by Mitch Cervinka
How important are the doctrines of grace? Are they central to the Christian faith, or are they merely peripheral doctrines reserved for the more mature? Must a person believe the doctrines of grace to be saved? Should Calvinism be preached to the unsaved? Is Calvinism the gospel?
These are important questions. To answer them properly, we need to define what we mean by "Calvinism" and what we mean by "the gospel." Then we need to find the answers to these questions in God's Word.
What do we mean by "the Gospel"?
The word "gospel" translates the Greek word euaggelion, which literally means "good message" or "message of good news." When we speak of the Gospel, we normally mean the good news about salvation. There are at least two different things which might be meant when we ask "Is Calvinism the Gospel?"
First, we might mean "Is Calvinism the good news about God's salvation of men?" Does Calvinism declare to us how God saves men? Is the Gospel merely contained in Calvinistic teaching, or is Calvinism in its sum and substance a description of what God does to save men?
Second, we might mean "Must a person believe the doctrines of God's sovereign grace in order to be saved?" Is Calvinistic truth an essential object of saving faith?
These two different meanings of the expression "the Gospel," though related, are quite distinct. It is entirely possible, in principle, that Calvinism is a full description of how God saves men, yet contains more than is absolutely needed as the object of faith. Thus, there could be one sense in which Calvinism is the Gospel, and another sense in which it is not.
What do we mean by "Calvinism"?
The word "Calvinism" has been used in a variety of ways.
1. In its broadest sense, "Calvinism" refers to that view of God which sees Him as the Sovereign Ruler of the universe—that, before He created anything, He determined the course of the universe: from the smallest sub-atomic particles to the greatest galaxies; from the course of natural events, such as weather and earthquakes, to the very actions and thoughts of men. This includes every thought and every action, from the womb to the grave, of every man who would ever live. These were not only foreseen or permitted by God, but also planned and purposed by Him.
Moreover, Calvinism teaches that God, in His Providence, intervenes in His creation when and however He pleases. At times, He is pleased to allow secondary and contingent causes to take their course. At other times, He deliberately intervenes, sometimes in very subtle, inconspicuous ways, and sometimes in very overt, spectacular ways.
In short, Calvinism says that God is both the Architect and Master of all things. Nothing takes God by surprise, or is outside the realm of His control.
This broad definition of Calvinism includes the doctrines related to salvation, but includes much more as well.
2. In a more focused sense, "Calvinism" refers to God's sovereignty in the context of salvation. The Five Points of Calvinism (TULIP) represent an eloquent summary of this:
Total Depravity - Men are so ruined by sin that they will not, indeed, cannot bring forth genuine repentance or saving faith apart from God's regenerating power. Nor can they in any way improve their spiritual condition or prepare themselves to receive the grace of God.
Unconditional Election - Before He created the world, God in mercy freely chose certain individuals to receive salvation. His choice was not based upon anything He foresaw in them, such as faith, good works, repentance, their decision to believe, or their willingness to cooperate with Him. He saw that they were dead in trespasses and sins, and totally unwilling to seek Him. The cause for any man's salvation lies entirely in God, and not in the individual.
Limited Atonement - Christ bore the full penalty of sin for all God's elect. His death effectually and eternally saves all for whom He died. He emptied the cup of God's wrath for each of them, so that, on the judgment day, God will have no reason or basis to condemn them. Had Christ died for all men, then no one could ever be condemned. Thus, Christ's death is "limited" to the elect only. (Those who deny this doctrine limit the death of Christ much more severely, by denying the ability of the cross to save men).
Irresistible Grace - Unregenerate man is unwilling and unable to come to God. An individual exercises genuine faith and repentance when and only when he has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. The new heart imparted by the Holy Spirit is the source of all true Christian graces, including saving faith and repentance.
