The Reformed Faith is that body of Biblical teaching that was systematically set forth by the Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century. Because of the towering impact of John Calvin, one of the principal architects of the Reformation, it is often called “Calvinism.” Today, the classic expressions of the Reformed Faith are found in the Catechisms and Confessions of the Reformed Churches:
The Belgic Confession (Christian Reformed)
The Heidelberg Catechism (Christian Reformed)
The Canons of Dort (Christian Reformed)
The Westminster Confession of Faith (Presbyterian)
The London Confession of Faith (Baptist)
A central theme that pervades the Reformed Faith is that salvation in its entirety is the sole and sovereign work of God. This theme has best been summarized by the use of the word TULIP (Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, Perseverance of the saints):
Total Depravity – Because of the pervasive nature of indwelling sin, we are unable to do anything to please, understand, or seek after God. Sin corrupts the heart, the mind, and the will. If left to ourselves, we would never choose to come to faith in Christ.
Unconditional Election – Because of God’s eternal purpose, He has sovereignly chosen certain individuals unto salvation before the foundation of the world. This choice to save His people is not conditioned upon anything that God has foreseen in man, including his faith.
Limited Atonement – God’s purpose in the incarnation and atonement of Christ was to save His people from their sins. His death was not intended to atone for every human being, for then either He would have failed, or everyone would be saved.
Irresistible Grace – The Holy Spirit invincibly draws us to Christ. Since we were dead in sin, and unwilling because unable to trust in Christ, faith is entirely a gift of God.
Perseverance of the Saints – The Holy Spirit not only brings us to Christ, but keeps us in Christ. Saving faith is continuing faith; hence, none of the elect can ever fall from grace so as to be lost.
In stark contrast to this teaching is the viewpoint that was set forth by the Dutch theologian, Jacobus Arminius (1560 1609) and his followers. Known today as “Arminianism,” this view denies the basic principles of the Reformed Faith (TULIP). One goal of this study, therefore, “is to set forth…the basic differences between the Calvinistic and Arminian systems of theology, and to show what the Bible teaches concerning these subjects” (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Faith, p. 1).
But there is a greater goal in view—it’s to help restore a proper view of God’s majesty and glory in the outworking of our own salvation. In the words of James Montgomery Boice:
The starting point for any system of doctrine ought to be the greater glory of God. This is why, in and of themselves, the Five Points are not the heart of Calvinism; they simply serve to explain distinctive aspects of Reformed soteriology (i.e., the theology of salvation). However, all five points do flow from the heart of Calvinism, which is a passion for God’s glory. Each doctrine draws attention away from what human beings can accomplish, in order to declare, “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9, kjv). (The Doctrines of Grace, p. 33)
He then goes on to explain how these five points of doctrine can do just that:
This is one place where the doctrines of grace can help us, because together they show that God really does save sinners. We are dead in our sins, and therefore can do nothing to save ourselves, but together the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have done and will continue to do everything that is necessary for our salvation: choosing, redeeming, calling, and preserving. Thus the one point of Calvinism that the Five Points aim to demonstrate (and which Arminianism tends to deny) is that every aspect of salvation is the absolutely gracious work of the totally sovereign God. To him be the glory forever! (The Doctrines of Grace, p. 34)
“Praise, my soul! adore, and wonder!
Ask! ‘oh, why such love to me?’
Grace hath put me in the number
Of the Saviour’s family:
Thanks, eternal thanks, to thee!”
As we saw in our last lesson, a central theme that pervades the Reformed Faith is the sovereignty of God in the salvation of man. According to the Calvinist, God’s sovereignty “represents the purpose of the Triune God as absolute and unconditional, independent of the whole finite creation, and originating solely in the eternal counsel of His will. He appoints the course of nature and directs the course of nature down to its minutest details.” (Boettner, The Reformed Faith, p. 2)
With respect to salvation, that simply means that those whom God has willed to save will be saved. If His will to save you was absolute and independent of anything about you, then there was nothing that could have defeated His will to save you—including your will. “Any system which teaches that the serious intentions of God can in some cases be defeated, and that man, who is not only a creature but a sinful creature, can exercise veto power over the plans of Almighty God, is in striking contrast to the Biblical idea of His immeasurable exaltation by which He is removed from all the weaknesses of humanity.” (Boettner, p. 4)
Perhaps the clearest teaching to this effect comes from our Lord Himself. On a number of occasions in John’s Gospel He refers to a group of people whom the Father has given to the Son (6:37,39; 10:29; 17:1 2,6,9,24). In each case, the giving of these people to Christ is said to be the reason for their receiving eternal life. What is of special importance is what Jesus says about how those whom the Father has given to Him will come to Him. Based upon John 6:37 40, 44, 65, we can look at this in terms of “the three impossibilities” (taken from C. Samuel Storms, Chosen For Life, pp. 65 66).
