Doctrinal Systems Arising in Reaction to TULIP
On the false supposition that Calvinism eliminates man's will from the process of salvation, many have gravitated to doctrinal systems more congenial to human ways of thinking. Those who want to affirm the freedom of the will find a haven in Arminianism. Those who are content to see a man's destiny as something that neither he nor anyone else can alter gravitate to hypercalvinism.
A man is not completely fallen in his will, else he could not respond to God's wooing.
1. How can the will be the part of man retaining the greatest innocence when a man's will is involved in every sin he commits? There is no sin that is not simply an act of will. Since man is a constant, compulsive sinner, the will of man must be seen realistically as incorrigibly sinful. The sinful bent of the will in operation makes it absurd to whitewash the will as partially unfallen.
2. This proposition anthropomorphizes the will, treating it as a moral agent in itself. In fact, only a morally responsible being—that is, a person—can be described as innocent or fallen. To say that the will is not completely fallen is just another way to say that man is not completely fallen. Yet, if we allow that man is only partially depraved, we cannot avoid regarding humanity as distributed on a ladder of merit, with some men more depraved than others. Since, according to Arminianism, man's salvation is possible only because he has not yet descended to total depravity, it follows that the less depraved have a better chance of salvation than do the more depraved. But does this conclusion agree with the mind of Scripture? When confronting those esteemed as the most virtuous of men, Jesus said,
I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Election is according to the foreknowledge of God. That is, God has foreseen from eternity past who would respond in faith to the gospel, and it is these that he has elected to be His children and to receive the benefits of salvation.
1. The Arminian treatment of election misunderstands the meaning of divine foreknowledge. The concept involves more than God's ability to see ahead. Undoubtedly God has this ability. From eternity past He has foreseen every thought and deed of every man who will ever live. But if foreknowledge is narrowly construed as foresight, what can we make of the connection between foreknowledge and predestination?
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.
Whom exactly has God foreknown? It is certain that God has foreseen the existence of every one of His creatures. No man has escaped being foreknown in this sense. So if foreknowledge is foresight, those whom God has foreknown must be everyone. But the text says, "Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son." Since everyone has not been predestined to eternal glory, the foreknowledge intended by this verse cannot extend to all men. We conclude that foreknowledge is not simply foresight.
Foreknowledge is the kind of knowledge in view when the Bible says, "And Adam knew Eve his wife" (Gen. 4:1). It is the complete knowledge that follows from an intimate relationship and affords the joy of satisfied love. Unquestionably, God knows all about the wicked. He knows about them, but He does not know them. That is, He does not happily dwell upon the thought of them. Yet from eternity past, God has happily dwelt upon the thought of you and me and everyone else He intended to make for His own pleasure. He has foreknown us because He has loved us.
According to Romans 8:29, God resolved to bring all those foreknown in this sense to the blessed state of conformity to the image of Christ. We conclude that their predestination to this state is predicated not upon a foreseen willingness to accept Christ, but upon the eternal love of God for His own people.
2. The Arminian treatment of election forces us by inexorable logic to the conclusion that no one can be saved. Supposedly, God peered down the corridors of time in search of men who would receive the truth when it was presented to them, and each believer so discovered was set aside for the blessings of election and predestination. But in such a search, how many men of a believing disposition would God have found? Scripture tells us that when God actually undertook such a search, He returned empty-handed.
1 The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.
2 The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.
3 They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
In other words, no man left to his natural inclinations is receptive to the truth. Apart from the overriding grace of God, no man believes the gospel. Thus, if divine election rested (as so often supposed) upon divine foresight of those who would believe, then the number of elect must be exactly zero.
3. If election were based upon a man's disposition to believe the truth, the effect would be to encourage boasting and self-congratulation when the elect find themselves admitted to the courts of heaven. They would pride themselves in their superior openness and reasonableness, saving them from the fate suffered by the more obdurate. But Paul reminds us,
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.
It is to preclude boasting that Paul here and elsewhere joins the concepts of grace and faith. He wishes us to understand that we have faith only by grace. The election of God is therefore not properly conceived as a response to our faith. Rather, election begins the process of grace. The grace originates in God's sovereign will to make us vessels of honor for His pleasure, unto His praise and glory.
Some Arminians are content to admit that the universally sufficient Atonement was not universally efficient. Others, however, take more extreme positions.
One extreme position supposes that the Atonement broke the chain of original sin passing from one generation to the next, such that each human being now starts life in perfect innocence. He may later choose to sin, but the sin does not proceed from an innate disposition.