Perseverance of the Saints - Those whom the Father chose, the Son redeemed, and the Spirit regenerates are the objects of God's eternal love and care. The Father's election of them is eternal and unchanging. The Son's redemption of them is comprehensive and complete. The Spirit's work in their hearts is effective and abiding. The Holy Trinity is united in their resolve and efforts to save the elect, and so there is no possibility that any of the elect could totally or ultimately fall away and be lost.
Is Calvinism the good news about God's salvation of men?
It should be obvious that "Calvinism" in this second sense is squarely focused on the issues of salvation. In a very real sense, the Five Points of Calvinism are the Gospel of our salvation, for they carefully define man's need of God's grace, and summarize the great acts performed by the Triune God to save men from their sins.
The Arminian "gospel" redefines the gospel doctrines of depravity, election, redemption, regeneration, and grace.
Under the Arminian system, man is not so depraved that he cannot savingly believe in Christ. Thus, man's need of salvation is greatly compromised by Arminianism.
Under the Arminian system, God chose certain men only because He foresaw that they would believe. Thus, God's plan of salvation is greatly compromised by Arminianism. Indeed, this is a great denial of God's freedom to help needy sinners, for those who most need His help are those who would never have believed apart from God's Irresistible Grace.
Redemption under the Arminian system cannot save anyone unless man contributes his own faith. Thus, the price of our salvation and the worth of Christ's blood to save guilty sinners is greatly compromised by Arminianism.
Under the Arminian system God cannot regenerate a man until he responds in faith to the Gospel (whereas Calvinism teaches that faith is a fruit and evidence of regeneration). Thus, God's power and freedom to bring about our salvation is greatly compromised by Arminianism.
And Arminianism views "grace" merely as a universal provision of salvation for all men, who may then receive it or reject it as they choose. On the other hand, the Calvinistic concept of grace is that God does everything necessary for our salvation: choosing us (when we would not choose Him), redeeming us (effectually, with no restraining conditions) and powerfully regenerating us (thereby giving us a new heart which erupts forth in genuine, loving faith), when we were still dead in our sins and unbelief.
To suppose that the Gospel could have any sensible meaning in a theological vacuum is ludicrous. The "gospel" of Arminianism is but a man-centered, man-glorifying counterfeit of the Biblical gospel. The doctrines represented by the TULIP are not mere window dressing. They are nothing less than a precise, Biblical definition of what salvation is all about. In this sense, the TULIP is very much the Gospel.
Is belief in Calvinism essential to salvation?
No one would claim that a perfect understanding of every doctrinal issue involved in Calvinism is required for salvation. But how much Calvinism, if any, is required?
First, let us clarify one point: When we speak of certain beliefs being necessary for salvation, we do not mean that a person acquires salvation because of or on the basis of believing certain truths. Salvation is strictly by the sovereign decree of God, the substitutionary work of Christ and the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, and is never based upon anything which man does or wills (Romans 9:16).
What we mean when we speak of a doctrine being "necessary for salvation" is this: When the Holy Spirit regenerates us, He gives us a new heart and brings forth saving faith from this new heart. What is it that saving faith believes? What constitutes the object of saving faith?
We affirm that saving faith believes in Christ and in His death and resurrection. It does not believe merely in the objective facts of His life, death and resurrection, but also trusts the person, Christ Jesus, who died and rose for us, as Lord and Savior. However, it must believe in certain specific objective facts about the Lord Jesus, to ensure that it is the true, historical, eternal, resurrected God-man, Jesus, that is the object of faith, rather than a deceptive, imaginary counterfeit.
Thus, saving faith believes in the deity of Christ, and in the saving, substitutionary aspects of His death and resurrection. Saving faith also believes in the truthfulness of God's Word, the Bible.
But does saving faith necessarily believe anything that is distinctively Calvinistic? I submit the following items for your consideration:
Salvation requires belief in the One True God.
What is the most basic attribute of God? His holiness and love are certainly essential and pre-eminent among His splendors. Nevertheless, the very definition of God is that He is the Sovereign Master of His universe.
