Posts Tagged ‘Works of John Calvin’
John Wesley leaves no doubt that he holds to original sin as his Calvinist brethren did. He states the following about those who would reject the doctrine.
1. I proceed to draw a few inferences from what has been said. And, First, from hence we may learn one grand fundamental difference between Christianity, considered as a system of doctrines, and the most refined Heathenism. Many of the ancient Heathens have largely described the vices of particular men. They have spoken much against their covetousness, or cruelty; their luxury, or prodigality. Some have dared to say that “no man is born without vices of one kind or another.” But still as none of them were apprized of the fall of man, so none of them knew of his total corruption. They knew not that all men were empty of all good, and filled with all manner of evil. They were wholly ignorant of the entire depravation of the whole human nature, of every man born into the world, in every faculty of his soul, not so much by those particular vices which reign in particular persons, as by the general flood of Atheism and idolatry, of pride, self-will, and love of the world. This, therefore, is the first grand distinguishing point between Heathenism and Christianity. The one acknowledges that many men are infected with many vices, and even born with a proneness to them; but supposes withal, that in some the natural good much over-balances the evil: The other declares that all men are conceived in sin,” and “shapen in wickedness;” — that hence there is in every man a “carnal mind, which is enmity against God, which is not, cannot be, subject to” his “law;” and which so infects the whole soul, that “there dwelleth in” him, “in his flesh,” in his natural state, “no good thing;” but “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is evil,” only evil, and that “continually.”
2. Hence we may, Secondly, learn, that all who deny this, call it original sin, or by any other title, are put Heathens still, in the fundamental point which differences Heathenism from Christianity. They may, indeed, allow, that men have many vices; that some are born with us; and that, consequently, we are not born altogether so wise or so virtuous as we should be; there being few that will roundly affirm, “We are born with as much propensity to good as to evil, and that every man is, by nature, as virtuous and wise as Adam was at his creation.” But here is the shibboleth: Is man by nature filled with all manner of evil Is he void of all good Is he wholly fallen Is his soul totally corrupted Or, to come back to the text, is “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart only evil continually” Allow this, and you are so far a Christian. Deny it, and you are but an Heathen still.
3. We may learn from hence, in the Third place, what is the proper nature of religion, of the religion of Jesus Christ. It is qerapeia yuchs, God’s method of healing a soul which is thus diseased. Hereby the great Physician of souls applies medicines to heal this sickness; to restore human nature, totally corrupted in all its faculties. God heals all our Atheism by the knowledge of Himself, and of Jesus Christ whom he hath sent; by giving us faith, a divine evidence and conviction of God, and of the things of God, — in particular, of this important truth, “Christ loved me” — and gave himself for me.” By repentance and lowliness of heart, the deadly disease of pride is healed; that of self-will by resignation, a meek and thankful submission to the will of God; and for the love of the world in all its branches, the love of God is the sovereign remedy. Now, this is properly religion, “faith” thus “working by love;” working the genuine meek humility, entire deadness to the world, with a loving, thankful acquiescence in, and conformity to, the whole will and word of God.
4. Indeed, if man were not thus fallen, there would be no need of all this. There would be no occasion for this work in the heart, this renewal in the spirit of our mind. The superfluity of godliness would then be a more proper expression than the “superfluity of naughtiness.” For an outside religion, without any godliness at all, would suffice to all rational intents and purposes. It does, accordingly, suffice, in the judgment of those who deny this corruption of our nature. They make very little more of religion than the famous Mr. Hobbes did of reason. According to him, reason is only “a well-ordered train of words:” According to them, religion is only a well-ordered train of words and actions. And they speak consistently with themselves; for if the inside be not full of wickedness, if this be clean already, what remains, but to “cleanse the outside of the cup” Outward reformation, if their supposition be just, is indeed the one thing needful.
