TULIP and The Doctrines of Grace

Article by Dr. Steve Lawson (original source here)

The central truth of God’s saving grace is succinctly stated in the assertion, “Salvation is of the Lord.” This strong declaration means that every aspect of man’s salvation is from God and is entirely dependent upon God. The only contribution that we make is the sin that was laid upon Jesus Christ at the cross. The Apostle Paul affirmed this when he wrote, “From Him and through Him and to Him are all things” (Rom. 11:36). This is to say, salvation is God determined, God purchased, God applied, and God secured. From start to finish, salvation is of the Lord alone.

This truth is best summarized in the doctrines of grace, which are total depravity, unconditional election, definite atonement, effectual calling, and preserving grace. These truths present the triune God as the author of our salvation from beginning to end. Each member of the Godhead—Father, Son, and Spirit—has a part to play in redemption, and they work together as one God to rescue those perishing under divine wrath. In perfect unity, the three divine persons do the work that hellbound sinners, utterly unable to save themselves, cannot do.


The first man, Adam, sinned, and his transgression and guilt were immediately imputed to all mankind (Christ excepted). By this one act of disobedience, he became morally polluted in every part of his being—mind, affections, body, and will. By this sin, death entered the world, and Adam’s fellowship with God was broken.

Adam’s guilt and corruption were transmitted to his natural offspring at the moment of conception. In turn, each of his children’s children inherited this same radical fallenness. Subsequently, it has been passed down to each generation to the present day. Adam’s perverse nature has spread to the whole of every person. Apart from grace, our minds are darkened by sin, unable to understand the truth. Our hearts are defiled, unable to love the truth. Our bodies are dying, progressing to physical death. Our wills are dead, unable to choose the good. Moral inability to please God plagues every person from their entrance into the world. In their unregenerate state, no one seeks after God. No one is capable of doing good. All are under the curse of the law, which is eternal death.


Long before Adam sinned, God had already decreed and determined salvation for sinners. In eternity past, the Father chose a people in Christ who would be saved. Before time began, God elected many from among mankind whom He purposed to save from His wrath. This selection was not based upon any foreseen faith in those whom He chose. Nor was it prompted by their inherent goodness. Instead, according to His infinite love and inscrutable wisdom, God set His affection upon His elect.

The Father gave the elect to His Son to be His bride. Each one chosen was predestined by the Father to be conformed to the image of His Son and to sing His praises forever. The Father commissioned His Son to enter this world and lay down His life to save these same chosen ones. Likewise, the Father commissioned the Spirit to bring these same elect ones to faith in Christ. The Son and the Spirit freely concurred in all these decisions, making salvation the undivided work of the triune God.


In the fullness of time, God the Father sent His Son to enter this fallen world on a mission to redeem His people. He was born of a virgin, without a sin nature, to live a sinless life. Jesus was born under the divine law so that He would fully obey it on behalf of disobedient sinners who have repeatedly broken it. This active obedience of Christ fulfilled all the righteous demands of the law. By keeping the law, the Son of God achieved a perfect righteousness, which is reckoned to believing sinners so that they are declared righteous, or justified, before God.

This sinless life of Jesus further qualified Him to go to the cross and die in the place of guilty, hellbound sinners. On the cross, Jesus bore the unmitigated wrath of the Father for the sins of His people. In this vicarious death, the Father transferred to His Son all the sins of all those who would ever believe in Him. As a sin-bearing sacrifice, Jesus died a substitutionary death in the place of God’s elect. On the cross, He propitiated the righteous anger of God toward the elect. By the blood of the cross, Jesus reconciled the holy God to sinful man, establishing peace between the two parties. In His redeeming death, He purchased His bride—His elect people—out of bondage to sin and set her free.

Jesus’ death did not merely make all mankind potentially savable. Nor did His death simply achieve a hypothetical benefit that may or may not be accepted. Neither did His death merely make all mankind redeemable. Instead, Jesus actually redeemed a specific people through His death, securing and guaranteeing their salvation. Not a drop of Jesus’ blood was shed in vain. He truly saved all for whom He died. This doctrine of definite atonement is sometimes called limited atonement.


