Thursday, March 15, 2012

Election: Grace or Free Will [the difference between Calvinism and Arminiansm]?

There is dispute between Calvinists and Arminians concerning salvation and election.  Arminianism asserts that man has a free will to choose God; that salvation is primarily up to the individual himself, and therefore, Christ died for each and every man.  Calvinism, on the other hand, is based upon the total and complete grace of God.  Jesus Christ came to die for sinners, but it is entirely His grace that He bestows upon unworthy sinners to save them.  He did not come to save the whole world, but people from every tongue, tribe and nation in the world.

So what about passages in Scripture that seem to uphold the Arminian standpoint?  If we were to take verses like 1 John 2:2 where it says that Jesus Christ was the propitiation for the sins of the whole world, it would be easy to say that the Arminian viewpoint is right: that Christ died so that the entire world might be saved—no exceptions.  The problem is that other Scripture passages plainly declare otherwise.  Ephesians 1:5 clearly states that the elect of God—those whom He had ordained before the foundation of the world to be saved according to His grace—were "predestined unto the adoption of the children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will."  Romans 8:29 is another obvious understanding regarding predestination, where it states:

"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."

In the following chapters 9-11 of Romans, Paul continues to talk about salvation being opened to both Jews and Gentiles alike, but that God did not call the whole world to salvation.  Many people view this as unjust and unfair of God, but what right has man to call the Creator unjust when He has all power to do whatsoever He wills?  As finite, corrupt, depraved, sinful human beings, not one of us deserves the grace of God and eternal life; yet, in His infinite mercy God bestows grace upon many an unworthy being such as you and I. 

"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 showeth mercy.  For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show My power in thee, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth.  Therefore He hath 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 honor, and another unto dishonor?  What if God, willing to show 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, even us, whom He hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?"  -Romans 9:14-23

The following paragraphs, quite lengthy but well worth the time to read, are John Calvin's thoughts on the matter of election and grace.

"For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time."  -1 Timothy 2:3-6
What is meant by 'all men'?

"Since it is God's will that all people should partake of that salvation which God has sent in the person of His only begotten Son, we must endeavor to draw poor, foolish, ignorant creatures to us, so that we may all come together to this inheritance of the kingdom of heaven, which has been promised to us.  But we must observe that St. Paul is not speaking of every person in particular, but of all sorts of persons and of all peoples.  So, when he says that God desires all men to be saved, we must not think that he is speaking of individuals.  Rather, his meaning is this, that whereas in times past God chose one particular people to Himself, He intends now to show mercy to all the world—yes, even to those who seemed to be shut out from the hope of salvation.

"St. Paul says in another place that the heathen were without God and devoid of all the promises because they were not yet brought into the fellowship of the Jews.  This was a special privilege that God had given to the descendants of Abraham.  So St. Paul's meaning is, not that God will save every person, but that the promises which were given to only one people are now extended to all the world; for, as he says in this same epistle, the wall [between Jews and Gentiles] was broken down at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God had separated the Jews from all other nations; but when Jesus Christ appeared for the salvation of the world, then this difference between them and the Gentiles was taken away.

"So now God will welcome us all—and this is a necessary prerequisite for our salvation.  For if what God had ordained only for a certain period had always continued, we should all be accursed.  The gospel would not have been preached to us, and we would have had no sign or token of the love and goodness of God.  But now we have become His children; we are no longer strangers to the promises, as our ancestors were.  For Jesus Christ came to be a Savior to all in general; He offered the grace of God the Father that all might receive it.

"As St. Paul speaks of all nations, he also speaks of all conditions of men [i.e., men of rank and social positions].  In other words, God will save kings and magistrates as well as others.  We must not confine His fatherly goodness to ourselves alone, or to any particular group of people.  Why not?  Because God reveals to us that He will show favor to all.  This, then, is St. Paul's meaning.  And to confirm the matter, he adds that it is God's will that all should 'come to the knowledge of the truth.'  We must mark well why St. Paul uses this argument, for we cannot know the will of God unless it is made known to us, unless we have received some sign or token by which we many perceive it.  It is too high a matter for us to know what God's counsel is; but so far as God shows it to us by its effects, so far we can comprehend it.