5. But ye have not so learned the oracles of God. Ye know, that He who seeth what is in man gives a far different account both of nature and grace, of our fall and our recovery. Ye know that the great end of religion is, to renew our hearts in the image of God, to repair that total loss of righteousness and true holiness which we sustained by the sin of our first parent. Ye know that all religion which does not answer this end, all that stops short of this, the renewal of our soul in the image of God, after the likeness of Him that created it, is no other than a poor farce, and a mere mockery of God, to the destruction of our own soul. O beware of all those teachers of lies, who would palm this upon you for Christianity! Regard them not, although they should come unto you with all the deceivableness of unrighteousness; with all smoothness of language, all decency, yea, beauty and elegance of expression, all professions of earnest good will to you, and reverence for the Holy Scriptures. Keep to the plain, old faith, “once delivered to the saints,” and delivered by the Spirit of God to our hearts. Know your disease! Know your cure! Ye were born in sin: Therefore, “ye must be born again,” born of God. By nature ye are wholly corrupted. By grace ye shall be wholly renewed. In Adam ye all died: In the second Adam, in Christ, ye all are made alive. “You that were dead in sins hath he quickened:” He hath already given you a principle of life, even faith in him who loved you and gave himself for you! Now, “go on from faith to faith,” until your whole sickness be healed; and all that “mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus!”
There are those today who would deny that we are born with a sinful nature. They teach that we are born sinless, that we do not inherit anything from Adam through the Fall (Genesis 3:1-7; Romans 5:12) but instead we are born into a sinful world that leads us to sin. I hold that we are born with a sinful nature that we inherit from our father Adam. Many hold that we are born with both a sinful nature and guilty of Adam’s sin. They believe this because they believe that Romans 5:12-19 teaches that we are not just born with original sin but with original guilt. I believe in original sin but deny original guilt. A person goes to hell because of their sin and they sin because they desire to sin and commit sins against a holy God (1 John 3:4). None will be in hell because of someone else’s sin but their own (Romans 1:18-32). However, from the fall of Adam we do inherit original sin, the desire to be a sinner. If we deny original sin, we must deny the substitutionary work of Christ who died in our place (Galatians 1:4). If Adam is not our representative, how can Jesus be (Isaiah 53:4-11)?
Adam sinned so all die in him (1 Corinthians 15:22) because he was the head (1 Corinthians 11:3). The explanation for the universality of death cannot be explained apart from Adam’s sin. Why do babies die? Why do the handicapped die? They die because of Adam’s sin and he passed down his original sin to us all. John Wesley went on to teach about how Adam’s sin has been imputed to all mankind. Wesley said we all die because:
- Our bodies became mortal in Adam.
- Our souls died; that is, were disunited from God. And hence,
- We are all born with a sinful, devilish nature. By reason whereof,
- We are children of wrath, liable to death eternal (Romans 5:18; Ephesians 2:3).
John Calvin, on the other hand, taught clearly that we inherit both original sin and original guilt from Adam. He wrote,
Hence, even infants bringing their condemnation with them from their mother’s womb, suffer not for another’s, but for their own defect. For although they have not yet produced the fruits of their own unrighteousness, they have the seed implanted in them. Nay, their whole nature is, as it were, a seed-bred of sin, and therefore cannot but be odious and abominable to God. Hence, it follows, that it is properly deemed sinful in the sight of God; for there could be no condemnation without guilt.
But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.
- John 5:40 (NKJV)
There is no doubt that Arminianism holds that mankind cannot just choose in their own power to come to Christ. They need divine aid to be saved. Humanity is corrupted by sin (Romans 3:23) and in our free will, we would reject the Lord God. Mankind does not love God. We see evidence of this all around us with false worship of all types of false gods from the false gods of false religions to the gods of money, sex, power, sports, self, etc. Romans 1:18-32 is true about humanity. We are truly wicked before a holy God.
Yet we also deny the doctrine of unconditional election. We reject the idea that God choose just a few to be saved while condemning the vast majority of people apart from their own rejection of His grace. We teach that God sent His Son to die for the sins of all and whoever believes in the Lord Jesus Christ through saving faith will be the elect of God. The non-elect are not those who were predestined to be rejected by God but instead are those who reject God in their own free will. God does not make people believe or disbelieve. He gives sufficient grace for people to be saved.
