The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Calvinism

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CALVINISM. The system of religious thought taught by John Calvin, which maintains that God is the sovereign ruler of the world and every good thought comes directly from him. The conception of the sovereignty of God did not originate with Calvin; it is as old as the Hebrew writings; but he emphasized it in such a way that it impressed itself upon the religious thought of his day and has continued to be the conception of God held by all Christian denominations and by many of whom it is made such a cardinal belief that the possibility of doubting it is not even brought into question. The dominant features of Calvinism impressed themselves upon his followers so thoroughly that they became a moving power in the lives of vast masses of people. Calvin followed the belief in predestination to its logical conclusion and he proclaimed that some were born to life and some to damnation; he taught that regeneration could be obtained only through the spirit of God acting upon the human heart; that God will keep to the path of righteousness only those to whom he has given regenerating grace, and that he who is elected will continue in the way of righteousness. Calvinism emphasizes the unchangeable nature of God, his never-dying love and his justice; for the manifestation of these, his great and glorious attributes, he created the world and all that is thereon. He foreordains everything that comes to pass; and the world moves forward according to his plans. Calvinism lays stress upon election, redemption, bondage of will, grace and the pereseverance of the saints. According to Calvinism the fall of man was predestined, and all descendants of Adam have ineherited his sin and the accompanying punishment.

All Calvin's religious beliefs are logically stated and developed in his ‘Institutio Christianæ Religionis’; but, with all his care, he left certain questions unanswered; and these have divided his followers into two camps or schools, the “Supralapsarian” and the “Infralapsarian,” who differ principally on the order of the divine decrees. The former looks to the final result, as the first thing contemplated in these decrees; while the latter tries to soften the pronounced theory of predestination by having God permit man to fall. This softened form of predestination is the one generally accepted by Calvinists. (See Calvin, John). Consult Bright; ‘Select Anti-Pelagian Treatises of St. Augustine’ (London 1880); Calvin, ‘The Institutes of the Christian Religion’ (Philadelphia); Hodge, A. A., ‘Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith’ (Philadelphia 1869); Kuyper, A. ‘Calvinism, The Stone Lectures’ (New York 1898).