With oneness of purpose, the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit into the world to apply this salvation to those chosen and redeemed. The Spirit came to convict the elect of sin, righteousness, and judgment and to turn to the Son all whom the Father gave to Him. At the divinely appointed time, the Spirit removes from each elect person his unbelieving heart of stone, hardened and dead in sin, and replaces it with a believing heart of flesh, responsive and alive unto God. The Spirit implants eternal life within the spiritually dead soul. He grants the chosen men and women the gifts of repentance and faith, enabling them to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Suddenly, all things are made new. New life from the Spirit produces new love for God. New desires to obey the Word of God produce a new pursuit of holiness. There is a new life direction, lived with new passion for God. These born-again ones give evidence of their election with the fruit of righteousness This call from the Spirit is effectual, meaning the elect will certainly respond when it is given. They will not finally resist it. Thus, the doctrine of effectual calling is sometimes called the doctrine of irresistible grace.


Once converted, every believer is kept eternally secure by all three persons of the Trinity. All whom God foreknew and predestined in eternity past, He will glorify in eternity future. No believer will drop out or fall away. Every believer is firmly held by the sovereign hands of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, never to be lost. None of Jesus’ sheep for whom He laid down His life will perish. The Holy Spirit permanently seals in Christ all whom He draws to faith. Once born again, none can ever be unborn. Once a believer, none can ever become an unbeliever. Once saved, none will ever be-come unsaved. God will preserve them in faith forever, and they will persevere until the end. Thus, the doctrine of preserving grace is often called the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints.

From beginning to end, salvation is of the Lord. In reality, these five doctrines of grace form one comprehensive body of truth concerning salvation. They are inseparably connected and therefore stand or fall together. To embrace any one of the five necessitates embracing all five. To deny one is to deny the others and fracture the Trinity, setting the three persons at odds with one another. These doctrines speak together with one voice in giving the greatest glory to God. Such high theology produces high doxology. When it is rightly understood that God alone—Father, Son, and Spirit—saves sinners, then all glory goes to Him.

The Doctrine of Particular Redemption

Ten Lines of Evidence for the Doctrine of Particular Redemption

Excerpt from A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 2nd ed. by Robert Reymond

The Particularistic Vocabulary of Scripture

The Scriptures themselves particularize who it is for whom Christ died. The beneficiaries of Christ’s cross work are denominated in the following ways: “The house of Israel, and the house of Judah,” that is, the church or “true Israel” (Jer. 31:31; Luke 22:20; Heb. 9:15); his “people” (Matt. 1:21); his “friends” (John 15:13); his “sheep” (John 10:11, 15); his “body,” the “church” (Eph. 5:23–26; Acts 20:28); the “elect” (Rom. 8:32–34); the “many” (Isa. 53:12; Matt. 20:28; 26:28; Mark 10:45); “us” (Tit. 2:14); and “me” (Gal. 2:20).

It is true, of course, that logically a statement of particularity in itself does not necessarily preclude universality. This may be shown by the principle of subalternation in Aristotelian logic, which states that if all S is P, then it may be inferred that some S is P, but conversely, it cannot be inferred from the fact that some S is P that the remainder of S is not P. A case in point is the “me” of Galatians 2:20: the fact that Christ died for Paul individually does not mean that Christ died only for Paul and for no one else.

But it should also be evident that one of these particularizing terms—the “elect”—clearly carries with it the implication that some are excluded from the saving intention and salvific work of Christ. And certain details in the other passages suggest that the designated people for whom Christ died stand in a divinely distinguished gracious relationship to him different in kind from the relationship in which other people stand to him, because of which relationship he did his cross work for them. For example, Christ declared that he, as the good Shepherd, would lay down his life for his sheep (John 10:11, 15). But how does it come about that one is his sheep? By believing on him? Not at all. Jesus said to the Jews, not (as it is often represented): “You are not my sheep because you do not believe,” but: “You do not believe because [ὅτι, hoti] you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to [believe] my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:26–27).6 From this we may infer that unless one is already in some sense one of his sheep he does not believe, and also that it is because one is already in some sense one of his sheep that he believes on him. But if one is already in some sense one of his sheep prior to faith, on the basis of which prior “shepherd-sheep” relationship Christ does his cross work for the sheep and the sheep in turn believes on him, then that relationship itself can only be the result of distinguishing grace and thus a relationship different from that which the others sustain to him.

