, or definite atonement) will not become a divisive issue in this church.

While we all embrace four of the five Synod of Dort points, we do not all embrace the fifth—the extent of the atonement. Let me tell you on that point (let me go to that point for a moment) the issue of the extent of the atonement. Let me tell you where the points of agreement are between Arminianism and Calvinism. Both agree that not everyone will be saved. No question about that. I mean they are only universalists that believe that everyone is going to be saved. We also all agree, that is all Arminians and all Calvinists agree that a free offer (I shouldn't say all Calvinists—most Calvinists) agree that a free offer of the gospel can be made to all. In other words, I can stand here and tell you that if you will turn from your sin and embrace Jesus Christ, God will save you. He will rescue you from your sin and from His wrath. We all agree that that is true. And Arminianism and Calvinism agrees that Christ's substitutionary death is sufficient to save all men. Listen, the death of Christ was an infinite sacrifice. It is enough to save every man and woman who has ever lived on this planet or who ever will live on this planet, and a million other worlds if God so should choose.

Let me briefly tell you where I land on this issue. I believe (and this is nothing new to you) this is what I explained to you when I was candidating some two and a half years ago now. But let me just tell you what I believe, because I'm compelled to do that. Obviously, I believe it's what the Scriptures teach. But as I've said before, this is not going to be a divisive issue. It's not between the elders, and it's not going to be in our church. But I'll just explain because, as a teacher, I feel compelled not to leave this hanging out there.

First of all, I believe there are universal aspects of the atonement. In other words, there are benefits of the death of Christ to every human being. What are those benefits? Well, they fall into areas like common grace. How is it that a sinner can breathe one moment after he sins? Because of God's common grace. And how can God extend common grace in his justice to a sinner? How can He let a sinner live? In the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die, he tells Adam. How can He let Adam live 800 years? Because the death of Christ vindicated, as Romans 3 says, God's righteousness. There is, in common grace, we have benefits (universal benefits) of Christ's death.

Also, in God's compassion, the broken-hearted love of pity that God shows to unregenerate sinners who will never turn to Him comes from the death of Christ. His admonition for sinners to repent, God is constantly warning sinners of their fate. He is calling them to turn. It's demonstrating a compassionate heart toward those that are lost. He says that He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. All of this comes from the death of Christ. God can show that kind of compassion and that kind of care and that kind of concern because His righteousness was vindicated at the cross. The universal gospel invitation, salvation in Christ is offered to everybody. That comes from the death of Christ as well. Those are the universal benefits, I believe, of the death of Christ.

But I believe that it becomes definite, that is, the atonement of Christ and for whom He died, becomes definite when it comes to the key component of why Christ died. Why did Christ die? What was the major reason Christ died? Scripture makes that crystal clear. It was for substitution. It was in the place of sinners. So, the issue is this. Did Christ die as a substitute for everyone? What was the intended result in the mind of God? This is the question. Did Christ die as a substitute in the place of every unbeliever, even those who will end up being eternally condemned? And did He pay for their sins fully upon the cross, forever satisfying the wrath of God against their sins? My own answer to that question, and there are good men who disagree with me on this—but my own answer to that question is, no. I don't believe—I believe God had an intended purpose in mind. In His sovereign purpose, He knew who would believe. Yes, the death of Christ was sufficient for all, but it ends up being (Christ ends up being) a substitute, suffering God's wrath for those who will eventually believe. Because of this, you can see that I embrace all five of the points that the Synod of Dort wrote.

You might occasionally hear me refer to myself as a Calvinist, but I don't use that label often, because frankly, it's often misunderstood, and it's caricatured. People misunderstand it and abuse it. So, I simply say, along with the rest of the elders of this church, all of whom embrace four of those five points, and some of us all five of them. I say we believe in God's sovereign work, His sovereign grace of salvation. Listen, I don't know about you, but I know that I would never have responded to God apart from His sovereign grace to draw me to Himself and to make me willing to come, to give me faith to believe and to repent. It's all about God saving. Listen to J.I. Packer.

To Calvinism there's really only one point to be made—the point that God saves sinners. This is the one point of Calvinistic doctrine which the five points are concerned to establish. And Arminianism and all it's points to deny. Namely, that sinners do not save themselves in any sense at all, but that salvation first and last, whole and entire, past present and future, is of the Lord, to whom be the glory forever. Amen

Just a couple of resources I'll mention to you, that if you're interested in reading more about this issue, there's a book recently written called Debating Calvinism in which two men on opposite sides of the issues write. James White defending the Calvinistic perspective, and Dave Hunt defending more an Arminian perspective. A little book by R.C. Sproul was very instrumental in my own understanding of these doctrines early in my life as a believer. Chosen by God an excellent little book. Steele and Thomas write The Five Points of Calvinism. And James Montgomery Boice has a popular level book called The Doctrines of Grace that you might be interested in.

