Survey Studies in Reformed Theology
Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
by Bob Burridge ©1996, 2006, 2010, 2017
Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 10
Part 1 – The Callings of God
After Adam’s sin in Eden, God did not abandon the human race as a lost cause. He continued to reveal himself and carry out his plan exactly as he had intended it. God calls out to his fallen creatures, but God’s call is not of just one kind. Some of his calls are extended to the whole human race, while others are specially directed to just certain individuals.
Sometimes his call is rejected or resisted, but there are also his irresistible calls which are always efficacious, that is, they bring about the exact effects God intended. When these distinctions are not understood it can get very confusing.
God’s word is not to be taken in isolated parts. There’s a Latin phrase that’s important to keep in mind, Scriptura Scripturae Interpres (Scripture Interprets Scripture). When God’s word is studied carefully, a unified teaching emerges which reveals the mind of God.
God’s callings are of different types. They reflect his special intention in each kind of call.
They are extended to all types of humans, elect and non-elect. This call comes by three different modes. The first two are general and extensive to all individuals. The third is special and is extensive to all who hear the word of God proclaimed.
1. There is the Outward Call in Creation This fits into the category we call “General Revelation”, it reaches out to all humans in general. Creation declares the glories and nature of the Creator in a manner that leaves all of us without excuse for not responding to it with humble worship and submission. This call to honor the true God is received through our created senses. Creation clearly evidences God’s existence, his nature, and his offices of Creator and Preserver of all things.
Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”
Psalm 19:1-4 “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their utterances to the end of the world. In them He has placed a tent for the sun”
The testimony of creation continues all through the history of the universe. Paul quotes Psalm 19:4 in his letter to the Romans to show how it leaves us without excuse. Romans 10:18, “But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? Indeed they have; ‘Their voice has gone out into all the earth, And their words to the ends of the world.’ ”
The call of creation for us to honor the Creator is suppressed by the fallen nature. The content declaring the truth about the Creator is explained away, and the glory due only to God is directed to some part of creation itself.
2. There is the Inward Call in Creation. This also fits into the category of “General Revelation”. God calls us to worship and honor him by the testimony of our conscience. This inward witness informs all of us that there is a divine moral absolute which must be obeyed.
Romans 2:14-15, “when the Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending themselves,”
The human conscience is fallen since Adam’s transgression. In that fallen condition we suppress it’s message, and pervert moral truth.
While God inwardly call us to do what is right, the depraved heart responds by making his own selfish desires the test of what is morally good. Though the fallen conscience is perverted and suppressed, it’s still there, and it condemns us. To deal with his real guilt fallen humans deflect the testimony of their conscience by blaming others and by excusing himself.
3. There is also the Outward Call of God’s Word This fits into the category of “Special Revelation” because not everyone hears that word. God calls us to honor him by means of his word. This call is “propositional”. It uses language to convey God’s truth to all who are exposed to that word. God’s word calls us to come to worship him as Creator, and to submit to him repentantly through Christ. By his word the facts about sin and redemption are made known, and God’s promises are revealed.
The call is extended by the word through many different kinds of agents. At times God spoke directly to chosen individuals. He has also spoken through his Prophets, and specially as Jesus himself during his time here on earth. God preserved his word for us today through the inspired Books of the Bible.
A few verses illustrate how God calls to us by his word:
Isaiah 45:22 “Turn to Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth, For I am God, and there is no other.”
Isaiah 55:1 “Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters …”
Matthew 11:28 “Come unto Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
John 7:37 “…If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink”
2 Corinthians 5:20 “we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
These outward calls of God are sometimes resisted and rejected When God calls us to honor him by the message of creation, providence, conscience, or the word, it is not in itself efficacious. It does not always effect obedience and worship from those who receive that call.
These outward calls of God’s word is often turned down, does not secure obedience in all who hear it.
Proverbs 1:7, “…Fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
Proverbs 1:22, “…scoffers delight themselves in scoffing and fools hate knowledge.”
Proverbs 1:24-25, “I called and you refused, I stretched out my hand, and no one paid attention; and you neglected my counsel, and did not want my reproof…”
Matthew 22:14 “For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Romans 10:18-21, “But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? Indeed they have; ‘Their voice has gone out into all the earth, And their words to the ends of the world.’ But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they? At the first Moses says, ‘I will make you jealous by that which is not a nation, By a nation without understanding will I anger you.’ And Isaiah is very bold and says, ‘I was found by those who sought Me not, I became manifest to those who did not ask for Me.’ But as for Israel He says, ‘All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.’ ”
These outward offers of God are sincere. No one who comes in faith and repentance to Christ will be cast out or rejected. The call is sincere.