We see evidence of this in John 5:40 where Jesus tells the Jews that they have rejected Him despite studying the Scriptures which reveal Him (John 5:39). Other evidences from Scripture of God calling people to repent but they reject Him by their own free will are Isaiah 65:2; Luke 7:30; 14:16-24; John 1:10-11; Romans 10:21; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17. God hates sin and He hates those who abide in sin (Psalm 5:5; Proverbs 6:17-19) but He also loves the sinner by sending His Son to atone for the sinner’s sins who repents (John 3:16; Romans 2:4; 5:8; 2 Peter 3:9).
We believe this grace has been given by God for all to be saved. This common grace enables us to repent. None of us can repent on our own but we need the aid of the Spirit of God (John 6:44). He opens our hearts (Acts 16:14-15). We read of this common grace in John 1:9. Adam Clarke comments on John 1:9 are worth reading here:
As the human creature sees the light of the world as soon as it is born, from which it had been excluded while in the womb of its parent; in like manner, this heavenly light shines into the soul of every man, to convince of sin, righteousness, and judgment; and it is through this light, which no man brings into the world with him, but which Christ mercifully gives to him on his coming into it, that what is termed conscience among men is produced. No man could discern good from evil, were it not for this light thus supernaturally and graciously restored. There was much light in the law, but this shone only upon the Jews; but the superior light of the Gospel is to be diffused over the face of the whole earth.
Interestingly is to read John Calvin’s comments on John 5:40:
He again reproaches them that it is nothing but their own malice that hinders them from becoming partakers of the life offered in the Scriptures; for when he says that they will not, he imputes the cause of their ignorance and blindness to wickedness and obstinacy. And, indeed, since he offered himself to them so graciously, they must have been willfully blind; but when they intentionally fled from the light, and even desired to extinguish the sun by the darkness of their unbelief, Christ justly reproves them with greater severity.
We Arminians would agree. Mankind rejects the Lord Jesus by their own stubbornness, wickedness, and pride. God does not make them reject the gospel. We do just fine doing that without Him making us not believe.
1 Timothy 1:9 reads:
Understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers.
John Calvin’s comments on this verse are well worth reading:
The apostle did not intend to argue about the whole office of the law, but views it in reference to men. It frequently happens that they who wish to be regarded as the greatest zealots for the law, give evidence by their whole life that they are the greatest despisers of it. A remarkable and striking instance of this is found in those who maintain the righteousness of works and defend free-will. They have continually in their mouth these words, “Perfect holiness, merits, satisfactions;” but their whole life cries out against them, that they are outrageously wicked and ungodly, that they provoke in every possible way the wrath of God, and fearlessly set his judgment at naught. They extol in lofty terms the free choice of good and evil; but they openly shew, by their actions, that they are the slaves of Satan, and are most firmly held by him in the chains of slavery.
Having such adversaries, in order to restrain their haughty insolence, Paul remonstrates that the law is, as it were, the sword of God to slay them; and that neither he nor any like him have reason for viewing the law with dread or aversion; for it is not opposed to righteous persons, that is, to the godly and to those who willingly obey God. I am well aware that some learned men draw an ingenious sense out of these words; as if Paul were treating theologically about the nature of “the law.” They argue that the law has nothing to do with the sons of God, who have been regenerated by the Spirit; because it was not given for righteous persons. But the connection in which these words occur shuts me up to the necessity of giving a more simple interpretation to this statement. He takes for granted the well-known sentiment, that “from bad manners have sprung good laws,” and maintains that the law of God was given in order to restrain the licentiousness of wicked men; because they who are good of their own accord do not need the authoritative injunction of the law.
