Comments on The Five Points of Calvinism
The five points are often called TULIP. These are:-
T - Total depravity
U - Unconditional election
L - Limited atonement
I - Irresistible grace
P - Perseverance of the saints
(Note: None of the above expressions are found in the Bible)
The essential difficulty that gave rise to the clash between Calvinism and Arminianism was how to reconcile predestination with man’s responsibility to believe the Gospel. It is essentially the same difficulty that arises when we think of Christ’s death. He was given up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, but crucified and slain by the hand of lawless men (Acts 2:23). The Jewish council were not submitting to God’s will when they crucified Christ - God did not tell them to do it. Far be the thought. However, in result it fulfilled God’s determinate counsel. This kind of thing is always happening. Back in 1970 there was a terrible exposure of the state of the Exclusive Brethren. The Lord did not tell the late Jim Taylor to behave and speak as he did at Aberdeen, but what he said and did exposed not only the state of Mr. Taylor but also that of the Brethren. The Lord no doubt intended that there should be this exposure.
As to T above it must be said that whether a man (or a woman) accepts Christ depends on the state of the soul of the person concerned. If there is anything of God in the person he will accept Christ; if there is not he will reject Him. There must be a work of God in a person before he will believe in Christ. Much of the difficulty arises because what is thought of is only the two poles - predestination on the one hand and the fact that the Gospel is presented for the reception of whosoever will. Two important matters are left out or minimised; firstly, the work of God by his Spirit and secondly, the work of the preacher in persuading men. There is no idea in Scripture that there are persons who would accept Christ but are not able to do so because they have not been the subjects of election. It is rather “We will not that this [man] should reign over us” (Luke 19:14). Again, “Ye will not come to me that ye might have life” (John 5:40) There was perfect goodness in Christ and if that is rejected it shows that there is nothing good towards God in us. (See 1 Kings 14:13). There is no idea in Scripture that we should look within ourselves to see whether God is working in us. We are to look away from ourselves to Christ “Look unto me” (Isaiah 45:22); “Looking steadfastly on Jesus”(Hebrews 12:2). No one stops a person from believing. A refusal to believe must be in the person himself. Satan may work, blinding his eyes, but Satan cannot override God’s work, though God by his Spirit can override Satan’s work. God is greater than Satan (1 John 4:4). Finally, if God did not work would anyone accept Christ ? It would be an open question whether anyone would accept Christ. Supposing no one did, the work of Christ would have been abortive. What some are really doing is carrying back the thought that there is something good towards God in man to what is creatorial rather than teaching that the willingness to accept Christ is the result of the work of God in man now (Phil. 2:13).
The idea that all men are totally depraved is not correct. The only creature totally depraved is Satan. Some men are more depraved than others (Daniel 4:17; Acts 17:5). In practice some unbelievers are as kind and considerate as some Christians. God did not create people depraved. They come to be in that condition. However, at bottom man’s heart is enmity against God (Romans 7:18; 8:7/8) and therefore there must be something at work in a man to convert him. Calvinists accept that man is not absolutely depraved, but their distinction is artificial, for totally and absolutely are synonyms in ordinary usage.
Part of the problem is that Jeremiah 17:9 is quoted to support the idea of total depravity. The AV says the heart is ‘desperately wicked’. A more correct translation is ‘incurable’ (see JND’s translation or the note in the Newberry Bible). Sin is the disease in man’s heart. However, like any other disease it may not be fully developed. In Genesis 6:5 we find the evil fully developed - thoughts and imaginations that were only evil and that continually. It was a long time after Adam sinned. However, it was only when the evil was fully developed that God acted in judgment. We find a similar thing later on. The Israelites were only allowed to conquer Canaan when the iniquity of the Amorites was full (Genesis 15:16)
However, we must not become unbalanced, that is, make so much of predestination that we cannot preach a clear Gospel. On the other hand we must not assume that we can convert people by preaching without the help of God’s Spirit. “God will make him yield, not man” (Job 32:13) was said as to Job, but this does not mean that we should not seek to persuade men. Paul did (Acts 18:4). There is man’s will and man’s education. God can deal with the former, but the preacher in his work may be able to deal with the latter.