The failure of man to respond to God’s call is found in the man himself as the responsible moral agent. To presume that God is at fault when his call is not accepted is to make God the cause of sin. It is a form of Pandeism. That error, or the one of denying the sincerity of God’s call to all men, confuses the decree of God concerning sin with his decreed employment of secondary causes. The failure is in the suppression and perversion of truth willingly by the heart of fallen humans.
A sincere call does not imply that every person is able to come to Christ based only upon his own choice. That presumes a false axiom that ability conditions responsibility, which assumes that no one can be held responsible to come to Christ who is not morally able to do so. That axiom is neither revealed in God’s word, nor consistent with it.
No one is able to believe or to do anything truly good by his own efforts. But God is not morally bound by any principle that requires him to make his call efficacious in every heart.
The Bible makes clear that every person ought to honor his Creator. There is real personal guilt for failure to obey these outward callings of God.
It is the duty of God’s people to extend the outward call to others. God’s people are to explain the call of the word, nature, and conscience to people everywhere.
Matthew 28:19-20, “Go ye therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Acts 1:8, “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
The Canons of Dort, head of doctrine 2, article 5 says, “Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.”
The effectual call of God upon the heart of a fallen person is part of the work of regeneration. God makes what was spiritually dead to become spiritually alive. It always effects the change God intended by it.
Ephesians 2:1,5 “you were dead in your trespasses and sins… even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)”
This supernatural work of God upon the lost heart is passive as far as the human is concerned, but he willingly and actively responds to the call of God.
Romans 8:30 “… and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”
The calling in Romans 8:30 is clearly more than just a mere invitation. It infallibly brings justification, and promises future glorification to those called, to all of them. The Holy Spirit regenerates and gives the person a certain trust in Christ. This issues in the response of the renewed life by faith, repentance, and growth in true obedience.
The Inward Call of the Word is always effectual. In the work of regeneration the Holy Spirit works along with God’s revealed word. The word is employed as the instrument of the Spirit. The Spirit is necessary for the word to become effectual.
Romans 10:14-17, “How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!’ However, they did not all heed the glad tidings; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”
The inward call of regeneration makes the word understood. The word in the regenerate heart impels it to come by faith in Christ.
James 1:18 “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth…”
1 Peter 1:22-23 “since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God.”
God can at times work this regeneration upon someone without the written or proclaimed Word. This is evident as we consider how God might deal with those who die in infancy, and the mentally incompetent who die without understanding the words of the gospel.
However, God has ordained the ministry of the word to be His ordinary way of operation.
The success of our witness to the gospel always depends upon the moving of the Holy Spirit. Our part is the faithful use of the Word of God. The Spirit and Word are the means of regeneration. It’s our duty therefore: to pray fervently as we offer the call of God, to make faithful use of God’s prescribed methods of witness, to be truthful in our message to the lost, to be diligent and fervent in delivering the message of truth.
Effectual Calling brings about a change in Moral Disposition. The moral disposition of fallen man is described in the confession as;
“that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature.” We previously studied the bondage this implies.
In the new redeemed state, the new life we receive in Christ enlightens the mind spiritually. It enables the person to understand the things of God. The hardened disposition of the heart is changed. Restored to that condition where it is able to choose what is truly good. This change in moral inclination is not a mere persuasive pull. It is efficacious. Made willing by grace, the regenerated believer comes most certainly and gladly to the Savior.
God’s motive for his Effectual Call is not the foreseen acts and decisions of created individuals. Regeneration is a sovereign act of God. It’s judicially based only upon the atonement of Christ, is applied by the immediate work of the Holy Spirit. The response of man is only possible after his being made alive by God’s grace. When spiritual life is restored the individual responds with faith, repentance, and a renewed ability to obey. The cause is to be found in God alone, not in anything in the person himself.
The term foreknowledge is abused when it assumes it’s based upon a hypothetical work of man. That is entirely foreign to the use of that term in Scripture and is contrary to direct statements. It’s not God looking ahead to see what we would do if he didn’t do anything, then deciding to do what he sees us doing. It’s God knowing his people specially as his own for all eternity, before they were even born.