A question now arises, “Is there any mortal man who does not belong to this class?” I reply, in this passage Paul gives the appellation “righteous” to those who are not absolutely perfect, (for no such person will be found,) but who, with the strongest desire of their heart, aim at what is good; so that godly desire is to them a kind of voluntary law, without any motive or restraint from another quarter. He therefore wished to repress the impudence of adversaries, who armed themselves with the name of “the law” against godly men, whose whole life exhibits the actual role of the law, since they had very great need of the law, and yet did not care much about it; which is more clearly expressed by the opposite clause. If there be any who refuse to admit that Paul brings an implied or indirect charge against his adversaries as guilty of those wicked acts which he enumerates, still it will be acknowledged to be a simple repelling of the slander; and if they were animated by a sincere and unfeigned zeal for the law, they ought rather to have made use of their armor for carrying on war with offenses and crimes, instead of employing it as a pretext for their own ambition and silly talking.
I found these comments from John Calvin on Psalm 2:4-6 worthy for us all to read and ponder. Here are his words:
After David has told us of the tumult and commotions, the counsels and pride, the preparation and resources the strength and efforts of his enemies, in opposition to all these he places the power of God alone, which he concludes would be brought to bear against them, from their attempting to frustrate his decree. And, as a little before, by terming them kings of the earth, he expressed their feeble and perishable condition; so now, by the lofty title of He that dwelleth in heaven, he extols the power of God, as if he had said, that power remains intact and unimpaired, whatever men may attempt against it. Let them exalt themselves as they may, they shall never be able to reach to heaven; yea, while they think to confound heaven and earth together, they resemble so many grasshoppers, and the Lord, meanwhile, undisturbed beholds from on high their infatuated evolutions. And David ascribes laughter to God on two accounts; first, to teach us that he does not stand in need of great armies to repress the rebellion of wicked men, as if this were an arduous and difficult matter, but, on the contrary, could do this as often as he pleases with the most perfect ease. In the second place, he would have us to understand that when God permits the reign of his Son to be troubled, he does not cease from interfering because he is employed elsewhere, or unable to afford assistance, or because he is neglectful of the honor of his Son; but he purposely delays the inflictions of his wrath to the proper time, namely, until he has exposed their infatuated rage to general derision. Let us, therefore, assure ourselves that if God does not immediately stretch forth his hand against the ungodly, it is now his time of laughter; and although, in the meantime, we ought to weep, yet let us assuage the bitterness of our grief, yea, and wipe away our tears, with this reflection, that God does not connive at the wickedness of his enemies, as if from indolence or feebleness, but because for the time he would confront their insolence with quiet contempt. By the adverb then, he points to the fit time for exercising judgment, as if he had said, after the Lord shall have for a time apparently taken no notice of the malpractices of those who oppose the rule of his Son, he will suddenly change his course, and show that he retards nothing with greater abhorrence than such presumption.
Moreover, he ascribes speech to God, not for the purpose of instructing his enemies, but only to convict them of their madness; indeed, by the term speak, he means nothing else than a manifestation of God’s wrath, which the ungodly do not perceive until they feel it. The enemies of David thought it would be the easiest thing in the world for them to destroy one who, coming from a mean shepherd’s cot, had, in their view, presumptuously assumed the sovereign power. The prophecy and anointing of Samuel were, in their estimation, mere ridiculous pretences. But when God had at length overthrown them, and settled David on the throne, he, by this act, spoke not so much with his tongue as with his hand, to manifest himself the founder of David’s kingdom. The Psalmist hereon then, refers to speaking by actions, by which the Lord, without uttering a single word, makes manifest his purpose. In like manner, whenever he defends the kingdom of his Son against the ungodly, by the tokens and inflictions of his wrath, although he does not speak a single word, yet in effect he speaks enough to make himself understood.
