Archive for the ‘Calvinism’ Category

Propitiation in 1 John 2:2

July 21, 2011

(A Doctrinal Study on the Extent of the Atonement)

Dr. Gary D. Long

This article is “Appendix II,” entitled, Definite Atonement, Philadelphia:
Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1977, pp 85-101.

Introduction

In discussing the design or extent of the atonement, there are three key doctrinal terms which are related to the priestly sacrifice of Christ on earth, that is, to the finished work of Christ. These terms are redemption, propitiation and reconciliation. Evangelical Arminians and Calvinistic “four point” universalists or modified Calvinists 1 hold that there is a universal design of the atonement which provides salvation for all mankind without exception or which places all of Adam’s posterity in a savable state. They contend that there is a twofold application of these three doctrinal terms — an actual application for those who believe, a provisional application for those who die in unbelief. The historic “five point” or consistent Calvinist 2 asserts that these terms have no substitutionary reference with respect to the non-elect. In contrast to the former who hold to an indefinite atonement, the consistent Calvinist, who holds to a definite atonement, sees no purpose, benefit or comfort in a redemption that does not redeem, a propitiation that does not propitiate or a reconciliation that does not reconcile, which would be the case if these terms were applicable to the non-elect.

For those who have wrestled with the extent of the atonement, they are acutely aware that there are three problem verses 3 which the five point Calvinist must scripturally answer if he is to consistently sustain a biblical position before the modified Calvinist that the saving design of the atonement is intended by the triune God only for the elect. These verses are II Peter 2:1, which pertains to redemption; I John 2:2, which pertains to propitiation; and II Corinthians 5:19, which pertains to reconciliation. If the particular redemptionist can scripturally establish in any of these verses that God’s design of the atonement does not extend to the non-elect, then the theological case for the unlimited redemptionist crumples. In summary, if universal propitiation in I John 2:2 cannot be biblically established, then what purpose does a universal redemption in II Peter 2:1 or a universal reconciliation in II Corinthians 5:19 serve? Can it be true that God the Son redeemed the non-elect for whom God the Father’s wrath will never be propitiated (satisfied or appeased) by virtue of Christ’s death or that God the Father has been reconciled by virtue of Christ’s death to the non-elect upon whom His condemning wrath eternally abides (John 3:36)?

The purpose of this doctrinal appendix (the second in a series by the author on problem verses relating to the extent of the atonement) is to theologically approach I John 2:2, which relates to propitiation—the second of the three major doctrinal terms. May those who have believed through grace find this appendix of much help in their doctrinal study of the Word of God. Read more»

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Calvin on 1 John 2:2

July 12, 2011

John Calvin’s Commentary on 1 John 2:2

1. My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
2. And he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

2 And not for ours only He added this for the sake of amplifying, in order that the faithful might be assured that the expiation made by Christ, extends to all who by faith embrace the gospel.

Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? I pass by the dotages of the fanatics, who under this pretense extend salvation to all the reprobate, and therefore to Satan himself. Such a monstrous thing deserves no refutation. They who seek to avoid this absurdity, have said that Christ suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect. This solution has commonly prevailed in the schools. Though then I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage; for the design of John was no other than to make this benefit common to the whole Church. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world. For then is really made evident, as it is meet, the grace of Christ, when it is declared to be the only true salvation of the world.

Source

Calvin and Beza

July 11, 2011

The Extent of the Atonement

Taken from W. Cunningham, “Calvin and Beza,” British and Foreign Evangelical Review 10 (1861) 641-702. Reprinted in The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation (Edinburgh: Clark, 1862) 395-402.