The First Impossibility (6:44,65) – It is spiritually and morally impossible for us to come to Christ apart from the “drawing” of us by God the Father. It is simply not within our nature to want to come to faith.
The Second Impossibility (6:37) – It is impossible for someone whom the Father “draws” not to come to Christ. In other words, just as it impossible for us to come to Christ if the Father does not draw us, so it is also impossible for us not to come to Christ if the Father does draw us.
The Third Impossibility (6:37) – It is also impossible for those who come to Christ through the drawing of the Father to ever be cast out. The point is that those whom the Father gives to the Son, and who, therefore, come to the Son, will be received by the Son and shall never perish.
This certainty of salvation for the “given-by-the-Father-to-the-Son” person is reaffirmed in verses 38 40. He will surely be saved because that is the will of the Father, a will that the whole of Christ’s person and work was designed to accomplish. What did Jesus come to do? He came to do the Father’s will (v.38). What is the Father’s will? His will is that all those whom He has given to the Son be fully and finally saved (vv. 39 40). For the Calvinist, that is God’s sovereignty in man’s salvation!
“Why am I made to hear your voice,
And enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?
’Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste,
And perished in our sin.”
With this lesson we begin to examine the Biblical basis for the first of the five doctrinal statements within the Reformed Faith, namely, the total depravity of man (the “T” within the TULIP). It is upon this doctrine that every other doctrine will be built. If, for example, one does not believe that the Bible teaches total depravity, then the notion of unconditional election becomes not only unnecessary but unfair.
It is not surprising then to realize that this doctrine is the fundamental point of dispute between Arminians and Calvinists. For the real issue is not the nature of God and His will, but the nature of man and his. Is our will “free” or “fettered” (bound in sin)? In light of the doctrine of total depravity, the Calvinist affirms the latter.
By the term “total depravity,” the Reformed Faith does not teach that man is as “bad” as he can possibly be. It teaches, rather, that he is as “bad off” as he can possibly be. Total depravity simply means that the whole of the individual—his heart, soul, spirit, and will—is affected by and enslaved to sin. Perhaps a better term to describe this condition would be “pervasive depravity” or “extensive depravity.”
With respect to the Gospel, this means if left to ourselves we will invariably and inevitably reject the truth. The inclination of our hearts, the delight of our souls, and the orientation of our wills is to say “no” to Christ. When a man is confronted with the Gospel, the Reformed Faith does not teach that he cannot will; rather, it teaches that he cannot will well. We are unwilling to embrace Christ because we are unable. Listen to the words of C. H. Spurgeon:
“I might preach to you forever; I might borrow the eloquence of Demosthenes or of Cicero, but ye will not come unto Christ. I might beg of you on my knees, with tears in my eyes, and show you the horrors of hell and the joys of heaven, the sufficiency of Christ, and your own lost condition, but none of you would come unto Christ of yourselves unless the Spirit that rested on Christ should draw you. It is true of all men in their natural condition that they will not come unto Christ.” (Free Will a Slave, pp. 17 18)
But as articulate as that preaching may be, what do the Scriptures say? The following are just some of the more important passages that confirm the total depravity of man: Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Job 14:1, 4; 15:14 16; Jer. 13:23; 17:9; John 6:44, 65; Romans 3:10 18; 5:6 11; 8:5 8; 1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 4:3 4; Ephesians 2:1 3; 4:17 19; 2 Timothy 2:25 26.
For the Calvinist, therefore, the only remedy for man’s totally helpless plight is obvious: “Nothing, absolutely nothing can rescue him from that condition. Hence if he is to be rescued, God must take the initiative, must pay the penalty for him, must cleanse him from his guilt, and so reinstate him in holiness and righteousness.” (Boettner, The Reformed Faith, p. 7)
“I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek him, seeking me;
It was not I that found, O Saviour true,
No, I was found of thee.”
