The Reformation, Geneva, TULIP, covenant of grace, predestination, the Institutes of the Christian Religion; this was John Calvin. Nearly five hundred years later, we celebrate the work of John Calvin, the foundations of our Reformed faith that were set, and the truths and correct understanding of the mysteries of God which were revealed through this means. Today, we, as young people in the Protestant Reformed Churches, have the great privilege of learning such teachings as predestination through Christian schools, catechism, and the pure preaching of the Word of God. For such a great understanding of such an important foundational doctrine, which gives us peace and the assurance that we will one day live with Christ in eternity, we are certainly indebted to John Calvin.
Predestination, as John Calvin defines it in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, is “God’s eternal decree, by which he compacted with himself what he willed to become of each man. For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is fore-ordained for some, eternal damnation for others.” According to the Belgic Confession Article 16,
We believe that all the posterity of Adam being thus fallen into perdition and ruin by the sin of our first parents, God then did manifest himself such as he is; that is to say, merciful and just: Merciful, since he delivers and preserves from this perdition all whom he in his eternal and unchangeable counsel, of mere goodness, hath elected in Christ Jesus our Lord, without any respect to their works; Just, in leaving others in the fall and perdition wherein they have involved themselves.
In comparison, the doctrine we hold today and Calvin’s definition of predestination are nearly the exact same. This doctrine of predestination is a doctrine that deals with one’s life after death; a life that is everlasting, is a doctrine to which we hold today, and is surely one inherited from John Calvin.
Certainly we must credit John Calvin for such a beautiful truth that resulted from, no doubt, much hard, intense studying of the scriptures along with the grace and insight given him by God to see and realize such a beautiful truth. Once he saw this truth, there was nothing that could stop him from proclaiming it boldly to all those around him, that they too might share in his knowledge and understanding of the scriptures regarding predestination. Not only did Calvin do much studying to realize such a truth and much preaching to spread such a truth, but he also upheld it and boldly defended it, so that today, nearly five hundred years later, we still have this truth and hold to it.
In maintaining his view on predestination, Calvin faced much resistance and was faced by all those around him with questions, but he always came back with good, strong, biblical responses, interpreting to them the true meaning of scripture in light of scripture itself. For scripture never contradicts itself but, as Prof. H.C. Hoeksema puts it in his Standard Bearer article entitled “Some Pertinent Questions About Our Reformed Position” (5), scripture is one and harmonious, and therefore one passage in scripture must be understood in light of the rest of scripture.
One of the first objectors John Calvin faced was the Roman Catholic Church. They taught that God wills for all men to be saved, but he foresees who will accept and who will resist the grace that he gives them to accept salvation (What is the Roman Catholic view of predestination?). They base their view on I Timothy 2:4 where we read, “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” Rev. Herman Veldman reveals Calvin’s contrasting interpretation of this passage in his Standard Bearer article entitled “The Doctrine of Atonement: The Reformation Period.”
Rev. Veldman expresses Calvin’s point that after looking at the context: “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority” (I Tim. 2:1, 2); and the rest of scripture: “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Ex. 33:19), the only possible interpretation of I Timothy 2:4 is that God has chosen his people from all ranks of society; the ordinary citizen, yes, but also kings and those in authority. God does not will that every individual man be saved, for then he would not show mercy only to a select few, but that some from every level, or rank, in society be saved.
John Calvin brought to life the idea that election is particular, meaning that only a small remnant have been chosen unto everlasting life, and is one-sided, meaning that God chooses one either to be elect or reprobate, and man plays no part in that determination. Since all men are not saved, yet we of all people have been chosen by God to be his covenant people, we certainly have the duty of living godly lives of thankfulness to God, glorifying him in all things and putting him at the foreground in our life. Surely this doctrine of unconditional election does not serve as an excuse to live sinful, non-God-glorifying lives.
