A Dictionary of All Religions and Religious Denominations/Calvinists

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CALVINISTS. They derive their name from John Calvin, who was born at Nogen, in Picardy, in 1509. He first studied the civil law, and was afterwards made professor of divinity at Geneva, in the year 1536. His genius, learning, eloquence, and piety rendered him respectable even in the eyes of his enemies.

The name of Calvinists was first given to those who embraced not merely the doctrine, but the church-establishment and discipline established at Geneva, and to distinguish them from the Lutherans. But since the meeting of the Synod of Dort, the name had been chiefly applied to those who embrace Calvin's leading views of the gospel, to distinguish them from the Arminians.

The leading principles by which Calvinists are distinguished from Arminians, are reduced to five articles, and which from their being the principal points discussed at the Synod of Dort, have since been denominated the five points.

There are predestination, particular redemption, total depravity, effectual calling, and the certain perseverance of the saints.

The following statement comprises the principal tenets of the Calvinists, to which are added a few of the arguments they allege in defence of their sentiments.

I. That 'God has chosen a certain number of the fallen race of Adam in Christ, before the foundation of the world, unto eternal glory, according to bis immutable purpose, and of his free grace and love, without the foresight of faith, good works, or any conditions performed by the creature, as the cause of his election; and that the rest of mankind he was pleased to pass by, and ordain them to dishonour and wrath for their sins, to the praise of his glorious justice.[1]

For, as the Deity is infinitely perfect and independent in all his acts, the manifestation of his essential perfections must be the supreme end of the divine counsels and designs. Prov.xvi. 4. The Lord has made all things for himself, &c. Since God is omniscient, it is evident that he foresaw from eternity whatever should come to pass ; but there can be no prescience of future contingents; for what is certainly foreseen, must infallibly come to pass; consequently the prescience of the Deity must be antecedent to his decrees.

The sacred scriptures assert the divine sovereignty in the clearest terms. Rom. ix. 21. Hath not the potter power over the clay of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honour, and another to dishonour? See from verse eleventh to the end of the chapter, and also Rom. viii. ?0; xi. 5, 7. Eph. i. 4. Acts xiii. 48, &c.

II. That Jesus Christ, by his death and sufferings, made an atonement for the sins of the elect only.

The advocates for particular redemption admit that the death of Christ is sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world; yet, say they, it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, should efficaciously redeem those only who were from eternity elected to salvation, and given to him by the father.[2]

For, there are express texts of scripture which testify that Christ did not die for all men. See John vi. 37. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me, &c. And in John x. 11, our Lord styles himself the good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep. See also John Xii. 9.

III. That mankind are totally depraved, in consequence of the fall of the first man, who being their public head, his sin involved the corruption of all his posterity ; and this corruption extends over the whole soul, and renders it unable of itself to turn to God, or to do any thing truly good ; and exposes it to his just displeasure, both in this world and that which is to come.

For the inspired pages assert the original depravity of mankind, in the most emphatical terms. Gen. viii. 21. The imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth. Psalm xiv. 2, 3. The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men to see if there were any that did understand and seek after God. They are all gone aside, they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no not one. To the same purport see Rom. iii. 10, 11, 12, &c. And it is evident, that Adam's sin was imputed to his posterity from Rom. V. 19. By one man's disobedience many were made sinners,&c. The scriptures also teach, that all sin exposes us to everlasting destruction. See Gal. iii. 10. 2 Cor. iii. 6, 7, and Rom. V. 14.

The total depravity of human nature is also evident from the universal reign of death over persons of all ages and in all times; -from the propensity to evil, which appears in mankind, and impels them to transgress God's law; -from the necessity of regeneration; -the nature of redemption; -and the remains of corruption in the saints.

IV. That all whom God hath predestinated unto life, he is pleased in his appointed time effectually to call by his word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ.

In proof of this doctrine, the Calvinists allege, among others, the following scripture passages. Whom he did predestinate, them he also called, &c. That ye may know what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, &c. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works. See Rom. viii. ?0, Ephes. i. 19. 20; ii. 9, 10. 2 Cor. iv. 6.

If there were any thing in us which renders the grace of God effectual, we should have cause for boasting; but the apostle emphatically says, Where is boasting? It is excluded. Rom. iii. 27.

V. That those whom God has effectually called and sanctified by his spirit, shall never finally fall from a state of grace.

For, say they, this doctrine is evident from the promises of persevering grace in the sacred scriptures. I will put my fear in their hearts, and they shall not depart from me. This is the Father;s will, that of all he hath given me, I should lose nothing. And the apostle exclaims with triumphant rapture, I am persuaded that neither life, nor death, &c. shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Such were the doctrines of the first Calvinists, and such, in substance, are those of the present time. In this however, as in every other denomination, there are considerable shades of difference.

Some think Calvin, though right in the main, yet carried things too far; there are commonly known by the name of Moderate Calvinists; by many called Antinomians.

It is proper to add, that the Calvinistic system includes in it the doctrine of a Trinity.[3]

Atonement[4], and justification by faith alone, or by the imputed righteousness of Christ.[5]

For a more copious elucidation of these sentiments see the articles Hopkinsians, Predestinarians, and Necessarians.

Original footnotes[edit]

  1. The most prominent feature of this system is, the election of some and reprobation of others, from all eternity.
  2. Acta Synodi, Sess.136, p.250.
  3. Both the Calvinists and the Arminians, who formed the Synod of Dort, were however on the article of the Trinity generally agreed.
  4. This is observed by Mr. Evans, in his Sketch of Denominations, &c. who states the Calvinistic doctrine of atonement to be, that "Christ by his death, made satisfaction to divine justice for the elect, appeasing the anger of the Divine Being, and effecting, on his part, a reconciliation."This doctrine however, he says, is reprobated by some of their divines; and the instances in the writing of Dr. Magee on the Atonement and Mr. Fuller the latter of whom observes, "If we say, a way was opened by the death of Christ, for the free and consistent exercise of mercy in all the methods which sovereign wisdom saw fit to adopt, perhaps we shall include every material idea, which the scripture gives us of that important event.: See Fuller on Deism. Se also Fuller's Calvinistic and Socinian Systems Compared
  5. Mosheim's Eccles. His. vol. iii. p. 852; vol. iv. p. 70. Calvin's Institutes, p. 127. Assembly's Confession of Faith. p. 35, 36, &c. Charnock's Works, vol. ii. p. 1352. Twisse's Works, p. 225. Dr Edward's Veritas Reduc. p. 56, 89, &c. Edwards on Orginal Sin, p. 18-40, &c. Toplady's Works.