As surprising as it may seem, all Bible believing Christians agree that the doctrine of election is a Biblical doctrine. Be they Calvinists or Arminians, they agree that God has “chosen” to save a group of people from eternity past and that these people are called the “elect.” Both will tell you that this teaching appears throughout the pages of the New Testament, in view of the clear testimony of the following verses: Matthew 22:14; 24:22, 24, 31; Mark 13:20, 22, 27; Luke 18:7; Acts 9:15; 13:17, 48; Romans 8:29, 30, 33; 9:11; 11:5, 7, 28; 1 Corinthians 1:27, 28; Ephesians 1:4, 5, 11; Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Timothy 2:10; Titus 1:1; James 2:5; 1 Peter 1:1; 2:9; 2 Peter 1:10; 2 John 1, 13; Revelation 17:14.
If this is the case, then what is the point of dispute? In a word, it is the basis of God’s choice: on what grounds are some elected to eternal life while others are not? In answer to that question, the Arminian has one answer and the Calvinist another:
The Arminian View: God elects to eternal life those whom He foresees will respond in faith to the Gospel. In other words, they are chosen because they believe in Christ. This view is called “conditional” election since God’s choice to save some is conditioned upon their choice to exercise faith in Christ.
The Reformed View: God elects to eternal life those who cannot respond in faith to the Gospel because of the pervasive nature of sin. Therefore, God elects to save some in order that they shall believe in Christ. The basis of this choice lies in God’s own sovereign good pleasure and will, not anything He sees in man. Hence, this viewpoint is called “unconditional” election. (The “U” in the TULIP.)
In support of this latter viewpoint, the Reformed Faith offers the following lines of evidence:
The Doctrine Of Total Depravity – “…if total depravity and the resultant bondage of the human will are true, election must be unconditional, or else no one would ever be saved” (Storms, Chosen For Life, p. 43). In other words, because of the extensive effects of sin, no one is able to meet the “conditions” of faith and repentance.
Note the Arminian response: Certainly there are Arminians who affirm total depravity and who believe in human inability, but they also believe in what they call “prevenient” or enabling grace:
Since mankind is hopelessly dead in trespasses and sins and can do nothing to obtain salvation, God graciously restores all men sufficient ability to make a choice in the matter of submission to Him. …In His foreknowledge He perceives what each one will do with this restored ability, and elects men to salvation in harmony with His knowledge of their choice of Him. (Henry C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, pp. 344 45)
Faith And Repentance: Gifts Of God – In the New Testament, faith and repentance are not presented as the fruits of “free will,” but as the gifts of God’s grace. Therefore, they cannot be the conditions upon which election is based, since they are not within man’s power to produce. They flow from God’s sovereign grace. Note especially Ephesians 2:8 10; Philippians 1:29; 2 Peter 1:1; Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:24 26.
Clear Biblical Texts – There are a number of Biblical passages which directly teach and support the Reformed view of unconditional election. Among the more important ones are the following:
John 6:37 40; 44, 65; 10:14 16; 24 30; 17:1 2, 6, 9, 24.
Within these verses, election is described in terms of the Father giving certain persons to the Son (6:37, 39; 10:29; 17:1 2, 6, 9, 24). These are the ones who will come to Christ (the elect) and who are also called His “sheep” (10:27 29). The question is this: How does one enter the ranks of the elect, that is, become one of the sheep? Does he become a sheep (a member of the elect) by believing in Jesus? Or does he believe in Jesus because he already is one of the sheep? The answer of Jesus is clear: “You do not believe, because you are not my sheep” (10:26). If election were conditioned upon foreseen faith, Jesus should have said the opposite: “You are not my sheep because you do not believe.” Faith, therefore, is the fruit of God’s electing grace, not the condition upon which it is suspended.
Acts 13:44 48 – Here we are told that there were certain individuals who were “appointed to eternal life” (13:48). Were they appointed to life because they believed? Or did they believe because they were appointed to life? It seems that Luke’s answer is clear. He does not say, “and as many as believed were appointed to eternal life,” but rather, “as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” Again, faith is the fruit of God’s electing grace, not the condition.
