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CALVINISM’S PROOF TEXTS EXAMINED
February 15, 2006 (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, firstname.lastname@example.org; for instructions about subscribing and unsubscribing or changing addresses, see the information paragraph at the end of the article) -
In this report we analyze the chief proof texts used to support the doctrines of TULIP Calvinism: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the Perseverance of the Saints. We have decided not to deal with the last point of TULIP theology because it is defined in several different ways and because if it means simply that the saved cannot be lost, then we agree with it.
I know by experience that a man who is staunchly committed to “sovereign grace” theology will not accept my interpretation of the following passages. I have dialogued with many committed Calvinists and I have learned that they have an answer for everything and they always, always, always complain that the non-Calvinist does not understand Calvinism. One can study Calvinism deeply, can even read Calvin’s Institutes of Religion and can quote directly from their own writings, but if such a one remains a non-Calvinist he will always be charged with misunderstanding and misrepresenting Calvinism.
I wrote this article for the many believers today who are being newly subjected to Calvinism. This is occurring widely in fundamental Baptist circles. Many churches that were established as non-Calvinist assemblies and that have non-Calvinist doctrinal statements are being infiltrated by and in some cases taken over by Calvinists.
My only request is that the Christian reader exercise his God-given right to “private interpretation.” That means that the believer has the indwelling Holy Spirit as his spiritual Guide and he can know the truth. “But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him” (1 Jn. 2:27). Thus, we must “prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21) and search “the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11).
“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (Jn. 7:17).
VERSES THAT ARE USED TO SUPPORT THE CALVINIST DEFINITION OF GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY
The foundational error of Calvinism is to assign a definition to divine “sovereignty” (a word that nowhere appears in Scripture but that is used in reference to God’s Kingly omnipotence) that makes it impossible for man to have a choice in salvation, even though the Bible says that he does, and then building upon that faulty foundation.
Arthur Pink begins his book “The Sovereignty of God” with three chapters on “God’s Sovereignty.” After citing the following key verses such as Eph. 1:11, which says that God worketh all things after the counsel of his own will, he concludes with these words: “The Lord God omnipotent reigneth. ... No revolving world, no shining of star, no storm, no creature moves, no actions of men, no errands can come to pass otherwise than God has eternally purposed” (p. 46).
In fact, the verses that Pink cites to prove this conclusion do no such thing, and that is what the child of God must be careful about when examining theology. Proper Bible interpretation allows the words of Scripture to speak for themselves rather than forcing one’s theology into them.
To say that God overrules the will of devils and sinners so that His overarching divine will and program is always ultimately accomplished is not the same as saying that devils and sinners have no effective will and that God actually purposes everything that they do. For God to allow something evil and something contrary to His will and then to work that thing into His overall program for the ages so that “all things work together for good” is not the same as purposing it.
Let’s examine Calvinism’s chief proof texts on God’s “sovereignty”:
Ephesians 1:11 -- “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.”
This is a marvelous verse and tells us how great God is, but it says nothing about whether God has given man a will and to what extent he can exercise that will. It says nothing about whether a sinner can believe on Christ savingly. To say that God worketh all things after the counsel of his own will is not contrary to the doctrine that God created man with a will and with the ability to respond to God or to reject God. It is the Calvinist that creates this alleged “problem” and then answers it by his own logic rather than by the plain teaching of Scripture.
Daniel 4:35 -- “And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?”
This statement was made by king Nebuchadnezzar after he was punished by God and his reason had returned to him and he had repented of his pride. This verse is stating simply that God is God and He rules ultimately over the affairs of men. The verse says nothing about whether or not man can accept or reject the gospel, about whether God’s grace is resistible. It says nothing about whether God sovereignly chooses some men to election and some to reprobation. For a sinner to refuse to repent is not to “stay God’s hand,” because God’s eternal program rolls right on regardless of what individual men do in these or any other matters.
Psalm 115:3 -- “But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.”
We definitely believe that God does whatsoever pleases, and we bless His name that what He pleases is always righteous and good. Further, God has revealed His pleasure in the Scriptures, and the Scriptures tell us that it was His pleasure to send Jesus to die so that “whosoever believeth in him should not perish.”
Isaiah 14:27 -- “For the LORD of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? and his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?”
The context of this verse is God’s determination to judge the nations. “This is the purpose that is purposed upon the whole earth: and this is the hand that is stretched out upon all the nations” (verse 26). Indeed, when God purposes something His will cannot be thwarted. But this verse says nothing about Sovereign Election or Sovereign Reprobation or Irresistible Grace or any of the points of TULIP theology.
Acts 15:18 -- “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.”
This verse simply says that God knows all of His works and has always known them. It says nothing one way or the other about any of the points of TULIP. That God knows all of His works from the beginning of the world is not to say that men are sovereignly elected to salvation or reprobation. It is not to say that God preordains everything that happens.
Proverbs 16:9 -- “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.”
This verse does not support Calvinism, because it says that man’s heart deviseth his way. Thus it teaches that man has a will that he can exercise. The fact that God overrules man’s decisions and has the final say in all matters is not contrary to the doctrine that man has a will whereby he can accept or reject God’s dealings with him.
Proverbs 19:21 -- “There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand.”
Again, this verse does not support Calvinism, because it says man wills things in his heart. The fact that God’s counsel overrules man’s will is not a defense for Calvinism. Those that the Calvinist calls (usually falsely) “Arminians” believe this, as well.
Proverbs 21:1 -- “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.”
