Survey Studies in Reformed Theology
Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
Bob Burridge ©1996, 2006, 2010
Note: The Bible quotations in this syllabus are from the New American Standard Bible (1988 edition) unless otherwise noted.
Subjective Soteriology – Lesson 2: Effectual Calling
by Pastor Bob Burridge ©1998, 2010
The Callings of God (outward and inward)
Sincere offer of the Gospel
The Elect of God and the Lapsarian Controversy
Those Not Elect
The Common Operations of the Holy Spirit
Westminster Confession of Faith X
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.
The Callings of God
God did not leave the whole human race to its rebellion and sin. He calls his fallen creatures to Himself. In some places this call seems to be extended to the whole race, in others it seems specially directed to the elect. In some places the call seems as if it is rejected or resisted, in others it seems to compel and bring the sinner irresistibly. When these various references are isolated from one another they confuse us. But God’s word is not to be taken in isolated parts. When we bring these texts together in the spirit of Scriptura Scripturae interpres (Scripture interprets Scripture), a unified teaching emerges which reveals the mind of God on this matter.
The callings of God come in different types and are divided into varied categories which reflect his special intention in each kind of call.
There is a call from God that is not effectual
This species of calling is extended to all types of humans both the elect and the non-elect. This call comes by three different modes. The first two are general and extensive to all individuals able to perceive the world around them and able to think about moral relationships. The third is special and is extensive to all who hear the word of God proclaimed.
The Outward Call in Creation
Creation declares the glories and nature of the Creator in a manner that leaves all men 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. It clearly evidences God’s existence, his nature, and his offices of Creator and Preserver of all things. It invites all observers to treat God and the things he made as they ought.
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. (2) Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. (3) There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. (4) 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”
Clearly the testimony of creation (Psalm 19:4) continues into the time of the New Testament. Paul quotes this passage from the Psalms in his letter to the Romans to show how it leaves people 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 attestation of creation 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.
The Inward Call in Creation
God also calls us to worship and to honor him by the testimony of our conscience. This inward witness informs all humans 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 in mankind since Adam’s transgression. It suppresses and perverts the moral truth of all things. While God inwardly call us to do what is right, the depraved heart of man responds by making his own selfish desires the test of what is morally good. Though man perverts his conscience, it remains to condemn him. To deal with his real guilt fallen man deflects the testimony of his conscience by blaming others and by excusing himself.
The Outward Call of the Word
God has also calls us to honor him by means of his word. This call is propositional. It uses language to extend the truth about God to all those who are exposed to that word. By this means God invites people to come to worship him as Creator, and to submit to him repentantly through Christ our redeemer. It is by the word that the facts of sin and redemption are made known and the promises extended.
The call is extended by the word through many different kinds of agents. The following sampling shows that this call is extended by means of the word itself.
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 the invitation of God to man comes by way of creation, providence, conscience, or by the outward call of the word, it is not efficacious. It does not bring with it the effort of God to make a change in the person with certainty. The following examples show that this outward offer of God’s word is often turned down and does not secure obedience in all who hear it.
In Proverbs chapter 1 it says,
verse 7, “…Fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
verse 22, “…scoffers delight themselves in scoffing and fools hate knowledge.”
verses 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 chapter 10
verse 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.’ ”
verse 19, “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.’ ”
verse 20, “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.’ ”
verse 21, “But as for Israel He says, ‘All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.’ ”
The offer of God is sincere.
All who reject the call of God do so not because of a deficit in the work of Christ, and not because of a failure of God’s word to be clearly conveyed by its inspired writers. The failure is to be found in the suppression and perversion of truth by the heart of fallen man who is not able to believe or to do anything truly good by his own efforts. God is neither morally bound by any principle in his own nature, nor by any revealed moral law, that would require him to make his call efficacious in the depraved heart.
No one who comes in faith to Christ will be cast out. No one who desires Christ will be rejected. The call is sincere. The failure of man to honor God is not to be found in God, but in the man himself as the responsible moral agent. To presume otherwise is to make God the cause of sin, and is to promote a form of pantheism. 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.
