CALVINISTS AND CALVINISM
Calvinism is that Reformed principle which fundamentally stands on the truth of the Godhood of God. Calvinism, as no other system of doctrine, exalts the absolute sovereignty of God. The center and unifying principle of this system is the glory of the Lord God Almighty. In younger days, the catechetical question was put to me, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” We have been taught to pray “Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done”, and the question is put to us year after year as to the meaning of that first petition, which is explained thus: “Grant us, first, rightly to know Thee, and to sanctify, glorify and praise thee, in all Thy works, in which Thy power, wisdom, goodness, justice, mercy and truth are clearly displayed; and further also, that we may so order and direct our whole lives, our thoughts, words and actions, that Thy name may never be blasphemed, but rather honored and praised on our account” (HC, 122). In every place, through all time, from first to last, from eternity to everlasting, as Calvinists we are taught to see God.
The main project of Calvinism is to glorify God. “Whether, therefore, ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31). Paul illustrated this principle when in his conversion he asked, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” and when a mature believer, answered his own question, knowing then that he had been foreordained “to the praise of the glory of His grace” (Eph. 1:6).
Only the Calvinist with his high view of God will have a profound view of sin. To him sin is a lethal, loathsome leprosy of such offensiveness that neither he nor any man discovers its enormity because it is beyond human calculations. Yet, he more than any others knows the exceeding hatefulness of sin. He knows sin to be defiance of the authority of God, to be banishment from the paradise of God. “All sinned and are falling short of the glory of God.” Every sinner is by nature “dead through trespasses and sins”. The sinner is guilty of implacable hatred against God and his neighbor. He is so totally depraved by sin that he is “wholly incapable of doing any good and inclined to all evil”. The Arminian does not see sin as a thing so bad. Man is only “very far gone from original righteousness”. The Calvinist takes seriously the verdict of the Word of God and believes man is “wholly gone from original righteousness”.
Calvinism relative to salvation rejects all Pelagianism or do-it-yourself with-a-little-help-from-God; all synergism, or man working it out with God. No; salvation is all and only of grace. Christ is the Alpha and the Omega of salvation. “The salvation of the righteous is of the Lord.” Of Him and through Him and to Him are all things. Nor is there so much as a square inch of ground for boasting. “Where is boasting then? It is excluded! By what manner of law? of works?” No, for if works anywhere along the line entered in, there would be boasting, both here on earth and hereafter in heaven. But “by the law of faith;” for as soon as you see that salvation is through faith, then you confess that it is nothing of man and all of God.
Calvinism is elated with the truth that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to His purpose, that their names are written in the Book of Life because chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, before He decreed the being of angels, before all eternity, He foreordained the Son of God as the firstborn of every creature. Then God foreordained Him to be the Firstborn among many brethren, then He in Him foreordained the many brethren, then He in Him foreordained the many sons unto glory. This is how God viewed man in His decree. From God’s point of view, before He found a place for the creation, before He found a place for the Fall in His counsel, he had a place for the Israel of God in His everlasting love. Man was not first viewed as fallen, all equally guilty in sin, with some left in that lost condition while others were translated out of it. Man is viewed as belonging to the same un-fallen lump: some are made vessels unto honor and some unto dishonor. God is absolutely sovereign in His purpose, according to which He chooses men “being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil…not of works,” but according to this principle, “I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy”, and this, “Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will and whom He will He hardeneth.”
Although Calvinism views man in himself as nothing worse than nothing, vanity and as compared to God the small dust of the balance, yet renewed, in Christ, man is exalted and glorified to the highest place under God in the universe. The renewed man has been lifted up out of the horrible pit, his feet set on the Rock of Salvation, a new song put into his mouth and his goings established so that his path grows brighter and brighter to the perfect and last day. He knows himself a man of destiny, predestined in Christ Jesus his covenant head and representative to be King over the earth and the heavens (Heb. 2:8; Eph. 1:10).