Another example is Ephesians 5:25, where Paul teaches, first, that Christ loved the church and gave himself for it. From this juxtaposition of these two verbs, it may be inferred both that the church enjoyed a special existence and a standing before Christ such that he “loved” her prior to his “giving” himself for it, and that his love for his church was the motivating power behind his “giving” himself for it. Second, Paul teaches that the husband is to love his wife just as (καθὼς, kathōs) Christ loved the church and gave himself for it. But if Christ does not love his church in a special way, different in kind from the way he loves all other people, and if the husband is to love his wife just as Christ loved the church, then the husband is to love all other women in the same way that he loves his wife—surely a grotesque ethic! For Paul’s comparison to have any meaning for his readers, Christ’s love for his church must be construed as a special particularizing, distinguishing love.

Hence the particularizing terms can and do indicate an exclusive group for whom Christ died, a fact which proponents of a universal atonement can deny only by ignoring details in the contexts in which the particularizing terms occur.

God’s Redemptive Love Not Inclusive of Fallen Angels

It is clear that the Triune God’s redemptive love is not unlimited or universal from the undeniable fact that it does not embrace fallen angels (Heb. 2:16). There are “elect angels” (1 Tim. 5:21) who clearly were elected on supra-lapsarian grounds since they were not chosen from a mass of angels viewed as fallen, and accordingly there are fallen angels concerning whose redemption no divine efforts have been or will be expended, although they are creatures as much in need of redemption as are fallen men (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). It is freely granted that the fallen angels belong to a different creation order from that of humankind and that God has sovereignly determined to deal with (at least some) fallen people differently from the manner in which he has dealt with fallen angels. But the nonredemptive nature of his dealings with fallen angels raises the possibility at least that God’s redemptive love for fallen humanity may not necessarily be unlimited and universal either.

The Irreversible Condition of Lost Men Already in Hell When Christ Died
Unless one is prepared to say that Christ gave all the dead a second chance to repent (some would say a “first chance”), it is impossible to suppose that Christ died with the intention of saving those whose eternal destiny had already been sealed in death, who were at the time of his death already in hell. He clearly did not die with the intention of saving them. Continue reading

Four Things That Might Hinder You from Embracing Definite Atonement

Original source here.

Jonathan Gibson (PhD, Cambridge University) is associate minister at Cambridge Presbyterian Church and assistant professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary. He is the author of historical and biblical articles in Themelios and Journal of Biblical Literature and regularly speaks at conferences in Australia and South Africa. Jonathan and his wife, Jackie, have two children.

4 Things That Might Hinder You from Embracing Definite Atonement from Crossway on Vimeo.

There are four things that put people off the doctrine of atonement:

1. It is defined incorrectly.

J.C. Ryle said that the absence of accurate definitions is the very life of religious controversy. Often people reject definite atonement because they haven’t heard it properly defined, they don’t understand it, or they think if they believe in it then they have to reject a whole bunch of other doctrines like God’s common grace, his love for the nonelect, and his salvific stance to the world. So if the doctrine is accurately defined, then people won’t be as put off by it.

2. Unfortunate terminology is used.

Historically, definite atonement has been known as limited atonement, and I think the adjective limited is particularly unfortunate. It is unfortunate because, in redemptive history, we’ve been waiting for an atonement for Jew and Gentile, and here it is in the death of Christ, and now we’re trying to limit it? That’s why I prefer the term definite atonement.

3. It is not seen as a biblical-systematic doctrine.

Some people feel that there are too many biblical texts that seem to speak against definite atonement.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.” (John 3:16)

“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” (1 Timothy 2:5-6)

So, people think that a single biblical text knocks the doctrine over, or does away with it. But if you understand the doctrine as a biblical-systematic doctrine, then you see that no one text proves it, and no one text disproves it.

4. It is believed to stifle evangelism.

The final reason people are put off by definite atonement is they feel it becomes a deterrent to evangelism and mission—if Christ didn’t die for everyone, then how can they go and evangelize and preach the gospel indiscriminately to everyone?