Romans 9:6 23 – These verses were written to solve a problem posed by verses 1 5. In those verses, the question that Paul is addressing is this: If Israel is God’s covenant people, why are so few Israelites saved? In answer to that question, Paul describes a divine principle according to which God always operates. That principle is set forth in verses 6 13 and is this: “When God determines who shall and who shall not enjoy His blessings, be they earthly or heavenly, He does so according to His sovereign good pleasure and not according to anything in men” (Storms, p. 80). That principle is then applied to the election of individuals to eternal life, specifically Isaac (vv. 7 9) and Jacob (vv. 10 13). The whole point of this passage is that election is not conditioned upon any human considerations but rests solely in the sovereign and gracious purpose of God! What follows is a lengthy explanation of this principle (vv. 14 23) in which Paul sets forth the conclusion to the entire issue: “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has the mercy” (v. 16). For the Calvinist, nothing could be more clear; election unto eternal life is not conditioned upon anything in man, but is based in God’s sovereign good pleasure and will.
There are two passages in particular that are crucial to our understanding of divine election: Romans 8:29 30 and 1 Peter 1:1 2. The reason is not hard to discover. Both passages teach that God’s choice to save us was according to His “foreknowledge” or based upon those whom He “foreknew.”
Undoubtedly, these are two of the most important passages that are used to support the Arminian concept of “conditional” election: if God has chosen us to eternal life, it is only because He has “foreseen” or “foreknown” that we, of our own free will, would choose Him. Hence God’s choice of us is “conditioned” upon our choice of Him.
But as we have already seen, this interpretation assumes what the Bible denies, namely, that we of our own free will are capable of saving faith. (I refer you again to the notes on total depravity.) Here is R. C. Sproul’s commentary on the Reformed Faith at this point:
John Calvin writes that if we mean by free will that fallen man has the ability to choose what he wants, then of course fallen man has free will. If we mean that man in his fallen state has the moral power and ability to choose righteousness, then, said Calvin, free will is far too grandiose a term to apply to fallen man. Man’s will is free to follow his inclinations, but fallen man’s inclinations are always away from God. (Table Talk, Sept. 1989, p. 31)
If, then, it is not our “freewill faith” that God foreknows, what does foreknowledge mean? Fundamentally, the answer to that question is determined by how the word “know” is used throughout the Scripture. For whatever “know” means, “foreknow” will merely add the thought of “beforehand” to it.
The best explanation of this viewpoint comes from one of the leading proponents of the Reformed Faith—John Murray:
Many times in Scripture “know” has a pregnant meaning which goes beyond that of mere cognition. It is used in a sense practically synonymous with “love,” to set regard upon, to know with interest, delight, affection, and action (cf. Gen. 18:19; Exod. 2:25; Ps. 1:6; 44:3; Jer. 1:5; Amos 3:2; Hosea 13:5; Matt. 7:23; 1 Cor. 8:3; Gal. 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:19; 1 John 3:1). There is no reason why this import of the word “know” should not be applied to “foreknow” in this passage, as also in 11:2 where it also occurs in the same kind of construction and where the thought of election is patently present (cf. 11:5,6). It means “whom he set regard upon” or “whom he knew from eternity with distinguishing affection and delight” and is virtually equivalent to “whom he foreloved.” (The Epistle to the Romans, p. 317)
With this understanding, then, God’s foreknowledge becomes yet another reason why those within the Reformed Faith believe that election is sovereign and “unconditional.” How might this understanding of God’s foreknowledge enhance our appreciation and gratitude for our own salvation?
Without question, a major objection that is often leveled against the doctrine of election is the universal terminology of Scripture. Two passages in particular are most often mentioned: 1 Timothy 2:3 4 and 2 Peter 3:9. The first declares that God desires “all” men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. The second states that God is “patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish but for all to come to repentance.”
How, then, do those within the Reformed Faith understand these passages (and others like them)? The answer in each case lies within the immediate context of the passage itself.
