Systematic Theology
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(a) In this Section we treat of Election and Calling; Section Second being devoted to the Application of Christ’s Redemption in its Actual Beginning,—namely, in Union with Christ, Regeneration, Conversion, and Justification; while Section Third has for its subject the Application of Christ’s Redemption in its Continuation,—namely, in Sanctification and Perseverance.

The arrangement of topics, in the treatment of the reconciliation of man to God, is taken from Julius Müller, Proof-texts, 35. “Revelation to us aims to bring about revelation in us. In any being absolutely perfect, God’s intercourse with us by faculty, and by direct teaching, would absolutely coalesce, and the former be just as much God’s voice as the latter” (Hutton, Essays).

(b) In treating Election and Calling as applications of Christ’s redemption, we imply that they are, in God’s decree, logically subsequent to that redemption. In this we hold the Sublapsarian view, as distinguished from the Supralapsarianism of Beza and other hyper-Calvinists, which regarded the decree of individual salvation as preceding, in the order of thought, the decree to permit the Fall. In this latter scheme, the order of decrees is as follows: 1. the decree to save certain, and to reprobate others; 2, the decree to create both those who are to be saved and those who are to be reprobated; 3. the decree to permit both the former and the latter to fall; 4. the decree to provide salvation only for the former, that is, for the elect.

Richards, Theology, 302–307, shows that Calvin, while in his early work, the Institutes, he avoided definite statements of his position with regard to the extent of the atonement, yet in his latter works, the Commentaries, acceded to the theory of universal atonement. Supralapsarianism is therefore hyper-Calvinistic, rather than Calvinistic. Sublapsarianism was adopted by the Synod of Dort (1618, 1619). By Supralapsarian is meant that form of doctrine which holds the decree of individual salvation as preceding the decree to permit the Fall; Sublapsarian designates that form of doctrine which holds that the decree of individual salvation is subsequent to the decree to permit the Fall.

The progress in Calvin’s thought may be seen by comparing some of his earlier with his later utterances. Institutes, 3:23:5—“I say, with Augustine, that the Lord created those who, as he certainly foreknew, were to go to destruction, and he did so because he so willed.” But even then in the Institutes, 3:23:8, he affirms that “the perdition of the wicked depends upon the divine predestination in such a manner that the cause and matter of it are found in themselves. Man falls by the appointment of divine providence, but he falls by his own fault.” God’s blinding, hardening, turning the sinner he describes as the consequence of the divine desertion, not the divine causation. The relation of God to the origin of sin is not efficient, but permissive. In later days Calvin wrote in his Commentary on 1 John 2:2—“he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world”—as follows: “Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world, and in the goodness of God is offered unto all men without distinction, his blood being shed not for a part of the world only, but for the whole human race; for although in the world nothing is found worthy of the favor of God, yet he holds out the propitiation to the whole world, since without exception he summons all to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than the door unto hope.”

Although other passages, such as Institutes, 3:21:5, and 3:23:1, assert the harsher view, we must give Calvin credit for modifying his doctrine with maturer reflection and advancing years. Much that is called Calvinism would have been repudiated by Calvin himself even at the beginning of his career, and is really the exaggeration of his teaching by more scholastic and less religious successors. Renan calls Calvin “the most Christian man of his generation.” Dorner describes him as “equally great in intellect and character, lovely in social life, full of tender sympathy and faithfulness to his friends, yielding and forgiving toward personal offences.” The device upon his seal is a flaming heart from which is stretched forth a helping hand.

Calvin’s share in the burning of Servetus must be explained by his mistaken zeal for God’s truth and by the universal belief of his time that this truth was to be defended by the civil power. The following is the inscription on the expiatory monument which European Calvinists raised to Servetus: “On October 27, 1553, died at the stake at Champel, Michael Servetus, of Villeneuve d’Aragon, born September 29, 1511. Reverent and grateful sons of Calvin, our great Reformer, but condemning an error which was that of his age, and steadfastly adhering to liberty of conscience according to the true principles of the Reformation and of the gospel, we have erected this expiatory monument, on the 27th of October, 1903.”

John DeWitt, in Princeton Theol. Rev., Jan. 1904:95—“Take John Calvin. That fruitful conception—more fruitful in church and state than any other conception which has held the English speaking world—of the absolute and universal sovereignty of the holy God, as a revolt from the conception then prevailing of the sovereignty of the human head of an earthly church, was historically the mediator and instaurator of his spiritual career.” On Calvin’s theological position, see Shedd, Dogm. Theol., 1:409, note.

(c) But the Scriptures teach that men as sinners, and not men irrespective of their sins, are the objects of God’s saving grace in Christ (John 15:9; Rom. 11:5, 7; Eph. 1:4–6; 1 Pet. 1:2). Condemnation, moreover, is an act, not of sovereignty, but of justice, and is grounded in the guilt of the condemned (Rom. 2:6–11; 2 Thess. 1:5–10). The true order of the decrees is therefore as follows: 1. the decree to create; 2. the decree to permit the Fall; 3. the decree to provide a salvation in Christ sufficient for the needs of all; 4. the decree to secure the actual acceptance of this salvation on the part of some,—or, in other words, the decree of Election.

That saving grace presupposes the Fall, and that men as sinners are the objects of it, appears from John 15:19—“If ye were of the world, the world would love its own: but because ye are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you”; Rom. 11:5–7—“Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. But if it is by grace, it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. What then? That which Israel seeketh for, that he obtained not; but the election obtained it, and the rest were hardened.” Eph. 1:4–6—“even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love: having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved”; 1 Pet. 1:2—elect, “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.”

That condemnation is not an act of sovereignty, but of justice, appears from Rom. 2:6–9—“who will render to every man according to his works.… wrath and indignation.… upon every soul of man that worketh evil”: 2 Thess. 1:6–9—“a righteous thing with God to recompense affliction to them that afflict you.… rendering vengeance to them that know not God and to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus: who shall suffer punishment.” Particular persons are elected, not to have Christ die for them, but to have special influences of the Spirit bestowed upon them.

(d) Those Sublapsarians who hold to the Anselmic view of a limited Atonement, make the decrees 3. and 4. just mentioned, exchange places,—the decree of election thus preceding the decree to provide redemption. The Scriptural reasons for preferring the order here given have been already indicated in our treatment of the extent of the Atonement (pages 771–773).

When ‘3’ and ‘4’ thus change; a places, ‘3’ should be made to read: “The decree to provide in Christ a salvation sufficient for the elect”; and ‘4’ should read: “The decree that a certain number should be saved,—or, in other words, the decree of Election.” Sublapsarianism of the first sort may be found in Turretin, loc. 4, quæs. 9; Cunningham, Hist. Theol., 416–439. A. J. F. Behrends: “The divine decree is our last word in theology, not our first word. It represents the terminus ad quem, not the terminus a quo. Whatever comes about in the exercise of human freedom and of divine grace—that God has decreed.” Yet we must grant that Calvinism needs to be supplemented by a more express statement of God’s love for the world. Herrick Johnson: “Across the Westminster Confession could justly be written: ‘The Gospel for the elect only.’ That Confession was written under the absolute dominion of one idea, the doctrine of pre-destination. It does not contain one of three truths: God’s love for a lost world; Christ’s compassion for a lost world, and the gospel universal for a lost world.”

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