To expect that a sincere call implies that any person may come to Christ based only upon his own choice presumes an axiom that is neither revealed in God’s word, nor is consistent with it. That false axiom is that ability conditions responsibility. The unwarranted presumption is that no one can be held responsible to come to Christ who is not morally able to do so. This is contrary to the facts of Scripture, and is based upon humanistic foundations rather than those of objective revelation.
The Bible makes clear that every person ought to honor his creator. There is real personal guilt for failure to obey all these callings of God.
It is the duty of God’s people to extend the outward call. The ministry of reconciliation is the commanded duty of God’s church. His people are to extend the call of the word and to declare the call of nature and of conscience to all men 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 reads, “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.”
There is also a call of God that is Effectual
The effectual call of God upon the heart of a fallen man is the act 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. The terms employed are: “born-again”, “the new birth” and “regeneration.”
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 mere invitation. It infallibly brings justification, and glorification to those very ones called, to all of them. The Holy Spirit moves upon the heart regenerating it and giving it the certain trust in Christ which then issues in the response of the renewed life by faith, repentance, and growth in true obedience to God’s moral laws. This call is always received and accepted. This response of the regenerated heart is active and is called “conversion.”
The Inward Call of the Word
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 and the Spirit is necessary for the power of 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.”
This does not mean that God cannot at times work without the written or proclaimed Word. This becomes 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. This is the way we are to expect Him to work. This is how we must obey the Great Commission.
A Word of Application
The success of our witness to the gospel depends upon the moving of the Holy Spirit, and upon our faithful use of the Word of God. These are the means of regeneration. It is 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 have already studied the bondage which this implies.
In the redeemed state the new life we receive in Christ enlightens the mind spiritually and enables the person to understand the things of God. The hardened disposition of the heart is changed. By God’s power alone the will of man is renewed in that it is 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 in our Foreseen Acts
The work of regeneration is a sovereign act of God. It is judicially based only upon the atonement of Christ, and is applied by the immediate work of the Holy Spirit in applying that work. Man is passive in this effectual calling. The response of man is only active after his quickening. When spiritual life is restored by this sovereign act man responds with faith, repentance, and a renewed ability to obey.
The cause is to be found in God alone, not in anything in man himself. The abuse of the term foreknowledge to imply a hypothetical work of man as the decisive motive is entirely foreign to the use of that term in Scripture and is contrary to its direct declarations (see the section on foreknowledge in the lesson on Providence in the Theology Proper section of this Syllabus).
Those Not Able to Consciously Respond
Clearly there is no one descending from Adam by ordinary birth who is born innocent. Jesus is excepted because his birth was not ordinary. It was supernatural in that he was kept from inheriting the sin and guilt of the fallen race.
This means that upon conception each person is deserving of eternal condemnation. No one is delivered from that state except on the basis of justification through the work of Christ’s atonement which is always motivated by grace in the eternal divine election.
No individual’s salvation is conditioned upon, or caused by, any act, choice or attitude on his own part. Only by the work of regeneration can anyone purpose anything good or seek after the God of Scripture (Romans 3:10-12, John 6:44, 1 Corinthians 2:14). If someone who dies in infancy is saved it is wholly a work of grace based upon the work of Christ and determined from all eternity. The same may be said of any adult who comes to Christ visibly and shows the evidences of regeneration in his life.
The question as to the salvation of infants has primarily to do with the means God uses. We know that when the outward call of the word is advanced to those able by their natural senses and language development to receive it the word becomes the means used by the Holy Spirit in bringing understanding, conviction of sin, faith, and repentance.
The Bible does not explicitly tell us about how the work of Christ might be applied to those not able to hear it. But this does not mean that the work of Christ is necessarily limited to those who are physically able to receive it. The Reformed process of 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.”
Most recognize that the passages about believing, repenting, and honoring God are only directed to those who are physically able to do so. Similarly when the Scriptures say that “few there are that find” the way that leads to life (Matthew 7:14), it is only meaningful regarding those who are able to seek with God’s enablement. To deduce that there are principles here which apply to those not physically able to seek that way in the manner described is a violation of logic, and is not supported by the language of the Bible. As Calvin puts it in his institutes regarding the ordinary use of the means in evangelism (Romans 10:17), “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).
