Where Can I Hide From God?

I love this passage from John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, in which the great Reformation theologian expounds upon the sensus divinitatis — the “sense of the divine” — which exists within every human mind. Calvin argues that even those who most despise God are unable to escape the awareness of divinity which is “engraved upon men’s minds”:

If, indeed, there were some in the past, and today not a few appear, who deny that God exists, yet willy-nilly they from time to time feel an inkling of what they desire not to believe. One reads of no one who burst forth into bolder or more unbridled contempt of deity than Gaius Caligula; yet no one trembled more miserably when any sign of God’s wrath manifested itself; thus — albeit unwillingly — he shuddered at the God whom he professedly sought to despise. You may see now and again how this also happens to those like him; how he who is the boldest despiser of God is of all men the most startled at the rustle of a falling leaf.

Whence does this arise but from the vengeance of divine majesty, which strikes their consciences all the more violently the more they try to flee from it? Indeed, they seek out every subterfuge to hide themselves from the Lord’s presence, and to efface it again from their minds. But in spite of themselves they are always entrapped. Although it may sometimes seem to vanish for a moment, it returns at once and rushes in with new force. If for these there is any respite from anxiety of conscience, it is not much different from the sleep of drunken or frenzied persons, who do not rest peacefully even while sleeping because they are continually troubled with dire and dreadful dreams. The imious themselves therefore exemplify the fact that some conception of God is ever alive in all men’s minds.

Calvinists and Arminians Are On the Same Team

Yesterday I posted summaries of the “five points” of both Arminianism and Calvinism. Today I want to demonstrate how these differences, while substantial and important, are not essential. In other words, Calvinists and Arminians are on the same team! We can work and worship together, because we agree that:

  1. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone
  2. God is Triune, and sovereign over all things, including salvation
  3. The Bible is inerrant and authoritative

The list could go on. But many within the Southern Baptist Convention (the current flashpoint for a centuries-old debate) and elsewhere would benefit from a little historical context of cooperation. I submit to you now two examples of admirable cooperation. The first is Charles Simeon’s account of a conversation he had with John Wesley more than 250 years ago (recounted in J.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God):

Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers.  But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions.  Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?

Yes, I do indeed.

And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?

Yes, solely through Christ.

But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?

No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.

Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?

No.

What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?

Yes, altogether.

And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?

Yes, I have no hope but in Him.

Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things where in we agree.

The second goes straight to the source. Writing of John Calvin’s Commentaries on the Bible, Jacobus (James) Arminius himself said the following:

“After the reading of Scripture, which I strenuously inculcate, and more than any other … I recommend that the Commentaries of Calvin be read … For I affirm that in the interpretation of the Scriptures Calvin is incomparable, and that his Commentaries are more to be valued than anything that is handed down to us in the writings of the Fathers — so much that I concede to him a certain spirit of prophecy in which he stands distinguished above others, above most, indeed, above all.”

I’ll be the last one to say that our doctrinal differences aren’t important, or aren’t worth debating. But surely we can all play nice, right? Let’s save our daggers for the Enemy.

Calvinism & Arminianism Summarized

In yesterday’s post about Tom Ascol’s “4 types of Southern Baptists”, I said that the vast majority of people in my church were what he called “cooperative non-Calvinists”. While this is true, it may not be the whole truth. It would probably be more accurate to say that most people in our church either don’t know or don’t care about the doctrines of grace — often referred to as the “five points of Calvinism”. I thought it might be helpful, then, to share a succinct history and definition of them.

The first thing to be pointed out is that John Calvin himself did not come up with the “five points”, and he certainly did not invent the “TULIP” acronym (popularized in the 20th century). The five points of Calvinism actually arose out of a theological dispute among Dutch Christians more than 50 years after Calvin’s death. Theologian James Arminius and his followers had articulated five main points of doctrinal dispute with the teachings of Calvin and other reformers, which led to an international church council (a “synod”) held in the city of Dordrecht to decide the dispute. The result was a document called “The Decision of the Synod of Dordt on the Five Main Points of Doctrine in Dispute in the Netherlands“, more commonly known as “The Canons of Dordt”.

The Synod determined that the Arminian teachings were false, and a summarized version of their responses to the “five points of Arminianism” was eventually set to the TULIP acronym for ease of memory. So really, the “five points of Calvinism” weren’t Calvin’s at all! They were rather (in the opinion of the delegates convened in Dordrecht in 1618, anyway) the teachings of Scripture, taught not only by John Calvin, but by Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and many other theologians throughout church history.