Worldly philosophers may be satisfied with a merely "Supreme" being, but the Bible declares our God to be the Sovereign Master of the universe. What is the difference between "Supreme Being" and "Sovereign Master"? The expression "Supreme Being" only means someone who is greater than everyone else. A "Sovereign Master" is in constant control of all things. Among God's creatures, Satan is the Supreme Being, being more powerful than any other creature, but he is not Sovereign, for he cannot control all things.
It is proper to indict the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons of believing in false gods because they deny the full deity of Christ, or assert that there are other gods besides the God of the Bible. If someone were to question God's holiness, faithfulness, justice, truthfulness, omnipotence or omniscience, should we not question his salvation? Why is it that we do not regard disbelief in God's sovereignty an equally serious error which may well indicate that he has never experienced the grace of God? We have a responsibility to warn people against seriously defective views of God.
I fear that we have been so conditioned by Arminian teaching that we no longer regard it as the serious heresy it is. I do not claim that a person with Arminian views is assuredly unsaved, just as we cannot assume that every Calvinist is saved. But we should not treat Arminianism lightly. It is a serious error to deny God's sovereignty.
Salvation requires belief and realization that we are spiritually bankrupt and need God's grace.
Men today are often led to believe that God will give them eternal life in return for believing in Christ. Faith in Christ is often viewed as a work which man can perform to obtain salvation.
But genuine faith in Christ is born out of a sense of despair and helplessness, and the recognition that our only hope of salvation is to plead forgivness from the One we have so greatly offended. Perhaps such a faith is possible under the Arminian scheme, but far more often it seems that Arminians brag on their own accomplishments and contributions to salvation, and give very little credit to God.
Calvinism strips man of any hope of attaining salvation through his own efforts or devices, thereby leading him to the very sense of despair and helplessness that is necessary for genuine saving faith. Critics of Calvinism suppose that such utter despair will keep people from believing in Christ. On the contrary, it is from such fertile ground that genuine faith springs forth! As long as we continue to harbor the idea that we can do something to obtain salvation, our faith will be some impure mixture--trusting God to make salvation available to us, and trusting our own decision or faith to provide the essential ingredient. Once we understand that we can contribute nothing to our salvation, it is then that we look to God alone for mercy and forgiveness.
When the Calvinist says "God, in mercy, opened my heart and brought me to Himself," the Arminian will typically say "I saw my need of a Savior, and I decided to repent and trust in Christ." Is this merely a different way of saying the same thing, or does it betray a different kind of faith? Whom does the Arminian credit for his salvation? Certainly not Christ alone.
Again, I do not wish to dogmatically assert that one who says "I decided …" is unsaved, but should we not at least consider whether such thinking is inconsistent with saving faith? Is it possible that we are giving individuals a false sense of assurance when we tell them that they can be saved by believing in a "God" who is not the Sovereign Master of His universe, or in a "salvation"which is partly God's work and partly man's?
Salvation requires belief in Christ's Substitutionary death.
Without question, one of the most essential elements of saving faith is trust in Christ's sacrificial death for guilty sinners. The doctrine of substitution is at the very heart of the Gospel..
1 Corinthians 15:1-4 –Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
2 Corinthians 5:21 – For he hath made him [to be] sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
The sacrifice of Christ is the very source and basis of our salvation. We are saved from our sin because He bore the penalty for our sin. The wrath which God bore against us has been swallowed up by the Cross of Christ. If Christ died for you, then God has no wrath left to pour out upon you. Christ did not merely sip from the cup of God's wrath—He drank the cup dry!
When we say that Christ died for all men, we cheapen His sacrifice, for Scripture plainly declares that all men will not be saved. To say that Christ died for every man would mean that the death of Christ, in itself, is insufficient to save anyone. The Arminian "gospel" adds a qualification or condition to the work of Christ. It says "It is not enough that Christ died for you—now you must do your part by believing in Him." Thus, we add man's faith or decision to believe, as a second requisite to salvation. This divides the glory for man's salvation between Christ who died for us, and the faith-giver (whether it be man himself, or the Holy Spirit), and it thereby belittles Christ and His sacrificial death.
