By Mike Willis
There have been so much talk about Calvinism in recent studies among us, on such subjects as imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ, that I am getting the very definite impression that some among us have little acquaintance with what Calvinism really is. I would like to present a few articles on the Calvinist doctrine of election with the view of acquainting brethren with Calvinism and refuting it. Let us begin by defining the Calvinist doctrine of election. In order to do so, we must go back to the total picture of predestination.
John Calvin defined his doctrine of predestination as follows:
We call predestination God’s eternal decree, by which he determined with himself what he willed to become of each man. For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter XXI, Section 5).
As Scripture, then, clearly shows, we say that God once established by his eternal and unchangeable plan those whom he long before determined once for all to receive into salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, he would devote to destruction. We assert that, with respect to the elect, this plan was founded upon his freely given mercy, without regard to human worth; but by his just and irreprehensible but incomprehensible judgment he has barred the door of life to those whom he has given over to damnation, (Ibid. Book III, Chapter XXI, Section 7).
The Westminster Confession of Faith, which was adopted by the Presbyterian Church, states rather clearly this doctrine of predestination and election. Here is its statement of the doctrine:
3. 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.
4. These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished.
5.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 (Chapter III, Sections 3-5).
Hence, the doctrine of Calvinism asserts that God has predestinated some men to everlasting life and others to everlasting death. The doctrine further asserts that this foreordination to life or to death is conditioned upon God’s sovereign will and not upon anything which He saw in man as to whether or not man would act to accept the riches of God’s grace or not.
The System of Calvinism
Calvinism is a system so constructed that if one admits one of the propositions the rest of the doctrines of Calvinism are necessary conclusions. They remind me of a stack of dominos; if the first one falls, the rest are going to fall as well. One cannot accept part of Calvinism; he either accepts all of it or rejects all of it. The doctrines of inherited total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints are all dependent upon each other for their validity. Let me try to tie these all together in the next few paragraphs.
The doctrine of inherited total depravity asserts that all men have inherited the guilt of Adam’s transgression. Having inherited Adam’s sin, man is so tainted in his nature that he cannot do one good thing. The Philadelphia Confession of Faith, adopted in 1742 by the Baptist Church in America, states this as follows:
Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others; yet, because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith, nor are done in a right manner according to the Word, nor to a right end, the glory of God, they are sinful and cannot please God, nor make a man meet to receive grace from God; and yet their neglect of them is more sinful and displeasing to God (Section XVII, No. 7).
Hence, the unregenerated man cannot act pleasingly in obedience to God regardless of what he might do. He might want to obey the Lord but being tainted with Adam’s sin, he cannot; he might want to believe in the Lord, but being afflicted with total depravity-tainted in all of his parts-he cannot.
With all men in this lost condition, God then decided to save some. (We must not forget that according to Calvinism, man is in this condition because God so willed it.) Without any action on the part of man, God predestinated that some would be saved and worked to effect their salvation. To these men, God illumined their heart through the work of the Holy Spirit in order that they might believe the gospel and be saved. To the rest, God withheld His Holy Spirit from them; hence, they cannot believe the gospel and be saved. To the Calvinist, faith is an act of God, not an act of man. God gives man faith; it does not simply come by the hearing of testimony and the will to believe. Rather, God gives faith to those whom He chooses to save.
When God chooses to give a man faith, He sends irresistible grace. According to this doctrine, man cannot help but believe the gospel and be saved. Man cannot thwart the purposes of God; hence, if God wishes for a man to be saved, he will be saved whether he personally wants to or not. Hence, God’s gift of salvation is irresistible.
The death of Jesus Christ was limited in its scope only to those whom God predestinated to salvation. The atonement of Jesus Christ is not universal in its scope. Rather, Jesus died only for the elect. God never intended to save all men; indeed, He willed that some go into eternal damnation for the praise of His glory. Hence, Jesus did not die to atone for the sins of these men. He died only for the elect.
Those whom God elected for salvation cannot ever fall from grace; once God has saved them, they are saved forever. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is dependent upon the doctrine of election. The Philadelphia Confession of Faith states this as follows:
The perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutablity of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God, the Father, upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ and union with him, the oath of God, the abiding of the Spirit, and the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace; from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.
Notice how this statement ties the entire system together. Calvinists recognize that theirs is a system; one cannot accept a part of it without accepting the entire system.
Precisely at this point some of my brethren apparently do not know Calvinism. The doctrine of the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ to the believer’s account is the theological justification for believing that the child of God cannot fall from grace. These brethren want to defend the doctrine of the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ to the believer’s account but do not want to accept its logical conclusion that the child of God cannot fall from grace. Rather, they want this imputed righteousness to only cover sins of ignorance and weakness of the flesh; they do not believe that it will cover sins of open rebellion. In this respect, the calvinists are more logical than my brethren by making Christ’s prefect obedience cover all kinds of sins rather than dividing sin into venial and mortal categories. The other aspect of this matter which these brethren must also accept is the fact that this Calvinistic doctrine cannot be accepted by itself. It is part of a system. To accept it, my brethren are logically compelled to accept the whole system. Some are not too far from doing that. R. L. Kilpatrick, Editor of Ensign Fair, has already inherited total depravity as seen from this quotation:
The question of whether or not God’s divine attribute of justice may be compromised in imputing righteousness to sinners has never bothered us too much because it is in our favor. But the idea that God could do the opposite and impute “guilt” to those who have never committed personal acts of sin does not set too well. We are inclined to ask, “How can God impute guilt to those who have never committed ,positive acts of sin, namely those who have not reached the age of accountability? Doesn’t sin have to be committed before it becomes accountable?”
Without the imputation of guilt upon the whole human race, there is no answer for the death of the innocent. Physical death most assuredly is a “consequence” of Adam’s sin but we cannot overlook the fact that man’s punishment for sin (Rom. 6:23) must rest upon a legal base. It is not enough to say that the death of the innocent is a mere “consequence”, for, in the absence of guilt this would make God unjust.
If we are bothered by the negative aspect of imputation, should we not be just as bothered by the positive? In other words, wouldn’t it be just as “unjust” for God to overcompensate (impute righteousness) as it would for Him to undercompensate (impute sin)? If it somehow fits within the framework of God’s justice to declare righteous those who are unrighteous, then it somehow fits to declare guilt upon those who have never committed sin (“The Propagation of Adam’s `Kind’ “Ensign Fair, Vol. V, No. 11).
Notice that Brother Kilpatrick has accepted more of Calvinism than merely the imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ to the believer’s account; he has now accepted the imputation of Adam’s guilt to the account of all men, hence, inherited total depravity. His questions which he raises need to be answered by men such as Edward Fudge and Arnold Hardin. Brethren, how can you accept imputation of the perfect obedience of Christ while rejecting the imputation of Adam’s guilt? You cannot consistently accept the one while rejecting the other. This is the reason that we have been charging for many months now that your doctrine of imputation logically leads to the total acceptance of Calvinism.
In the next few issues of Truth Magazine, I propose to examine the doctrine of election as propagated by Calvinists. I trust that you will now see the relevancy of studying Calvinism today. We are not dealing with a denominational doctrine which reared its ugly head in the sixteenth century and has since died. We are discussing matters which pertain to current issues among brethren. Although it is true that none of my brethren have yet accepted the doctrine of election as taught by Calvinists, they are presently accepting other doctrines of Calvinism. A better acquaintance with the total system should help to avert further apostasy in the coming years in this matter. We bid you give these articles your careful attention.
Truth Magazine XXII: 30, pp. 483-485
August 3, 1978