Baptist pastors David Steele and Curtis Thomas concisely contrasted the five points of Arminianism and Calvinism in their 1963 book Romans: An Interpretive Outline:

THE “FIVE POINTS” OF ARMINIANISM

1. Free-Will or Human Ability

Although human nature was seriously affected by the fall, man has not been left in a state of total spiritual helplessness. God graciously enables every sinner to repent and believe, but He does not interfere with man’s freedom. Each sinner posses a free will, and his eternal destiny depends on how he uses it. Man’s freedom consists of his ability to choose good over evil in spiritual matters; his will is not enslaved to his sinful nature. The sinner has the power to either cooperate with God’s Spirit and be regenerated or resist God’s grace and perish. The lost sinner needs the Spirit’s assistance, but he does not have to be regenerated by the Spirit before he can believe, for faith is man’s act and precedes the new birth. Faith is the sinner’s gift to God; it is man’s contribution to salvation.

2. Conditional Election

God’s choice of certain individuals unto salvation before the foundation of the world was based upon His foreseeing that they would respond to His call. He selected only those whom He knew would of themselves freely believe the gospel. Election therefore was determined by or conditioned upon what man would do. The faith which God foresaw and upon which He based His choice was not given to the sinner by God (it was not created by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit) but resulted solely from man’s will. It was left entirely up to man as to who would believe and therefore as to who would be elected unto salvation. God chose those whom He knew would, of their own free will, choose Christ. Thus the sinner’s choice of Christ, not God’s choice of the sinner, is the ultimate cause of salvation.

3. Universal Redemption or General Atonement

Christ’s redeeming work made it possible for everyone to be saved but did not actually secure the salvation of anyone. Although Christ died for all men and for every man, only those who believe on Him are saved. His death enabled God to pardon sinners on the condition that they believe, but it did not actually put away anyone’s sins. Christ’s redemption becomes effective only if man chooses to accept it.

4. The Holy Spirit Can Be Effectually Resisted

The Spirit calls inwardly all those who are called outwardly by the gospel invitation; He does all that He can to bring every sinner to salvation. But inasmuch as man is free, he can successfully resist the Spirit’s call. The Spirit cannot regenerate the sinner until he believes; faith (which is man’s contribution) proceeds and makes possible the new birth. Thus, man’s free will limits the Spirit in the application of Christ’s saving work. The Holy Spirit can only draw to Christ those who allow Him to have His way with them. Until the sinner responds, the Spirit cannot give life. God’s grace, therefore, is not invincible; it can be, and often is, resisted and thwarted by man.

5. Falling from Grace

Those who believe and are truly saved can lose their salvation by failing to keep up their faith, etc.

All Arminians have not been agreed on this point; some have held that believers are eternally secure in Christ – that once a sinner is regenerated, he can never be lost.

According to Arminianism:

Salvation is accomplished through the combined efforts of God (who takes the initiative) and man (who must respond) – man’s response being the determining factor. God has provided salvation for everyone, but His provision becomes effective only for those who, of their own free will, “choose” to cooperate with Him and accept His offer of grace. At the crucial point, man’s will plays a decisive role; thus man, not God, determines who will be recipients of the gift of salvation.

THE “FIVE POINTS” OF CALVINISM

1. Total Inability or Total Depravity

Because of the fall, man is unable of himself to savingly believe the gospel. The sinner is dead, blind, and deaf to the things of God; his heart is deceitful and desperately corrupt. His will is not free, it is in bondage to his evil nature, therefore, he will not – indeed he cannot – choose good over evil in the spiritual realm. Consequently, it takes much more than the Spirit’s assistance to bring a sinner to Christ – it takes regeneration by which the Spirit makes the sinner alive and gives him a new nature. Faith is not something man contributes to salvation but is itself a port of God’s gift of salvation – it is God’s gift to the sinner, not the sinner’s gift to God.

2. Unconditional Election

God’s choice of certain individuals unto salvation before the foundation of the world rested solely in His own sovereign will. His choice of particular sinners was not based on any foreseen response of obedience on their part, such as faith, repentance, etc. On the contrary, God gives faith and repentance to each individual whom He selected. These acts are the result, not the cause of God’s choice. Election therefore was not determined by or conditioned upon any virtuous quality or act foreseen in man. Those whom God sovereignly elected He brings through the power of the Spirit to a willing acceptance of Christ. Thus God’s choice of the sinner, not the sinner’s choice of Christ, is the ultimate cause of salvation.

3. Particular Redemption or Limited Atonement

Christ’s redeeming work was intended to save the elect only and actually secured salvation for them. His death was substitutionary endurance of the penalty of sin in the place of certain specified sinners. In addition to putting away the sins of His people, Christ’s redemption secured everything necessary for their salvation, including faith which unites them to Him. The gift of faith is infallibly applied by the Spirit to all for whom Christ died, therefore guaranteeing their salvation.