Those are reasons why people are put off by it, but if we accurately define definite atonement, give it it’s proper terminology, see it as a biblical-systematic doctrine, and see that definite atonement doesn’t hinder evangelism, but motivates us to evangelism, then more people will be encouraged to embrace this important doctrine.

Related Article: 10 Things You Should Know about Definite Atonement

1. Definite atonement is a way of speaking about the intent and nature of Christ’s death.

The doctrine of definite atonement states that, in the death of Jesus Christ, the triune God intended to achieve the redemption of every person given to the Son by the Father in eternity past, and to apply the accomplishments of his sacrifice to each of them by the Spirit. In a nutshell: the death of Christ was intended to win the salvation of God’s people alone; and not only was it intended to do that but it effectively achieved it as well. Jesus will be true to his name: he will save his people from their sins. In this regard, the adjective ‘definite’ does double duty: Christ’s death was definite in its intent—he died to save a particular people; and it was definite in its nature—his death really does atone for sin.

2. Definite atonement has courted controversy in the Christian church.

For some, definite atonement is a ‘grim doctrine’ (Karl Barth), containing ‘horrible blasphemies’ (John Wesley); for others, it is a ‘textless doctrine’ (Broughton Knox), arrived at by logic rather than by a straightforward reading of the Scriptures (RT Kendall). Pastorally, definite atonement is viewed as the Achilles’ heel of the Reformed faith, quenching a zeal for evangelism and inviting despair rather than assurance for the believer. With such a checkered history, one may well ask why we should even discuss the doctrine, never mind believe it. But just because a doctrine is controversial does not mean it should not be discussed, defended or embraced. Were that the case, we would not be Trinitarian Christians who hold to justification by faith alone! Continue reading

Calvinism Upheld


Calvinists subscribe to the doctrines of grace. These are typically summed up by the ‘five points of Calvinism’. As a mnemonic device, we use the acronym TULIP:

Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistable Grace
Perseverance of the Saints

Despite how these doctrine of grace are sometimes presented, here are some things that Calvinists still believe.

People can do good things

Total Depravity teaches that everything we do is affected by sin. But we believe in Total Depravity not Utter Depravity. One only has to look around at the world to see many unbelievers helping other people, being kind and doing all sorts of things that we wouldn’t exactly describe as evil. Total Depravity does not deny that people – all of whom bear the imago dei – are capable of great good. It simply teaches that the effects of sin reach into all of our hearts and corrupts all of our human faculties such that nothing we do is unaffected. It means there are no inherently good people by nature because we all inherit the same sinful nature from Adam.

Total Depravity teaches that sin affects every part of a person – body/mind and soul – but it doesn’t teach that we have no potential to ever do good. The image of God remains on us and our consciences, though affected by sin, make us capable of making moral decisions. We also believe that God himself restrains evil which, from a human perspective, works itself out as people doing good.

We can actually please God

Unconditional Election states that God chooses us entirely apart from anything favourable or good he sees in us. God neither chooses us because of anything we have done nor because he looks to the future and sees that we will choose him. He elects us based upon the goodness of his own sovereign will.

Nonetheless, we still believe it is possible to please God. The Bible teaches that ‘without faith it is impossible to please God’. The implication, considering the comment comes after the great roll call of faith in Hebrews, is that with faith it is possible to please God. Although the Lord chooses us despite ourselves, we can nonetheless please him when we act in faith. There is nothing inherently about us that would cause God to choose us but, as his children by faith, it is possible for us to please him. Though all that we do is tainted by sin, we are nonetheless capable – through faith in Christ – of doing that which pleases God.

We do choose Christ

Although Unconditional Election teaches that God chooses us based upon his own sovereign good will, Calvinists do not deny that we choose God. Clearly, our will is involved in our coming to faith. The question is not whether we choose God or not (the Calvinist agrees that we do), it is whether God’s will is primary in our coming to faith.

It is evidently true that all who are real believers in Christ have chosen to follow him. It is clear they have, to quote the old hymn, ‘decided to follow Jesus’. The Calvinist simply notes the words of Jesus himself, ‘no one can come to the Father unless the Father who sent me draws him’ (John 6:44) and ‘no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father’ (John 6:65). We do choose Christ and our will is actually involved in deciding to follow him, but the Father’s will is primary in our decision. Apart from his will and a supernatural drawing of the Spirit, we cannot choose him.