A second of Calvin’s opponents was Jerome Bolsec. Prof. David J. Engelsma presents us with this controversy in his Standard Bearer article entitled “The ‘Ugly’ Bolsec.” Calvin maintained the position that predestination is an eternal decree while Bolsec rejected that the decree of election and reprobation is eternal, or in other words, once the decree is made it could never be changed. Prof. Engelsma specifies that the issue wasn’t whether or not God decreed before time some to be saved through the work of Christ and some not to be saved, but whether that decree was eternal or temporal. Even when it came down to these last little details, Calvin was ready to boldly defend them.
According to Prof. Engelsma, Bolsec’s view on election and reprobation was this:
God gives grace to all humans so that all are able to believe in Christ. To those who avail themselves of this universal, or common, grace by believing in Christ, God gives special grace which results in their election. Those who harden themselves against the overtures of God in his common grace, are rejected by God. This temporal rejection is reprobation.
Bolsec believed that it is because of one’s faith in Christ that they receive grace from God and are saved, making election a result of faith and something that is determined through time. John Calvin on the other hand taught and believed that only those whom God has chosen and elected to salvation can believe and have faith in Christ as their savior, putting election before faith, and making election something that is determined before time even began and will continue to be the same forever without any additions or subtractions (Engelsma). This predestination that Calvin taught was a never changing decree of God.
It doesn’t take much to see how this doctrine of eternal predestination, as it is explained by John Calvin, is one for which we as the Protestant Reformed Churches are indebted to him. You just have to think of how our churches got started, namely, because of the issue of common grace. According to this false doctrine, grace is given to all and it is by man’s free-will that he chooses whether to accept that grace by believing in Christ or not, giving man a role in his salvation. John Calvin’s doctrine of predestination as a sovereign, eternal decree of God in which man plays no part is certainly a foundational doctrine of our Protestant Reformed Churches, and one for which we are no doubt indebted to John Calvin.
Not only are we as churches indebted to Calvin for this doctrine, but also each individual. With the knowledge of this doctrine of predestination, we personally can experience the peace of knowing and being assured that we are his people, those elected to everlasting life, and that just as nothing we do earns us eternal life, so nothing we do can separate us from or take away our salvation. Because we have the knowledge of this doctrine of predestination, we can confess with Paul in Romans 8:38, 39 that “I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
We have seen only a couple instances of Calvin’s defense of his doctrine of predestination, but they are enough to make us realize how indebted we are to John Calvin for this doctrine of predestination. Not only has John Calvin left us with this solid doctrine, but he also serves as an inspiration to us to defend and preserve this precious truth today. He has uncovered this truth and defended and preserved it for us, may we too defend and pass it on to the generations after us that it might be preserved through the generations. After looking at how much one man’s work and deep studying brought about one of the important truths we hold today, we see how important careful studying of the Word of God is so that we might better understand the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. God has given us eyes to see, now let us use them to study and discover the mysteries that he has revealed to us in his Word. As we go forth in our lives, may we remember our duty to defend and uphold our strong pillar that it might truly be a lasting inheritance.
Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Vol. 21. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, n.d. 926.
Engelsma, David J. “The “Ugly” Bolsec “Editorial. Standard Bearer. 19 May 2009. http://sb.rfpa.org/printarticle.cfm?article=2519.
Hoeksema, Herman C. “Some Pertinent Questions About Our Reformed Position (5).” Standard Bearer. 19 May 2009. http://superframe/printarticle.cfm?article=7631.
Holy Bible. KJV. Chicago: The Gideons, 1959.
Veldman, Herman. “The Doctrine of Atonement: The Reformation Period.” Standard Bearer. 19 May 2009, http://sb.rfpa.org/printarticle.cfin?article=8177.
“What is the Roman Catholic view of Predestination?.” What is the Roman Catholic view of Predestination? Smart QandA: Answers and facts you can trust, Windows Internet Explorer. 2009. HighBeam Research, Inc. and Encyclopedia.com. 27 May 2009, http://ganda.encyclopedia.com/question/ronam-catholic-view-predestination- 106317.html.