Lost people are not able to consciously respond to God’s callings. No one descending from Adam by ordinary birth is born innocent. Jesus is excepted because his birth was not ordinary, it was supernatural. He did not inherit Adam’s sin and guilt.
This means that upon conception each person is deserving of eternal condemnation, and unable to savingly understand or accept the callings of God to come to him in faith and repentance.
An individual’s salvation is never conditioned upon, or caused by, any act, choice or attitude on his own part. Only by the sovereign work of regeneration can anyone purpose anything good or come in saving faith to God. (Romans 3:10-12, John 6:44, 1 Corinthians 2:14).
to the use of God’s word as the means used.
The Bible does not explicitly tell us how the work of Christ is applied to those not able to hear or understand it. Passages about believing, repenting, and honoring God are only directed to those who are physically able to do so. Careful exegesis has led most to conclude that the salvation of infants is certainly probable in at least some cases. There is some difference as to the extent of that salvation as it applies to the whole class of infants who die in infancy.
The Westminster Confession in 10:3 speaks of the regeneration of “elect infants, dying in infancy.”
The Canons of Dort say in Head 1, article 17, “godly parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom it pleases God to call out of this life in their infancy.” The Canons cite as evidence Genesis 17:7, Acts 2:39 and 1 Corinthians 7:14.
A. A. Hodge (Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith p175) states, “we have good reason to believe that all infants are elected,” but he goes on to say, “it is not positively revealed that all infants are elect, but we are left, for many reasons, to indulge a high probable hope that such is the fact.”
Charles Hodge (Systematic Theology, volume 1, pp26-27) says “All who die in infancy are saved.” In support of this idea he reasons by the principle that, “it is more congenial with the nature of God to bless than to curse, to save than to destroy.” He calls Judgment the “strange work” of God. The work in which God delights is his work of redemption and victory. He cautions against placing limitations upon the work of Christ other than what is explicitly revealed in God’s word. He adds, “All the descendants of Adam, except Christ, are under condemnation; all the descendants of Adam, except those of whom it is expressly revealed that they cannot inherit the kingdom of God, are saved.”
Calvin in his institutes regarding the ordinary use of the means in evangelism cites Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Calvin then comments about what Paul intended, “he is only describing the usual economy and dispensation which the Lord is wont to employ in calling his people, and not laying down an invariable rule, for which no other method can be substituted.” (Institutes 4:16:19).
Along with those who die in infancy, we could consider all who are similarly physically unable to receive the word through the senses, or who are mentally unable process the outward call of God. If it’s possible that all who die while unable to receive the outward call can be saved, then the number of souls redeemed in Christ is far beyond our imagination.
W. G. T. Shedd goes further. He remarks (Dogmatics II p707f) that this section of the Confession (10:3) “is commonly understood to refer not merely, or mainly to idiots and insane persons, but to such of the pagan world as God pleases to regenerate without the use of the written revelation.”
Jerome Zanchius (author of Absolute Predestination, 16th century Latin), after commenting about heathen nations where the gospel has never been proclaimed said, “it is not indeed improbable that some individuals in these unenlightened countries may belong to the secret election of grace, and the habit of faith may be wrought in them.” (chapter 4 – Toplady translation).
Much of what these differing scholars suggest is admittedly just speculation. We leave the issue in the hands of God. Our mandate is to make God’s word known to all we are able to reach. For ourselves, we should be humbly thankful for the grace that opens our eyes and hearts to the callings of God.
Part 2 – The Elect of God
God’s effectual call to come to Christ for salvation is extended toward only some fallen persons. It’s rooted in God’s unchangeable, infinitely extensive, and eternal decree. This idea of the decree of election challenges the presumed humanist axiom which teaches that each individual must be the ultimate determiner of his own punishments and rewards. There are various schemes dealing with God’s election. They produce divergent systems of theology.
Charles Hodge summarizes the basic Augustinian Scheme in his Systematic Theology (vol. 2, page 333)
1. The glory of God, or the manifestation of his perfections, is the highest and ultimate end of all things.
2. For that end God purposed the creation of the universe, and the whole plan of providence and redemption.
3. He placed man in a state of probation, making Adam, their first parent, their head and representative.
4. The fall of Adam brought all his posterity into a state of condemnation, sin and misery, from which they are utterly unable to deliver themselves.
5. From the mass of fallen men God elected a number innumerable to eternal life, and left the rest of mankind to the just recompense of their sins.