The gospel is for all

Limited Atonement teaches that Christ died for the elect. His death covers the sin of those who put their trust in him by faith. Jesus’ death is sufficient to cover the sin of all people but it only actually covers the sin of those who believe by faith in him. Jesus did not die for every single person in the world, he died for those who were chosen by the Father before the world began and who ultimately put their trust in Christ as Saviour. Continue reading

The Five Points

Roger R. Nicole

(original source here)

Editor’s note: The 2015-16 academic year began a series of observances at Reformed Theological Seminary in commemoration of its jubilee. We would be remiss if we failed also to note that 2015 is the centennial of the birth of Roger Nicole, who joined the faculty at RTS Orlando in 1989 and served faithfully for two decades. This essay originates as an address delivered at the 1974 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology and was subsequently published in Tenth: A Journal of Tenth Presbyterian Church.

The five points of Calvinism come to us today in a form that is quite traditional: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints. But we are not to think that this is the only form the doctrines of grace can take or that the phrases themselves are unalterable.

The advantage of this particular formulation is that when you take the first letter of each of those points and read it from top to bottom you find the word “tulip,” and so have an acrostic. The tulip is a beautiful flower marvelously cultivated in the Netherlands, and since there are many Calvinists in the Netherlands and many flower-loving people, it seems to be a delightful arrangement to organize these doctrines in terms of the letters of this word. However, I would like to consider the nature of the points and suggest certain re-wordings which, in my judgment, may prevent misunderstandings.

Pervasive Evil
The first point is “total depravity.” The purpose of this point is to emphasize that no expectation can be entertained from man with respect to ability to please God or even to come to him in salvation unless God moves him to it. Thus, the purpose is to turn away the eyes from man in his action and ability and instead direct the eyes to God and his sovereign action. The advantage of expressing this truth in this way is that we emphasize the fundamental and pervasive character of the evil in man.

However, the terms that are used are somewhat misleading. I find that invariably, after having said “total depravity,” the staunchest Calvinists find it important to qualify precisely what they mean. They add, “But we don’t mean to say by this that man is quite as bad as he could be.” Practically everybody who says “total depravity” or “total inability” has to qualify this at once. Obviously, people who seek to know what Calvinism is ought to make it their business, not only to go by certain titles, but also to examine what is being said under those titles. But since those words are used repeatedly we cannot blame them too much for having taken them at face value. Nor can we blame them when, thinking that somehow Calvinists believe that every man is as evil as he can be, and finding situations where men seem praiseworthy, these people point to certain virtues and say, “How can you hold to your Calvinism in the presence of this?” Perhaps it would be wiser to use another form of language that would be calculated to emphasize the indispensable character of this divine grace and that would not need so quickly to have a qualification.

May I suggest that what the Calvinist wishes to say when he speaks of total depravity is that evil is at the very heart and root of man. It is at the very foundation, at the deepest level of human life. This evil does not corrupt merely one or two particular avenues of the life of man but is pervasive in that it spreads into all aspects of the life of man. It darkens his mind, corrupts his feelings, warps his will, moves his affections in wrong directions, blinds his conscience, burdens his subconscious, and afflicts his body. There is hardly any way in which man is called upon to express himself in which, in some way, the damaging character of evil does not manifest itself. Evil is like a root cancer that extends in all directions within the organism to cause its dastardly effects.

How shall we express this? Well, I am not too happy about my substitutions, but I would like to suggest that the term be “radical depravity” or “pervasive depravity” or, if you want to have a somewhat longer approach, to say “radical and pervasive depravity.” This is a little less sweeping than “total” and, in that sense, a little closer to what we really want to assert.