By William Cunningham

III. It has been contended very frequently, and very confidently, that Calvin did not sanction the views which have been generally held by Calvinistic divines, in regard to the extent of the atonement,—that he did not believe in the doctrine of particular redemption, that is, that Christ did not die for all men, but only for the elect, for those who are actually saved,—but that, on the contrary, he asserted a universal, unlimited, or indefinite atonement. Amyraut, in defending his doctrine of universal atonement in combination with Calvinistic views upon other points, appealed confidently to the authority of Calvin; and, indeed, he wrote a treatise entitled, “Eschantillon de la Doctrine de Calvin touchant la Praedestination,” chiefly for the purpose of showing that Calvin supported his views about the extent of the atonement, and was in all respects a very moderate Calvinist. Daillee, in his “Apologia pro duabus Synodis,” which is a very elaborate defence, in reply to Spanheim, of Amyraut’s views about universal grace and universal atonement, fills above forty pages with extracts from Calvin as testimonies in his favour. Indeed, the whole of the last portion of this work of Daillee, consisting of nearly five hundred pages, is occupied with extracts, produced as testimonies in favour of universal grace and universal atonement, from almost every eminent writer, from Clemens Romanus down to the middle of the seventeenth century; and we doubt if the whole history of theological controversy furnishes a stronger case of the adduction of irrelevant and inconclusive materials. It was chiefly the survey of this vast collection of testimonies, that suggested to us the observations which we have laid before our readers in our discussion of the views of Melancthon.1

It is certain that Beza held the doctrine of particular redemption, or of a limited atonement, as it has since been held by most Calvinists, and brought it out fully in his controversies with the Lutherans on the subject of predestination; though he was not, as has sometimes been asserted, the first who maintained it. It has been confidently alleged that Calvin did not concur in this view, but held the opposite doctrine of universal redemption and unlimited atonement. Now it is true, that we do not find in Calvin’s writings explicit statements as to any limitation in the object of the atonement, or in the number of those for whom Christ died; and no Calvinist, not even Dr Twisse, the great champion of high Supralapsarianism, has ever denied that there is a sense in which it may be affirmed that Christ died for all men. But we think it is likewise true, that no sufficient evidence has been produced that Calvin believed in a universal or unlimited atonement. Of all the passages in Calvin’s writings, bearing more or less directly upon this subject,—which we remember to have read or have seen produced on either side,—there is only one which, with anything like confidence, can be regarded as formally and explicitly denying an unlimited atonement; and notwithstanding all the pains that have been taken to bring out the views of Calvin upon this question, we do not recollect to have seen it adverted to except by a single popish writer. It occurs in his treatise “De vera participatione Christi in coena,” in reply to Heshusius, a violent Lutheran defender of the corporal presence of Christ in the eucharist. The passage is this:—”Scire velim quomodo Christi carnem edant impii pro quibus non est crucifixa, et quomodo sanguinem bibant qui expiandis eorum peccatis non est effusus.”2 [“I should like to know how the wicked can eat the flesh of Christ which was not crucified for them, and how they can drink the blood which was not shed to expiate their sins.” — Ed] This is a very explicit denial of the universality of the atonement. But it stands alone,—so far as we know,—in Calvin’s writings, and for this reason we do not found much upon it; though, at the same time, we must observe, that it is not easy to understand how, if Calvin really believed in a universal atonement for the human race, such a statement could ever have dropped from him. We admit, however, that he has not usually given any distinct indication, that he believed in any limitation as to the objects of the atonement; and that upon a survey of all that has been produced from his writings, there is fair ground for a difference of opinion as to what his doctrine upon this point really was. The truth is, that no satisfactory evidence has been or can be derived from his writings, that the precise question upon the extent of the atonement which has been mooted in more modern times, in the only sense in which it can became a question among men who concur in holding the doctrine of unconditional personal election to everlasting life, ever exercised Calvin’s mind, or was made by him the subject of any formal or explicit deliverance. The topic was not then formally discussed as a distinct subject of controversy; and Calvin does not seem to have been ever led, in discussing cognate questions, to take up this one and to give a deliverance regarding it. We believe that no sufficient evidence has been brought forward that Calvin held that Christ died for all men, or for the whole world, in any such sense as to warrant Calvinistic universalists,—that is, men who, though holding Calvinistic doctrines upon other points, yet believe in a universal or unlimited atonement,—in asserting that he sanctioned their peculiar principles.

