O Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years,
in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy.
—Hab. 3.2.

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What is

Calvinism?

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Table of Contents

  1. The Term & Its History
  2. TULIP:
    1. Total Depravity
    2. Unconditional Election
    3. Limited Atonement
    4. Irresistible Grace
    5. Perseverance of the Saints
  3. Obedience to God’s Law
  4. The Regulative Principle of Worship
  5. Identity and Attributes of Antichrist
  6. Church Government
  7. Our Hope & Eschatology
  8. Predestination

What is Calvinism?

The term “Calvinism” is used by various groups to identify their beliefs with one of the most prominent leaders of the reformation, John Calvin.— Groups that call themselves “Calvinists” agree with the teachings of Calvin in varying degrees: from holding simply to the “five points of Calvinism” (regarding man’s salvation by the grace of God) to adhering to the teachings of Calvin not only in matters of man’s salvation but also in matters relating to how we should worship God, how we should live the Christian Life, and what sort of government and order should be used in God’s Church. Those who do so, do not do so because they would follow the teachings of men, but because they believe these teachings, revived at the time of the reformation in Switzerland, the Netherlands, other countries, and especially Scotland, were in truth the teachings of the Prophets, Apostles, and Christ himself, as laid down in the Holy Scriptures, though for the most part hidden for many centuries under the erroneous teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church.

The “Five Points of Calvinism” were not formulated by Calvin, but rather by the Synod of Dort in 1618-1619, which was a gathering of many great leaders and teachers of the reformed churches throughout Europe. This Synod, in response to the heresies of James Arminius, then spreading throughout the Dutch churches, released “The Canons of Dort,” which addressed five major doctrines then in dispute. Since then these doctrines, as asserted at Dort, have been summarized and labeled as the “Five Points of Calvinism.” Although Calvin himself never set forth such a system of five points, these teachings are a compendium of what John Calvin and others (such as Martin Luther, Augustine, the Apostle Paul, & Christ himself) taught regarding salvation and are all founded on the holy Scriptures. Often the “Five Points” are referred to as “TULIP”:

  • Total Depravity
  • Unconditional Election
  • Limited Atonement
  • Irresistible Grace
  • Perseverance of the Saints

“Total Depravity” refers to the doctrine that, man in his fallen nature is wholly fallen,—he is “flesh”.  It does not mean that man is as wicked as he could possibly be, but that he is corrupted and wicked in every member of his body and every faculty of his soul. Not only his body is inclined to sin, but his understanding is darkened, he is blinded in his mind, and his will is inclined to sin. Because his will is inclined to sin, even it is in rebellion against God. Man therefore does not have a “free-will” to do good or evil as he pleases, the way that he did before the fall, because he DOES NOT will to will good. To assert that a sinful will is free to will good is to assert that it is able to will not to will what it does in fact will. Therefore, being in rebellion, and not being inclined to turn from that hatred against God to love to God, man can only be restored by being reborn by the spirit of God as a new creature.  Thus, man is in need of salvation not only from the wrath of God due for the sins he is guilty of, but is also in need of being saved from his own sinfulness and rebellion. “There is none that seeketh after God.” (See Romans 3, John 8:34.)

“Unconditional Election” is the doctrine that man’s salvation flows completely from God’s grace—it is not conditioned upon man’s good works or faith, but is wholly unmerited.  The fact that some persons are saved and that others are not, together with the fact that God is the one that does the saving and that he in his infiniteness is able to save all, clearly indicates that God chooses to save some and not to save others. The Bible refers to this often by the term “Election”. Thus his people, both in the Old and the New Testament are called his “Elect”. The Bible presents this election as part of God’s eternal decree, wherein he chooses whom he will save before all time (Eph. 1, 2 Thes. 2.13...) The Bible also teaches that God does not choose BECAUSE of anything in us or anything that we do (or will do), but rather he chooses according to his own good pleasure. God did not look into the future to see what man would do or what man would believe, but fixed what He would do with HIS creation before anything was even created.  Thus, “it is not of him that wills, or of him that runs, but of God who showeth mercy.” Paul in Romans 9 clearly indicates this when he discusses the fact that mercy was shown to Jacob and not to Esau so that the purpose of God according to election might stand. At the same time he insists that the decision of election was made before either of the brothers had done any good or evil.