The object of faith is no longer Christ's death alone, but is partly the death of Christ, and partly the act of faith. We must raise the troubling question: "If your faith does not reside wholly in Christ's sacrifice, is it saving faith?" Many deceive themselves into thinking that they believe in the Cross alone for salvation, when their theology betrays their true convictions by insisting that the Cross cannot save anyone unless man does his part by believing.
What can we conclude?
God is the final judge of men's hearts. He has the sovereign power to quicken people in response to the preaching of Christ. He is full of mercy, and may indeed bring forth genuine faith in response to a seriously flawed presentation of the Gospel. But we must remember that the character of saving faith is that it is humble, loving and obedient to God. Those who are truly saved may initially be greatly confused about the doctrines of salvation, but God will faithfully lead them into His truth with the passing days and years, as they faithfully study His Word and are taught by His Spirit.
Arminians who have a gracious, humble spirit should not be treated as unbelievers. Even so, we should remember that one of the greatest dangers is a false assurance of salvation. Given that Arminian doctrine denies God His full glory, we should be more willing to examine it critically and to ask the hard, unpopular question: "Is it consistent with saving faith?"
"Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:" (2 Peter 1:10) We should stand firm for the Gospel of God's glorious sovereign grace, teaching it faithfully, that our weaker brothers may become more assured of their calling and election.
Should Calvinism be included in our presentation of the Gospel?
Even if we conclude that Calvinism, though desirable to be believed, is not absolutely essential to saving faith, we still must ask whether it is appropriate to include it in our presentation of the gospel.
Must Calvinism be included in the Gospel presentation?
It is popular in our day to try to eliminate all "nonessential" features from the gospel message, mainly in an attempt to find common ground with others who profess faith in Christ, and to appear accepting, loving and tolerant of others. However, as each generation strips away another layer of what they suppose to be "nonessential" doctrine, we find that the content of our present Gospel has become very meager indeed.
Instead of asking "How little must one believe to be saved?" we should instead ask "How may we preach the Gospel in all its fullness and glory?" If we are truly concerned with the salvation of men, we must turn the Gospel fire up brightly that its light and warmth may be witnessed by all. A tiny spark of a minimalistic gospel can still be used in God's sovereign hand to save whom He will. However, He is likely to be far more glorified in a bold, clear presentation of His Gospel of sovereign grace.
We should also be concerned that the "minimized" Gospel may have gone too far, draining the very heart from the Gospel. We must be on guard against a mere shadow of the Gospel which does not possess the necessary object of saving faith.
A perhaps more common problem is that often the Gospel, while declared accurately, is expressed in terms which have not been adequately explained to the hearers. For example, the Gospel could be stated in this way: "Christ died for sinners so that every one who believes in Him will be saved." This statement is true, and certainly contains the basic thought of the gospel.
However, when we declare this truth to an individual, can we be certain that he understands it the same way we mean it? Does he know what it means to be a "sinner"? Does he understand the statement "Christ died for sinners" to mean that Christ died as their Substitute, bearing the penalty for their sins? What does he make of the statement "every one who believes in Him will be saved"? Perhaps he views his faith as a work which he can perform to merit salvation. Indeed, does he even understand what it means to be saved?
Stripping the Gospel down to a bare-bones statement is not a wise course. The unsaved need more than a Gospel-statement declared to them. Instead, they need to have Gospel-truths explained to them. And when we explain the Gospel fully and accurately, we must tell them the depth of their depravity and declare the great acts which each member of the Trinity has done to save sinners: choosing, redeeming and regenerating them. In short, we need to tell them the TULIP. When we explain the Gospel to them in this way, we can have greater assurance that they will not misunderstand the Gospel.
