By Mike Willis
The doctrine of election as taught by Calvinists is a pernicious doctrine. To them, it is a doctrine which gives them comfort. The idea that God has predetermined that they would be saved, sent them the Holy Spirit to illumine their hearts in order that they might believe and repent, and made it impossible for them to fall from grace is a doctrine of comfort. It would be more comforting to them, however, if they had some genuine evidence that they were among the elect rather than the reprobate. Not ever knowing for sure whether they are among the elect or the reprobate, Calvinists have as much uncertainty about their salvation as any proponent of free-will ever felt. The difference is that the proponent of free-will knows what he must do to be saved whereas the Calvinist does not believe that he can do anything to effect his salvation or cause his damnation.
Let us notice what must happen according to Calvinism in order for a man to be saved. First of all, God must predestinate that certain person to salvation.
By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter III, No. 3).
To those whom God has predestined to save, He grants salvation without any consideration as to what that man might do.
Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his free grace and love alone, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace (Ibid., no. 5).
Inasmuch as these persons, like all of the rest of humanity, are born totally depraved, God grants to these people the Holy Spirit to illumine them in order that they might repent and believe the gospel.
All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly, to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ, yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.
This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from any thing at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it (Ibid., Chapter X, No. 1-2).
Hence, according to the Calvinist, man’s salvation stems wholly from God’s free grace. Man does nothing toward saving himself; God does it all. He chooses the man without regard to what his reaction to God’s offer of salvation might be; He sends him the Holy Spirit to create the faith. Man cannot resist God’s offer of salvation; God’s grace is irresistible. This, my brethren, is what is meant by “election” when used by a Calvinist.
The passages which are used to teach this doctrine are misapplied. One such passage is Romans 9-11. Here is the passage which is frequently referred to:
And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (for the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I love, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy (Rom. 9:10-16).
This passage does not teach Calvinist election. What it does teach is that God of His own will predestined to call His Son through Jacob rather than through Esau. The passage which is quoted by Paul, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (v. 13), is a quotation of Mal. 1:2-3. The passage was written centuries after the death of both Esau and Jacob. It had nothing to do with the salvation or damnation of either one. What it referred to was God’s decision to call Israel through Jacob rather than through Esau. The passage has nothing to do with God arbitrarily electing to save one man and damn another. Rather, it refers to God’s choice which was made without regard to the personal righteousness of either Jacob or Esau to bring His chosen nation into existence.
Let us continue to examine this passage so frequently perverted by the Calvinists.
For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth (9:17-18).
Calvinists teach that God predestinated that Pharaoh would be born into the world, rebel against God’s will, and be damned in Hell. Notice that the Calvinists teach that it was God’s will that Pharaoh rebel against God’s will. Pharaoh simply did what God predestinated that he would do and then God turned and damned him in hell for doing what God predestined that he would do. Who can believe it?
What this passage teaches is not a thirty-second cousin to such a Calvinist doctrine. What God did was raise up Pharaoh to be king. Pharaoh was the kind of man he was because he chose to be that kind of man. What God did was to allow such a man as Pharaoh to be exalted as king over Egypt. Someone might ask, “How, then, did God harden Pharaoh’s heart?” I reply, “The same way that he hardens men’s hearts today.” How is it that man’s heart is hardened today? We seem to be able to understand how a man’s heart is hardened today. The man hears the word of God, refuses to obey it a . sufficient number of times that he becomes insensitive to God’s will, and then becomes rather obstinate. This is exactly what happened with Pharaoh. Pharaoh heard the word of God through Moses numerous times. Moses related God’s will for Pharaoh, “Let my people go.” Pharaoh refused to obey so God sent the plagues to change his mind. When the plague was hard against Egypt, Pharaoh would decide to allow the people to go but when respite would come, he would change his mind. Through this method God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. This passage does’,not teach that Pharaoh did not have free will. Even as the scriptures teach that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, they also teach that Pharaoh hardened his heart in refusing to hearken to the will of God (Ex. 8:15). Hence, what we have occurring with reference to Pharaoh is not that God predestined to bring a man into this world who He would damn without regard to his personal character. Rather, what God did was to raise up to be a king such a wicked man as Pharaoh whom He used to manifest His glory. There is no difference in God’s use of Pharaoh in the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage than God’s use of the Jews, Herod, and Pontius Pilate in crucifying Christ to deliver us from our sins.
The passage continues as follows:
Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory (9:19-23).
This passage must be understood in the context of Romans 9. This passage is discussing God’s purpose to call His people Israel. We are not discussing the personal salvation of a given person. Hence, to make this passage refer to God personally selecting one man to salvation and another for damnation is contrary to the context. Rather, what is being discussed is God’s purpose to choose Israel for God’s chosen people (not all of which Israelites were saved forever in heaven) -and to not so choose Egypt (this does not imply that none of the Egyptians were saved in heaven). Rather, this passage is simply showing God’s determination to choose Israel and to reject Egypt and all other nations.
A few months ago, I was discussing “once saved, always saved” with a Baptist preacher. During that discussion, I used Rom. 11:20-23 to show that a person could fall from grace. In that discussion, the Baptist related that Romans 9-11 was not discussing personal salvation but God’s treatment of Israel. A few weeks ago, I met this same man in a discussion of the Calvinist doctrine of election. Somehow, he had forgotten that this passage was discussing Israel in this discussion for he applied it to personal salvation.
While we are considering Romans 9-11, let us notice some non-Calvinist doctrines taught in this passage. Here are some non-Calvinist doctrines taught in these chapters:
1. A desire for all men to be saved. Paul wrote, “For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (9:3). Again, he wrote, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved” (10:1). Here, we find Paul praying that God’s will might not be accomplished if Calvinism is true. This passage contradicts the Calvinist doctrine that some are predestined to damnation and some to salvation to praise of God’s glory. Paul should not have been praying that those whom God had predestinated to damnation might be saved. He should have been teaching how God would be praised through their damnation.
2. Conditional salvation. Calvinists teach that salvation is not conditional. Yet, Paul wrote as follows:
“As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed” (Rom. 9:33).
“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Rom. 10:9).
“For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed” (Rom. 10:11).
“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13).
“For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:3).
Since Calvinists teach that salvation is unconditional, this section of Scripture certainly offers them no comfort inasmuch as it offers salvation to every man conditionally.
3. Belief through the preaching of the word-According to Calvinists, a man cannot believe the gospel until the Holy Spirit illumines his mind that he might believe. Rom. 10:17 teaches otherwise; it says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” This is cofitrary to Calvinist beliefs.
4. Falling from grace. Calvinists teach that a child of God can never fall from grace so as to be eternally lost. Rom. 11:20-23 reads as follows:
Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness; otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again.
Notice that some of those who had formerly been part of God’s olive tree were broken off. Some who had not been part of the olive tree had been grafted in. We see men traversing from the state of being saved, to lost, to saved. We read nothing of a group of elect and another group of reprobates which can neither be added to nor diminished.
5. Elect people who were lost. Rom. 11:28 states, “As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes.” Hence, here were some who were elect who were enemies of Christ and the gospel and, consequently, lost. This cannot be fitted into Calvinist thought.
Romans 9-11 offers no hope for the Calvinist as proof of his peculiar doctrines of election and reprobation. The doctrine remains unproved. It is contrary to what is revealed about God, man, and the gospel. Calvinism must be rejected in all of its parts.
Truth Magazine XXII: 32, pp. 515-517
August 17, 1978