6. The ground of this election is not the foresight of anything in the one class to distinguish them favourably from the members of the other class, but the good pleasure of God.
7. For the salvation of those thus chosen to eternal life, God gave his own son, to become man, and to obey and suffer for his people, thus making a full satisfaction for sin and bringing in everlasting righteousness, rendering the ultimate salvation of the elect absolutely certain.
8. While the Holy Spirit, in his common operations, is present with every man, so long as he lives, restraining evil and exciting good, his certainly efficacious and saving power is exercised only in behalf of the elect.
9. All those whom God has thus chosen to life, and for whom Christ specially gave Himself in the covenant of redemption, shall certainly (unless they die in infancy), be brought to the knowledge of the truth, to the exercise of faith, and to perseverance in holy living unto the end.
This scheme is the one expressed in the Westminster Standards and the other Reformed symbols. It goes by a variety of names: Pauline, Augustinian, Calvinist, Reformed, and Presbyterian. Charles Hodge traces this doctrine from its origins in Scripture and its clear statement by Augustine, then through the Latin churches, the Middle Ages, and up to its rejection by Romanism at the council of Trent.
Since the decrees of God are infinitely extensive, the salvation of all redeemed individuals must be included in them.
Trying to understand why some are redeemed while others are not, has divided Evangelicals into various schools of thought.
Most basic to the Reformed system is the idea of particularism. Redemption is applied to particular individuals. It’s God’s particular purpose in redemption that just particular people will be saved,
To preserve the biblical fact that God’s sovereign determins who will be saved, the particularistic element of the decree which distinguishes among men must be prior
to the actual evidences of spiritual life in the individual which include his coming to Christ in faith.
Once it is seen that the “special and proximate design of redemption is to render certain the salvation of the people of God, then the whole Augustinian system follows by logical necessity” (C. Hodge, Systematic, vol.2, page 314).
To express this truth, several schemes have come into being which all claim to be “Calvinistic.” They differ as to how God’s decree to elect some and not others relates to his other decrees, which are particularly: The decrees to create mankind, to allow the fall, to send the Redeemer, to send the Holy Spirit to apply that work.
The so called order of the decrees (Ordo Salutis) should not be seen as being chronological in any sense. God is unchangeable, his decrees are eternal. One aspect of his decree cannot existed prior to another. This would deny divine immutability and the eternality of God’s plan.
Most defend the order of the decrees by speaking of a logical priority. One aspect of the decree may form the just foundation for another. But we must be cautious that in making this a logical ordering we do not perceive God as thinking syllogistically. That could also imply mutability and priority by a thought process which moves from facts to deduced conclusion. Those things we see as parts, blend into one grand unified, eternal, and indivisible decree and awareness in the mind of the infinite God.
Robert Lewis Dabney worked to effect a union between divided factions in the church. In doing so he looked for wording to bring the sides together without compromising orthodoxy. He was soundly criticized for some of the expressions he used. As he defended himself it became clear that most of the issue came from differences of terminology not from real differences of doctrine.
In the course of explaining his statements on the atonement he addressed the issue of the ordering of the decrees. “I have been taught to think, along with Dr. Baxter, upon this subject of a sequence between the parts of the divine decree, that the human reason can go no farther than this: its infirmity constrains it to think of that vast plan in parts, which in the infinite mind of God has no parts, but is one, eternal, single, all-embracing purpose. So in our minds, the apprehension of one part must follow after that of another part. But with God it cannot be so; for that which is one and eternal must be absolutely contemporaneous.”
Morton Smith, in commenting on Dabney, says, “Dabney does not feel that the question of the order of the decrees is really a proper question. As he says in his Theology, ‘In my opinion this is a question which never ought to have been raised.’ In this passage he goes on to indicate how both supra and infralapsarian views are erroneous, though he has more objections to the former than to the latter. Thus he seems more favorable toward the infralapsarian position.”
Though it may have been better if this model had not been put forward, nevertheless it has been. The way in which a poor question is handled, and how its underlying issues are defended, can be very instructive. A theological model is only a means of learning more about the biblical facts that suggested it.
The pivotal decree around which the distinct approaches turn is the decree of the fall into sin (lapse) of mankind. (There is a wonderful chart in B. B. Warfield’s The Plan of Salvation that summarizes this very well.)
The two primary Calvinistic views are:
1. Supralapsarianism (above or before the lapse)
The decree to elect is ordered prior to the decree to permit the fall.