The fact that the Lord overrules the king’s heart does not prove Calvinism’s doctrine of the sovereign predestination of all things nor does it prove Calvinism’s doctrine that man cannot accept or reject God’s offer of salvation. These Proverbs teach the simple and important doctrine that though man has a will that he exercises within the sphere of freedom that God assigns to him, it is God who ultimately determines whether man is allowed to act out his will or not.
Proverbs 21:30 -- “There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the LORD.”
This verse means that there is no ultimate counsel against the Lord and that He always has the final say. We know from other Scriptures that the devil and sinners have made many counsels against the Lord, but that counsel cannot stand. It does not follow that man has no will that he can exercise either for or against the Lord. He can definitely exercise such a will and he does and by so doing he hangs himself with his own rope, because God always has the final say, and He has said that “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16).
Psalm 33:11 -- “The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.”
That the counsel of the Lord stands forever, and we know that it does, does not mean that God could not have sovereignly determined to create man with a will that he can exercise and with the ability even to go so far as to believe in God or not to believe in God.
Isaiah 14:27 -- “For the LORD of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? and his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?”
Nothing that God purposes can be disannulled, but this does not mean that God foreordains everything that happens, even the decisions and actions of men and devils. God has purposed that “whosoever believeth” in Jesus Christ “should not perish, but have everlasting life.” That Almighty God has given sinners a choice in the matter does nothing to overthrow His sovereignty or power.
Isaiah 46:9-10 -- “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.”
That God’s counsel shall stand and He will do all of His pleasure is not to say that “no actions of men, no errands can come to pass otherwise than God has eternally purposed” (Pink). For God to allow something and ultimately to work that thing into His overall program for the ages is not the same as purposing it. God’s counsel is revealed in Scripture, and there we learn that God has given man a will that he can exercise against God. We see this in the Garden of Eden, and in the case of Adam and Eve’s firstborn Cain, and in the case of the world before the Flood, and in the case of the Tower of Babel, and in the case of Israel before the coming of Christ, and in the case of Israel during the earthly days of Christ, and in the case of sinners today, and throughout history.
VERSES THAT ARE USED TO SUPPORT THE CALVINIST DOCTRINE OF TOTAL DEPRAVITY (THE BONDAGE OF THE WILL)
According to the Calvinist doctrine of Total Depravity, man is not only unrighteous and dead in trespasses and sins, he is this in such a sense that he cannot even believe on Christ for salvation, in such a sense that he cannot make any choice in regard to salvation. Ever since the fall, man’s will has been in bondage so that he cannot even respond to God’s offer of grace.
In the words of the Westminster Confession Total Depravity is defined as follows: “Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.”
As we have said, the Calvinistic doctrine of Total Depravity does not end simply with man in a totally unrighteous condition, with a fallen and corrupt nature and heart and unable to save himself by his works. This doctrine also involves something that is called the “bondage of the will.”
Dr. Jeffrey Khoo, a Presbyterian who heads up the Far Eastern Bible College in Singapore (a staunch defender of the faith and a man for whom I have a high regard in spite of our differences), writes: “Man’s freedom of choice has been forfeited since the Fall. ... The Bible teaches human inability and total depravity” (Arminianism Examined, p. 4).
When Dr. Khoo speaks of “human inability,” he means not only that the sinner is unable to save himself by his deeds but also that the sinner is unable to respond in faith to God’s offer of salvation.
I have challenged Calvinists to give me even one Scripture that teaches this, and I have examined books by Calvinists for such a proof text, but in vain. As we will see, the following Scriptures that they put forth as proof texts do not teach their doctrine in regard to man’s will and inability to exercise faith.
We agree fully that the Bible teaches that man is totally depraved in the sense that the sinner is corrupt and unrighteous and that there is no good in him that is acceptable before God and that it is impossible for him to earn salvation through his own works, BUT CALVINISM GOES BEYOND THIS AND ADDS ITS OWN UNIQUE TWIST THAT IS NOT SUPPORTED BY SCRIPTURE, THAT THE SINNER IS UNABLE EVEN TO BELIEVE AND THAT HIS WILL IS SO MUCH IN BONDAGE TO SIN THAT HE CANNOT ACCEPT OR REJECT THE GOSPEL.
Following are key passages that are used by Calvinists to support the doctrine of Total Depravity:
Ephesians 2:1-3 -- “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, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.”
This passage says nothing about the sinner not being able to believe and nothing about the condition of his will in regard to the accepting or rejecting the gospel. It says the sinner is dead in trespasses and sin, walks according to the course of this world and according to the prince of the power of the air, is a child of disobedience, and is by nature the child of wrath.
But this is not the same as the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity which goes beyond the actual words of Scripture, such as those we find in this important passage, and adds the business about the sinner’s will and him not being able to believe.
Isaiah 64:6-7 -- “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities.”
Again, though this verse teaches us that fallen man has no righteousness that is acceptable before God and that even his alleged righteousnesses are as filthy rags before a thrice-holy God, the verse says nothing about man’s will or his ability or inability to respond to God’s grace.
That there is none that calls upon the name of the Lord or stirs himself up to take hold of God does not mean that the sinner is unable to respond to God’s grace and does not mean that he cannot believe the gospel. Left to himself, the sinner does not seek God nor call upon His name, but sinners are not left to themselves. They are given light (Jn. 1:9), convicted (Jn. 16:8), and drawn to Christ (Jn. 12:32). God has commanded that the gospel be preached to every sinner and that those who believe will be saved (Mk. 16:15-16), and there is nothing in Isaiah 64:6-7 that says the sinner cannot believe in response to God’s work of enlightenment, conviction, and drawing.
Romans 3:10-18 -- “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
This passage is a forthright condemnation of fallen man. He is not righteous. He does not understand nor seek after God. He is gone out of the way and become unprofitable. He does not do good. His mouth is full of deceit and cursing and bitterness. He has no fear of God.
