Another of the five points of Calvinism is the truth of limited atonement. There is deliverance for fallen men only in Jesus Christ, God’s eternal Son in our flesh. This deliverance occurred in the death of Christ on the cross. His death was atonement for sins, inasmuch as He satisfied the righteousness of God, suffering the penalty of God’s wrath in our stead who deserved that wrath because of our sins. Jesus’ death was efficacious; it saved! It saved everyone for whom He died. It removed, in full, the punishment of everyone in whose stead Jesus died. He atoned for some, particular men, not all. His atonement was limited as regards the number of men for whom ,He died and whom He redeemed. They are “His people” (Matthew 1:21), His “sheep” (John 10:15: “I lay down my life for the sheep”), and “as many as (the Father) hast given (Jesus)” (John 17:2). It is not Calvinism, that some, even one, who seek salvation will be denied, but that the death of Jesus saved, was efficacious, was not in vain.
Irresistible grace, or efficacious grace, is a third of the five points of Calvinism. This doctrine refers to the actual saving of fallen men by the Holy Spirit, to the application to them of the redemption which Christ accomplished on the cross. This work of salvation is entirely God’s work; it takes place by grace alone. Negatively, this means two things. First, the salvation of a man is not something that any man deserves or makes himself worthy of in any way. Secondly, salvation is not a work that man accomplishes, in whole or in part. Man does not co-operate with God in bringing about his salvation. Positively, that salvation takes place by grace alone means that salvation is freely given to men by God, merely out of His love and goodness. Also, it means that this salvation is accomplished by God’s power, the Holy Spirit. He regenerates; He calls; He gives faith; He sanctifies; He glorifies. This work of saving and the power of grace by which the Holy Spirit performs this work are efficacious. This work of grace does not make a man’s salvation possible, but it saves. It is not on the order of an attempt by God that depends, ultimately, on the man whom God tries to save and that may, therefore, be frustrated, but it is on the order of a work of creation (cf. Ephesians 2:10) that sovereignly and unfailingly makes the man whom God is pleased to save a new creature in Jesus Christ. It is not Calvinism, that God forces men, kicking and screaming, into heaven, but that God makes a man willing, who before was unwilling, and that God keeps him willing. In the Canons of Dordt, the Reformed believer describes the saving work of irresistible grace this way:
“But when God accomplishes His good pleasure in the elect, or works in them true conversion, He not only causes the gospel to be externally preached to them, and powerfully illuminates their minds by His Holy Spirit, that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God; but by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit, pervades the inmost recesses of the man; He opens the closed, and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised, infuses new qualities into the will, which though heretofore dead, He quickens; from being evil, disobedient and refractory, He renders it good, obedient, and pliable; actuates and strengthens it, that like a good tree, it may bring forth the fruits of good actions.” (III, IV, Art. 11)
The doctrine of the perseverance of saints, or “eternal security,” as some call it, follows from the truth of irresistible grace. Not one person to whom God gives the grace of the Holy Spirit will perish, because that grace and that Spirit preserve him unto the perfect salvation of the Day of Christ. It is not Calvinism that one may do as he pleases and still be saved, or that a saint can never fall into sin. As the lives of the saints recorded in Scripture show, saints do sometimes fall into sin, even deeply, but the Holy Spirit brings them to repentance. Over against the charge that the doctrine of perseverance implies that one may do as he pleases and still be saved, the truth is that the Holy Spirit preserves us by sanctifying us, by strengthening our faith, and by giving us the gift of endurance to the very end.