Divine Initiative
The second point is “unconditional election.” The emphasis here is upon the fact that it is God who takes the initiative. There is no previous merit or condition in the creature, either present or foreseen, which determines the divine choice. This is the key to what is in view. The disadvantage to this formulation is twofold. In the first place, it is not sufficiently comprehensive, for it suggests that the only thing that God does is to elect people to be saved and that, therefore, there is no relationship of God to those who are lost. But election involves not only the taking of some to be saved; it also involves the bypassing of the remainder of mankind and the just reprobation of them in view of their sins. So just to talk of election is not enough. We should also recognize preterition, the bypassing of those who are not to be saved. Moreover, the term “unconditional” might be misconstrued to suggest that God has no interest in the condition of those whom he chooses to make his redeemed people. It suggests that God is not concerned about what we are, what we become, and how we relate ourselves to his will. If the point is that God does not ground his choice in the fact that those who are elected are better or worse than others, it is correct. But if it suggests that God does not care about the condition of those whom he has chosen to save, it is wholly incorrect. For the Scripture makes it very specific that we are elected “unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

What we need to recognize here is that the sovereign initiative in salvation is with God. It is not with man. It is not by virtue of something that God has foreseen in a man – some preexisting condition which is the source or root of the elective purpose of God – that God saves him. God in his own sovereign wisdom chooses, for reasons that are sufficient unto himself, those who shall be saved. We may, therefore, much better speak of “sovereign election” or the “preterition of God.”

Definite Atonement
Then comes the third point, which is sometimes called “limited atonement.” This, I think, is a complete misnomer. The other points I can live with, but “limited atonement” I cannot live with, for this is a total misrepresentation of what we mean to say.

The purpose of using this expression is to say that the atonement is not universal (in the sense of Christ having died for every member of the race in the same sense in which he died for those who will be redeemed). Therefore, the purpose of the atonement is restricted to the elect and is not spread to the universality of mankind.

Some limit it in breadth; that is, they say the Lord Jesus Christ died for the redeemed and that he sees to it that the redeemed are therefore saved. For them there is a certain group of mankind, a particular group, which is the special object of the redemptive love and substitutionary work of Jesus Christ and toward which Christ sees to it that his work is effective. While the remainder of mankind may gain some benefits from the work of Christ, they are, however, not encompassed in the same way in his design as were those whom the Father gave him. This is one way of limiting it.

Other people say that Christ died for everybody in the same way, but they must acknowledge that some of the people for whom Christ died are at the end lost. So for these the death of Christ does not, in fact, ensure the salvation of those for whom he died. The effect is to limit the atonement in depth. The atonement is ineffective. It does not secure the salvation of the people for whom it is intended. For these, the will of God and the redemptive love of Jesus Christ are frustrated by the resistance and wicked will of men who resist him and do not accept his grace. In addition, salvation really consists of the work of Christ, plus the acceptance or non-resistance of some ingredient of one kind or another that some people add, and it is this ingredient which really constitutes the difference between being saved and being lost. No one who says that at the end there will be some people saved and other people lost can really in honesty speak of an unlimited atonement.

For these reasons I, for one, am not happy to go under the banner of a limited atonement, as though Calvinists and myself were ones who wickedly emasculate and mutilate the great scope and beauty of the love and redemption of Jesus Christ. For it is not really a question of limits. It is a question of purpose. How should we phrase it therefore?

We ought rather to talk about “definite atonement.” We ought to say that there was a definite purpose of Christ in offering himself. The substitution was not a blanket substitution. It was a substitution that was oriented specifically to the purpose for which he came into this world, namely, to save and redeem those whom the Father has given him. Another term that is appropriate, although perhaps it is less precise than “definite atonement,” is “particular redemption.” For, the redemption of Christ is a particular one which accomplished what it purposed. The only alternative is that Christ redeemed no one in particular.

If we change the language in this way I think we put ourselves away from being the ones who seem to be in the business of restricting the scope of the love of Christ. If I say that my position is that of limited atonement, my opponent will say, “You believe in limited atonement, but I believe in unlimited atonement.” He seems to be the one who exalts the grace of God. But see what happens when we use my words. I say, “I believe in a definite atonement.” What can my opponent say? “1 believe in an indefinite atonement”? If I use the old language, I have no opportunity to do anything except protest. If I use the new language, I do not put myself at a psychological disadvantage from the start. Incidentally, the term “definite atonement” you will find in writers such as John Owen and William Cunningham of Scotland. So let us abandon the expression “limited atonement,” which disfigures the Calvinistic doctrine of grace in the work of Christ.