It is true that Calvin has intimated more than once his conviction, that the position laid down by some of the schoolmen, viz., that Christ died “sufficienter pro omnibus, efficaciter pro electis,” [“sufficiently for all, efficiently for the elect” — Ed] is sound and orthodox in some sense. But then he has never, so far as we remember or have seen proved, explained precisely in what sense he held it, and there is a sense in which the advocates of particular redemption can consistently admit and adopt it.3 It is true also, that Calvin has often declared, that the offers and invitations of the gospel are addressed by God, and should be addressed by us, indiscriminately to all men, without distinction or exception; and that the principal and proximate cause why men to whom the gospel is preached finally perish, is their own sin and unbelief in putting away from them the word of life. But these are principles which the advocates of particular redemption believe to be true, and to be vitally important; and which they never hesitate to apply and to act upon. It is quite fair to attempt to deduce an argument in favour of the doctrine of a universal atonement, from the alleged impossibility of reconciling the doctrine of an atonement, limited as to its objects or destination in God’s purpose or intention, with the universal or unlimited offers and invitations of the gospel, or with the ascription of men’s final condemnation to their own sin and unbelief. But as the generality of the advocates of a limited atonement deny that the inconsistency of these two things, or the impossibility of reconciling them, can be proved, and profess to hold both, it is quite unwarrantable to infer, in regard to any particular individual, that because he held the one, he must be presumed to have rejected the other. And there is certainly nothing in Calvin’s general character and principles, or in any thing he has written, which affords ground for the conclusion, that the alleged impossibility of reconciling these two things, would,—had he been led to investigate the matter formally,—have perplexed him much, or have tempted him to embrace the doctrine of universal atonement, which is certainly somewhat alien, to say the least, in its general spirit and complexion, to the leading features of his theological system. And this consideration is entitled to the more weight for this reason, that this difficulty is not greater than some others with which he did grapple, and which he disposed of in a different and more scriptural way,—or rather, is just the very same difficulty, put in a different form, and placed in a somewhat different position.

There is not, then, we are persuaded, satisfactory evidence that Calvin held the doctrine of a universal, unlimited, or indefinite atonement. And, moreover, we consider ourselves warranted in asserting, that there is sufficient evidence that he did not hold this doctrine; though on the grounds formerly explained, and with the one exception already adverted to, it is not evidence which bears directly and immediately upon this precise point. The evidence of this position is derived chiefly from the two following considerations.

1st. Calvin consistently, unhesitatingly, and explicitly denied the doctrine of God’s universal grace and love to all men,—that is, omnibus et singulis, to each and every man,—as implying in some sense a desire or purpose or intention to save them all; and with this universal grace or love to all men the doctrine of a universal or unlimited atonement, in the nature of the case, and in the convictions and admissions of all its supporters, stands inseparably connected. That Calvin denied the doctrine of God’s universal grace or love to all men, as implying some desire or intention of saving them all, and some provision directed to that object, is too evident to any one who has read his writings, to admit of doubt or to require proof. We are not aware that the doctrine of a universal atonement ever has been maintained, even by men who were in other respects Calvinistic, except in conjunction and in connection with an assertion of God’s universal grace or love to all men. And it is manifestly impossible that it should be otherwise. If Christ died for all men,—pro omnibus et singulis,—this must have been in some sense an expression or indication of a desire or intention on the part of God, and of a provision made by Him, directed to the object of saving them all, though frustrated in its effect, by their refusal to embrace the provision made for and offered to them. A universal atonement, or the death of Christ for all men,—that is, for each and every man,—necessarily implies this, and would be an anomaly in the divine government without it. No doubt, it may be said, that the doctrine of a universal atonement necessitates, in logical consistency, a denial of the Calvinistic doctrine of election, as much as it necessitates an admission of God’s universal grace or love to all men; and we believe this to be true. But still, when we find that, in point of fact, none has ever held the doctrine of universal atonement without holding also the doctrine of universal grace,—while it is certain that some men of distinguished ability and learning, such as Amyraut and Daillee, Davenant and Baxter, have held both these doctrines of universal atonement and universal grace, and at the same time have held the Calvinistic doctrine of election; we are surely called upon in fairness and modesty to admit, that the logical connection cannot be quite so direct and certain in the one case as in the other. And then this conclusion warrants us in maintaining, that the fact of Calvin so explicitly denying the doctrine of God’s universal grace or love to all men, affords a more direct and certain ground for the inference, that he did not hold the doctrine of universal atonement, than could be legitimately deduced from the mere fact, that he held the doctrine of unconditional personal election to everlasting life. The invalidity of the inferential process in the one case is not sufficient to establish its invalidity in the other; and therefore our argument holds good.

