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The five points of Calvinism

September 1999 | by John Keddie

Open air preaching SOURCE Open-Air Mission
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Some people will say that Calvinistic doctrine inhibits evangelism. They will say, ‘If everything is predestined and if the saved are fixed according to a decree of God, without reference to man’s will, what is the point of evangelism?’

In reply, the point has to be made that not only is the end predestined, but so are the means, and these means include presenting and believing the gospel. But besides this, the doctrines of historic Calvinism, summarised in the five points, provide the greatest of incentives for evangelism.

 Success assured

Why so? Well, because one who proclaims the gospel knows that it will meet with success! He is not faced with the uncertainties of the Arminian, who does not know whether or not a ‘convert’ is going to fall away at the last, and thus does not know whether, finally, there will be any success for the gospel. On the contrary, the Calvinist is assured that, because God, in grace, has chosen a great multitude to receive spiritual life through the gospel, the preaching of the gospel is assured of success. There can be, therefore, no sounder basis for evangelism than the glorious doctrines of grace.

In addition, of course, these doctrines put God in his rightful place as One who is in sovereign control. Of course, we cannot unravel all the problems involved in the relationship of God’s absolute sovereignty to man’s freedom. We simply have to bow before him and sing with the psalmist:

The Lord doth reign, and cloth’d is he

With majesty most bright;

His works do shew him cloth’d to be,

And girt about with might

The world is also stablished,

That it cannot depart.

Thy throne is fix’d of old, and Thou

From everlasting art.1

Charles Haddon Spurgeon
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Nickname

‘I have my own private opinion’, said C. H. Spurgeon in his defence of Calvinism, ‘that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend the gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus.’2

The doctrines of grace proclaim that ‘Salvation is of the Lord’ and, therefore, we should exult in those doctrines, acknowledging as they do the sovereignty of God, and the efficacy of the work of Christ.

There needs to be a recovery of such uncompromising biblical doctrine. This is the truth that must thunder through our land again, calling men and women to yield themselves to the Triune God; to a Saviour who is King, and who is ‘the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in all things he may have the pre-eminence’ (Colossians 1:18).

John Calvin
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Reading about Calvin

There is a vast body of literature on the doctrines of grace and the history of Calvinism. What follows is just a rummage around some of the literature that the writer has found helpful in this whole area. Some of the books or booklets mentioned may not currently be in print, and may even be scarce in second-hand book-stores.

Reading John Calvin himself is a good start. There is his monumental Institutes of the Christian Religion, first published in 1536 and reproduced in numerous English editions, invariably in two volumes. In 1964 Hugh T. Kerr produced an edited-down version of the original entitled A Compend of the Institutes of the Christian Religion. A few years ago the Reformed Free Publishing Company reproduced Calvin’s Treatises on the Eternal Predestination of God and the Secret Providence of God under the title Calvin’s Calvinism.

More specialised treatment of specific ideas of Calvin can be found in B.B. Warfield’s Calvin and Augustine (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1956), and John Murray’s Calvin on Scripture and Divine Sovereignty (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1960).

Many biographies of John Calvin have been written, including Calvin by Emanuel Stickelberger (James Clarke, 1959) and The Man God Mastered by Jean Cadier (IVF, 1960). Such biographies are worth consulting to get some insight into Calvin the man.

Calvinsim and history

On the general history of Calvinism, a standard work has been John T. McNeill’s The History and Character of Calvinism (Oxford University Press, 1954). Also useful is the work edited by John H. Bratt, The Rise and Development of Calvinism (Wm B. Eerdmans, 1959). Simon Kistemaker produced a useful and quite comprehensive study manual entitled Calvinism, its History, Principles and Perspectives (Baker Book House, 1969). This is along the same lines as C. Gregg Singer’s John Calvin: His Roots and Fruits (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1967). An earlier comprehensive work is Ben A. Warburton’s Calvinism, the scope of which is well expressed in its sub-title, which reads: ‘Its History and Basic Principles, Its Fruits and Its Future, and Its Practical Application’ (Wm B. Eerdmans, 1955).

Expounding the doctrines

Expositions of Calvinistic doctrines include a book of enduring value which has been constantly in print since it was first published in 1932, namely Loraine Boettner’s The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company). The second section of this book deals specifically with the ‘Five Points’.

On the subject of the five points of Calvinism, there have been many books produced. We mention three here. First of all, on the particular matter of the framing of the five points, there is The Canons of Dort by Henry Petersen (Baker Book House, 1968). Secondly, there is a useful study guide called The Five Points of Calvinism by Edwin H. Palmer (Baker Book House, 1972). Thirdly, there is the excellent summary by David N. Steele and Curtis C. Thomas, The Five Points of Calvinism. Defined, Defended, Documented (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1963), which gives a useful summary of biblical texts in support of the doctrines, together with quotations from the literature to that date.

Among more general literature expounding these doctrines we may mention, as especially excellent, Arthur W. Pink’s The Sovereignty of God (Banner of Truth, 1961) and John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Banner of Truth, 1961).

Calvinism as a world-view

Many books have appeared over the years expounding Calvinism as a world-view. Perhaps most influential of these has been that of Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, originally delivered under the ‘Stone Lectureship’ at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1898 (published by Wm B. Eerdmans in 1931). Along similar lines are Henry R. Van Til’s The Calvinistic Concept of Culture (Baker Book House, 1972) and H. Henry Meeter’s The Basic Ideas of Calvinism (Kregel Publications, 1956; Fifth Edition, revised, 1967).

Such studies are invaluable because they show the impact of Calvinistic thought on the development of Western culture as a whole. It is difficult to understand the development of civilisation in the West apart from the impact of Reformation thought.

1 Psalm 93, verses 1 and 2, Scottish Metrical version.

2 C.H. Spurgeon, A Defence of Calvinism, Reformation Press, Pheonix, Arizona, 6.