1 Timothy 2:3 4 – The best explanation has been offered by Paul Jewett:
The affirmation that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” clearly depends upon a larger context—in this case the Pauline exhortation that his readers pray for all, specifically “kings and all who are in high positions,” since such behavior is “acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved.” Since the first century Christians were largely from the lower classes, many of them being slaves, this admonition to embrace the upper classes in their prayers is understandable. It is possible, then, to construe the text as focusing on the thought that God desires the salvation of all classes… (Election and Predestination, p. 104)
The context, then, would seem to indicate that the “all men” of verse 4 is to be understood in the same way as the “all men” of verse 1—not “all men without exception” (everyone), but “all without distinction.”—In other words, God desires to save “all kinds” of men: Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, men and women, rich and poor, young and old, etc. How does this understanding shed light on verses 5 6?
2 Peter 3:9 – While it is possible to interpret “all” in this passage in the same way as in 1 Timothy 2:4, there is probably a better explanation. Again Paul Jewett writes that this text…
need mean no more, in its immediate context, than that the Lord delays His coming not from negligent inattentiveness but out of longsuffering toward His people. He is not willing that any of them should perish, for, as Jesus says in another place, it is His Father’s will that he lose none of all that He has given him (John 6:39). Were one to suppose such an interpretation, then the text of 2 Peter 3:9 expresses the thought of the familiar hymn:
Bring near thy great salvation,
Thou Lamb for sinners slain,
Fill up the roll of thine elect,
Then take thy power and reign.
(Election and Predestination, 104 5)
Assuming that the Bible teaches unconditional election, there are two important questions that must be asked concerning Christ’s atonement. The first concerns the nature of the atonement: what did Christ accomplish in His death? The second concerns the purpose of the atonement: for whom did He do so? Did He die to make the salvation of all men “possible,” or did He die to actually redeem men?
For those within the Reformed Faith, the answer to the first question (what did Christ accomplish?) determines the answer to the second (for whom did He do so?). For if, in fact, Jesus Christ was offered as a full payment for the penalty of men’s sins (the nature of the atonement), and He did so for all men’s sins (the extent of the atonement), then how is it possible to still deny a universal salvation?
As we shall see, it is really not possible. Hence, the Reformed Faith teaches that Christ’s atonement was “limited” in purpose to the elect (the “L” within the TULIP). Perhaps a better term would be “particular” redemption, in that this doctrine teaches that Christ purposed to save a particular group of people, namely, His sheep (John 10:14-16; 24-30).
The Biblical line of evidence in support of this understanding is twofold:
The Nature Of The Atonement: What Did Christ Accomplish In His Death?
In light of the following Scriptures, the only Biblical explanation is that of “penal substitution:” Isaiah 53:6; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24.
“Penal” substitution – This term emphasizes that Christ was “punished” by a holy and righteous God. That is, He suffered the full and complete judgment of God against sin in that God’s wrath was fully poured out upon Christ. As a result, God’s justice is forever satisfied, and He is free to redeem sinners. (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10; Hebrews 2:17)
Penal “substitution” – This term emphasizes that when Christ was punished, He took the place of (exchanged positions with) sinners such as I. As a result, my guilt before God (Rom. 3:19) and obligation to punishment (Rom. 6:23) has been discharged and removed.
The Extent Of The Atonement: For Whom Did Christ Die?
Because of the nature of penal substitution, it is impossible to conclude that those for whom Christ paid this price, whose guilt He removed, should ever be lost on account of that guilt. The teaching that Christ died for the purpose of saving all men logically leads to universalism, that is, to the doctrine that all men will actually be saved.
No one has put this better or more plainly than John Owen, the great English Puritan and theologian. In his classic treatise, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (1647), he has offered what is perhaps the most conclusive refutation of a universal atonement ever written:
God imposed His wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for, either (1) all the sins of all men, or (2) all the sins of some men, or (3) some sins of all men. If the last, some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved. If the second, that is it which we affirm, that Christ in the stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world.
If the first, why are not all free from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, ‘Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.’ But this unbelief, is it a sin, or not? If not, why should they be punished for it? If it be, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it, or not. If so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which He died from partaking of the fruit of His death? If He did not, then did He not die for all their sins? Let them choose which part they will.