2. Infralapsarianism (under or after the lapse)
The decree to elect is ordered after the decree to permit the fall.
Each view was intended to guard against specific abuses which had distorted the Augustinian doctrine. Another view arose which attempted to solve the criticisms against Calvinism. It was proposed by Moses Amyraut and is often called “post-redemptionism” or “hypothetical universalism.” Claude Pajon modified the Amyraldian scheme into a view called “Congruism.” There are also specific views held by the Lutherans, Arminians, and the Weslyans. This is an issue that lies at the root of many controversies today. It is far more than a technical curiosity. It is vital to soundly understand the issues at risk and the limits of the solutions offered.
This model places the decree of election in a position logically prior to the decree of the fall of man. In its simple form the decrees go in this logical order:
1. elect some to life from creatable men
2. permit the fall of mankind
3. send the Savior to secure redemption for the elect
4. send the Holy Spirit to apply that redemption to each one elected
This means that those elected to life, and foreordained to death, were not chosen from among fallen men. They were selected from among potentially creatable men. The supralapsarian claims that his view does the most honor to the complete and independent sovereignty of God. He points out that creation is to bringing into existence those God had already foreordained to either life or death. He fears that if reprobation considered man’s guilt, then God’s decree becomes conditional and not self-determined.
This view places the decrees to create, and to allow the fall, prior to the decree to elect. Those chosen for life are the objects of grace, chosen from the fallen race of guilty and undeserving creatures. The reprobate are left to their condemnation and guilt. The logical order of the decrees is this:
1. permit the fall of mankind
2. elect some to life from among fallen men
3. send the Savior to secure redemption for the elect
4. send the Holy Spirit to apply that redemption to each one elected
Analysis of these two basic views
Much of the debate centers on three primary concerns:
1. the use of different terminology
2. a different emphasis upon God’s motives in his work of redemption
3. the way in which the attributes of God are revealed in each aspect of his work.
The term “predestination” is sometimes used more generally, and at other times more particularly. This has caused miscommunication among those debating this issue.
The grounds and motives for election and reprobation are often confused. The motive for election and reprobation are to be found in the independent good pleasure of God alone. Otherwise his decrees and purposes would depend upon something outside of himself. The grounds for his election and reprobation is everywhere presented as something judicial. The grounds for election is the atonement provided by Christ. The grounds for the condemnation of the reprobate is everywhere presented as the individual’s guilt. If the judicial grounds of the decrees are confused with the motives of God then conflicts are to be expected.
The ordering of the decrees must not imply any chronological priority: God does not progress or change. There was never a time in God’s mind when one decree existed but the others hadn’t yet been fully formulated. The same danger arises in logical ordering if we conceive of it as a syllogistic process. There could be no time in the mind of God where one or more premises existed without yet producing the necessary conclusion.
If these are neither steps nor process, then what are they? At best they represent the differences between the judicial grounds necessitated by God’s nature, and the means God has eternally ordained within his decrees to secure their certain realization. This causes the present writer to side with Dabney – the whole issue is of a rather artificial nature and tends to be a misleading model.
In the mind of God neither his decree to elect nor the decree to permit the fall could have been prior to the other, nor could the one be at any moment without consideration of the other. One cannot help but wonder if our understanding is advanced at all or hindered by speaking of a logical ordering of eternal and unchangeable decrees by an independent and sovereign God.
Most reformed bodies have embraced the Infralapsarian view because it does not adjust itself artificially to prevent a perceived philosophical puzzle. If we can accept that the grounds and means of the decrees are just as eternal as the ends they accomplish, then the objection of external contingency is removed. Only when a priority of time or process is imposed upon the decrees does such a problem arise.
In contrast with the Calvinistic system is Arminianism. The followers of James Arminius presented a Remonstrance to the Synod of Dordrecht. From November 1618 to May 1619 the Reformed churches of Holland studied their petition point by point. The resulting Canons of Dort define the Augustinian system in terms of its response to the Remonstrant party.
The following is a summary of Arminian system based upon the presentation of Charles Hodge in his systematic:
1. All men derive from Adam a corrupt nature by which they are inclined to sin. Each is responsible for his own voluntary acts and their consequences.
2. Man by his fall has not lost his ability to good. Such “liberty” is seen as essential to our nature and cannot be lost without a loss of humanity.
3. This ability is not of itself sufficient to secure the return of the soul to God. Men need the preventing, exciting, and assisting grace of God in order to their conversion and holy living.