Consider, though, that this passage says nothing about man’s will or his ability or inability to receive the gospel or to exercise faith. That no sinner naturally seeks after God is not to say that he cannot believe the gospel when it is offered to him in the context of God’s enlightenment (Jn. 1:9), conviction (Jn. 16:8), and drawing (Jn. 12:32).
Genesis 6:5 -- “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
Again, there is nothing in this verse about man’s will and whether or not he can believe in God and accept His offer of grace.
Jeremiah 17:9 -- “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
This verse addresses the sinner’s heart but not his will. It tells us plainly that the sinner’s heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, and no one can properly understand mankind today unless they understand and believe this teaching; but it does not tell us that the sinner cannot believe the gospel. It says nothing about the condition of the sinner’s will in regard to exercising faith.
1 Corinthians 2:14 -- “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
This verse teaches that the unsaved man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God and has no natural ability to discern spiritual things. Yet it says nothing about the condition of the unsaved man’s will or whether he can believe the gospel or not. To say that the sinner does not naturally receive the things of the Spirit of God is not to say that he cannot. Apart from divine enlightenment, conviction, and drawing, no sinner would respond to the Gospel, but this enlightenment, conviction, and drawing is extended to every sinner (Jn. 1:9; 16:8; 12:32). “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (Jn. 1:9).
2 Thessalonians 2:13 -- “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God 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.”
Arthur Pink uses this verse as proof for the Calvinist doctrine that the new birth precedes faith.
In light of the following passages, it is obvious that 2 Thess. 2:13 is not stating the exact order of things.
The chief passage on the New Birth is John 3. In verse 1-8 Jesus instructs Nicodemus that he must be born again or he cannot see the kingdom of God. In verse 9, Nicodemus asks Jesus how this can be. In verse 10-21, Jesus answers this question and explains how a man is born again, and the answer is that he is born again by believing (Jn. 3:14-16)! This is exactly what the Calvinist says the sinner cannot do. How can a dead man believe, he reasons? Well, if we are going to take the “dead man” analogy literally, a dead man can’t sin either. A dead man, if taken literally, cannot reject the gospel any more than he can accept the gospel, but the Calvinist claims that while the dead sinner CAN reject the gospel but he cannot accept it. When the Bible says the sinner is dead in trespasses and sins it means that he is separated from God’s divine life because of sin. To take this analogy beyond the actual teaching of the Bible and to give it other meanings, such as to reason that since the sinner is dead in trespasses and sins he must not be able to believe, is to move from truth to heresy.
Ephesians 1:13 also gives the order of salvation. “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise.” First the sinner believes and then he receives the Holy Spirit.
The order of salvation is also made clear in Acts 16:30-31 in the case of the Philippian jailer. “And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” Note that the jailer was not born again when he asked what he must do to be saved, and Paul replied that he must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Obviously Paul knew that the unsaved sinner could do exactly that and that by believing he would be born again.
The order of salvation is also made clear in Ephesians 2:8-9 -- “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Here we find that faith is the means whereby we are saved; it is the “hand that reaches out to accept God’s Gift.”
It is obvious from the previous verses that faith precedes and results in salvation.
At the same time, it is important to observe that from God’s perspective the sanctification of the Spirit and the belief of the truth occur simultaneously. Though we are saved through faith, that faith is exercised in the context of the Spirit of God enlightening and drawing and convicting and finally regenerating and sanctifying. It would therefore be humanly impossible to separate the “belief of the truth” from the “sanctification of the Spirit.”
VERSES THAT ARE USED TO SUPPORT THE CALVINIST DOCTRINE OF UNCONDITIONAL SOVEREIGN ELECTION AND SOVEREIGN REPROBATION
According to this doctrine, God unconditionally and “sovereignly” elects who will be saved and who will not be saved and this election has nothing to do with anything the sinner does, including exercising faith in the gospel. Consider the words of the Westminster Confession: “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life and others foreordained to everlasting death. These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished. ... The rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.”
John Calvin expressed the doctrine of unconditional election in these words: “Predestination we call the decree of God, by which He has determined in Himself, what He would have to become of every individual of mankind. For they are not all created with a similar destiny: but eternal life is foreordained for some, and eternal damnation for others” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, chap. 21).
Note that sovereign election is accompanied by the twin doctrine of sovereign reprobation of the non-elect. Calvin emphasized this as follows. “[God] devotes to destruction whom he pleases … they are predestinated to eternal death without any demerit of their own, merely by his sovereign will. … he orders all things by his counsel and decree in such a manner, that some men are born devoted from the womb to certain death, that his name by glorified in their destruction. ... God chooses whom he will as his children … while he rejects and reprobates others” (Institutes of Christian Religion, Book III, chap. 23).
Following are chief proof texts that are put forth in support of Sovereign Election:
1 Peter 1:2 -- “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.”
This verse says God’s election is based on His foreknowledge. The standard Calvinist position on foreknowledge is basically to do away with it by making it the same as forewill, doing away completely with the possibility that God’s election could have anything to do with what He foresees. But the word that Peter uses for “foreknowledge” is a word that means simply that God foreknew what would happen. It is the Greek word “prognosis,” which is a word still used commonly in English. When a doctor gives the prognosis of a disease, he describes the normal progression of the disease. He basically is able to tell the future because he knows beforehand what will happen. The doctrine of “foreknowledge,” if not redefined by Calvinism, goes a long way, though not all of the way, toward explaining the mystery of how God could elect but man could choose. There is doubtless more to election than foreknowledge and we do not claim to be able to explain these things fully, but the fact remains that God’s Word teaches us that foreknowledge is involved and it cannot be redefined to mean “foreordination.”