What are Calvinists like? The “free-thinkers” and the liberals have caricaturized them as fanatics, cranks, kill-joys, extremist, the lunatic fringe and narrow-minded obscurantist fossils. Men are so castigated whenever they claim to know anything or to have the truth. John Bunyan was called much worse for his “Pilgrim’s Progress”, and his “Life and Death of Mr. Badman” (his treatise on reprobation in dialogue form). Martin Luther, who deserves to be listed among Calvinists because he tenaciously held the doctrines of saving grace, absolute sovereignty and predestination, stood the rage of the world. Oliver Cromwell was mocked for his army dubbed “Cromwell’s Saints”. But he stood upon the solid rock of Calvinistic faith. His soldiers took the same stand. His army put every enemy in Britain and in Europe to rout. Against forces three times greater than theirs they fought so successfully as to destroy and conquer every foe that opposed them. With a firm faith in the absolute sovereignty of God, they believed they were ordained to victory. Hence, they marched against their enemies with disdainful confidence singing, “Let God arise; let His enemies be scattered”. They faced battle as their day of triumph and entered it shouting in the name of Jehovah. Afterward, back in their tents, they were known for their prayer and worship, not for swearing, drunkenness and gambling.
In the Netherlands, the history of Calvinism was written in blood when the true church was persecuted by Spain with every cruelty religious fanaticism could invent. Following that horror came flame, flood, famine, pestilence and siege. History records, that in that little country there were more martyrs than in all other Christian communities and none less steadfast. Take the siege of Leyden. With no food, famine struck, then the black plague. Multitudes died of starvation and pestilence. When called upon to surrender, they answered the enemy “as long as you hear the mew of a cat, the bark of a dog, you know we hold out! When all are dead but ourselves, we will devour our left arms and with our right arms defend our women, our liberty and our religion against the foreign tyrant.” When deliverance came, they could do no more than stagger or crawl, which they did, not toward home or relief stations, but to the house of God. There they worshiped, not as ordinarily in loud psalms of praise, but, with strength almost gone and almost voiceless, their song came forth in grateful sobbing and weeping.
The survivors of that great siege, by their leader, William of Orange, himself a convert to Calvinism, were given a choice of either a reduction in taxes or a school of learning as a token of esteem for their valor. They chose the school and the University of Leyden came into being. Calvinists have always pinched themselves to the bone to give their children Christian education.
So it was in “the dear dead days beyond recall”. But are not Calvinists now out of date, behind the times, their faith outworn, their creed obsolete and defunct? Are they not so narrow gauge that they no longer fit with the stream-lined track to progress? But what is boasted of as modern progress has never produced anything like the labor of the ages produced by the English Puritans, the Scotch Presbyterians, the Dutch Reformed, the French Huguenots or the American Calvinists. What is called progress by the religious liberal is to the Calvinist departure farther and farther away from the truth. What they mean by progressive liberalism is really defection from the truth. It is neither progress nor development. It is a revival of heresy. It is revolution in the line of Unitarianism and atheism.
The truth is never passé. The truth we nickname Calvinism is the modern comprehensive development of Augustinianism. The latter is an expansion and enlargement of Paulinism. Paulinism is the divinely revealed interpretation of the Gospels. The Gospels are the fulfillment of all the righteousness contained in the Old Testament Scriptures. In the Scriptures we find the Word of God, the entire Word of God and nothing but the Word of God. That Word and the system of truth derived from it, written in the heart by the powerful testimony of the Holy Spirit, make one a Calvinist, that is, one in the closest agreement with the Word of God.
There are some who wear Calvin’s cloak as a sort of laboratory smock. In the laboratory, in the study or in the seminary they are “Calvinists”, but in the pulpit they are Arminians. Others are at best “Five Point” Calvinists. Certainly we ought to believe and preach the Five Points of Calvinism, the warm and savory truth of the Canons of Dort with their Rejections of Errors. But there is reason to believe that many so called five point Calvinists have not nearly as much to offer as the Canons of Dort. But why not be a Heidelberg Catechism Calvinist? Why not a Belgic Confession Calvinist? Or why not a Westminster Confession Calvinist? Why not a “Declaration of Principles” Calvinist? In other words, why should not a Christian be severely scriptural? Calvinism is scriptural. It is in harmony with the experience of the mature man in Christ. As a man advances in years the more Calvinistic he grows. Perhaps some would say that it is enough to be saved, to know you are saved, to have Christ, to know you are one with Christ; that the Church, the means of grace and the Calvinist described above are much too burdensome for a free-born conscience standing fast in the liberty of Christ. The Calvinist answers that we can know only so much about God and the doctrines of grace as the Lord has seen fit to reveal in Holy Writ; and it is important that we know that much! To withhold from men, or to deny them any portion of the Scripture truth is to defraud them of the favor of God, is to reprove and censure the Holy Spirit, the Author of Scripture for placing therein what would be better omitted. In Calvinism there is nothing but what is necessary and useful to know. Calvinism is the only respectable theology. It alone provides the right interpretation of all temporal and eternal reality. It alone does justice to the teaching of the Bible.