Those who embrace the doctrine and sentiments of Calvin, the celebrated reformer of the Christian church from Romish superstition and doctrinal errors.
John Calvin was born at Nogen, in Picardy, in the year 1509. He first studied the civil law, and was afterwards made professor of divinity at Geneva, in the year 1536. His genius, learning, eloquence, and piety, rendered him respectable even in the eyes of his enemies.
The name of Calvinists seems to have been given at first to those who embraced not merely the doctrine, but the church government and discipline established at Geneva, and to distinguish them from the Lutherans. But since the meeting of the synod of Dort, the name has been chiefly applied to those who embrace his leading views of the Gospel, to distinguish them from the Arminians.
The leading principles taught by Calvin, were the same as those of Augustine. The main doctrines by which those who are called after his name are distinguished from the Arminians, are reduced to five articles: and which, from their being the principal points discussed at the synod of Dort, have since been denominated the five points. These are, predestination, particular redemption, total depravity, effectual calling, and the certain perseverance of the saints.
The following statement is taken, principally from the writings of Calvin and the decisions at Dort, compressed in as few words as possible.
1. They maintain that God hath chosen a certain number of the fallen race of Adam in Christ, before the foundation of the world, unto eternal glory, according to his immutable purpose, and of his free grace and love, without at least foresight of faith, good works, or any conditions performed by the creature; and that the rest of mankind he was pleased to pass by, and ordain to dishonour and wrath, for their sins, to the praise of his vindictive justice.
In proof of this they allege, among many other Scripture passages, the following: “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy, and without blame before him in love.–For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So, then, it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God, that showeth mercy. Thou wilt say, then, Why doth he yet find fault; for who hath resisted his will? Nay, but, O man! who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour and another unto dishonour?–Hath God cast away his people whom he foreknew? Wot ye not what the Scripture saith of Elias? Even so at this present time, also, there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no more of works. What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for, but the election hath obtained it, and the rest are blinded.–Whom he did predestinate, them he also called.–We give thanks to God always for you brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.–As many as were ordained to eternal life, believed.” Eph. 1:4. Rom. 9. 11:1-6. 8:29,30. 2 Thess. 2:13.Acts 13:48. They think also that the greater part of these passages, being found in the epistolary writings, after the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, who was promised to guide the apostles into all truth, is an argument in favour of the doctrine.
They do not consider predestination, however, as affecting the agency or accountableness of creatures, or as being to them any rule of conduct. On the contrary, they suppose them to act as freely, and to be as much the proper subjects of calls, warnings, exhortations, promises, and threatenings, as if no decree existed. The connexion in which the doctrine is introduced by the divines at Dort, is to account for one sinner’s believing and being saved rather than another; and such, the Calvinists say, is the connection which it occupies in the Scriptures.
With respect to the conditional predestination admitted by the Arminians, they say that an election upon faith or good works foreseen, is not that of the Scriptures; for that election is there made the cause of faith and holiness, and cannot, for this reason, be the effect of them. With regard to predestination to death, they say, if the question be, Wherefore did God decree to punish those who are punished? the answer is, On account of their sins. But if it be, Wherefore did he decree to punish them rather than others? there is no other reason to be assigned, but that so it seemed good in his sight. Eph. 1:3,4. John 6:37. Rom. 8:29, 30. Acts 13:48. 1 Pet. 1:1. Rom. 9:15,16. 11:5,6.
2. They maintain that though the death of Christ be a most perfect sacrifice, and satisfaction for sins, of infinite value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world; and though on this ground the Gospel is to be preached to all mankind indiscriminately; yet it was the will of God that Christ, by the blood of the cross, should efficaciously redeem all those, and those only, who were from eternity elected to salvation, and given to him by the Father. Calvin does not appear to have written on this subject as a controversy, but his comments on Scripture agree with the above statement. The following positions are contained in the resolutions of the synod of Dort, under this need of doctrine:–“The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sins, of infinite value and price, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.–The promise of the Gospel is, that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have everlasting life; which promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought promiscuously and indiscriminately to be published and proposed to all people and individuals, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the Gospel.–Whereas, many who are called by the Gospel do not repent nor believe in Christ, but perish in unbelief; this proceeds not from any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice of Christ offered on the cross, but from their own fault.–As many as truly believe, and are saved by the death of Christ from their sins, and from destruction, have to ascribe it to the mere favour of God, which he owes to no one, given them in Christ from eternity.–For it was the most free counsel, and gracious will and intention of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of his Son should exert itself in all the elect, to give unto them only justifying faith, and by it to conduct them infallibly to salvation; that is, it was the will of God that Christ, by the blood of the cross, whereby he confirmed the new covenant, should efficaciously redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity elected to salvation, and given to him by the Father.”