In his attempt to redefine “foreknowledge” and to mold it into “foreordination,” the Calvinist commonly uses Acts 2:23, which says that Jesus was crucified “by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.” The Calvinist claims that determinate counsel and foreknowledge is the same thing, but it is evident that these are, in fact, two different things. The Calvinist points out that “determinate counsel” precedes “foreknowledge,” but what he fails to observe is the “and.” Acts 2:23 does not say that Jesus was crucified “by the determinate counsel which is the foreknowledge of God”; it says that Jesus was crucified “by the determinate counsel AND foreknowledge of God.” That God elects according to His foreknowledge does not mean that He elects solely according to His determinate counsel, and this fact does not make God any less God.
2 Timothy 1:9 -- “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.”
Though this verse says that God did not call us by our works but by His grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, it does not say that the saved are “sovereignly” chosen and that their election has nothing to do with their faith and with God’s foreknowledge. For a sinner to believe on Christ is not a work (Eph. 2:8-9).
2 Thessalonians 2:13 -- “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God 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.”
This verse does not say that election to salvation has nothing to do with belief of the truth. One must read that doctrine into it. In fact, taking its words by their face value, the verse says that belief of the truth is part of our election and it does not say that election has nothing to do with God foreseeing the sinner’s faith.
Ephesians 1:3-5 -- “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.”
This important passage says the believer is chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world but it doesn’t tell us the basis for this election. It says it was the good pleasure of Christ to predestinate the believer to be adopted as a child of God. But it doesn’t say anything one way or the other about foreknowledge and its role in election. It doesn’t say anything about election being the “sovereign” choice of God irrespective of man’s faith.
The good pleasure of God’s will refers to what God has determined for the believer, which is adoption of children by Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 1:11 -- “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.”
There are two teachings in this verse that are relevant to Calvinism. First it says the believer is predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will. It does not follow, though, that predestination has nothing to do with foreknowledge and that man has no choice in the matter.
Secondly, the verse says God works all things after the counsel of His own will, yet again Calvinism’s definition of this does not automatically follow. If God willed to make man in His own image and determined to give man the ability to reject God, not only in the Garden of Eden but throughout man’s history until this day, that would not contradict anything that is taught in this verse. It would still mean that God works all things after the counsel of His own will. God is still “sovereign.”
1 Corinthians 1:26-29 -- “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.”
This passage does not say that God saves only a pre-selected group of people. The calling discussed in this passage pertains to HOW God calls not WHO He calls. This is clear in the previous verses:
“For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:21-24).
God determined to call or save men through the gospel rather than through intellectualism or philosophy or miracles or some other means. God calls men through the gospel. “Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 2:14). And since the gospel is to be preached to “every creature” it is clear that God offers salvation to every sinner. But only those who come through this one appointed means are saved, and when we look at Bible believing churches through the age we see that those who come are usually of the lower rungs of society. That is God’s plan. Those of the “humbler class” are the ones who more readily acknowledge that they need salvation. By this means, God has confounded the proud.
Romans 8:29-33 -- “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth.”
We see that the foreknowledge of God is a crucial part of His plan of election. Those He foreknew he also predestinated and called and justified. The key, then, is to understand what foreknowledge means. If, as the Calvinist teaches, it is the same as predestination then this passage can be understood to teach “sovereign election.” But if foreknowledge is not the same as predestination, it cannot be understood in this way.
The word “foreknow” is from the Greek “proginosko,” which simply means “to know beforehand, i.e. foresee” (Strong). It is the same basic Greek word that is translated “foreknowledge” in 1 Pet. 1:2, which says the believer is “elect according to the foreknowledge of God.”
To say that “foreknow” is the same as predestination is to ignore the meaning of the word and is also to ignore the fact that foreknow and predestinate are two separate steps in the process described in Romans 8:29-33.
In light of this passage and 1 Pet. 1:2, it is scriptural to say that God foresaw who would believe on Christ and predestinated those to salvation. There is doubtless more to election than this; there are things about divine election that we don’t understand at this time; but foreknowledge is definitely a part of it, because the Bible says so.
13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.
14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.
15 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.
16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.
17 For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.
18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.
19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will?
20 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?
21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?
22 What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:
23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
24 Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
25 As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved.
26 And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.
27 Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved:
28 For he will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth.
29 And as Esaias said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrha.
30 What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith.
31 But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.
32 Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;
33 As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
This is doubtless the Calvinist’s favorite proof text for sovereign election. Does Romans 9 teach that God arbitrarily or sovereignly chooses some sinners to be saved and the rest to be lost? Let’s consider eight important facts about this passage:
(1) The example of Esau and Jacob does not refer to election pertaining to personal salvation but to election pertaining to nations in God’s overall program. Verse 12 makes this clear. “It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.” The promise of God to Rebecca was about the elder son serving the younger, not about their personal salvation. Esau could have gotten saved. He could have believed in God and been in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11. This passage does not teach that Esau was sovereignly predestined to be reprobate. It teaches that God sovereignly chose Christ’s lineage.
(2) As for Pharaoh, it is important to understand that he first hardened his own heart. “But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said” (Ex. 8:15). This is not a case of “sovereign reprobation.” The Scripture teaches that it is always God’s will for men to serve Him, but when they reject Him He rejects them and judges them and makes examples of them. Compare 2 Thess. 2:10-12 -- “And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; BECAUSE THEY RECEIVED NOT THE LOVE OF THE TRUTH, THAT THEY MIGHT BE SAVED. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: THAT THEY ALL MIGHT BE DAMNED WHO BELIEVED NOT THE TRUTH, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” These sinners will be damned but not because they are not sovereignly elected and not because they are sovereignly reprobate but because of their personal decision in regard to the truth. Words could not be plainer. God did make an example of Pharaoh, but to go beyond what the Bible says and to claim that God chose to create Pharaoh for the purpose of reprobating him is a great error and is to malign the name of the loving God.