It has been rightly said that the doctrines of grace stand as sentinels, guarding the Gospel of salvation. Only the Lord can open men's hearts to receive the Gospel, but if we are careful to include the doctrines of grace in our Gospel preaching, we will avoid giving men the false assurance that comes from embracing a defective concept of the Gospel message.
Is it wrong to include Calvinism in the Gospel presentation?
Men often assume it is wrong to preach Calvinism to the unsaved, because they suppose that 1) Calvinism is not the Gospel, and 2) Calvinism will prejudice them against believing the Gospel. However, such thinking betrays a distrust of God's power, and a presumption that our Gospel must be in some sense man-pleasing in order to be effective.
We need only consider the example of our Lord to see that it is perfectly appropriate to preach Calvinistic doctrines openly to the unsaved.
John 6:36-39 – But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.
John 6:43-45 – Jesus therefore answered and said unto them, Murmur not among yourselves. 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 6:64-66 – But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. From that [time] many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
Jesus openly taught the multitudes that there were certain ones whom the Father gave to Him, and they are the ones who would come to Him and be saved. He taught that no one could come to Him unless he was drawn (literally "dragged") by the Father. He taught that God would teach certain ones, and that everyone so taught would come to Him. Here our Lord clearly taught the doctrines of Sovereign Election, Total Depravity and Irresistible Grace to a crowd which contained many unbelievers.
And significantly, when He repeated (in verse 65) that no one could come to Him unless it had been granted by the Father, many of His disciples "went back and walked no more with Him ." Why did they forsake our Lord? John says it was "From that time"—i.e. this statement that no one could come to Him unless the Father granted it to them.
In other words, they forsook Christ over the doctrines of Total Depravity and Irresistible Grace. Suppose a "disciple" today gets upset over these doctrines and leaves the church. Is he saved? What if he had been living in our Lord's day and had heard these doctrines preached by Christ? Would he have forsaken our Lord when He preached them? This should give us cause for great concern over those who will not tolerate the doctrines of grace.
Just as importantly, it shows that we should not hold back teaching the TULIP just because we fear someone may get angry and leave. Our responsibility is to faithfully proclaim God's glorious Word, and to leave the results to Him. We have no reason to suppose that we are exempted from openly teaching the doctrines of grace, when our Lord gave us such a clear model to follow.
John 6 is not the only such example.
John 10:11 – I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.
John 10:26 – But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.
Notice that our Lord plainly taught Limited Atonement when He said "the good shepherd giveth His life for the sheep." Notice also that He openly told some of His hearers that they were not His sheep (and thus that He did not die for them!)
Finally, notice the relationship between believing and being a sheep. The reason they did not believe was that they were not sheep! Arminian doctrine would like to turn the passage around. But our Lord's statement clearly teaches Irresistible Grace.
Peter on Pentecost openly taught God's sovereignty to the unsaved when He said:
Acts 2:23 – Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:
When Judas betrayed Christ, it was by God's "predetermined plan and foreknowledge." Peter openly declared this truth to the unsaved multitude on Pentecost, and it did not seem to hinder the visible success of his preaching, but instead led to a revival of 3000 souls led to the Lord.
Rather than preventing men from trusting in Christ, proclaiming God's sovereign glory can be greatly used of God to bring about great revival. Arminianism depicts God as a weak, frustrated deity who cannot accomplish His will: He wants all men to be saved, and has done all that He can to bring it to pass, but still a vast multitude reject Christ to their own ruin. Calvinism, on the other hand, proclaims God as the Sovereign Lord of the universe who has from eternity planned and purposed all that will ever come to pass. God will save each and every one He has purposed to save, and this will exalt His marvelous mercy and grace. God has appointed the rest to follow their own sinful impulses down the wide path that leads to destruction, and this will exalt His awesome holiness and justice. When we proclaim such a God as this, we should be prepared for great things.