"The gospel is called the mighty power of God to salvation to all who believe.  Yes, it is the gates of paradise.  It follows, then, that if through the will of God the gospel is preached to all the world, that is a token that salvation is common to all.  Thus St. Paul proves that God's will is that all people should be saved.  God has not appointed His apostles to proclaim His name only among the Jews, for we know that the commission was given to them to preach to all creatures, to be witnesses of Jesus Christ from Jerusalem to Samaria, and from there throughout all the world.

What St. Paul does not mean

"Were the apostles sent to publish the truth of God to all people and to all conditions of people?  It follows, then, that God presents Himself to all the world, that the promise belongs to both great and small, as much to the Gentiles now as it did before to the Jews.  But before we go further, we must demolish the foolish—or rather erroneous—arguments of those who misuse this passage of St. Paul.  I refer to those who endeavor to make the election of God of no effect, and to utterly take it away.  They say that if God desires all people to be saved, it follows that He has not chosen a certain number of mankind and cast the rest away, but that His will leaves the matter open.

"They claim that it is left to the choice of people whether to save themselves or not; that God lets us alone and waits to see whether we will come to Him or not, and so receives those who come to Him.  But in the meantime, those who say this destroy the groundwork of our salvation; for we know that we are so accursed that the inheritance of salvation is far from us.  If someone says that Jesus Christ has come to remedy this situation, we must examine what human nature is really like.  We are so contrary in our nature, and such enemies of God, that we cannot but resist Him.  We are so given over to evil and wickedness that we cannot so much as conceive a good thought.  How then can we become partakers of that salvation which is offered in the gospel, unless God draws us to it by His Holy Spirit?

"Let us now see whether God draws all the world to it or not.  No, no; for then our Lord Jesus Christ would have said in vain, 'No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him' (John 6:44).  So we must conclude that God is pleased to bestow a special grace on those who come to Him, in order to draw them and teach them in such a way that they believe the gospel and receive it with true faith.

"But why does God chooses one, and pass over another?  We know that people cannot come to God by their own merits; nor do those who have been chosen deserve to be preferred to their companions—as though there were some worthiness in them.  It follows, then, that before the world was made (as St. Paul says in the epistle to the Ephesians), God chose those whom it pleased Him [to choose]; and we do not know why this person was chosen in preference to that one.  Still, we must confess that whatever God does, He does justly, although we cannot comprehend it.  Therefore, let us receive that of which we are so thoroughly assured in Holy Scripture, and not allow ourselves to be led astray under a shadow of vain reason by those who are ignorant of the Word of God.

"At first sight, there appears to be come weight to their argument.  'God desires all men to be saved'; therefore, they say, it is left to the free choice of each individual to become enlightened in the faith and to partake of salvation.  Anyone, however, who reads just three lines will easily perceive that St. Paul here is not speaking of every particular person (as we have already shown), but that he is speaking of all peoples and all classes of society.  He shows that the case no longer stands as it did before the coming of Christ, when there was only one chosen people, but that now God shows Himself to be Savior to all the world, according as it is promised: 'I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for your possession.'

"Moreover, so that no one may deceive himself, or be deceived by the vain and foolish talk of those who pervert Holy Scripture, let us examine the teaching of these enemies of God and all godliness.  God desires all people to be saved; that is to say, as they claim, everyone.  If this is the will of God at present, no doubt it was the will of God from the beginning of the world, for we know that God does not change His mind, as men do.  So then, if today God desires all people to be saved, this was always what He intended; and if this was always His intention, what are we to make of St. Paul's statement that it is God's will that all should come to the knowledge of the truth?  He chose only one people to Himself, as it is said in Acts 14, and left the poor Gentiles to walk in their own ignorance (Acts 14:16).  Does that mean He was unable at that time to execute what He purposed?

"Even in New Testament times there were some countries where God would not permit St. Paul to preach, such as Bithynia and Phrygia (Acts 16:6-6).  And so we see that it was not God's will that the knowledge of the gospel should come to everyone at the beginning.  Thus we may easily conclude, contrary to the teaching of those who abuse this text, that St. Paul is not speaking in this passage of the secret counsels of God; nor does he mean to speak of God's everlasting election, the choice made before the beginning of the world, but is only showing what God's will and pleasure is, as far as we may know it.