Effectual Grace
The fourth point is “irresistible grace.” The emphasis here is upon the fact that God accomplishes his designs, so that the saving grace of God cannot be resisted unto perdition. But a misunderstanding may also arise from this phrase; for it may suggest that a man may resist to the very end and that God will nevertheless press him willy-nilly, kicking and screaming, into the Kingdom. This is not the case. The grace of God does not function against our wills but is rather a grace which overcomes the resistance of our wills. God the Holy Spirit is able to accomplish this.

You say, “How can God the Holy Spirit accomplish this without violating free will and making us into puppets?” I don’t know how he can do it but that is what he does. I am not concerned about God’s modes of operation, and I am quite ready to see that he may well have a good number that I do not know about and that I am not able to explore. What I do know is that when there is resistance God comes in with his mighty grace and subdues that resistance. He makes no one come against his will, but he makes them willing to come. He does not do violence to the will of the creature, but he gently subdues and overcomes human resistance so men will gladly respond to him and come in repentance and faith. We ought not to give the impression that somehow God forces himself upon his creatures so that the gospel is crammed down their throats, as it were. In the case of adults (those who have reached the age of accountability) it is always in keeping with the willingness of the individual that the response to grace comes forth. This is surely apparent in the case of the Apostle Paul, for whom God had perhaps made what might be called the maximum effort to bring him in. He resisted, but God overcame his resistance. The result is that Paul was brought willingly and happily into the fold of the grace of God.

What we mean here is not “irresistible”—it gives the impression that man continues to resist—but “effectual.” That is, the grace of God actually accomplishes what he intends it to accomplish.

Perseverance with His Saints
The last point is called “the perseverance of the saints,” and the emphasis is upon the truth that those who have been won by the grace of God will not lose out but will be preserved by God’s grace to ultimate salvation. It means that it is not possible for one who is truly regenerate so to fall out of the reach of divine grace as to lose salvation altogether and finally be lost.

The advantage of this formulation is that there is, indeed, a human activity in this process. The saints are active. They are not just passive. In a true sense they are called upon to persevere. But there is a devastating weakness in this formulation in that it suggests that the key to this perseverance is the activity of the saints. It suggests that they persevere because they are strong, that they are finally saved because they show that kind of stability and consistency which prevents them from turning back into their original wickedness. This is never the case. The key to perseverance is the preservation by God of his saints, that is, the stability of his purpose and the fixity of his design. What is to be in view here is not so much the perseverance of those who are saved but the perseverance of God with the sinners whom he has gloriously transformed and whom he assists to the end. We ought to talk about “God’s perseverance with his saints.” That is the thing that we need to emphasize.

A New Acrostic?
We now need to review our terms—“radical depravity,” “sovereign election and preterition,” “definite atonement,” “effectual grace,” and “the perseverance of God with his saints.” Those are the terms I suggested. Unfortunately, the terms do not provide acrostics in English, French, German, Latin, or any other language I know of. So we have lost our “tulip,” that beautiful mnemonic device to remember these five points in a simple manner. Well, I think it may be worthwhile to lose it, if those other terms mislead people as to what it is we actually hold. We certainly don’t want to sell our birthright, which is the truth, for a mess of pottage, which is an acrostic. If that is what has to be done, let it be done.

On the other hand, I do not want to finish altogether on this note. So I would like to suggest to you that there is a way in which we ought to unite the five points; for in a very special sense we ought to recognize that the five points of Calvinism are, in reality, not five separate doctrines that we assert almost as disjointed elements, but rather the articulation of one point which is the grace of God. Total depravity we may call “indispensable grace.” It is the truth that without God’s grace we can do nothing because we are so evil. Election, called in Scripture the election of grace, may well be called “differentiating grace” or “sovereign grace.” Definite atonement is “providing grace,” for it refers to that grace by which God has established a basis for salvation. The fourth point is “effectual” or “efficacious grace.” Perseverance of the saints may be called “indefectible grace,” grace that will never fail us. In this way we can see how the points simply formulate what Scripture presents to us concerning God’s grace.

If you want to, you can make an acrostic that will read “gospel.” The g would be “grace”; the o, total depravity, would be “obligatory grace”; the s would be “sovereign grace”; the p, corresponding to definite atonement, would be “provision-making grace”; the e is “effectual grace”; finally, the l would be “lasting grace.” I do not like this as well as I like my other terms, so I present it with some diffidence. But if you are hung up on an acrostic, use it. At any rate, get something that has more meaning than “tulip.”