We could consider adding to the class of those who die in infancy, all who are similarly physically unable to receive with the senses or to mentally process the outward call of God. If the salvation of all who die while unable to receive the outward call is possible, then the number of souls redeemed and united eternally in Christ will be 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).
The Elect of God
From what has been shown up to this point, the effectual call which is extended toward only some fallen persons must be rooted in God’s unchangeable, infinitely extensive, and eternal decree. This decree of election has caused a great challenge to those who desire to maintain the presumed humanist axiom that each individual must be the ultimate determiner of his own punishments and rewards. The various schemes which produce the divergent systems of Christian theology rest upon how this particular issue is addressed.
Charles Hodge summarizes the basic Augustinian scheme in his Systematic Theology (vol. 2, page 333);
1. That 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. That He placed man in a state of probation, making Adam, their first parent, their head and representative.
4. That 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. That 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. That 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. That 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. That 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 is referred to in historical theology under various headings; 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.
In previous chapters we have already established the biblical foundation for most of the elements of this scheme. Since the decrees of God are infinitely extensive (WCF 3, Theology Proper Syllabus, Lesson 4, The Decrees of God) the salvation of all redeemed individuals must be included in them.
One of the important matters that distinguishes this system of theology has to do with why some are in the end redeemed into eternal fellowship with God while others are not. This has divided the Evangelical branches of the church into various schools of thought.
Most basic to the Reformed system is the idea of particularism. The reference is not only that just particular ones will be saved while others will not be. It also, and primarily, has to do with God’s purpose behind the redemptive work of Christ and its application to individuals. To preserve the biblical fact of God’s sovereign determination of 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 been put forth 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, particularly the decrees to create mankind, to allow the fall of all men in Adam, to send Christ as the Redeemer, and to send the Holy Spirit to apply that work to the individual.
The so called order of the decrees should not be seen as being chronological in any sense. God is unchangeable and his decrees are eternal. To imply that one aspect of his decree existed prior to another part denies divine immutability and eternality. Most defend the order of the decrees by speaking of a logical priority. By this they mean that one 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 might also imply mutability and priority by a thought process which move from facts to their 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. He writes,
“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 even a poor question is handled, and how the issues underlying its various configurations are defended, can be very instructive. A theological model is only a means of learning more about the biblical facts that suggest its form.
The pivotal decree around which the distinct approaches turn is the decree of the fall into sin, or “lapse,” of mankind in Adam. (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 of 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 relating to the redemptive decrees which are 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 that teachers of the Reformed Faith soundly understand the issues at risk and the limits of the solutions offered.
To extend redemptive particularism to its most distant point from its manifestations in the believer’s life, this view places the decree of election in a position logically prior to 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 those foreordained to eternal 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 for the purpose of 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 therefore the objects of grace alone, and are chosen from among the fallen race of guilty and undeserving men. 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 between these views involves a different use of terminology, a varying emphasis upon the motives of God in his work of redemption, and 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 of specific intents toward a limited class of objects. This has caused much 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 this would make his decrees and purposes dependent 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 greatest confusion arises when we neglect to remember that the ordering of the decrees must not be permitted to imply any chronological priority since God does not progress or change. There was not a time in the mind of God when one decree existed but the others had not 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 God’s motivation (the judicial grounds necessitated by his 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 in suspecting that 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.
The followers of James Arminius presented a Remonstrance to the Synod of Dort. From November 1618 to May 1619 the Reformed churches of Holland studied their petition point by point and formulated detailed answers. 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 due not 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 man 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.
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 the grace of God can be resisted and therefore explain why 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 that bases election upon 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 which explain why some whom God purposed to save are not actually redeemed. The grace of God is resisted by some. “God only predestines those whom he foresees will persevere in faith unto salvation.” (the Lutheran view as summarized by Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 2, p. 326)
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 men. 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 men
3. to elect some to the gift of moral ability
4. to enable those elected to respond by the power of the Holy Spirit
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.
He believed the work of the Holy Spirit in enabling the elect was merely to use the power of suasive operations directed by the infinite knowledge of God. This is done by so orchestrating 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 the elect and all of the elect are brought to this state thus 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 Response
The Amyrauldian schemes were soundly rejected as speculative and unbiblical in the Formula Consensus Helvetica (1675) which was mainly written by Heidegger and Turrettin, 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 (in 3:6,7) clearly implied the infralapsarian view but did not openly condemn the supralapsarians who were among their number and respected. More directly the Shorter Catechism (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. There 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.