As to U it may at first be stated that there is nothing in Scripture about persons being elected to be lost. The thought is rather that unless God elected persons to be saved none would be saved. However there is no idea that persons who are lost will be able to say to God that it was his fault for not electing them. Further, God did not elect persons because He foreknew that they would believe. If He had not elected them how would He know that they would believe? If there was nothing of God in them they would not believe and if there was something of God in them God must have put it there either when He created man on the earth or when he worked by his Spirit in man at a later date. The Gospel is free to all (Romans 3:22). Only man’s will can stop him being blessed.
God has his reasons for showing mercy. Paul could give a reason why mercy was shown him. It was because the evil he did, he did ignorantly in unbelief (1 Timothy 1:13).
As to L Christ has done a work that has such a value in the sight of God that all could be saved by it (1 Timothy 2:6). The work that Christ did at Calvary would have been just as necessary if there had been only one sinner in the world (Galatians 2:20). Christ did not bear a certain quantum of sins, either those of the whole world, or only of those that believe. However, it is only believers that get the benefit of Christ’s work (1 Corinthians 1:21). What Christ has done effectively has created a city of refuge for those who are willing to take advantage of it.
It is God who so loved the world (John 3:16), but Christ loved his own (John13:1). Scripture constantly makes this distinction.
As to I it is by God’s grace that anyone is saved (Ephesians 2:5). If there were no work of God in man there would be nothing that could be affected by the Gospel. It is not that there is anything defective in the grace of God which is presented to man, but there is defect in man. It is no good trying to present the grace of God to an animal. There is nothing in an animal that can be affected by it.
As to P it is possible for persons to fall from grace: “Fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4). However, if they are among the elect God will see to it that they do not fall (1 Samuel 2:9). The elect cannot be misled, but they would be if they could be (Matthew 24:24). We must beware of either doubting our salvation or taking an attitude of levity as regards God’s keeping power. This applies in other areas. Bishop Ridley, the night before he was burned at the stake, was taking the matter lightly, but when he was being burned it seemed that he was in danger of giving up.
Man has properly not got freewill, because he must have a motive for what he does, and what he does shows what he is. “As saith the proverb of the ancients; Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked” (1 Samuel 24:13). See also what Christ Himself said (Mark 7:20-23). The same is true of God. He can only act according to his nature, which is love (1 John 4:8). It is what you are that determines what you do, what you say and what you believe.
It may be considered unimportant whether we believe in God’s election or not. If a person believes in Christ, he believes, and that is all that is necessary. There is no idea in Scripture that a person may believe and then be lost because he was not elected. If we take that ground there would be no point in preaching. All we would need to do would be to give talks on election. God does not say to anyone: “You will be lost because you were not the subject of election”.
It must be remembered that men are not puppets. They are responsible beings. They are God’s offspring (Acts 17:28). My children are not my puppets. They are independent beings. If we were not independent beings we would not be responsible persons subject to God’s judgment. God would not judge his puppets.
A Christian must not only be elect, but be born again (John 3:4). That is the Holy Spirit’s work (John 3:5), but there is also the work of the evangelist. Paul could say; “We are God’s fellow-workmen” (1 Corinthians 3: 9).
For more on the above subject see my website: www.Gsimmonds.com. The subject is covered particularly under “God’s Sovereignty and Man’s responsibility”; also “Saved or Perishing” and “The Death of Christ (2)”.
We need to consider that in the Acts of the apostles, the apostles did not preach election. It was a truth presented to persons who were Christians. They were told to use diligence to make their calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). One wonders what Calvinists would make of that passage. Over to them.
The booklet by Duane Edward Spencer: “The Five Points of Calvinism in the Light of Scripture” prompted the writing of the foregoing.
The Arminian view in contrast to Calvinism was (1) the decree of salvation applies to all who believe on Christ and who persevere in obedience and faith; (2) Christ died for all men; (3) The Holy Spirit must help men to do things that are truly good (such as having faith in Christ for salvation) ; (4) God’s saving grace is not irresistible; (5) It is possible for those who are Christians to fall from grace.
These points are largely covered by what has been said above and it is submitted that neither the Arminian nor the Calvinist position is 100% correct.
January 15th 2007