(3) Rom. 9:22-23 does not say that God sovereignly fits some sinners to destruction and some to glory. The phrase “vessels of wrath fitted to destruction” allows for a variant voice; according to the PC Study Bible, it can be both the passive and middle voice in Greek; middle means to fit oneself. In the middle voice the subject acts in relation to him/herself. Consider this note from Vincent Word Studies: “NOT FITTED BY GOD FOR DESTRUCTION, but in an adjectival sense, ready, ripe for destruction, the participle denoting a present state previously formed, BUT GIVING NO HINT OF HOW IT HAD BEEN FORMED. That the objects of final wrath had themselves a hand in the matter may be seen from 1 Thess. 2:15-16.” By allowing the Bible to speak for itself through the plain meaning of the words and by comparing Scripture with Scripture we see that the sinner fits himself for destruction by his rejection of the truth. Even those who have never heard the gospel, have the light of creation and conscience and are responsible to respond to the light that they have that they might be given more light (Acts 17:26-27).
(4) Rom. 9:23-24 does not mean that God calls only a certain pre-chosen elect group to salvation. “And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles.” One has to read that into the language of the verses. The Calvinist claims that verse 24 refers to “effectual calling,” which is a term that describes the “irresistible calling of the elect,” but this is adding to God’s Word, which is a great error. The Bible plainly states that God has called all who will come to Christ. God calls through the gospel (2 Thess. 2:14) and the gospel is to be preached to every creature (Mk. 16:15). God calls “whosoever will” (Rom. 10:13; Rev. 22:17). God calls every one that believes on Christ. “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn. 6:40).
(5) God’s salvation even of the Jews was not a matter of “sovereign” election but was based on an individual’s faith in His Word. “But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; as it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed” (Rom. 9:31-33).
(6) Romans 10 leaves no doubt about this; the promise of salvation proves that it is not God’s arbitrary or “sovereign” choice (Rom. 10:8-13). Note the words “whosoever” and “all.” Would God mock sinners by promising them salvation if they believe in Christ and then only enable those who were sovereignly elected to actually exercise such faith?
(7) God’s sovereignty does not mean that His will is always accomplished in man. “But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people” (Rom. 10:21). See also Matt. 23:37: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” God has made man in His image. Man is not a robot. He can exercise his will in saying no to God, and man has said no to God and has resisted God from Genesis to Revelation. If God’s sovereignty means that His will is always done, this world would make no sense! It is God’s will, for example, for every believer to “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16), but we know all too well that this is not always the case and is never the case perfectly.
(8) God’s blinding of Israel was not a matter of sovereign election but it was because they first hardened their own hearts. Consider Ezek. 12:2; Mat. 13:15 and Acts 28:25-27:
Ezekiel 12:2 -- “Son of man, thou dwellest in the midst of a rebellious house, which have eyes to see, and see not; they have ears to hear, and hear not: for they are a rebellious house.”
Ezekiel says the cause for Israel’s blindness is her own rebellion.
Matthew 13:15 -- “For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and THEIR EYES THEY HAVE CLOSED; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.”
Matthew says Israel closed her own eyes and that is the reason they were not converted. There is no sovereign reprobation here.
Acts 28:25-27 -- “And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and THEIR EYES HAVE THEY CLOSED; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.”
Again, Acts says Israel closed her own eyes lest she be converted. There is no support for the Calvinist doctrine of sovereign reprobation here.
Romans 11:2-7 -- “God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying, Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.”
Though this verse is used by Arthur Pink and other Calvinists in support of the doctrine of sovereign election, the verse simply says that election is by grace and not by works. The Calvinist claims that faith is a work; therefore, if salvation were a matter of the sinner believing in Christ it would be a works salvation, but that is not supported by this verse or by any other verse, and it is plainly refuted by Eph. 2:8-9. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Here we see that faith is not works. We see the same thing in
Rom. 4:5 -- “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” Here, again, believing is the opposite of works. According to this passage, election is a matter of God offering grace to those who will receive it.
Though the Calvinist would say that God sovereignly elected 7,000 in Israel during the days of Elijah, this verse says nothing about sovereign election. It simply says that God reserved 7,000 that had not bowed their knees to Baal. It does not say that they refused to bow the knee because God foreordained it. One has to read all of that into the account.
The “election of grace” is explained more clearly in Rom. 11:7 -- “What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.” This not about some being foreordained to salvation and others not being so foreordained but about the gospel of grace vs. works. Israel sought God by the law rather than by grace. This was made clear in chapter 9. “What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; as it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed” (Rom. 9:30-33).
Ephesians 1:5 -- “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.”
If this verse stood on its own in Scripture it would be possible for it to carry the Calvinist interpretation of “Sovereign Election” and Irresistible Calling, but it does not stand alone. In Romans 8:29-33 we find that the act of predestination begins with God’s foreknowledge. See the comment on that passage.
Acts 13:48 -- “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.”
If this verse stood alone in the book of Acts, the Calvinist interpretation (that God sovereignly pre-determines that some will be saved and then irresistibly saves them) would be acceptable, but the verse does not stand alone.