All of the salvation described above has its source in God’s eternal election. The truth of election is another of the characteristic Calvinistic doctrines. God has from eternity elected, or chosen, in Christ, some of the fallen human race unto salvation. This choice was unconditional, gracious, and free, not due to anything in those who were chosen. Reprobation is implied. God did not choose all men, but He rejected some
men. It makes no essential difference whether one views reprobation as God’s passing by some men with His decree of election in eternity (which is, in fact, a Divine decision about their eternal destiny!) or whether one views it as a positive decree that some men perish in their sin, their unbelief and disobedience. Election and reprobation make up predestination, the doctrine that God has determined the destiny of all men from eternity. This truth is regarded, not inaccurately, as the hallmark of Calvinism. But the main element, according to Scripture, is election, God’s gracious choice of some men, guilty and depraved, worthy only of damnation, unto salvation. Election is the foundation of all salvation! As such, it is the ultimate proof and guarantee that salvation is gracious, that salvation does not depend upon man but upon God, that salvation is not man’s idea but God’s, that salvation is not man’s work but God’s, that salvation is not due to man’s decision but to God’s eternal will. This is how Calvin himself viewed predestination—as the final, conclusive, incontrovertible testimony to and guarantee of gracious salvation. Therefore, in his definitive edition of the Institutes (1559), Calvin treated predestination at the end of Book III, after his treatment of redemption in Christ and his treatment of the application of redemption by the Holy Spirit. Calvin wrote: “We shall never feel persuaded as we ought that our salvation flows from the free mercy of God as its fountain, until we are made acquainted with His eternal election, the grace of God being illustrated by the contrast—viz. that He does not adopt promiscuously to the hope of salvation, but gives to some what He denies to others” (Institutes, III, XXI, 1).
This is Calvinism!
This is the gospel!
The gospel proclaims man’s misery as total depravity, including the bondage of his will. Ephesians 2:1 describes the spiritual condition of man apart from the quickening of the Spirit of Christ thus: “dead in trespasses and sins.” Man is spiritually dead, that is, without any good, without any ability to do good, and without any capacity to effect a change in this condition. Romans 8:7, 8 teaches the same: “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” The carnal mind is simply human nature as it is by virtue of natural birth. Its condition is such that it is incapable of being in subjection to God’s law. Those that are in the flesh are those that are not born again by the Spirit of Christ, those that are outside of Christ. Their spiritual condition is such that they are incapable of pleasing God. All that they are able to do is sin. Philippians 2:13 teaches that the only man who wills or chooses the good is the saint in Jesus Christ and that he wills the good only because God works this in him: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
The gospel proclaims the death of Christ as a death that effectively redeems some men, rather than as a death that merely makes salvation possible for all men. Scripture teaches limited atonement. Christ Himself taught this in John 10:15: “. . . and I lay down my life for the sheep.” A little further in this same chapter, the Lord specifically states that some men are not included in “the sheep.” In verse 26; He says: “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.” He died for some men, “the sheep,” in distinction from other men, who are not of His sheep. Jesus spoke of His death in Matthew 20:28: “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.” It is not so much the point here that He called those for whom He died “many,” not “all,” as it is that He described His death as a giving of a ransom in the stead of others. By dying, He paid the ransom-price to God on behalf of all for whom He died, so that every one for whom He died is freed from sin, death, and hell. Not one for whom Jesus died will perish. He may not, for Jesus has paid the ransom for him. The whole of Isaiah 53 in the Old Testament teaches the same truth. Christ’s suffering was His bearing the iniquities of other men; He suffered effectively, so that He actually took away their sins; He did this, not for everybody, but for some men, those whom Isaiah calls “us,” that is, God’s chosen people.
The gospel proclaims an irresistible grace, a sovereign work of salvation by the Holy Spirit. This is the message of Ephesians 2:4, 5: “But God, Who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved).” In verse 10 of the same chapter, Paul likens the work by which we were saved to the work of creation, thus making very clear that this work is exclusively the work of God the Creator and not at all the work of the creature that is created: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works. . . .” Jesus explained how salvation takes place in John 6:44: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” God draws a man by His Almighty power, the Holy Spirit in his heart, and, therefore, that man comes to Jesus, in true faith. The act of saving a man is an act of raising the dead, according to Scripture, comparable to Jesus’ acts of raising the physically dead. This is accomplished in every case, and can only be accomplished, by the sovereign power of the efficacious grace of God.
(to be continued)