Paul's epistle to the Romans was written to a church which he had never, as yet, visited. The epistle was addressed to To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called [to be] saints: This means that the epistle was to be read to (or by) every saint in the church, no matter how new to the faith.
Romans is universally regarded as one of the most evangelical of the books of the Bible. In this epistle, Paul proclaims much that we normally think of as Gospel material: man's sin and depravity, justification by faith alone, and even the spiritual conflict of the Christian life. But in chapters 8, 9 and 11, he makes some very strong statements about God's sovereignty in salvation…
Romans 8:29 – For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate [to be] conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God [be] for us, who [can be] against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? [It is] God that justifieth.
Romans 9:8-23 – That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these [are] not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. For this [is] the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sara shall have a son. 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 loved, 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. 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. 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 honour, and another unto dishonour? [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,
Imagine the impact this must have had upon new converts in the Roman church! Yet, Paul did not pull any punches. He was not fearful that openly preaching God's sovereignty would cause people to turn away from Christ, for he was fully confident that every truly elect person would persevere by God's sovereign power. Indeed, he no doubt felt that to omit proclaiming God's sovereignty would have betrayed the trust which God had given him. To preach the Gospel rightly, we declare the awesome glories of God—especially His sovereignty.
We should remember Paul's declaration to the Ephesian elders:
Acts 20:27 – For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.
It appears that he did not shun to declare "the whole purpose of God" to the Roman saints, either. The entire spectrum of doctrine, from the basic issues of sin and justification, to the doctrine of God's sovereign choice of some and hardening of others, is boldly declared in the epistle to the Romans. May God grant us such boldness!
Romans 11:4-10 – But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to [the image of] Baal. Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then [is it] no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if [it be] of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded (According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day. And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them: Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway.
The faith of the early church.
The early church was not ashamed of the doctrines of grace. There is no evidence that they entertained any Arminian leanings. We have already looked at some of their teaching and preaching. We should also notice the way they thought and prayed.
Consider, for example, the prayer of the Church when the apostles were first arrested for preaching the gospel, and then threatened and released with the command, "...not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus." (Acts 4:18).
Acts 4:27-31 – For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done. And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.
If the early Church was so thoroughly saturated with this confidence in God's Sovereign will and power, then we must conclude that they openly and frequently preached, prayed, taught and discussed God's sovereignty.
Another clear evidence that the early Christians fully believed in God's sovereignty is provided by a statement in Paul's epistle to the Philippian church…
Philippians 1:29 – For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;
Notice that this verse clearly teaches Irresistible Grace—faith in Christ is something which God grants to us. But notice also that Paul assumed that the Philippian saints already understood and fully embraced this doctrine, for he argues that God has "not only" granted us faith, "but also"grants to us the privilege of suffering for Christ. Paul evidently knew that the Philippians rejoiced in God's Irresistible Grace, but felt that they may have found the doctrine of suffering for Christ more difficult to accept.
Again, this ties in perfectly with the fact that Paul boldly proclaimed God's sovereign grace in his epistle to the Romans. God's sovereignty is much too necessary to effective Christian devotion, worship, sanctification and service to keep it hidden away in seminary classrooms and theological journals. It is the very lifeblood of the Christian faith, and should be joyously proclaimed as the glorious Gospel of God's surpassing grace.
Those who view Calvinism merely as a doctrinal aberration or hobby will no doubt regard this inquiry to reflect a certain doctrinal arrogance. There are many who regard Calvinism as suitable only for graduate-level courses at a seminary or Bible college.
But those who have been made, by God's refreshing Spirit, to taste the sweetness of the doctrines of grace, can never regard God's sovereign mercy with such disdain. To us, Calvinism is the very Gospel itself, declaring the great acts by which our Sovereign Triune God chooses, redeems, cleanses and preserves His beloved people.
