Calvinism v. Arminianism

I guess the secret is out. I am a Calvinist.

Actually, I do not think it was much of a secret, yet I hesitate to use the term Calvinist because it seems to mean many different things to different people. There are so many straw men built in the minds of people as to what it means, that I think its often best to not use the term at all. Many have been taught some very erroneous things in this regard.

Its unfortunate that a man’s name is associated with the doctrines that came out of the Protestant Reformation. John Calvin was not the first to articulate these truths, but merely was the chief systematizer of such doctrines. There was actually nothing in Calvin that was not first seen in Martin Luther, and much of Luther was first found in Augustine. Luther was an Augustinian monk, of course. We would also naturally affirm that there was nothing in any of these men that was not first found in Paul, Peter and John in the New Testament, and Jesus Himself.

So having laid my theology bare, so to speak, I would quickly add that I have no desire to be a Calvinist in the Corinthian sense of the word – a follower of John Calvin, per se. Though I believe Calvin was a tremendous expositor of the Scriptures and had many great insights, I am not someone who believes he was in any way infallible. I am with C. H. Spurgeon (the man known as the Prince of Preachers) who declared:

“There is no soul living who holds more firmly to the doctrines of grace than I do, and if any man asks me whether I am ashamed to be called a Calvinist, I answer – I wish to be called nothing but a Christian; but if you ask me, do I hold the doctrinal views which were held by John Calvin, I reply, I do in the main hold them, and rejoice to avow it.” (C. H. Spurgeon, a Defense of Calvinism)

The issues involved in the Calvinism v. Arminian controversy are important – I think far more than people realise. They speak to the very character of God, His Sovereignty and His glory in saving sinners and go to the heart of the gospel itself and the nature of God’s grace. To be sure, these are not trivial issues. God will not share His glory with another. Yet although the Arminian and I may strongly disagree on some vital issues, we do not have to be strongly disagreeable. We can engage in conversation in a Christ-like spirit as brothers and sisters in Christ.

In this regard, here is the famous conversation between Calvinist Charles Simeon (1759-1836) and Arminian John Wesley (1703-1791) concerning that which they could affirm together. I would hope that all my Arminian friends could likewise affirm what Wesley affirmed. If so, then we have so much to celebrate together in commonality in Christ, whatever else remains in disagreement.

[Simeon] Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions. Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?

[Wesley] Yes, I do indeed.

[Simeon] And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?

[Wesley] Yes, solely through Christ.

[Simeon] But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?

[Wesley] No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.

[Simeon] Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?

[Wesley] No.

[Simeon] What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?

[Wesley] Yes, altogether.

[Simeon] And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?

[Wesley] Yes, I have no hope but in Him.

[Simeon] Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things where in we agree.

Cited in Handley Carr Glyn Moule’s 1892 biography, Charles Simeon, p. 79f.

I began this short post with a quote from C. H. Spurgeon. Allow me now to end with one:

“We give our hand to every man that loves the Lord Jesus Christ, be he what he may or who he may. The doctrine of election, like the great act of election itself, is intended to divide, not between Israel and Israel, but between Israel and the Egyptians, not between saint and saint, but between saints and the children of the world. A man may be evidently of God’s chosen family, and yet though elected, may not believe in the doctrine of election. I hold that there are many savingly called, who do not believe in effectual calling, and that there are a great many who persevere to the end, who do not believe the doctrine of final perseverance. We do hope the hearts of many are a great deal better than their heads. We do not set their fallacies down to any willful opposition to the truth as it is in Jesus but simply to an error in their judgments, which we pray God to correct. We hope that if they think us mistaken too, they will reciprocate the same Christian courtesy; and when we meet around the cross, we hope that we shall ever feel that we are one in Christ Jesus.”

6 thoughts on “Calvinism v. Arminianism

  1. Nice short but sweet article !
    Spurgeon says it so well with his amazing balance. There are a lot of “anti calvinists” running around dragging the gospel through the mud to pull man up and God down… Sad

  2. Wonderful, John. I can’t remember where I recently read the Simeon/Wesley exchange, but I did hear the closing Spurgeon quote from CJ Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace a couple of weeks ago. They are both great exhortations to afford respect to each other though we disagree on the sovereignty of God in our salvation. May each of us examine how we engage one another in these discussions, and may we only and always regard each other as brothers and sisters with the finished work of Christ as our foundation. For indeed, “when we meet around the cross, we hope that we shall ever feel that we are one in Christ Jesus.”

  3. John,
    You spurred me on to look at this whole debate (btwn Arminian vs.Calvinism) from the other end, that is what we have in common. What is disconcerting oftentimes, as the interview btwn Wesley and Simeon reveals, is that what is admitted by the Arminian is not consistently carried through in practice. Not that any of us are perfectly capable of being consistent in our beliefs anyways, but we try to be.


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