David afterwards, speaking in the name of God, shows more clearly how his enemies were guilty of wickedly fighting against God himself in the hatred which they bore towards him whom God had made king. The sum is this: Wicked men may now conduct themselves as wickedly as they please, but they shall at length feel what it is to make war against heaven. The pronoun I is also emphatical, by which God signifies that he is so far exalted above the men of this world, that the whole mass of them could not possibly obscure his glory in the least degree. As often, then, as the power of man appears formidable to us, let us remember how much it is transcended by the power of God. In these words there is set before us the unchangeable and eternal purpose of God effectually to defend, even to the end, the kingdom of his Son, of which he is the founder; and this may well support our faith amidst the troublous storms of the world. Whatever plots, therefore, men may form against it, let this one consideration be sufficient to satisfy us, that they cannot render ineffectual the anointing of God. Mention is here made of mount Sion in express terms, not because David was first anointed thereon but because at length, in God’s own time, the truth of the prophecy was manifested and actually established by the solemn rite of his consecration. And although David in these words had a regard to the promise of God, and recalled the attention of himself and others to it, yet, at the same time, he meant to signify that his own reign is holy and inseparably connected with the temple of God. But this applies more appropriately to the kingdom of Christ, which we know to be both spiritual and joined to the priesthood, and this is the principal part of the worship of God.
For both my Arminians and Calvinists friends, I believe that Arminius has long been neglected when debating our two systems of theology. No doubt Calvin was much more of a writer than Arminius and his longevity allowed him to pen various works on various theological subjects including his magnum opus, his Institutes of the Christian Religion. Over the years Calvin would edit his Institutes time and time again. I prefer Calvin’s Commentaries as they are more focused on the Scriptures than upon speculation. Calvin exegeted the Scriptures in his public preaching and the Commentaries come directly from his preaching. When Calvin encountered passages of Scripture, for example, that seemed to teach an unlimited atonement, Calvin would almost always exegete them that way rather than seeking, as later Calvinist theologians would do, to explain them away.
Arminius, on the other hand, comes to us basically from his personal writings and letters that he sent out in his debates with Calvinist theologians of his day. Arminius, having been trained in Geneva under Calvin’s son-in-law Beza and was Geneva’s top theological student according to Beza, learned to preach by following Calvin’s example. When he was pastoring, Arminius would teach verse by verse through the Bible. It was his preaching of Romans 7 that first led to the controversy with Calvinists of his day as he did not agree with Calvin or Beza that Paul was speaking as a saved man in this passage but rather Arminius stated that the man of Romans 7 was lost. No one dared disagree with Calvin or Beza during these times. Arminius took up the challenge by seeking to stay true to Scripture as the Reformers before him had done. Arminius’ contention was that the Scriptures and not the interpretation of Calvin or Beza or the confessions of faith or creeds of men were what was our authority but instead Scripture alone should guide our thinking and our exegesis. What Arminius wanted from the Synod of Dort was merely to challenge the notion that the catechisms were the basis for faith and hope in Christ instead of the Word of God. Creeds, Arminius argued, can and should change if in fact they are shown to be in error from the Scriptures. The Synod of Dort disagreed of course after his death and essentially made Calvinism orthodox and all other views as heretical including the Arminians (as they would later be called) and the Anabaptists movement. Great persecution would follow.
So how can we read and study Arminius? I suggest two ways.
1. Purchase His Printed Works
Several years ago I was blessed to order the Works of Arminius from the Nazarene Publishing House (NPH). They are three hardback volumes printed in London. I read them in college and, at that time, felt they were utterly boring. With growth and years behind me now, I enjoy his works but in a much different way. Arminius is a deep thinker. He amazes me at his ability to take deep theological subjects such as the nature of God and discourse upon them with logical and biblical thinking. Arminius is a man of the Word. He quotes Scripture often.
I also recommend the book Arminius Speaks edited by John D. Wagner. Brother Wagner has done a good job of presenting the writings of Arminius on various theological subjects. This work is very useful indeed and stays on my desk at all times.
2. The Works of Arminius on Kindle
I have purchased the Works of Arminius on my Kindle for all under $6. They are easy to use and follow.