4. Divine grace is afforded to all men in sufficient measure to enable them to repent, believe and keep all the commandments of God.
5. Those who of their own free will and in the exercise of that ability which belongs to them since the fall, cooperate with this divine grace, are converted and saved.
6. Those who thus believe are predestinated to eternal life, not however as individuals, but as a class. The decree of election does not concern persons, it is simply the purpose of God to save believers.
Wesleyan or “Evangelical” Arminianism is a modification of the remonstrant system. (The following is based on the summary by Charles Hodge.)
1. It admits that fallen man is in a state of absolute or entire pollution and depravity. Original sin is not a mere physical deterioration of our nature, but entire moral depravity.
2. It denies that men in this state of nature have any power to cooperate with the grace of God.
3. It affirms that the guilt brought upon all men by Adam’s sin is removed by the justification which has come upon all men by the righteousness of Christ.
4. The ability of man even to cooperate with the Spirit of God, is not due to anything belonging to his natural state as fallen, but to the universal influence of the redemption of Christ. Every infant, therefore, comes into the world free from condemnation on the ground of the righteousness of Christ and with a seed of divine grace. “Every human being has a measure of grace (unless he has cast it away), and those who faithfully use this gracious gift, will be accepted of God in the day of judgment”
The logical order of the decrees according to Wesleyan Arminianism:
1. to permit the fall of mankind
2. to send the Savior to make full satisfaction for the sins of the whole world
3. upon that satisfaction, to remit the guilt of original sin & impart sufficient grace and light to every person to enable them to attain eternal life
4. Those who improve that grace and persevere to the end are ordained to be saved. God purposes eternally to save those he foresees will persevere in faith and holy living.
There is also the Lutheran Scheme. The writings of Luther and the first editions of Melancthon’s writings agree with the strict Augustinian scheme. In later editions Melancthon expressed that men cooperate with God’s grace in their conversion. The reason why some are regenerated and others are not, became rooted in this idea of cooperation. This “synergism” became a very controversial issue in the Lutheran church.
In the Form of Concord the idea of cooperation was rejected. Regeneration was seen as the exclusive and supernatural work of the Holy Spirit upon the sinner. But it did allow that grace can be resisted and therefore all who are outwardly called do not respond in faith. This view was overturned by later Lutheran theologians as inconsistent. They favored instead a view of God’s foreknowledge. It bases election upon God foreseeing if each individual would believe and persevere to the end.
The basic Lutheran scheme orders the decrees as follows:
1. God, in love to the whole fallen race, wills and purposes their salvation
2. God determined to send his Son to make full satisfaction for their sins
3. God purposed to give to all men the means of salvation and the power to avail themselves of it.
4. There is also a special enablement relating to certain individuals which is based upon God’s foresight of their actions.
Foresight of faith and perseverance become the determining factors to explain why some whom God purposed to save are not actually redeemed. The grace of God is believed to be resisted by some. They say, “God only predestines those whom he foresees will persevere in faith unto salvation.” (This is the Lutheran view as summarized by Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 2, p. 326)
Another view is Amyrauldianism. Moses Amyraut (died 1664) was professor of theology at the French Protestant Seminary at Saumer. He attempted to formulate a view that solved some of the problems in the other Calvinistic views.
This position attempts to remain particularistic but postpones the decree of election to the last possible position in the logical ordering, while still making it prior to the actual saving work. The intent of the coming of Christ to save is seen as truly universal. God gave his Son to redeem all humans. But he also intended that the Savior’s death would be efficacious only to some he would choose.
The logical order of the decrees is:
1. to permit the fall of mankind
2. to send the Savior to make redemption possible for all (hypothetical universalism)
3. to elect some to the gift of moral ability
4. to enable those elected to respond by the power of the Holy Spirit
There is also Congruist Post-redemptionism In order to maintain more of the autonomy of the human will another movement modified the view of Amyraut. Claude Pajon, successor of Amyraut in the Theological School at Saumur, proposed Calvinistic Congruism.
The Spirit’s enabling the elect was merely the power of suasive operations directed by God’s infinite knowledge. God orchestrates circumstances and thoughts to bring the fallen mind of the elect to the exact state where it will come voluntarily to Christ. The choice is made while the soul remains yet unregenerate. Only and all the elect are brought to this state – preserving the obvious particularism of Scripture. Since the Spirit works along with the natural operations of fallen man it is a form of “congruism.”