2d. The other consideration to which we referred, as affording some positive evidence, though not direct and explicit, that Calvin did not hold the doctrine of a universal atonement, is this,—that he has interpreted some of the principal texts on which the advocates of that doctrine rest it, in such a way as to deprive them of all capacity of serving the purpose to which its supporters commonly apply them. If this position can be established, it will furnish something more than a presumption, and will almost amount to a proof, that he did not hold the doctrine in question. As this point is curious and interesting, we may adduce an instance or two in support of our allegation. In commenting upon 1 Tim. ii. 4, “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” Calvin says:—”Apostolus simpliciter intelligit nullum mundi vel populum vel ordinem a salute excludi, quia omnibus sine exceptione evangelium proponi Deus velit. Est autem evangelii praedicatio vivifica, merito itaque colligit Deum omnes pariter salutis participatione dignare. At de hominum generibus, non singulis personis, sermo est; nihil enim aliud intendit quam principes et extraneos populos in hoc numero includere.” [for the English translation click here»Ed.] Again, in commenting upon 1 John ii 2, “And He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world,” he says:—”Qui hanc absurditatem (universal salvation) volebant effugere, dixerunt sufficientur pro toto mundo passum esse Christum, sed pro electis tantum efficaciter. Vulgo haec solutio in scholis obtinuit. Ego quanquam verum esse illud dictum fateor, nego tamen praesenti loco quadrare. Neque enim aliud fuit consilium Joannis quam toti ecclesiae commune facere hoc bonum. Ergo sub omnibus reprobos non comprehendit, sed eos designat qui simul credituri erant, et qui per varias mundi plagas dispersi erant.” [for the English translation click here»Ed.] He gives the very same explanation of these two passages in his treatise on “Predestination.”4 Now this is in substance just the interpretation commonly given of these and similar texts, by the advocates of the doctrine of particular redemption; and it seems scarcely possible, that it should have been adopted by one who did not hold that doctrine, or who believed in the truth of the opposite one.

Let it be observed, that our object is not to show, that we are warranted in adducing the authority of the great name of Calvin as a positive testimony in favour of the doctrine of particular redemption,—of a limited atonement,—as it has been generally held by Calvinistic divines; but rather to show, that there is no adequate ground for adducing him, as has been done so frequently and so confidently, on the other side. To adduce Calvin as maintaining the doctrine of particular redemption, could scarcely, upon a full and impartial survey of the whole circumstances of the case, be regarded as warrantable. It is evident that he had never been led to examine this precise question, in the form which it afterwards assumed in controversial discussion, and to give an explicit deliverance upon it. He seems to have attached little or no importance to any definite doctrine about the extent of the atonement. In his “Antidote” to the earlier sessions of the Council of Trent, he passes by without comment or animadversion the fourth chapter of the sixth session, although it contains an explicit declaration that Christ died for all men; and he does this not tacitly, as if per incuriam, but with the explicit statement,—”tertium et quartum caput non attingo,”—as if he found nothing there to object to. He was in no way sensitive or cautious about using language, concerning the universality of the offers and invitations, or,—in the phraseology which then generally prevailed, the promises of the gospel,—and concerning the provisions and arrangements of the scheme of redemption, which might have the appearance of being inconsistent with any limitation in the objects or destination of the atonement. And it is chiefly because the great body of those who have been called after his name,—even those of them who have held the doctrine of a definite or limited atonement,—have followed his example in this respect, believing it to have the full sanction of Scripture, that Daillee and others have got up such a mass of testimonies from their writings, in which they seem to give some countenance to the tenet of universal redemption, even at the expense of consistency. But this is no reason why Calvinists should hesitate to follow the course, which Scripture so plainly sanctions and requires, of proclaiming the glad tidings of salvation to all men indiscriminately, without any distinction or exception, setting forth, without hesitation or qualification, the fulness and freeness of the gospel offers and invitations,—of inviting, encouraging, and requiring every descendant of Adam with whom they come into contact, to come to Christ and lay hold of Him, with the assurance that those who come to Him He will in no wise reject. The doctrine of particular redemption,—or of an atonement limited, not as to its sufficiency, but as to its object, purpose, or destination,—does not, either in reality or in appearance, throw any greater obstacle in the way of preaching the gospel to every creature, than the doctrines which all Calvinists hold, of the absolute unconditional election of some men to eternal life, and of the indispensable necessity and determining influence of the special agency of the Holy Spirit in producing faith and conversion. The difficulty of this whole subject lies in a department which belongs to God’s province, and not to ours. He has imposed upon us the duty of making Christ known to our fellow-men, not only as able, but as willing and ready, to save unto the uttermost all that come unto God by Him; and this duty we are bound by the most solemn obligations to discharge, without let or hindrance, without doubt or hesitation; assured that God, while exercising His own sovereignty in dealing with His creatures, will, in His own time and way, fully vindicate the consistency and the honour of all that He has done Himself, and of all that He has required us to do in His name.