Another extreme Arminian position supposes that the Atonement was universally efficient as well as sufficient. This position implies universalism—the doctrine that all men will be saved. Many universalists believe that the most wicked will be saved only after they have passed through a state of Purgatory.
Whatever grace God may bestow upon a man may be resisted. A man may at last turn away from all the light God has allowed him to see.
Certainly we can think of many individuals who have enjoyed an outpouring of grace upon their lives and yet have chosen to take the broad road leading to hell. Yet in most of these cases the grace was mediated by external circumstances rather than by a direct work of the Holy Spirit upon the heart. The answer to the Arminian position is twofold.
1. It exaggerates the differences among men. We are all natural sinners, incorrigibly resistant to the grace of God. No believer should imagine that he is saved because the Spirit's wooing found him especially pliant. Rather, with William Cowper, he should liken himself to the thief on the cross.
The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.
To resist beguilement by vanity, the believer must see himself as the chief of sinners, the most obstinate of rebels, and the most implacable of God's foes except for the overpowering grace of God.
2. It belittles God's power. It is impossible that God should fail to save any of His elect. He is quite capable of transforming even the blackest of hearts. According to Jesus, the most difficult case is the rich man.
For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
Yet even the rich man is not beyond the reach of divine grace, for in answer to the question, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus went on to say,
. . . The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.
Perseverance of the saints
It was in the Methodist movement that Arminianism gained a particularly strong foothold. In this movement as well as in its various offshoots (the Holiness movement and Pentecostalism, for example), even this last tenet of Calvinism was firmly rejected. It was asserted that indeed a believer can lose his salvation. After all, everyone agrees that salvation is granted only to those who are willing to have it. Therefore, if man's will can frustrate the divine will, it follows that just as man has the power to reject salvation despite the Spirit's wooing, he also has the power once he becomes a believer to cast salvation aside. It is an experiential fact that many professing believers have forsaken Christ.
We will not refute this line of reasoning here, since elsewhere we have presented a thorough defense of eternal security. It is sufficient to show that the attack on eternal security arises from Arminianism.
Hypercalvinism is the extreme position which asserts that since the destiny of each soul is fixed by eternal decree, appointing him to an inescapable place either among the elect or the damned, salvation has nothing to do with what men themselves do or desire. The elect cannot avoid being saved. The damned cannot turn away from hell. This line of reasoning has led many astray. It is especially appealing to simple minds, untrained to recognize specious arguments.
The preaching of hypercalvinism creates the impression that a sinner cannot be sure that God will save him, even though he comes to God with an earnest desire to be saved. Thus, wherever the gospel has been presented with a hypercalvinist slant, many after seeing their need of salvation have gone through a long period of anxiety about their souls, wondering whether God would save them and waiting for some definite evidence that God had given them saving grace. Accounts of preconversion anguish are common in biographies of saints from past centuries, especially those who were raised in Presbyterian or Baptist circles. Such doubts about God's willingness to save were clearly heedless of Christ's promise,
Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.
A far worse aberration among hypercalvinists is the idea that since the elect will be saved regardless and the damned will be lost regardless, there is little point to evangelistic outreach. After all, God does not need us to reach His elect. He can save them simply through a work of the Holy Spirit.
It is hard to believe that any Christian who knows the Great Commission could swallow such an idea, which is so obviously an excuse for laziness. But disdain for evangelism has dominated the outlook of many churches. A certain Dr. Gill, a leading figure among the Particular Baptists, an English denomination prominent in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, believed
that God would convert such as he had elected to be saved, and so man must not interfere with his purposes by inviting men to Christ. Under this preaching his Church steadily declined, and after half a century's work he left but a mere handful (1).
The same poisonous teaching spread throughout his whole denomination.
But, decline amongst the Particular Baptists was very marked also. Antinomianism and hyper-Calvinism struck the Churches with a blight that was fatal not only to their growth, but often to their existence (2).
The flaw in hypercalvinism is very simple. It overlooks the fact that God ordinarily accomplishes His will through the instrumentality of human effort.
It is true that if a man is chosen of God, he will be saved. But it does not follow that a man chosen of God can be saved without the help of preaching or Christian witness. Scripture plainly teaches that God ordained preaching and witness to be the means of bringing souls to salvation (Rom. 10:13-17).
It is true also that if a man is not chosen of God, he will be lost. But it does not follow that before meeting his destiny, he might earnestly seek salvation to no avail, because God misleads, ignores, or rejects him. The desire to be saved is a work of grace in the heart. It is part of the miraculous process culminating in a man's regeneration and salvation. Apart from grace, no man is an honest seeker after salvation. Every sinner goes to hell not because God has rejected him, but because he has rejected God.