The context, in fact, refutes Calvinist theology:
In Acts 13:43 we see that sinners can be persuaded to continue in the gospel. “Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.” Thus there is more to salvation than Sovereign Election and Sovereign Calling. The will of man is involved in the issue and the effort of soul winners has an effect upon the outcome. This is why Paul said, “To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, THAT I MIGHT BY ALL MEANS SAVE SOME” (1 Cor. 9:22), and, “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, THAT I MIGHT GAIN THE MORE” (1 Cor. 9:19).
In Acts 13:46 we see that the gospel is offered to sinners and they can reject it. “Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” These Jews were not sovereignly chosen to reprobation. God offered them salvation and would have saved them, but they, by an exercise of their wills, put it away.
In Acts 13:47 we see that the gospel is intended for all men. “For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth.” This cannot be limited merely to some pre-elected group of men. The gospel is to be preached to every creature (Mk. 16:15) and God would have all men to be saved (1 Tim. 2:3-4).
What, then, does Acts 13:48 mean? “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.”
It means simply that as many whose hearts were predisposed to accept the gospel, as many as were willing to call upon the name of the Lord (Rom. 10:13), believed.
The Greek word translated “ordained” here is “tasso” and it means “to arrange in an orderly manner, i.e. assign or dispose” (Strong). It is used eight times in the New Testament. Twice it is translated “ordain” (Acts 13:48; Rom. 13:1). Elsewhere it is translated “addict” (1 Cor. 16:15), “appoint” (Mat. 28:16; Acts 22:10; 28:23), “determine” (Acts 15:2), and “set” (Lk. 7:8).
There are two questions that must be answered here. First, how many sinners are ordained to eternal life? Second, why are men ordained to eternal life?
The answer to the first question is that God would have all men to be saved (1 Tim. 2:3-4). The Calvinist answer, that God has only sovereignly elected a few to be saved, is not Scriptural.
The answer to the second question is that men are ordained to eternal life by believing the gospel and calling upon the name of Christ (Mk. 16:16; Lk. 8:50; Jn. 1:12; 3:13-18; 3:36; 5:24; 6:35; 6:40; 6:47; 8:24; 11:25; 12:36; 12:46; 20:31; Acts 8:36-37; 10:43; 13:39; 16:31; Rom. 1:16; 3:22; 4:5; 10:18-13; 1 Cor. 1:21; Gal. 3:22; 1 Tim. 1:16; 1 Jn. 5:13). This is the order that is given consistently throughout the New Testament -- believe and be saved.
“The Jews here had voluntarily rejected the word of God. On the other side were those Gentiles who gladly accepted what the Jews had rejected, not all the Gentiles. Why these Gentiles here ranged themselves on God’s side as opposed to the Jews Luke does not tell us. This verse does not solve the vexed problem of divine sovereignty and human free agency. There is no evidence that Luke had in mind an absolutum decretum of personal salvation. Paul had shown that God’s plan extended to and included Gentiles. Certainly the Spirit of God does move upon the human heart to which some respond, as here, while others push him away” (Robertson’s Word Pictures).
Titus 1:1 -- “Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness.”
This verse mentions God’s elect but it does not say anything about “sovereign election.”
1 Thessalonians 1:3-5 -- “Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.”
Again, this verse says the brethren in the church at Thessalonica were elected of God but it does not anything about “sovereign election.” One has to read that into the passage.
1 Thessalonians 5:9 -- “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Arthur Pink says, “To say that God ‘hath not appointed us to wrath’, clearly implies that there are some whom He has ‘appointed to wrath’...” (The Sovereignly of God, p. 98).
This “interpretation” is made by reading things into the verse that aren’t there. That God has not appointed us to wrath does not mean that He has appointed some to wrath. This is simply a promise that the believer will not be subject to the wrath that will be poured out in the Great Tribulation (1 Thess. 5:1-3). This is the wrath that is in view. There is not a hint in this passage that God has sovereignly chosen some sinners to reprobation and judgment.
2 Peter 2:12 -- “But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption.”
Arthur Pink says, “Clearly, it is that ‘these’ men as brute beasts, are the ones who, like animals, are ‘made to be taken and destroyed’...” (The Sovereignty of God, p. 99).
The verse, though, does not say that that the unsaved false teachers were made by God to be destroyed, that they were sovereignly chosen to be reprobated. It says simply that the false teachers are like the beasts that have no understanding and that perish. It is the beasts who are created to be destroyed, not the false teachers.
In fact, the previous verse says that the Lord bought these wicked men, meaning that He died to make it possible for them to be saved, and that they BRING UPON THEMSELVES the destruction. “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.”
Jude 4 -- “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation; ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Arthur Pink finds further support for the doctrine of sovereign reprobation in this verse, saying, “...whichever alternative be selected there can be no evading the fact that certain men are ‘before of old’ marked out by God ‘unto condemnation’” (The Sovereignty of God, p. 99).
The simple meaning of this verse is that the false teachers in this dispensation that deny the doctrine of Christ are judged after the same fashion as the men who were condemned in the Old Testament -- as the sinners of Noah’s day, as the men of Sodom, etc. “The meaning clearly is, that the punishment which befell the unbelieving Israelites, (Jude 1:5) the rebel angels, (Jude 1:6) the inhabitants of Sodom, (Jude 1:7) and of which Enoch prophesied, (Jude 1:15) awaited those persons” (Albert Barnes).
Note that Jude does not say that these false teachers were ordained to condemnation from eternity but from “before of old.” He is referring to the Scriptures and the constant warnings that are given against sin and apostasy and the specific reference in some places to the last days. Later in his epistle Jude specifically refers to the ancient prophet Enoch, saying that Enoch prophesied of these last days.