Notes

1. Supra, p. 205
2. Tractatus Theologici. Opera, torn. p. 731.
3. When the subject of the extent of the atonement came to be more fully and exactly discussed, orthodox Calvinists generally objected to adopt this scholastic position, on the ground that it seemed to imply an ascription to Christ of a purpose or intention of dying in some sense for all men. For this reason they usually declined to adopt it as it stood, or they proposed to alter it into this form,—Christ’s death was sufficient for all, efficacious for the elect. By this change in the position, the question was made to turn, not on what Christ did, but on what His death was; and thus the appearance of ascribing to Him personally a purpose or intention of dying, in some sense, for all men, was removed.
4. Niemeyer, pp. 259 and 286.

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John Calvin’s View of the Extent of the Atonement

July 10, 2011

From the Westminster Theological Journal 47:2 (1985) 197-225.

By Dr. Roger Nicole

This topic has received considerable attention in the recent past, perhaps in view of R. T. Kendall’s very controversial book Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649.1 An effort is made here to summarize the debate and to provide a brief evaluation.

…Our conclusion, on balance, is that definite atonement fits better than universal grace into the total pattern of Calvin’s teaching. Read more»

How Many Points?

July 7, 2011

How many points does one have to believe to be a Calvinist?

From the Calvin Theological Journal, Vol. 28 (1993): 425-33 via Riddleblog

By Richard A. Muller

Calvinism or, better, Reformed teaching, as defined by the great Reformed confessions does include the so-called five points. Just as it is improper, however, to identify Calvin as the sole progenitor of Reformed theology, so also is it incorrect to identify the five points or the document from which they have been drawn, the Canons of Dort, as a full confession of the Reformed faith, whole and entire unto itself. In other words, it would be a major error — both historically and doctrinally — if the five points of Calvinism were understood either as the sole or even as the absolutely primary basis for identifying someone as holding the Calvinistic or Reformed faith. In fact, the Canons of Dort contain five points only because the Arminian articles, the Remonstrance of 1610, to which they responded, had five points. The number five, far from being sacrosanct, is the result of a particular historical circumstance and was determined negatively by the number of articles in the Arminian objection to confessional Calvinism.

These historical and theological comments would seldom if ever be disputed by a member of a confessionally Reformed denomination. It is virtually a truism that the Canons of Dort do not stand by themselves as the confession of the church — and that they exist in order to clarify disputed points in the church’s full confession of faith as represented by the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism. It is also the case that the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism are substantially in agreement with the confessional standards of other branches of the Reformed church, whether the Geneva Catechism or the First and Second Helvetic Confession of the Swiss Reformation or the Scot’s Confession and the Westminster standards of the British and American Presbyterian and Reformed churches. And beyond the confessional consensus, there is a broad theological agreement that built toward the confessional teaching of the Reformed churches in the sixteenth century and has continued to build upon it since that time — from Calvin’s Institutes to Kuyper’s Dictaten Dogmatiek and beyond.

Any of these documents, in addition to standing in substantial agreement on the so-called five points — total inability to attain one’s own salvation, unconditional grace, limited efficacy of Christ’s all-sufficient work of satisfaction, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints — also stand in substantial agreement on the issues of the baptism of infants, the identification of sacraments as means of grace, and the unity of the one covenant of grace from Abraham to the eschaton. They also — all of them — agree on the assumption that our assurance of the salvation, wrought by grace alone through the work of Christ and God’s Spirit in us, rests not on our outward deeds or personal claims but on our apprehension of Christ in faith and on our recognition of the inward work of the Spirit in us. Because this assurance is inward and cannot easily or definitively be externalized, all of these documents also agree that the church is both visible and invisible — that it is a covenanted people of God identified not by externalized indications of the work of God in individuals, such as adult conversion experiences but by the preaching of the word of God and the right administration of the sacraments. Finally, they all agree, either explicitly or implicitly, that the “thousand years” of Revelation 20 is the kingdom of grace established by Christ at his first coming that extends until his Second Coming at the end of the world.