Here’s the point: “If Jesus died for all the sins of all men, unbelief included, then all are saved, which the Bible denies. If He died for all the sins of all men, unbelief excluded, then He did not die for all the sins of anybody and all must be condemned. There is no other position, save that He died for the sin of His elect people only.” (Boice, The Doctrines of Grace, p. 125)
Here are some representative texts (emphasis added):
Isaiah 53:8. “For the transgression of my people he was stricken.”
Matthew 1:21. “You are to give to him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Mark 10:45. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Luke 1:68. “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.”
John 10:11. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
John 13:1. “It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.”
John 17:1-2,9. “Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you, for you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you had given him…I pray for them. I am not praying for the world.”
Acts 20:28. “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”
Romans 8:32. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
Galatians 3:13. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.”
Ephesians 5:25. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
Revelation 5:9-10. “And they sang a new song: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.’”
The Problem Texts
Broadly speaking, there are two types of passages that have led people to believe that Christ died for everyone. How do we go about harmonizing these verses (and others like them) with the doctrine of particular redemption, or a limited atonement?
Passages In Which The Work Of Christ Seems To Be Intended For The Whole World
1. John 1:29; 3:16; 4:42; 1 John 2:2
2. Romans 5:18; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 1 Timothy 2:5-6
3. Hebrews 2:9
Passages In Which It Is Suggested That Some People For Whom Christ Died Will Perish
1. Hebrews 10:28-29
2. 2 Peter 2:1
What can be said about both types of passages is that they either have to be viewed in the overall context of the entire book (i.e. the use of the term “loved” in John’s gospel/epistles or the purpose of the warning passages in the book of Hebrews) or the immediate context of the verses in question (i.e. 1 Timothy 2:5-6). In most of these cases, the context does indeed limit the scope of the terms that are used to a particular class of people, versus all people universally.
Second Peter 2:1 is especially problematic for some, for it does appear to teach that those who have actually been redeemed by the blood of Christ can perish. But since the context points to the fact that Peter has “false teachers” in view who teach “destructive heresies,” these cannot be saved people who perish, but rather unsaved people. The best approach, therefore, is to think of Peter describing them in terms that they are claiming for themselves. They claim that the Sovereign Lord has “bought them,” but in reality, He has not.
Unless a person is a genuine universalist and believes that everyone eventually will be saved, he or she must limit the atonement one way or another. Either it is limited in its effects (Christ died for all, but not all get saved), or it is limited in its scope (Christ did not die for all, but all for whom He did die will be saved.) Charles Spurgeon developed this line of thinking one step further, arguing that those who affirm a universal atonement (Christ died for all) are the ones who actually limit the atonement. Here is what he said:
We are often told that we limit the atonement of Christ, because we say that Christ has not made a satisfaction for all men, or all men would be saved. Now, our reply to this is, that, on the other hand, our opponents limit it: we do not. The Arminians say, Christ died for all men. Ask them what they mean by it. Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of all men? The say, “No, certainly not.” We ask them the next question—Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of any man in particular? They answer “No.” They are obliged to admit this, if they are consistent. They say, “No. Christ has died that any man may be saved if”—and then follow certain conditions of salvation. Now, who is it that limits the death of Christ? Why, you. You say that Christ did not die so as infallibly to secure the salvation of anybody. We beg your pardon, when you say we limit Christ’s death; we say, “No, my dear sir, it is you that do it.” We say Christ so died that He infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no man can number, who through Christ’s death not only may be saved, but are saved, must be saved and cannot by any possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved. You are welcome to your atonement; you may keep it. We will never renounce ours for the sake of it.
(Charles Haddon Spurgeon, quoted by J. I. Packer in his “Introductory Essay” to John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, p. 14)
In this study we are asking the question, “How and why do we come to Christ in salvation?” Although many answers have been given, our starting point is the answer that Jesus Himself gives: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” (John 6:44)
From the Reformed perspective, this “drawing” by the Father to the Son is a supernatural work of God’s grace that inevitably brings the elect to saving faith. It was Jesus who also said, “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me…” (John 6:37) For that reason, this is the doctrine that has been called “irresistible grace”. (The “I” within the TULIP.) It has also been termed “effectual calling”, because all those whom the Spirit calls to salvation come to faith in Christ (cf. Rom. 8:30). In the words of James Montgomery Boice:
This means that God’s grace will not be frustrated, that the plan of salvation will come to a perfect completion, and that Jesus Christ will not have died in vain. This teaching necessarily belongs with those looked at earlier, for it is part and parcel of that Reformed system of doctrine which holds to the Biblical teaching on man’s total spiritual depravity and the necessity of God’s electing grace. (The Gospel of John, Vol. 2, p. 173)
As we consider this teaching, it is important to distinguish two “callings” that are emphasized in the New Testament:
The External Call – This is the general call of the preacher, declaring to all the plan of salvation, commanding all to repent, and offering the promise of eternal life to all who believe. Cf. Matthew 22:1 14; note especially verses 3 and 14.