Warfield explains this view (with which he disagrees) saying, “God the Holy Spirit operates in his gracious suasion on some in a fashion that is carefully and infallibly adapted by him to secure their adhesion to the gospel, and does not operate on others with the same careful adaptation.”
The Reformed approach responds to each of these models. The Amyrauldian schemes aresoundly rejected as speculative and unbiblical in the Formula Consensus Helvetica mainly written by Heidegger and Turrettin (1675), and adopted by the churches of Switzerland. This document also formally rejected supralasparianism.
The Canons of the Synod of Dort was dominated by infralapsarians and chose language favoring that view.
The Westminster Confession implied infralapsarianism (3:6,7), but did not openly condemn the supralapsarians who were among their number and respected. More directly the Shorter Catechism (Questions 19 and 20) take a presumed infralapsarian position.
Calvin’s position has been debated. Since this was not an issue in his time his language is often not precise. In his Consensus Genevanensis he explicitly takes the infralapsarian position.
One strong passage often used to show the favorability of the infralapsarian order is Romans 8:29-30, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”
God is said to foreknow as a basis for his work of predestination, effectual call, justification, and glorification. This knowing of a person before hand implies that the decree to create is logically prior to the decree to predestine and not in order simply to fulfill the electing decree.
Supralapsarians often cite Ephesians 3:9-10 as supporting their view, “and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things; in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.”
The claim is that it speaks of God creating all things in order to manifest his election of the church. However the context is not speaking so much of the design of creation as it is the design of the gospel and of Paul’s calling to the Apostleship. This grace was extended to Paul to preach the riches of Christ among the Gentiles concerning the mystery of the gospel in order that by the church the wisdom of God would be made known.
In review of all these proposals, I summarize it this way: God elected some lost humans to eternal life by grace alone, based on Christ’s atonement alone, and applied to each of the elect irresistibly by the work of the Holy Spirit. Those not of the elect are left to the condemnation we all deserve. No human persuasion, choice, ceremony, or good deeds can save anyone who is not of the elect.
Part 3 – Common Grace
Westminster Confession 9.3 was about those who are not redeemed by Christ. They do not come in faith and repentance to Christ and never experience regeneration. It’s not just that they are not allowed to come, nor that they are not sincerely called outwardly. They are morally unable to come, therefore it is impossible for them to come. They don’t want to come. God had not eternally purposed that they would be effectually drawn.
Since the judicial ground of election is the atonement of Christ, and the judicial ground of condemnation is sin, it’s not accurate to speak of “double-predestination” as “hyper-Calvinists” do. The decrees are always motivated by the same independent and uninfluenced good pleasure of God, but are not based on the same judicial foundation. Therefore the two aspects of the decree are not fully equivalent as two sides of the same principle.
To avoid this confusion we restrict the term “predestination” to the work of redemption toward holiness in Christ, and to speak of reprobation using the term “foreordination” which does not carry the same redemptive tone.
Not all writers have adopted this convention. Earlier authors were not dealing with this distinction. Therefore some misread Calvin and other earlier reformers. But the Reformers do not combine these two aspects of the decree as if they had a common judicial foundation.
There are some Common Operations of the Holy Spirit. By “Common operations of the Holy Spirit” we mean his dealings with all humans, unbelievers as well as the elect.
Westminster Confession 10:4, “Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit …”
In any life, reprobate and redeemed, God might restrain them from certain sins and violence. He keeps them from being as evil as they could be. He may hold back their suffering in times of disease and calamities. He works in them to give them talents and opportunities in material matters. He uses fallen men in civil governments as his ministers for good, as Paul explained in Romans 13.
But these are non-redemptive works of God and are not properly considered under the heading of Soteriology. These common operations are not-redemptive by their design and in effect.
The good result of these operations is that God may use them in expanding the revelation of God’s glory, and in ensuring greater peace for God’s people. But, what the non-redeemed do is not credited as good toward them. The outward mercies shown toward them, and the temporally beneficial results performed by them, actually condemn them all the more since they fail to intend their deeds toward the glory of God.
This is the teaching of Augustine. It was restored to the church by the Reformers after its rejection and corruption by Rome in the Middle Ages.
When it comes to the Holy Spirit’s work regarding salvation, his operations are not common to all people. Those left in their lost estate do not have their blinded eyes opened, and they are not granted the ability of true saving faith in Christ.