These positions they appear to have considered as not only a declaration of the truth, but an answer to the arguments of the Remonstrants.
In proof of the doctrine, they allege among others the following Scripture passages: “Thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.–The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.–I lay down my life for the sheep.–He died not for that nation only, but that he might gather together in one the children of God that are scattered abroad.–He gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.–He loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify, and cleanse it and present it to himself, &c.–And they sang a new song, saying, Thou art worthy; for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” John 17:2. 10:11,15. 11:52. Tit. 2:14. Eph. 5:25-27. Rev. 5:9.
3. They maintain that mankind are totally depraved, in consequence of the fall of the first man, who, being their public head, his sin involved the corruption of all his posterity, and which corruption extends over the whole soul, and renders it unable to turn to God, or to do any thing truly good, and exposes it to his righteous displeasure, both in this world and that which is to come.
The explanation of original sin, as given by Calvin, is as follows: “Original sin seems to be the inheritable descending perverseness and corruption of our nature, poured abroad into all the parts of the soul, which first maketh us deserving of God’s wrath, and then also bringeth forth those works in us, called, in Scripture, the works of the flesh. These two things are distinctly to be noted, that is, that, being thus in all parts of our nature corrupted and perverted, we are now, even for such corruption only, holden worthy of damnation, and stand convicted before God to whom nothing is acceptable but righteousness, innocence, and purity. And yet we are not bound in respect of another’s fault; for where it is said that by the sin of Adam we are made subject to the judgment of God, Rom. 5:18. it is not so to be taken, as if we, innocent and undeserving, did bear the blame of his fault; but as, in consequence of his offence, we are ultimately clothed with the curse, therefore it is said that he hath bound us. Nevertheless from him not the punishment only came upon us, but also the infection distilled from him abideth in us, to the which the punishment is justly due.”
The resolutions of the divines at Dort on this head, contain the following positions. “Such as man was after the fall, such children did he beget–corruption by the righteous judgment of God being derived from Adam to his posterity–not by imitation, but by the propagation of a vicious nature. Wherefore all men are conceived in sin, and are born the children of wrath, unfit for every good connected with salvation, prone to evil, dead in sins, and the servants of sin; and without the Holy Spirit regenerating them, they neither will nor can return to God, amend their depraved natures, nor dispose themselves for its amendment.
In proof of this doctrine, the Calvinists allege, among other Scripture passages, the following: “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.–By one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.–I was born in sin, and shapen in iniquity.–God saw that the wickedness of man was great upon the earth, and that every imagination of his heart was only evil continually.–God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God. Every one of them is gone back; they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no not one.–And you hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins. Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, among whom also we all had our conversation in times past, in the lust of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” Rom. 5:12-19. Ps. 51:5. Gen. 6:5. Ps. 53:2,3. Rom. 3. Eph. 2:1-3.
4. They maintain that all whom God hath predestinated unto life, he is pleased, in his appointed 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.
They admit that the Holy Spirit, as calling men by the ministry of the Gospel, may be resisted: and that where this is the case, “the fault is not is the Gospel, nor in Christ offered by the Gospel, nor in God calling by the Gospel, and also conferring various gifts upon them; but in the called themselves. They contend, however, that where men come at the divine call, and are converted, it is not to be ascribed to themselves, as though by their own free will they made themselves to differ, but merely to him who delivers them from the power of darkness, and translates them into the kingdom of his dear Son, and whose regenerating influence is certain and efficacious.”