Calvinism is not merely a quaint intellectual curiosity—it is a revolutionary way of thinking about God and salvation! It is revolutionary in the most Biblical, devout and God-honoring way. It proclaims a God who is truly glorious, and a salvation that is truly gracious. It exalts Christ's redemptive sufferings by acknowledging that they are fully efficacious in saving all for whom they were intended. It crushes human pride by insisting that, apart from regeneration, men are wholly unwilling and unable to come to God or to trust in Christ.
Let us therefore rejoice in our sovereign God, and in His sovereign mercy to us! Let us joyfully proclaim His glories to a lost world—a world which needs to know that there is a God in heaven—a God who is infinitely worthy of all honor, glory, fear and love. May He be forever praised!
J. I. Packer, Introductory Essay to Owen's The Death of Death (London: Banner of Truth, 1983).
… Without realising it, we have during the past century bartered that gospel for a substitute product which, though it looks similar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing. Hence our troubles; for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in past days proved itself so mighty. The new gospel conspicuously fails to produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church. Why? We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character and content. It fails to make men God-centred in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this is not primarily what it is trying to do. One way of stating the difference between it and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be "helpful" to man—to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction—and too little concerned to glorify God. The old gospel was "helpful," too—more so, indeed, than is the new—but (so to speak) incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God. It was always and essentially a proclamation of Divine sovereignty in mercy and judgment, a summons to bow down and worship the mighty Lord on whom man depends for all good, both in nature and in grace. Its centre of reference was unambiguously God. But in the new gospel the centre of reference is man. This is just to say that the old gospel was religious in a way that the new gospel is not. Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach men to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and His ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him. There is a world of difference. The whole perspective and emphasis of gospel preaching has changed.
C. H. Spurgeon, Election, (delivered September 2, 1855 at New Park Street Chapel).
It is no novelty, then, that I am preaching; no new doctrine. I love to proclaim these strong old doctrines, which 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. Were I a Pelagian, or a believer in the doctrine of free-will, I should have to walk for centuries all alone. Here and there a heretic of no very honourable character might rise up and call me brother. But taking these things to be the standard of my faith, I see the land of the ancients peopled with my brethren--I behold multitudes who confess the same as I do, and acknowledge that this is the religion of God's own church.
And, lest this should be too high for you, note the other mark of election, which is faith, "belief of the truth." Whoever believes God's truth, and believes on Jesus Christ, is elect. I frequently meet with poor souls, who are fretting and worrying themselves about this thought—"How, if I should not be elect!" "Oh, sir," they say, "I know I put my trust in Jesus; I know I believe in his name and trust in his blood; but how if I should not be elect?" Poor dear creature! you do not know much about the gospel, or you would never talk so, for he that believes is elect. …
A. W. Pink, Gleanings in the Godhead (Chicago: Moody Press, 1975), pp. 124-125.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ There is a continual need to return to the great fundamental of the faith. As long as the age lasts the Gospel of God's grace must be preached. The need arises out of the natural state of the human heart, which is essentially legalistic. The cardinal error against which the Gospel has to contend is the inveterate tendency of men to rely on their own performances. The great antagonist to the truth is the pride of man, which causes him to imagine that he can be, in part at least, his own savior. This error is the prolific mother of a multitude of heresies. It is by this falsehood that the pure stream of God's truth, passing through human channels, has been polluted.
Now the Gospel of God's grace is epitomized in Ephesians 2:8-9, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." All genuine reforms or revivals in the churches of God must have as their basis a plain declaration of this doctrine. …
After Luther came a still more distinguished teacher, John Calvin. He was much more deeply taught in the truth of the Gospel, and pushed its central doctrine of grace to its logical conclusions. As Charles Spurgeon said, "Luther had, as it were, undammed the stream of truth, by breaking down the barriers which had kept back its living waters as in a great reservoir. But the stream was turbid and carried down with it much which ought to have been left behind. Then Calvin came, and cast salt into the waters, and purged them, so that there flowed on a purer stream to gladden and refresh souls and quench the thirst of poor lost sinners."