One must read sovereign reprobation into this verse. The plain meaning of the words do not support it.
The warning of Matthew Henry applies here. He says ordinary Christians need not be “troubled with dark, doubtful, and perplexing thoughts about reprobation, which the strongest heads cannot enter far into, can indeed bear but little of, without much loss and damage” and concludes in regard to Jude 4: “Is it not enough that early notice was given by inspired writers that such seducers and wicked men should arise in later times, and that every one, being forewarned of, should be fore-armed against them?” (Matthew Henry).
Sinners are indeed foreordained to condemnation, because God has decreed that “the wages of sin is death.” He has also graciously given His son and decreed further that “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (Jn. 3:16).
Revelation 13:8 -- “And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”
This verse does not say anything about the basis for having one’s name added to or not added to the book of life. It does not say that those who worship the antichrist were sovereignly reprobated or that they worship the antichrist because they were not sovereignly elected to be saved. The verse simply says that it is the unsaved, those whose names are not written in the book of life, who will worship the antichrist as opposed to those who are saved.
2 Timothy 1:9 -- “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.”
This verse simply says that God’s calling of believers is not of works but is of grace and it says that this purpose and grace was given us in Christ before the world began.
By the way, the Bible teaches that faith is not works (Eph. 2:8-9). Thus the Calvinist argument that for a sinner to believe in Christ would amount to a works salvation falls to the ground.
The verse does not say that God has sovereignly elected a certain group of sinners to be saved. That must be read into it.
VERSES THAT ARE USED TO SUPPORT THE CALVINIST DOCTRINE OF LIMITED ATONEMENT
According to this doctrine, the death of Christ was only for those that God sovereignly elected. Calvin denounced the universal offer of the Gospel. “When it appears that when the doctrine of salvation is offered to all for their effectual benefit, it is a corrupt prostitution of that which is declared to be reserved particularly for the children of the church” (Institutes, Book III, chap. 22).
Following are the chief proof texts that are put forth in support of the doctrine of Limited Atonement:
Isaiah 53:8 -- “He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.”
This verse is used by Calvinists to support the doctrine that Christ died only for the elect, but the “people” for whom he was stricken, according to this verse, is the people of Israel and we know that not all of the Israelites will be saved.
Further, even if the “my people” of Isa. 53:8 referred to the “elect,” it would not follow that Christ died ONLY for the elect. That would be reading something into the verse that is not there. That would also contradict the teaching of many plain Scriptures, such as Isaiah 53:6, which says the iniquity of all men was laid on Jesus, and Rom. 11:32, which says God wants to have mercy upon all, and 2 Cor. 5:19, which says God desires to reconcile all men to Himself, and 1 Tim. 2:6, which says Jesus was a ransom for all men, and Heb. 2:9, which says Jesus tasted death for all men, and 2 Pet. 2:1, which says Jesus bought even unsaved false teachers, and 1 John 2:2, which says that provided propitiation for all men.
Matthew 1:21 -- “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.”
This verse does not refer to the question of whether Jesus died to make it possible for all men to be saved. The people referred to in this verse are the Jews. Jesus will indeed save the Jews from their sins, but we also know that not all Jews will be saved. But even if “his people” in this verse refers to “the elect,” that does not mean that Christ died ONLY for the elect.
Matthew 20:28 -- “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
That Jesus gave His life a ransom for many does not mean that He gave His life a ransom only for the elect. This would contradict 1 Tim. 2:6 and 1 John 2:2 and many other Scriptures.
John 10:11 -- “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”
Again, that Jesus gave His life for the sheep is not to say that He did not also give His life to make it possible for all men to be saved.
Acts 20:28 -- “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”
Again, that God purchased the church with his own blood is not to say that the atonement was limited to those who would be saved. The Calvinist Limited Atonement doctrine must be read into these verses.
John 11:49-52 -- “And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.”
Arthur Pink says that he would be willing to rest his doctrine of Limited Atonement upon this passage “more than any other” (The Sovereignty of God, p. 66).
But John 11:49-52 says nothing about the extent of Christ’s atonement. To say that Jesus died for those who will be saved is not to say that He died ONLY for those who would be saved.
VERSES THAT ARE USED TO SUPPORT THE CALVINIST DOCTRINE OF IRRESISTIBLE GRACE
According to this Calvinist doctrine, God’s call to the elect is effectual and cannot be resisted. The dead sinner is sovereignly regenerated and granted the “gift of faith.” “That some, in time, have faith given them by God, and others have it not given, proceeds from his eternal decree; for ‘known unto God are all his works from the beginning,’ etc. (Acts 15:18; Eph. 1:11). According to which decree he graciously softens the hearts of the elect, however hard, and he bends them to believe; but the non-elect he leaves, in his judgment, to their own perversity and hardness” (summary derived from the Synod of Dort). The Westminster Confession adds the following: “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. 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...”
Following are proof texts that are put forth in support of the doctrine of Irresistible Grace:
John 3:8 -- “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”
This verse does not say anything about divine election and does not say anything one way or the other about the doctrine that those who are sovereignly elected are irresistibly called. It simply states that the Spirit of God is like the wind in that you cannot see the Spirit but you can see His influence in the lives of those who are born again.
John 6:37 -- “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”
If “irresistible grace” is taught in this passage, it is for all who believe on Christ and not merely for a special few who were sovereignly pre-elected to be saved.
This verse does not say that God has sovereignly pre-chosen only some for salvation and that it is those pre-chosen ones that are given to Christ. One must read all of that into the verse. It simply says that all that the Father gives will come to Christ. The question is this: “Who is it that the Father gives to Jesus?”