There are, therefore, more than five points and — as far as the confessions and the Reformed dogmaticians from Calvin to Kuyper are concerned — there cannot be such a thing as a “five-point Calvinist” or “five-point Reformed Christian” who owns just those five articles taken from the Canons of Dort and who refuses to accept the other “points” made by genuinely Reformed theology. The issue here is more than simple confessional allegiance. The issue is that the confessions and the classical dogmatic systems of Reformed theology are not an arbitrary list of more or less biblical ideas — they are carefully embodied patterns of teaching, drawn from Scripture and brought to bear on the life of the church. They are, in short, interpretations of the whole of Christian existence that cohere in all of their points. If some of the less-famous points of Reformed theology, like the baptism of infants, justification by grace alone through faith, the necessity of a thankful obedience consequent upon our faith and justification (the “third use of the law”), the identification of sacraments as means of grace, the so-called amillennial view of the end of the world, and so forth, are stripped away or forgotten, the remaining famous five make very little sense.

…The larger number of points, including but going beyond the five of Dort, is intended, in other words, to construe theologically the entire life of the believing community. And when that larger number of points taught by the Reformed confessions is not respected, the famous five are jeopardized, indeed, dissolved —and the ongoing spiritual health of the church is placed at risk.

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Chuck Smith, Calvary Chapel, and their Ignorance Fest on Calvinism (James White)

April 6, 2011

The Doctrine of Perseverance and the Church of England

March 28, 2011
J.C.Ryle

J.C. Ryle (1816-1900), first Anglican bishop of Liverpool

In the following extract J.C. Ryle convincingly argues that the Perseverance of the Saints is the old doctrine of the Church of England.

By J.C. Ryle

There are few subjects about which English people are so ignorant as they are about the real doctrines of the Church of England. Many persons know nothing of the theological opinions of the English Reformers, and of all leading English Divines for nearly a century after the Protestant Reformation. They call opinions old which in reality are new, and they call opinions new which in reality are old.

It would be a waste of time to inquire into the causes of this ignorance. Certain it is that it exists. Few people seem to be aware that those doctrines which now are commonly called evangelical, were the universally received divinity of English Churchmen throughout the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and James I. They are not, as many ignorantly suppose, new-fangled views of modern invention. They are simply the old paths in which the Reformers and their immediate successors walked. Tractarianism, High Churchism, and Broad Churchism are new systems. Evangelical teaching is neither more nor less than the old school.

The proof of this assertion is to be found in the Church history of the reigns of Elizabeth and James I, and in the writings of the divines of that period. Far be it from me to defend all the sayings and doings of theologians of that date. The student will find in their writings abundant traces of intolerance, illiberality, and bigotry, which I would be the last to defend. But that the vast majority of all Churchmen in that day held doctrines which are now called Calvinistic and Evangelical, is to my mind as clear as noon-day: and upon no point does the evidence appear to me so clear as upon the doctrine of perseverance.

(1) Is it not a historical fact, that in Queen Elizabeth’s reign, in the year 1595, the University of Cambridge compelled Mr. Barret, of Caius college, to read a public recantation and apology in St. Mary’s Church, for having denied the doctrines of final perseverance and election?—The Church of England’s old Antithesis to new Arminianism by William Prynne, page 56.

(2) Is it not a historical fact, that the Articles drawn up by the Vice-Chancellor and heads of the University of Cambridge, against the above-mentioned Barret, conclude with the following words? “This doctrine, being not about inferior points of matters indifferent, but of the substantial ground, and chief comfort and anchor ground of our salvation, hath been to our knowledge continually and generally received, taught, and defended in this University, in lectures, disputations, and sermons, and in other places in sermons, since the beginning of her Majesty’s reign, and is so still holden; and we take it agreeable to the doctrine of the Church of England—Edwards Veritas Redux, page 534.