The Internal Call – This is that special calling from the Holy Spirit which moves upon the heart of the elect, bringing them to faith in Christ. Cf. Romans 8:28 30; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; 2 Timothy 1:9-10; 1 Peter 2:9; 5:10; 2 Peter 1:10; Revelation 17:14.
The reason why this internal call is limited to the elect, and therefore effectual in nature, is three fold: (a.) the elect are the called, and the called are the elect (Rom. 8:28,30; Rev. 17:14). (b.) The calling is based upon election (2 Thess. 2:13 14; 2 Tim. 1:9 10). (c.) All saving benefits are always linked with calling (1 Cor. 1:2; Rom. 8:30; 2 Peter 1:10,11).
Chapter X of the Westminster Confession, titled “Of Effectual Calling,” focuses upon this work of divine grace in a very comprehensive manner:
All those whom God has predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly, to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good; and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ, yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.
Two beautiful illustrations of effectual grace at work, which also illustrate what God has done to bring us to Christ, are (1) the Parable of the Great Supper (Luke 14:16 23); (2) the conversion of Lydia (Acts 16:11 15). By way of application, how do both magnify God’s grace in our own lives?
As we have already seen, there are a number of occasions in John’s Gospel where Jesus describes a group of people who have been given to Him by the Father (John 6:37, 39; 10:29; 17:1 2, 6, 9 ,24). As we have also seen, it is precisely because they have been given that they inevitably come to believe in Him (John 6:37, 44, 65).
But there is one more truth that Jesus emphasizes about all those who have been given to Him — they will never perish. For He also teaches that He will “raise them up on the last day” (John 6:39, 40, 44) and that “no one shall snatch them out of My hand” or “out of My Father’s hand” (John 10:27 29).
With this emphasis we are introduced to the final point of doctrine within the Reformed Faith — the eternal security of the believer or the perseverance of the saints (the “P” within the TULIP). Some have preferred to call this the “preservation of the Savior”, for it is only as the Savior preserves that the saints persevere.
In coming to a clear understanding of this doctrine, it is important to first understand what it does not teach. It does not teach that every professing believer is secure for eternity no matter what his/her practice may be. Why? Because the clear teaching of the New Testament is that saving faith is continuing faith, apart from which “no one will see the Lord” ( Heb. 12:14; cf. Hebrews 3:6, 14; Col. 1:21 23). John Murray summarizes this well when he writes:
It is not true that the believer is secure however much he may fall into sin and unfaithfulness. Why is this not true? It is not true because it sets up an impossible combination. It is true that a believer sins; he may fall into grievous sin and backslide for lengthy periods. But it is also true that a believer cannot abandon himself to sin; he cannot come under the dominion of sin; he cannot be guilty of certain kinds of unfaithfulness. And therefore it is utterly wrong to say that a believer is secure quite irrespective of his subsequent life of sin and unfaithfulness. The truth is that the faith of Jesus Christ is always respective of the life of holiness and fidelity. (Redemption Accomplished And Applied, p. 154)
What the doctrine of perseverance does teach us is that there are certain things that cannot occur in the life of a genuine believer: (1) because God secures the salvation of all believers, we cannot be lost or perish eternally. (John 10:27 29; Rom. 8:28 30; 1 Peter 1:3 5) (2) Because God enables all believers to continue in their faith, we cannot fall away from the faith or apostatize (1 John 2:18 19). (3) Because God saves all believers from their sin, we cannot continue to live in sin (Rom. 6:1 11; cf. 1 John 3:9 10; 5:4, 18).
In summary, then, not only does the Bible teach the final perseverance of the saints, it also teaches that the saints are those who finally persevere! Continuance is the test of reality.
“Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home,”