4. The Efficacious Call of the Spirit or Irresistible Grace

In addition to the outward general call to salvation which is made to everyone who hears the gospel, the Holy Spirit extends to the elect a special inward call that inevitably brings them to salvation. The internal call (which is made only to the elect) cannot be rejected; it always results in conversion. By means of this special call the Spirit irresistibly draws sinners to Christ. He is not limited in His work of applying salvation by man’s will, nor is He dependent upon man’s cooperation for success. The Spirit graciously causes the elect sinner to cooperate, to believe, to repent, to come freely and willingly to Christ. God’s grace, therefore, is invincible; it never fails to result in the salvation of those to whom it is extended.

5. Perseverance of the Saints

All who are chosen by God, redeemed by Christ, and given faith by the Spirit are eternally saved. They are kept in faith by the power of Almighty God and thus persevere to the end.

According to Calvinism:

Salvation is accomplished by the almighty power of the Triune God. The Father chose a people, the Son died for them, the Holy Spirit makes Christ’s death effective by bringing the elect to faith and repentance, thereby causing them to willingly obey the gospel. The entire process (election, redemption, regeneration) is the work of God and is by grace alone. Thus God, not man, determines who will be the recipients of the gift of salvation.

I hope you’ve found this helpful! For further study, here are some sources to check out:

Book Review: The Unquenchable Flame

“The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation” by Michael Reeves

I love to learn stuff I didn’t know. That’s why I loved this book! Not only is this a very readable overview of church history in the Reformation era; it’s also chock full of sidenotes and interesting tidbits of information (such as the origin of the term “hocus pocus”) that are like candy to a history buff like me.

Michael Reeves has organized this book very well. Rather than attempting to write a purely chronological history of the period, he approaches the era by concentrating on how different regions and prominent theologians approached the Reformation. An included timeline and map help the reader keep track of when/where the events being described fit into the overall picture.

The first chapter provides the background to the Reformation. Reeves shows the development of Catholic theology from St. Augustine through the Medieval period to the time when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenburg church door. What is the origin of the doctrines of purgatory, indulgences, transsubstantiation, prayers to the Virgin Mary and the saints, and all the other practices which Luther and others sought to reform? This chapter also discusses some early critics of Rome, including John Wycliffe, Jan Hus, and the “humanists”, led by Petrarch.

The next several chapters center on some main figures in the Reformation, and the effects their theology had on the regions in which they lived. First is Martin Luther and the Reformation in Germany. Next is his Swiss contemporary, Ulrich Zwingli, followed by John Calvin and the work he did in France and Geneva. Reeves then turns his focus to the religious/political turmoil of Great Britain during that time, as a quick succession of monarchs led to the official religion of England switching several times between Catholicism and Protestantism. Each regime change brought with it a new round of executions.

The final two chapters look at some post-Reformation church history. One chapter is dedicated to the work of the Puritans, who believed — along with most of the original reformers — that the “Reformation” was not a one-time event, but a continual process. They viewed the Reformation not as a simple break from Rome, but as a progression of constant reform bringing the Church ever closer to the gospel. The final chapter asks the question: “Is the Reformation Over?” With many Protestants and Catholics today seeking common ground — even producing on Reformation Day (October 31) 1999 a “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation — Reeves looks to see whether Catholics or Protestants have ever really reconciled the differences which divided them in the 16th Century.

Throughout the book, Reeves has scattered several mini-biographies of other historical figures who played important roles in the Reformation story. Some highlights: Menno Simons, founder of the Mennonites; “Bloody Mary”, the Catholic queen of England who executed hundreds of Protestants (and imprisoned tens of thousands more) in just a few months after attaining the crown; Michael Servetus, the man condemned as a heretic by both Catholics and Protestants, executed in John Calvin’s Geneva; Jacobus Arminius, one of Calvin’s biggest critics; Erasmus of Rotterdam, John Wycliffe, and William Tyndale, all of whom published new (and often illegal) translations of the Bible to make them accessible to commoners; and Ignatius Loyola, leader of the Jesuits and the Catholic Counter-Reformation. There are many others. Important events like the Diet of Worms, the Synod of Dordt, and the Battle of Kappel also receive special attention.

With so much ground covered, there is no way this book could have been exhaustive on any subject. This is why the author has included a very helpful list of suggested reading for more information on any of the people, time periods, or systems of theology discussed in the book.

For anyone who is at all interested in church history, this book should be considered a must-read. It is a fast-paced, fact-based introduction to all of the key players and events that shaped the Protestant Church, and forever altered the course of the Catholic Church — and the entire world.

Buy it here.