“Limited Atonement” is the doctrine that Christ has died for all those who have been elected to Eternal Life in Christ Jesus and that all those for whom Christ has died have been perfectly atoned for.  Their ransom is complete.  The debt of their sins has been paid off.  By the blood of Christ the forgiveness of their sins has been purchased, as well as the gift of the Spirit, which works in them faith and repentance unto life, whereby that purchased forgiveness and the righteousness of Christ are made theirs as they through faith rest in Jesus Christ and his work of Redemption. Salvation has been fully accomplished by Jesus Christ for his people and his alone.  He has not died to make salvation possible for all so that those who will choose by their own “free will” (which none have since the fall into Sin) to improve upon what he has done may be saved, but he has completely perfected salvation for his people.  He is the good shepherd who gave his life for the sheep—His sheep. (Rom. 5.8-9, John 6.35-40, 10.11, 14-18, 24-29.)

“Irresistible Grace” is the doctrine that Christ has sent his Spirit to effectually apply salvation to his flock.  Man may resist the “common operations” of the spirit such as convictions of conscience, but the Irresistible Grace of God is the powerful working of his Spirit whereby he does always effect without failure the conversion of his elect from being sinners, fallen with the rest of the seed of Adam, to being saints, the seed of Christ the Second Adam.  This work of Irresistible Grace is referred to as the Birth of the New Man. Christ refers to it as being “Born of the Spirit” (John 3) and thus teaches that Conversion is just as much a Divine work as Creation, and that, as “Spirit is born of Spirit”, so no unconverted man (who is “Flesh”) can do anything to Convert himself into a Spiritual man. “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.”—John 6:44, 45.

“Perseverance of the Saints” is the doctrine that, as God changes a man’s soul in His effectual calling by irresistible grace, and not just the man’s outward life, so those who are truly saints, being given the Spirit of God to work in them “to will and to do according to his good pleasure” (Phil. 2.13) are turned away from their sins and do advance in mortification of sins and vivification of the new man, continuing all their days in the faith.  And although they may fall into sin at times as the “Flesh lusteth against the Spirit,” yet God by his grace does continue to uphold them and gives them repentance and forgiveness whenever they fall so that they never finally and totally fall away from the faith.  This doctrine of the Bible is contrary to the teaching that man can fall away from the faith and “lose his salvation,” for it affirms God’s infinite power to accomplish his will in saving his people so that “he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” who is not only the author but also “finisher of our faith.”  This is also contrary to the antinomian (anti-law) teaching of “eternal security” which teaches once a man “accepts Jesus as his personal saviour” he will never go to hell, even if he lives like the devil himself.  Instead, Calvinism teaches that a man who is truly saved, and so united to Christ in faith, is united through the Spirit of Love dwelling in him and so, out of love to God, is compelled to live a life of loving obedience to his heavenly Father.

In regard to worship this principle of obedience out of love controls the way the Christian worships formally as well as how he lives a life of constant worship in subjecting his every act and every daily task to the will of God.  His worship is both in “Spirit and in Truth.”  It is spiritual in that the whole man, body and soul, is involved in the praise, thanksgiving, and service of God. He does not merely worship God with his hands and mouth, but loves him with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength so that the service of God is not grievous but is considered his chief end and greatest good.  It is true worship in that it is such worship as God has instituted and authorized as his service.  It is not like the false worship of those who worship God through their own invented ceremonies and practices, thinking that God is well pleased with a fair show or that God benefits from what they do. Rather, this true worship confesses in humility that God has no need of us, while we are completely in need of him for life and salvation.  Thus we must set aside all thoughts of pleasing God by our own works while at the same time not setting aside those works which God has commanded us. When we have done “all those things that are commanded us,” we must yet confess that we are “unprofitable servants” (Luke 17.10) for we have merely done “that which was our duty to do”—if that.  God’s Command then, becomes the rule of service to God, whether it be in worship, or in our other duties.  The True Christian not only obeys and loves the Gospel, or the “Testimony” but also the “Law” as David speaks of in Psalm 119. See Isaiah 8.20.