I would love to see more and more Christians reading and studying Arminius. This would help Arminianism but also would help Calvinists to see that Arminius is not Pelagian, they he taught justification by grace through faith, that he stood firm with the Reformers against the errors of Rome, and that he was passionate for God and for His Word. He was not the heretic that many would have you believe or that he was always fighting for “man-centered theology” or that he was always seeking to establish libertarian free will. Much of the confusion over Arminianism begins when Arminians fail to read and preach the teachings of Arminius faithfully and when Calvinists fail to see that we base our theology upon the writings of Arminius and not upon Pelagius.
In the book, Whosoever Will, Dr. Kevin Kennedy writes an article on the extent of the atonement of Jesus Christ in the thinking of John Calvin. It is a fascinating chapter. The writer does a good job of demonstrating that there is much confusion over whether Calvin taught that the atonement was for only the elect (as Calvinists today teach) or whether he taught that Jesus died for all. He points out that one of his own Frenchmen not too many years after the Synod of Dort, Moise Amyraut, begin to raise questions about whether Calvin would agree with Calvinism that Dort had produced. Amyraut taught unconditional predestination but based upon a universal atonement – a position he claimed was true to Scripture and to John Calvin. Bear in mind that Calvin had been dead for 55 years when the Synod of Dort ruled against Arminianism in 1618-1619. By then much of what was being taught as Calvinism could not have been based on the teachings of John Calvin. Amyraut taught that Calvinism had gone beyond the writings of Calvin.
Other Calvinists have come along who likewise claim that Calvin did not teach a limited atonement. R.T. Kendall wrote a classic book, Calvin and English Calvinism in 1649 in which he argues that Calvin held to an unlimited atonement. Dr. Kennedy did his own dissertation on the subject of Calvin and the atonement and he also argued like Kendall that from the writings of Calvin, it would seem he taught an unlimited atonement.
How do Calvinists handle this? Kennedy points out that they often use logic to answer this. They point out that Calvin held to a view of God’s sovereignty that means He controls and is the cause of all things. Every minute detail of the universe is in direct control and cause from God. God sovereignly choose whom He would save by His sovereign power. Therefore, since Calvin held to this and since he taught that Jesus died as our substitute for sin and to bear the wrath of God, Calvin must have held to a limited atonement since this logically makes sense.
The problem is the writings of Calvin. Dr. Paul Helm, who defends Calvinism’s teaching on limited atonement, acknowledges that Calvin is not easy to nail down when it comes to the atonement. Again, Helm can only use logic as he writes, “Calvin, not being a universalist, could be said to be committed to definite atonement, even though he does not commit himself to definite atonement.”
Kennedy goes on to write that if Calvin did hold to a limited atonement then we should find in his writings him doing what Calvinists today do, building a case for limited atonement by first showing that the passages that seem to imply unlimited atonement (such as the Puritan John Owen’s infamous doing of John 3:16) are meant only for the elect and then secondly, we should find Calvin doing the frequent Calvinist exercise of taking the passages that speak of “the many” (Matthew 20:28) or “the sheep” (John 10:11) and putting them together to build a case that Jesus died only for “the many” and those are “His sheep” or “His people” (Matthew 1:21) or “the Church” (Acts 20:28) instead of the whole world. Instead, Calvin doesn’t do this at all. In fact, he seems to do what those of us who do hold to an unlimited atonement do and that is we look at the bulk of Scripture as teaching that 1) Jesus did die for His people, His sheep, His elect, His church, for Paul the Apostle (Galatians 2:20) but 2) He also died for all that all may be saved through faith in Him (1 Timothy 4:10).
Time nor space does not permit me to list all the references that Kennedy goes through in this chapter directly from Calvin’s works to show that he not only presents a strong unlimited atonement viewpoint but that he even defends himself against those who would say otherwise. My point here is that just as Lutheranism doesn’t always reflect Martin Luther’s teachings and the Methodist Church today largely doesn’t represent John Wesley’s teachings, so I believe that Reformed theology doesn’t reflect clearly the teachings of John Calvin.
I encourage you to get the book and read Kennedy’s chapter. It is well worth your time.