That question is answered plainly in this passage only three verses later: “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn. 6:40). (Of course the Calvinist argues that it is only the elect who can “see the Son,” but one must read that into the verse.)
Thus, all those who believe on Christ are given by the Father and they are received and are not cast out.
John 6:39 -- “And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.”
We have explained this under John 6:37. Verse 40 says that those that are given by the Father are those who believe on Christ.
John 6:44 -- “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.”
This is an important statement and it teaches that men cannot be saved apart from divine drawing. Sinners do not seek God on their own (Rom. 3:11). If John 6:44 stood alone, apart from the rest of the Scripture, it would be possible to see Calvinist Irresistible Grace in its language, but it does not. The Lord Jesus plainly taught that ALL men are drawn. “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (Jn. 12:32). Not only that, but He also said that ALL men are given light. “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (Jn. 1:9). Further, the Holy Spirit has come to “reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (Jn. 16:8).
John 17:1-2, 6 --
These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:
2 As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.
6 I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word.
God has given Jesus some men, but who are they? Are they those who are sovereignly elected or are they all who believe the gospel? John 6:40 says, “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.” John 1:12 and 3:14-16 and many other passages teach the same thing.
2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 -- “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God 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: Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This passage says the believers at Thessalonica were chosen by God to salvation. What it does not say, though, is the basis for this choosing. The passage does not say that the basis for the choosing was God’s sovereign will apart from anything He foresaw. John 6:40 says, “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.” According to this verse, the basis for God’s election is man’s faith.
The passage says the believers at Thessalonica were chosen “through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” The Calvinist doctrine of Irresistible Grace claims that this means the Spirit of God sovereignly and irresistibly drew these believers to faith, but one must read that into the passage. It is simpler and more scriptural to say that it is the Holy Spirit who enlightens (Jn. 1:9), convicts (Jn. 16:8), and draws (Jn. 12:32) sinners and that those who believe the truth are saved.
2 Thess. 2:13-14 also says the believers at Thessalonica were called, but this calling is not said to have been sovereign and irresistible. It says, rather, that they were called by the gospel. This is the same thing that we see in Mark 16:15-16. The gospel is to be preached to all men and those who believe are saved.
The Calvinist doctrines of Sovereign Election and Irresistible Grace are refuted earlier in this same passage. Verses 8-12 describe the coming of the Lord to destroy the antichrist and to judge those who believe on him.
“And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in THEM THAT PERISH; BECAUSE THEY RECEIVED NOT THE LOVE OF THE TRUTH, THAT THEY MIGHT BE SAVED. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they ALL MIGHT BE DAMNED WHO BELIEVED NOT THE TRUTH, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:8-12).
Here we see that men can receive the truth and be saved but they can also reject it and therefore perish. They do not perish because they are sovereignly elected to perish but because they do not believe the truth.
Acts 16:14 -- “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.”
No person can be saved unless the Lord opens his or her heart. This is not a Calvinist doctrine but a doctrine that all Bible believers understand and believe.
To say that God opened Lydia’s heart so that she attended unto the things of Christ is not to say that God has pre-selected only a certain number of sinners to be saved. It is also not to say that God does not attempt to save the non-elect. It is also not to say that Lydia was Irresistibly Called or that she was sovereignly regenerated and then given faith. All of this Calvinist doctrine must be read into the passage.
Does this passage teach “sovereign election,” meaning that God sovereignly chooses some sinners to be saved and does not choose others to be saved?
If so, it would be a glaring contradiction to the teaching of the same Gospel book.
“That WHOSOEVER BELIEVETH in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that WHOSOEVER BELIEVETH in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:15-16).
“I am come a light into the world, that WHOSOEVER BELIEVETH on me should not abide in darkness” (John 12:46).
In Bible interpretation, the context generally clarifies all things. Context is not only the first rule of sound Bible interpretation, it is the first, second, and third rule! This is the principle that we lay out in How to Study the Bible, which is one of the Way of Life Advanced Bible Studies Series courses.
And in the context of John 17, Jesus is praying a high priestly prayer for His people. Thus He is not praying for the world. He is praying for the saved.
The passage says nothing about the basis of election and salvation. Jesus speaks of those who have been given to him by the Father (John 17:2, 6), but He does not tell us on what basis these are given.
For that, we need to go to an earlier part of the Gospel of John as we have already quoted.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that WHOSOEVER BELIEVETH in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
The basis of election is faith in the gospel. It is a whosoever gospel. The offer of eternal salvation is genuinely made to all who hear the gospel, and it is Christ’s express will that every sinner hear the gospel (Mark 16:15) and be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
There are aspects of election that we don’t currently understand and won’t understand in this life, because they are still hidden in God. I don’t claim to have all of the answers to this issue. But I do know that the Bible plainly says that God wants all men to hear the gospel and that whosoever believes will be saved. The Bible plainly teaches that it is God’s will for all men to be saved.
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
God is not playing games with sinners. He is not offering eternal life to all but only giving it to the “elect.”
I once asked a Calvinist friend, a man that I hold in high regard for his love for Christ, this question: “Can any man be saved?”
He wanted to go into an intricate theological explanation and did not answer with a clear and simple “yes.”
That is a fundamental problem with Calvinism. I can’t answer every question that can be asked about election, but I do know that the Bible clearly teaches that any man can be saved. It is not something that is available, in practice only, to “the elect.” It is not an issue whereby God’s loves all men but in practice all cannot actually be saved because they all are not sovereignly elected.
Any man who cannot answer the following question with an unequivocal and resounding “yes” has been led astray by a theological system that is in error, because it is a theological system that is contrary to the plain and clear teaching of Scripture:
“Can any man be saved?”
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