Those not elected
In this third section of chapter 9, the Westminster Confession deals with those who are not elected by God to salvation. There are clearly some who are not afforded the effectual calling of the Holy Spirit. They do not come in faith and repentance to Christ and never experience regeneration. Its not just that they are not allowed to come, nor that they are not sincerely called outwardly. They are morally unable to come and 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 is not accurate to speak of “double-predestination” as the “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 have come to restrict the use of 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 and it has caused some to misread Calvin and other earlier reformers. But upon reading what these foundational theologians say it is clear that they do not combine these two aspects of the decree as if they shared a common and identical judicial foundation.
The Common Operations of the Spirit
There are works done by the Holy Spirit which are more broadly administered than the blessings bestowed upon the elect to bring them to spiritual life and to preserve them in Christ. These common operations are not-redemptive both in design and in effect.
As we have already studied under the heading of providence, God may restrain sin in the reprobate. He does certainly provide for their material needs though they remain morally undeserving. He may use fallen men in the administration of civil governments as his ministers for good. But we must immediately clarify that these are non-redemptive works of God and are not properly subsumed under the heading of soteriology. The good results of these operations, which are performed toward expanding the revelation of God’s glory, and in ensuring greater peace for God’s people, do not mean that the work done is credited as good toward the lost who are used in good ways by God. The outward mercies shown toward them, and the good results performed by them, actually condemn all the more those who fail to intend and to behave toward the glory of God. This is the teaching of Augustine which was reclaimed by the Reformers after its rejection and corruption by Romanism in the Middle Ages.
In 1924 the Christian Reformed Church adopted three points which it said clarified the meaning of their forms of unity. Herman Hoeksema and his followers saw them as additions which brought Arminian ideas into the church. A debate broke out over “common grace” with Dr. Louis Berkhof taking the side opposing Hoeksema and defending the three points. The debate caused Hoeksema and his followers to break from the CRC to form the Protestant Reformed Church.
The three points are worded this way …
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.
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.
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.
I would evaluate these three point as follows:
- There is a sincere offer of the gospel to all who hear it, but it is not an offer of grace to those not chosen before the world was made to receive eternal life. It declares God’s redemptive mercies toward those undeserving sinners redeemed by the Savior, and it manifests the depravity of those who reject the call to come to Christ. It further condemns them. It should not be imagined that God desires the redemption of those he eternally did not chose to redeem.
- God does keep the totally depraved heart from accomplishing all the evil it could desire. However, it is not for the benefit of every human or of every society in general. While God provides for his creation generally, it is not grace or favor toward the non-elect that moves him. The non-elect remain an eternal offense to God and he cannot look upon them with favor.
His general mercy to them shows his power, glory, and Sovereign Reign over even the fallen world. It underscores their self-centered motives, creature-centeredness, and just dessert of death. It also provides temporal stability and safety for his elect children while they serve God here on earth.
The motivation of the lost when they avoid things considered “evil” is self-oriented. They avoid crime because of consequences. They avoid immoderation because it keeps them from personal gain. Their obsession with one particular lust precludes them from pursuit of many more sins available to them. By not giving God the glory, they steal his glory for themselves and call a just wrath down upon themselves.
- Though God may use the unregenerate to perpetuate order (Romans 13), or to provide us with 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 to all, some have attempted to use terms with more precision. The term “grace” is often restricted to the redemptive work of God toward his elect, and not more broadly of 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 toward those he has chosen to condemn eternally (see Dr. H. Kuiper’s “Calvin and Common Grace”).
Certainly those speak contrarily to Scripture who used this concept to defend a pre-redemptive work that enables men to seek after the true God of Scripture through Christ while yet un-regenerate (see Free Will, the previous lesson).
- Robert Lewis Dabne in Studies in Southern Presbyterian Theology by Morton H. Smith (pages 205-216)
- Lewis Berkhof Systematic Theology (pages 432-446)
- Charles Hodge Systematic Theology volume 2 (pages 654-675)
- B. B. Warfield The Plan of Salvation
- Herman Hoeksema A Triple Breach