The question was raised asking if these restraints of sin and misery should be considered to be acts of “grace”. Again we often talk past one another when we use a word with different meanings in mind. But the question is important so that we don’t confuse God’s operations in redeeming his people.
The Confession in 10:4 goes on to describe those who are not of the elect: “… yet they never truly come unto Christ, and therefore cannot be saved: much less can men, not professing the Christian religion, be saved in any other way whatsoever, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, and the laws of that religion they do profess. And, to assert and maintain that they may, is very pernicious, and to be detested.”
In 1924 the Christian Reformed Church adopted three points. They wanted to “clarify” their forms of unity about “common grace“. This grace is seen as not limited to the Elect.
It’s a distinctive of the Arminian, Wesleyan, Lutheran, and Amyrauldian systems. In one form or another they see grace as enabling the lost to determine their salvation by choice. It’s called “pre-venient grace” because it “comes before” regeneration while a person is still spiritually dead.
Herman Hoeksema and his followers saw the Three Points as Arminian ideas. Debate broke out over the term “common grace”
Dr. Louis Berkhof opposed Hoeksema and defended the three points. The debate caused Hoeksema and his followers to break from the CRC to form the Protestant Reformed Church.
These are the Three Points the CRC adopted:
1. God manifests a certain grace in the preaching of the gospel not only to the elect unto eternal life, but to all that hear the preaching of the gospel without distinction.
We have already shown that the Bible clearly teaches that there is a sincere offer of the gospel to all who hear it. But it’s not seen as an extension of “grace” to those not chosen eternally by God.
This sincere offer declares God’s redemptive mercies toward undeserving sinners. All who accept that call to salvation are proven to have been redeemed by the Savior and among God’s Elect. Those who reject the call to come to Christ manifest that they are not among the Elect. It should not be imagined that God desires the redemption of those he eternally did not choose to redeem. That would be a self-contradiction.
2. There is a general operation of grace, of an ethical nature, by the Holy Spirit, by which all men apart from regeneration are improved and reformed to such an extent that they do not break out in all manner of sin.
God does keep the totally depraved heart from accomplishing all the evil it could desire.
His general mercy shows his power, glory, and Sovereign Reign over even the fallen world. When some fail to be humbly grateful to God for that restraint, it underscores their self-centered motives. It also provides safer world for his elect children while they serve God here on earth.
When the lost avoid some sin, in their hearts it is self-oriented. They avoid crime because of its consequences: imprisonment, fines, a bad reputation. They avoid immoderation because it might keep them from personal advancement in life. There are particular sins that might keep them from satisfying their lusts. By not giving God the glory for these restraints, they steal his glory for themselves, and call God’s just wrath down upon themselves.
While God provides for his creation generally, it’s not redemptive to all. The non-elect, even when restrained, remain an eternal offense to God. He cannot look upon them with favor. It’s a misuse of the term to call these general actions of God “grace”.
3. The natural man is able to do good in things civil, by virtue of an influence of God upon him which is not regenerative.
Though God may use the unregenerate to perpetuate order (Romans 13), or to provide us products and services, they do it with creature-centered motives, or to serve a false god. Therefore the things they do are not really “good”, nor can God see it as good. When they receive things they want, they fail to honor the true God for them. This condemns them all the more.
To distinguish the special redemptive work of God from his general providence toward all, it’s helpful to use terms with more precision.
The term “grace” is restricted to the redemptive work of God which is only extended to his elect. It’s not more broadly used for the care of God for all his creatures.
The term “common grace” was used by the early reformers in several senses, but not as if God works benevolently or redemptively toward those he has chosen to condemn eternally. (see Dr. H. Kuiper’s “Calvin and Common Grace”).
The care of God toward all his creatures is for the good of his people, and the display of his glory. Those who remain in their guilt are unworthy of even their daily provisions and health. God reduces the effects of sin upon them because of his compassion for his children who live among them, and to complete the display of his glory and plan as history unfolds day by day.
It is contrary to Scripture to defend a pre-redemptive work that enables those still unregenerate to seek after the true God through Christ.
Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 10
I. All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted 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; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by his almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.
II. This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.
III. Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.
IV. Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet they never truly come unto Christ, and therefore cannot be saved: much less can men, not professing the Christian religion, be saved in any other way whatsoever, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, and the laws of that religion they do profess. And, to assert and maintain that they may, is very pernicious, and to be detested.
(Bible quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (1988 edition) unless otherwise noted.)