Now, finally, let's go to the implications, very briefly. What are the implications of a sovereign God working sovereignly in salvation? Well, there are three of them. Remember our word "monergistic"? "One working—God working.) God working in salvation, and God alone, exalts God's grace. You remember Ephesians 1. There, Paul—in fact let's turn there. Ephesians 1 At the end of verse 4 Paul writes "love, God predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will," Why does God do this? Why does God act to adopt us when we're dead and unlovable and His enemies? Well verse 6 says, he did it "to the praise of His glorious grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the beloved." Listen, I have absolutely nothing to do with my salvation. If God acted when I couldn't act, then God's grace gets all the credit. It exalts God's grace. That's what Paul says.

Secondly, if God alone is acting in my salvation, then it (and in yours) it humbles us before God. Turn over to I Corinthians 1. First Corinthians 1:26, Paul says "consider your calling, brethren, that there are not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not". Like, Paul, would you stop it. You're talking about us here. He says, yeah, I am. Exactly. Why? He's done it to shame the things which are strong, or verse 20—verse 28 rather, "so that He may nullify the things that are, [and here's the punch line] so that no man may boast before God."

Listen, if God gets all the credit for your salvation, you can boast about absolutely nothing. You can't say, well, you know, I was bright enough to respond. I knew, I knew a good thing when I saw it. I understood. I got it. I was sharp enough to embrace it. Well, Paul says, listen, God has chosen, and He's chosen, in the end, so that no man could boast before God.

And then finally, monergistic salvation (that is God alone working in salvation) exalts God's glory. Look at the rest of 1 Corinthians 1:30, For by God's "doing, you are in Christ Jesus". It couldn't be much clearer than that, could it? By God's doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, we saw that this morning.

And encompassed in that wisdom is justification, God's righteousness granted to us, imputed to us, and sanctification. There's the process of being made holy.

And redemption. There's looking out to the future and saying that when Christ returns, and we stand before God, we will be redeemed from His wrath (we will be bought out of that terrible circumstance). Why? By His doing. Go back to the sentence verse 30 again. By His doing you are in Christ Jesus, verse 31 so that (here's the reason God acted to save you) just as it is written, let him who boasts, boast in the Lord. God acted so that you and I would not glory in our own intellect or glory in our own brightness or glory in our own ability to discern the truth, but so that God alone could glory. One of the "sola's" of the reformation was Sole Deo Gloria. To God alone the glory.

I came across this quote from Charles Spurgeon, whom I know many of you love as I do, and love to read his work. He put it this way. He says,

It is no novelty then that I am preaching—no new doctrine. I love to proclaim these strong old doctrines that are called by nickname Calvinism, but which are surely and verily the revealed truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus. By this truth I make a pilgrimage into the past, and as I go I see father after father, confessor after confessor, martyr after martyr standing up to shake hands with me. Taking these things to be the standard of my faith, I see the land of the ancients peopled by my brethren.

In other words, this isn't new. I'm in a long line of people who taught exactly what I'm teaching. I behold multitudes who confess the same as I do and acknowledge that this is the religion of God's own church. God, for nothing in you and nothing in me, in eternity past, set His love upon us. And then in time, while we were going on our merry way content to live in sin, dead to the things of God, blind to His word, deaf to His voice. The Holy Spirit reached inside of us with the truth and effectively drew us to Himself. He gave us, then, a new life. He gave us a new disposition. He regenerated us. It was like we were raised from the dead. It's like we received life from above.

And then, He gave us the faith and the repentance to believe and to repent, and we fell before God, and we cried out to Him for grace and for forgiveness, and as a result of that, He justified us. He declared us forever righteous. Never again will He bring up your sin against you in an act of judgment eternally. It's dealt with (forever dealt with on the cross of Christ). He adopted you as his own child. He made you a member of His family. He set you apart in definitive sanctification as one of His own holy ones (a saint). And then, He began at that moment of salvation, a work in you that continues to this day. A work Scripture calls the process of being made holy (or being sanctified). And He'll continue that process until the day you die or until Christ returns. And when Christ returns, by His grace, the final act in the great drama of redemption will occur. And that is, you will be like Him, for you will see Him as He is.

If that doesn't cause you to give glory to God but fall down and worship that the grace that God has extended to you—if that doesn't humble your heart—if that doesn't cause you to cry out "sole Deo Gloria"—to God alone the glory, then I question whether or not you're in Christ. What an amazing thing God has done. What amazing grace we enjoy.

Let's pray together.

Father, what can we say to these things?

Our minds and our hearts are overwhelmed with Your goodness to us. Lord, we thank You and praise You in the name of Christ for Your grace. We don't know why, Father, and probably will never know why You chose us. It was simply an expression of Your own love. Father, we thank You. And thank You that in time, as we lived our lives of quiet desperation, You intercepted us with the truth, and you brought us faith and repentance. You justified us. You made us Your own children, and now You're making us like Your Son. You're conforming us to His very image. And someday, someday, we will be like Him, because we will see Him as He is.

Father, may the day be soon. Thank You for Your grace. Help us to live lives of gratitude and lives of obedience, lives of love to You for all that You have accomplished.

I pray in Jesus' great name, Amen.

Systematic Theology