In worship this strict adherence to God’s Law is called the “Regulative Principle of Worship.”  Stated simply, a true Christian believes that he must worship God in whatsoever way God has commanded, and that all other worship without God’s command is idolatrous. Thus Nadab and Abihu were slain by the Lord for offering up “STRANGE fire” to the Lord. Thus Christ condemned the traditions of the Pharisees which they adhered to without God’s command.  Deuteronomy 12:32 states “What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.”  It is the prerogative only of our high priest Jesus Christ to institute such worship as is acceptable unto him and whosoever shall presume to either take away from or add to his service usurps his office and so “opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” 2 Thess. 2.4.

This description of an idolatrous usurper of Christ’s Kingly, Priestly, and Prophetical office has particular application to Antichrist.  Antichrist is the man that overthrows God’s worship by instituting his own ceremonies and overthrows the Gospel of Salvation by Christ alone by propagating a gospel of salvation by man’s merit.  In time this has been fulfilled by the Pope of Rome who has arrogantly presumed to make himself the “head of the Church,” “God on earth,” and “the high priest of the Church of God.”

Instead of an hierarchy of priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and pope, the true Christian Church endeavors to preserve the ancient form of Church government taught in the Bible with officers of teaching and ruling elders or “presbyters,” none of which are to exercise dominion over the others (Matt. 20.25-26).  Individual congregations are interrelated as local presbyteries, regional synods, and national general assemblies so that the Church is united in the true bonds of faith, practice, and purpose, as opposed to the false unity that is found in the world among unbelievers.

All things are to be done and believed in accordance with God’s word.  By the preaching of the true Gospel of Salvation by God’s Grace Alone Calvinists (or Presbyterians, or Reformed Christians) hope that the world will be subdued to the government of Christ, that the fullness of the Gentiles and the Jews as well might be grafted into the body of Christ by faith, and that the reign of Antichrist in this world both in Church and in State may be overturned to the end that all creation may serve and glorify God as he exercises his power and authority over his creation.  All this we patiently expect in accordance with the purpose of God, knowing that He will bless the endeavors of his Church to bring this to pass, as he has promised, and in his own time.

Often today Calvinism is opposed because it teaches the “harsh” doctrine of predestination.  This however is taught because it is taught in the Bible and because it is the root of the Gospel.  Predestination to salvation according to the good pleasure of God is that which assures the believer that he may truly rest in God’s grace in Christ Jesus as sufficient to save him from all his sins.  None who are predestinated to destruction shall ever be damned on account of anything but their sins.  Likewise none that are predestinated to glory shall ever be saved on account of anything but the active and passive obedience of Christ alone.  Christ’s blood has purchased and so secured salvation for God’s elect. But, for those whom God has made to be to the glory of his Justice, to them the wages of sin is death, and they have purchased their eternal death and destruction in hell by a multitude of sins against an infinitely holy, just, and gracious God.  Those who are saved know that it is only of God’s free grace that any are saved, as he is obliged to save none from their sins, all which are against him—and so they rejoice in their salvation with hope and great thanksgiving, holding the Gospel of Grace as a precious treasure in their hearts, and the cause of all true joy in their life.  This is the Christian’s joy.  This is the Christian’s hope.

Very simply, “Calvinism” is Biblical Christianity in both its purity and fullness.  Those who dissent from this, do not hold to the Christianity of the Bible.  May the LORD hasten the day when all of the dissenters from Christ’s Church shall be granted repentance unto life and saving faith by the grace of God, and so be turned into the right way.  This he has promised:

And the LORD shall be king over all the earth:

In that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one.

—Zech. 14:9.