(3) Is it not a historical fact, that in the same Queen Elizabeth’s reign, in the same year, 1595, the Lambeth Articles were drawn up and approved by Archbishop Whitgift and Bishop Bancroft (afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury); and that they contain the following proposition: “A true living and justifying faith, and the Spirit of God who justifies, is not extinguished, falleth not away, vanisheth not in the elect, either finally or totally.” These articles were not added to our confession of faith; but Fuller’s words nevertheless are perfectly true: “The testimony of these learned divines is an infallible evidence what were the general and received doctrines of England in that age.”—Fuller’s Church History. Tegg’s edition. Third volume, page 150.

(4) Is it not a historical fact, that in the year 1604, in James the First’s reign, this doctrine of perseverance was considered at the Hampton Court Conference. The Puritan party wished the Lambeth Articles to be added to the Thirty-nine Articles. Their request was not granted: but on what grounds? Not because the doctrine of perseverance was objected to, but because King James thought it better “not to stuff the book of Articles with all conclusions theological While even Overall, Dean of St. Paul’s, whose soundness on this point was most suspected, used these remarkable words: “Those who are justified according to the purpose of God’s election, though they might fall into grievous sin, and thereby into the present estate of damnation, yet never totally nor finally fall from justification, but are in time renewed by God’s Spirit unto lively faith and repentance”—Fuller’s Church History, third volume, page 181.

(5) Is it not a historical fact, that the first exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles, published after the Reformation, contains a full and distinct assertion of the doctrine of perseverance, in the part which treats of the Seventeenth Article? I allude to the work of Thomas Rogers, Chaplain to Archbishop Bancroft, to whom the book was dedicated, 1607.—Rogers on the thirty-nine Articles. Parker Society Edition.

(6) Is it not a historical fact, that in the year 1612, King James the First published a declaration written by himself, against one Vorstius, an Arminian divine, in which he calls the doctrine, that the saints may fall away, “A wicked doctrine, a blasphemous heresy, directly contrary to the doctrine of the Church of England.”—Prynne. Church of England Antithesis, etc., page 206.

(7) Is it not a historical fact, that the same King James the First, in the same year 1612, wrote a letter to the States of Holland, in consequence of a Dutch divine, named Bertius, having written a book on the Apostasy of the Saints, and sent it to the Archbishop of Canterbury. In this letter, the King speaks of Bertius as “a pestilent heretic,” and called his doctrine “an abominable heresy,” and in one place says, “he is not ashamed to lie so grossly as to avow that the heresies contained in the said book are agreeable with the religion and profession of the Church of England.”—Prynne. Church of England’s Antithesis to Arminianism, page 206.

(8) Is it not a historical fact, that the same King James the First, in the year 1616, visited with severe displeasure a clergyman named Sympson, a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, for preaching before him at Royston, that true believers may totally fall away?—Fuller’s History of Cambridge, page 160.

(9) Is it not a historical fact, that in the Synod of Dort, in the year 1619, the doctrine of final perseverance was strongly asserted? Now several English Divines were formally deputed to attend this Synod and take part in its proceedings, and amongst others, Bishop Davenant, and Bishop Carleton. And is it not notorious that however much they differed from the conclusions of the Synod in the matters of discipline, they “approved all the points of doctrine?”—Fuller’s Church History, vol. 3, page 279.

(10) Last, but not least, is it not a historical fact, that all the leading Archbishops and Bishops in the reigns of Elizabeth and James the First, were thorough Calvinists in matters of doctrine? And is not a notorious fact that the final perseverance of the saints is one of the leading principles of the system that is called Calvinistic? Heylin himself is obliged to confess this. He says, “It was safer for any man in those times to have been looked upon as a heathen or publican than an anti-Calvinist.”—Heylin’s Life of Laud, page 52.

I lay these ten facts before my readers and ask his serious attention to them. I am unable to understand how any one can avoid the conclusion which may be drawn from them. To me it appears an established point in history, that the doctrine of the final perseverance of the saints is the old doctrine of the Church of England, and the denial of this doctrine is new.

Source: John Charles Ryle, Old paths being plain statements on some of the weightier matters of Christianity, (Cambridge: James Clarke, 1977), pp.518-520.

