The gospel proclaims the perseverance of the saints. Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one” (John 10:27-30). Jesus gives eternal life to every one of His sheep, and not one of those saints shall ever perish. It is impossible that anyone could pluck a saint out of God’s hand, that is, effect the falling away of a saint. The reason is not the strength of the saints themselves, but the power of the grace of our faithful God (“My Father . . . is greater than all”). The Reformed confession, the Canons of Dordt, expresses the truth this way: “Thus, it is not in consequence of their own merits, or strength, but of God’s free mercy, that they (the saints) do not totally fall from faith and grace, nor continue and perish finally in their backslidings: which, with respect to themselves, is not only possible, but would undoubtedly happen; but with respect to God, it is utterly impossible, since his counsel cannot be changed, nor his promise fail, neither can the call according to his purpose be revoked, nor the merit, intercession and preservation of Christ be rendered ineffectual, nor the sealing of the Holy Spirit be frustrated or obliterated” (V, 8). John 10makes clear that there is a necessary relationship between this doctrine of the perseverance of saints and the doctrines of election, limited atonement, and irresistible grace. The perseverance of saints is the fruit of them. Perseverance depends upon election (there are certain men who are Jesus’ sheep and they are the sheep, in distinction from others, because “My Father . . . gave them me”—these tie preserved). Perseverance depends upon limited atonement (“I lay down my life for the sheep”). Perseverance depends upon irresistible grace (“I give”—not: “I try to give,” or, “I offer eternal life, depending on their free will,” but:—”I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish”).
The gospel proclaims unconditional, eternal election as the source of all of this salvation in Christ, election of some accompanied by the reprobation of others. This truth is on the very face of the entire Old Testament Bible: God chose Israel unto salvation, rejecting the other nations. Deuteronomy 7:6-8 tells Israel: “. . . the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the Lord loved you . . .” The New Testament likewise teaches election as “the heart of the Church.” In John 6:37, Jesus says, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me . . .” Our coming to Jesus, that is, believing, is due to the Father’s giving us to Jesus, that is, election. Ephesians 1:3, 4 teaches: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” God the Father elected some men (“us”) unto’ holiness and eternal salvation from eternity (“before the foundation of the world”) for no other reason than His love and free grace, and this election is the source of every blessing. Romans 8:29, 30 asserts God’s predestination, or election, of some men as the fountain of all salvation: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” Romans 9 goes on more fully to develop election, as well as to teach reprobation.
There can be no ignoring of these doctrines, called “Calvinism”; if they are not preached and confessed, they are denied. Every preacher, every Church, every member of every Church must take a stand regarding them and does take a stand. It is impossible not to. For they are essential elements of the gospel, and the gospel is such that something must be said about it. Whoever rejects Calvinism embraces the only alternative, which is opposed to Calvinism in every point. The only alternative to the doctrine of total depravity is the teaching that there is yet in man, though he be fallen, some good or some ability for good, in and of himself; man apart from the grace of God is not dead, but merely sick, that is, not, dead, but alive. The only alternative to limited atonement is the teaching and belief that Christ died for each and every human being. This fundamentally alters the cross. For that some men do go lost hardly anyone denies. Therefore, if He died for all but some still perish, His death did not atone, but merely made atonement possible; it did not actually satisfy God’s righteousness by bearing and bearing away all punishment for all the sins of all for whom Christ died, but it merely made satisfaction possible; it did not redeem, but merely made redemption possible. Then this great and terrible question arises: Who now must make atonement, satisfaction, and redemption actual? The only alternative to irresistible, or efficacious, grace is the teaching that God’s call to salvation and the grace of the Holy Spirit depend upon the free will of man and that they, therefore, can be frustrated and fail. The only alternative to the doctrine of the perseverance of saints is the teaching that the saints can perish, any of them and all of them. The only alternative to the doctrine of election is the teaching that the source and foundation of salvation is man’s choice, man’s decision, and that God’s choice of a man depends upon man’s decision for God.
In the end, there are two, and only two, possible faiths. The one maintains that all mankind lies in death; that God in free and sovereign grace eternally chose some; that God gave Christ to die for those whom He chose: that the Holy Spirit regenerates them and calls them efficaciously to faith; and that the Spirit preserves these elect, redeemed, and reborn sinners unto everlasting glory. This is Calvinism. The other faith maintains that fallen man retains some spiritual ability for good, some life; that God’s choice of men depends upon their exercise of the ability for good that is in them; that Christ’s death depends upon that good in man; that the work of grace by the Holy Spirit depends upon that good in man; and that the attainment of final glory depends upon that good in man. This is the foe of Calvinism.
Calvinism proclaims salvation by grace; the other faith preaches salvation by man’s will and works. Calvinism is the gospel! God’s gospel is the message of wholly gracious salvation. This does not mean that Calvinism is not offensive. It is. Calvin took note long ago of the offensiveness of the truth that he taught, with reference specifically to total depravity:
I am not unaware how much more plausible the view is, which invites us rather to ponder on our good qualities than to contemplate what must overwhelm US with shame—our miserable destitution and ignominy. There is nothing more acceptable to the human mind than flattery . . . if a discourse is pronounced which flatters the pride spontaneously springing up in man’s inmost heart, nothing seems more delightful. Accordingly, in every age, he who is most forward in extolling the excellence of human nature, is received with the loudest applause (Institutes, II, 1, 2).
But the offensiveness of Calvinism to men is nothing other than the offense of the cross of Christ. In Galatians 5:11, Paul speaks of “the offense of the cross,” an offense that ceases only in the preaching of a cross-denying heresy. The cross of Christ, which is the very heart of the gospel, is not pleasing to man, or acceptable. “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness” (I Corinthians 1:23). The cross of Christ as the cross of the eternal Son of God in our flesh shows the extent of fallen man’s misery. His misery is such that he can be saved only by the death of the Son of God. Fallen man is utterly lost, completely ruined, dead in sin. The cross shows that, salvation is of the Lord, wholly of divine grace, and that salvation is not due, in whole or in part, to man’s work, man’s worth, or man’s will. The cross as the cross on which the Prince of glory died has power, efficacious power, to save. Nothing and no one can nullify or defeat the blood and Spirit of Christ crucified. The gospel of the cross is this message: “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Romans 9:16). Because this is the message of Calvinism, Calvinism is offensive to men. It is offensive to proud man to hear that he is spiritually dead, totally devoid of anything pleasing to God, unable at all to save himself, nothing more than a child of wrath. But this is the judgment passed upon him in the gospel—and in Calvinism. It is offensive to proud man to hear that salvation is exclusively God’s free gift and sovereign, gracious work. But this is what the gospel—and Calvinism—proclaim. Exactly because of this, Calvinism is good news! It is gospel, glad tidings! As the message of grace, it comforts us and all those who, by the grace of the Spirit, believe in Christ. Only this message provides hope for lost, sinful, and otherwise hopeless men. There is salvation, only because salvation is gracious.
(to be concluded)