"It is true that God does not change; neither does He have two wills, or deal with us fraudulently, seeming to mean one thing when He does not intend this.  And yet Scripture speaks to us in two ways concerning His will.  How can that be?  How does it come about that His will is spoken of in two different ways?  It is because of our denseness, our lack of understanding.  Why does God portray Himself has having eyes, ears, and a nose?  Why does He speak of Himself has having human affections?  Why does He say He is angry, or that He is sorry?  Is it not because we cannot comprehend Him in His incomprehensible majesty?  It is not absurd, then, that Holy Scripture should speak to us of the will of God in two ways—not because His will is twofold, but in order that He may accommodate Himself to our weakness, knowing that we are so dense and slow in understanding.

The doctrine of God's eternal election is profitable for us

"When Scripture tells us that God has chosen those whom it pleased Him [to choose] before the world began, we behold one of the secret counsels of God into which we cannot enter.  Why, then, does Holy Scripture inform us that this election, this choice of God, is from eternity?  It does not do so without good reason, for this is a very profitable doctrine, if it is received as it ought to be.  For by it we are reminded that we are not called to the knowledge of the gospel because of our own worthiness.  We are no better than others, for we all sprang from the cursed root of Adam; we are all subject to the very same condemnation; and we are all shut up in the same bondage to sin and death.

"When it pleased God to draw us out of the darkness of unbelief and give us the light of the gospel, He did not look at any service we might have performed, or at any virtue we might have possessed (for there was no such thing); but He called us, according as He had previously chosen us.  This is the order which St. Paul presents to us elsewhere, in Romans 8, to the end that if we know God we must not take the glory for this to ourselves.  Instead this came about because our Lord God Himself chose us.  Thus the calling of the faithful rests upon the counsel of God.  We see by this in what way and to what extent our Lord reveals to us what He had decreed concerning us before we were born.  He touches us with His Holy Spirit, and we are, as it were, grafted into the body of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This is the true down-payment in earnest of our adoption, the pledge given to us to put us beyond all doubt that God takes and holds us for His children when, by faith, we are made one with Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God.  To Him belongs the inheritance of eternal life.

"God gives us such a sure testimony of His will that, notwithstanding our ignorance of His eternal decrees, He puts us beyond all doubt of our election and He gives us a hope of which we would be entirely devoid if Jesus Christ did not call us to be members of His body.

"Thus we see how profitable this doctrine of election is to us.  Firstly, it serves to humble us, seeing that our salvation does not depend on our merits, nor on the virtue that God might have found in us, but on His choice of us before we were born and before we could do either good or evil.  Secondly, when we know that according to His unchangeable election God has called us to Himself, so much the more is our salvation put beyond doubt.  For Jesus Christ tells us, 'No one takes from Me what the Father has given Me' (John 10:27-29).  Who are those whom the Father has given to Jesus Christ?  Those whom He has chosen, and whom He knows to be His.  Seeing that this is the case—that God has given us to His Son, to be kept and defended by Him, and that Jesus Christ promises that none of us shall be lost, but that He will exercise all the might and power of the Godhead to save and defend us—is this not a comfort surpassing all the treasures of the world?  Is this not the true ground upon which all the assurance and certainty of our salvation is settled?
"We are like birds perched on the branches of a tree, sitting targets for Satan.  What assurance, then, could we have for tomorrow, or for the whole of life, or even beyond the grave—were it not that God, who has called us, will complete the work which He has begun in us?  How has He brought us together in the faith of His gospel?  Is it on the grounds of [something in] us?  No, on the contrary; it proceeds solely from His free election.  All the more, therefore, we need be in no doubt."
John Calvin, Grace and its fruits: Selection from John Calvin on the Pastoral Epistles, (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2000), pg. 86-92


Sarah said...

Thanks for sharing this, Rachel. I love the doctrines of Grace. It's really encouraging to see other young people that love Calvinism, too. The knowledge that it is God who chose us and gave us His Salvation and that He will give us the grace to persevere, is so comforting for the Christian, isn't it.

God Bless,
Sarah (from )

Rachel said...

Yes, indeed it is, Sarah!
Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

Joy said...

Dear Rachel,
like Sarah was saying I love the doctrines of Grace, and it is wonderful to see your passion for it was well, and the way you wrote it was really good. Thank you for sharing :).

~Joy @

Rachel said...

Thank you, Joy, my pleasure! Glad you feel the same way!