In proof of this doctrine the Calvinists allege, among others, the following Scripture passages:
“Whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also glorified.–That ye may know what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead.–Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works.– God, that commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined into our hearts, &c.–I will take away the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them hearts of flesh.” Rom. 8:29. Eph. 1:19,20. 2:9,10. 2 Cor. 4:6. Ezek. 36:26.
5. Lastly: They maintain that those whom God has effectually called, and sanctified by his Spirit, shall never finally fall from a state of grace. They admit that true believers may fall partially, and would fall totally and finally but for the mercy and faithfulness of God, who keepeth the feet of his saints; also, that he who bestoweth the grace of perseverance, bestoweth it by means of reading and hearing the word, meditation, exhortations, threatenings, and promises; but that none of these things imply the possibility of a believer’s falling from a state of justification.
In proof of this doctrine they allege the following among other Scripture passages:–“I will put my fear in their hearts, and they shall not depart from me.–He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved.–The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.– This is the Father’s will, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing.–This is life eternal, to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.–Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, for his seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.–Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever, Amen.” Jer. 32:40. Mark 14:16. John 4:14. 6:40. 17:3. 1 John 3:9. 2:19. Jude 24, 25.
Such were the doctrines of the old Calvinists, and such in substance are those of the present times. In this, however, as in every other denomination, there are considerable shades of difference.
Some think Calvin, though right in the main, yet carried things too far; these are commonly known by the name of Moderate Calvinists. Others think he did not go far enough; and these are known by the name of High Calvinists.
It is proper to add, that the Calvinistic system includes in it the doctrine of three co-ordinate persons in the Godhead, in one nature, and of two natures in Jesus Christ, forming one person. Justification by faith alone, or justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ, forms also an essential part of this system. They suppose that on the one hand our sins are imputed to Christ, and on the other, that we are justified by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us; that is, Christ, the innocent, was treated by God as if he were guilty, that we, the guilty, might out of regard to what he did and suffered, be treated as if we were innocent and righteous.
Calvinism originally subsisted in its greatest purity in the city of Geneva; from which place it was first propagated into Germany, France, the United Provinces, and Britain. In France it was abolished by the revocation of the edict of Nantz. It has been the prevailing religion in the United Provinces ever since 1571. The theological system of Calvin was adopted and made the public rule of faith in England under the reign of Edward VI. The church of Scotland also was modeled by John Knox, agreeably to the doctrine, rites, and form of ecclesiastical government established at Geneva. In England, Calvinism had been on the decline from the time of queen Elizabeth until about sixty years ago, when it was again revived, and has been on the increase ever since. The major part of the clergy, indeed, are not Calvinists, though the articles of the church of England are Calvinistical. It deserves to be remarked, however, that Calvinism is preached in a considerable number of the churches in London; in nearly all the dissenting meetings of the Presbyterians, Baptists, and Independents; and in all the chapels of Whitefield, Lady Huntingdon, and others of that class. In Scotland it continues also to exist as the established religion; and within a few years it has much revived in that country, through the influence of Mr. Haldane and others; but as those among whom this revival has taken place are not of the established church, they have been treated with indifference by the clergy, and called Haldanists.
Calvin considered every church as a separate and independent body, invested with the power of legislation for itself. He proposed that it should be governed by presbyteries and synods composed of clergy and laity, without bishops, or any clerical subordination; and maintained that the province of the civil magistrate extended only to its protection and outward accommodation. He acknowledged a real, though spiritual presence of Christ in the eucharist; and he confined the privilege of communion to pious and regenerate believers. These sentiments, however, are not imbibed by all who are called Calvinists.
Charles Buck (1771-1815) was an English Independent minister, best known for the publication of his “Theological Dictionary”. According to the “Dictionary of National Biography”, a Particular Baptist minister named John C. Ryland (1723-1792) assisted Buck by writing many of the articles for the aforementioned publication. One may conclude, based not only Buck’s admiration for his friend Ryland, but also on the entries in his Theological Dictionary, that he stood head and shoulders with the High-Calvinists of his day.