Historic Proof of the Doctrinal Calvinism of the Church of England

March 24, 2011
Augustus Toplady

Augustus Montague Toplady (1740–1778)

Published in 1774, The Historic Proof of the Doctrinal Calvinism of the Church of England is Augustus Toplady’s magnus opus, a massive study that has never been refuted. Read online»

For anyone interested in learning more about the doctrine or history of Calvinism, The Works of Augustus M. Toplady (6 vols.) from Logos Bible Software is highly recommended and now available for pre-order. For more info click here»

For a brief biographical summary of Augustus Toplady’s life and works click here»

The Canons of Dort

March 21, 2011

Council of the National Synod of the Reformed Church. Remontrants sit at the table.

The Decision of the Synod of Dort on the Five Main Points of Doctrine in Dispute in the Netherlands is popularly known as the Canons of Dort. It consists of statements of doctrine adopted by the great Synod of Dort which met in the city of Dordrecht in 1618-19. Although this was a national synod of the Reformed churches of the Netherlands, it had an international character, since it was composed not only of Dutch delegates but also of twenty-six delegates from eight foreign countries.

The Synod of Dort was held in order to settle a serious controversy in the Dutch churches initiated by the rise of Arminianism. Jacob Arminius, a theological professor at Leiden University, questioned the teaching of Calvin and his followers on a number of important points. After Arminius’s death, his own followers presented their views on five of these points in the Remonstrance of 1610. In this document or in later more explicit writings, the Arminians taught election based on foreseen faith, universal atonement, partial depravity, resistible grace, and the possibility of a lapse from grace. In the Canons the Synod of Dort rejected these views and set forth the Reformed doctrine on these points, namely, unconditional election, limited atonement, total depravity, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of saints.

The Canons have a special character because of their original purpose as a judicial decision on the doctrinal points in dispute during the Arminian controversy. The original preface called them a “judgment, in which both the true view, agreeing with God’s Word, concerning the aforesaid five points of doctrine is explained, and the false view, disagreeing with God’s Word, is rejected.” The Canons also have a limited character in that they do not cover the whole range of doctrine, but focus on the five points of doctrine in dispute.

Each of the main points consists of a positive and a negative part, the former being an exposition of the Reformed doctrine on the subject, the latter a repudiation of the corresponding errors. Each of the errors being rejected is shaded in gray. Although in form there are only four points, we speak properly of five points, because the Canons were structured to correspond to the five articles of the 1610 Remonstrance. Main Points 3 and 4 were combined into one, always designated as Main Point III/IV.

This translation of the Canons, based on the only extant Latin manuscript among those signed at the Synod of Dort, was adopted by the 1986 Synod of the Christian Reformed Church. The biblical quotations are translations from the original Latin and so do not always correspond to current versions. Though not in the original text, subheadings have been added to the positive articles and to the conclusion in order to facilitate study of the Canons.

© 1987, CRC Publications, Grand Rapids MI. http://www.crcna.org. Reprinted with permission.

The Arminian Controversy and the Synod of Dort

March 20, 2011

By S. Vandergugten

Why on earth should we get excited about the Synod of Dort – something which happened 370 years ago? What does the Arminian Controversy have to do with us? Do we really have to know anything about these theological and doctrinal contentions that disrupted the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands so long ago? My answer would be an emphatical yes!

We should get excited about church history because we should be vitally interested in Christ’s church-gathering work throughout the ages. Understanding church history will enable us to understand the religious issues of today. In particular, understanding the Arminian Controversy of the 1600s will make clear to us that many, if not most, North American churches trace their origins to this time in history. Understanding what the Synod decided will make us realize that in these Canons we have one of the most authoritative and valuable expositions of Calvinistic theology – a confession and valuable tool to refute the errors of Arminianism also today.

In the early years of the 17th century, the Arminian Controversy shook the Reformed Churches of the United Provinces. The nature of the debate was purely theological, but, because in those days the Church and State were so intimately connected, the controversy was soon entangled in the political issues of the day. The conflict shook the whole country.

How did the state become involved in the church’s theological debates? What was the controversy all about? What theological issues were at stake? What did the Synod of Dort decide about the teachings of Arminius and his followers? Read more»