Even better, let us go to the heart of the gospel and say, “Calvinism is the gospel,” and then spell it out. This is what the Reformed position was all about, after all. Sola gratia! By grace alone! That is what we are talking about. The five points of Calvinism merely conjoin to this. Moreover, we do not even have to go to the Reformation, we can go directly to the Scripture.

Here is a text: Jonah 2:9. It reads, “Salvation is of the Lord.” And, in the New Scofield Bible, which I will even venture to quote for once, there is a beautiful little note at that place which says, “The theme of the Scripture.” That is exactly it. Salvation is of the Lord! That is the theme of the Scripture, and the five points of Calvinism.

“Definite Atonement” Rather Than “Limited Atonement”

Dr. Roger Nicole (December 10, 1915 – December 11, 2010[1]) was a native Swiss Reformed Baptist theologian. He was an associate editor for the New Geneva Study Bible, assisted in the translation of the New International Version, and was a founding member of both the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy and the Evangelical Theological Society, serving as president of the latter in 1956.

The following excerpt is a transcript from a teaching he conducted decades ago entitled “The Five Points of Calvinism”:

Then comes the third point which is sometimes called Limited Atonement. And here I wax warm because I think that is a complete misnomer. The others I am willing to live with. “Limited Atonement” I cannot live with because that is a total misrepresentation of what we mean to say.

The purpose of using that expression is that the atonement is not universal in the sense that Christ died for every member of the race, in the same sense in which He died for those who will be redeemed. Therefore the purpose of the atonement is restricted to the elect and not spread to the universality of mankind. This is what is meant by “Limited”.

But the problem is that anyone who does not hold that Christ will in fact save everybody has a “limited atonement”. Anyone who says there will be some people saved and other people lost, has to say the atonement does not function for the universality of mankind.

Now some of the people limit it in breadth; that is, they say, the Lord Jesus Christ died for the redeemed and He sees to it that the redeemed are therefore saved. So that there is a certain group of mankind, a particular group, which is the special object of the redemptive love and substitutionary work of Jesus Christ and toward this group then, Christ sees to it that His work is effective and brings about their salvation. And while the remainder of mankind may gain some benefits from the work of Christ, they are however, not encompassed in the same way in His design, as were those whom the Father gave Him. This is one way of limiting it, you may limit it in breadth, if I may put it that way.

The other people who say “Christ died for everybody in the same way”, have to recognize that some people for whom Christ died, at the end are lost, so that the death of Christ does not ensure the salvation of those for whom He died. The effect is therefore that they limit the atonement in depth. The atonement is ineffective. It does not secure the salvation of the people for whom it is intended. And so in some way, the will of God and the redemptive love of Jesus Christ are frustrated by the resistance and the wicked will of men who resist Him and do not accept His grace. So that salvation really consists on the work of Christ plus acceptance or non-resistance or some ingredient of one kind or another that some people add. And it is this ingredient which really constitutes the difference between being saved and being lost.

No one who says “at the end there will be some people saved and other people lost” can really in honesty speak of an “Unlimited Atonement”, and therefore I for one am not happy to go under the banner of “Limited Atonement” as if Calvinists and myself were the ones who wickedly emasculate and mutilate the great scope and beauty of the love and redemption of Jesus Christ.

This is not really a question of limit. This is a question of purpose.

And so we ought to talk about “Definite Atonement.” There is a definite purpose of Christ in offering Himself. Substitution that is not a ‘blanket’ substitution; but a substitution that is oriented specifically to the purpose for which He came into this world, which is to save and redeem those whom the Father has given Him.

Another term that is appropriate, although perhaps less precise is the term “Particular Redemption”, for the redemption of Christ is a particular one, which accomplishes what it purposes. The alternative is that Christ redeemed no one in particular.

Now if we change that language I think we put ourselves away from the very unpleasant onus of being the one who seems to be in the business of restricting the scope of the love of Christ.

If I am ready to say my position is that of “Limited Atonement”, my opponent will come and say, “You believe in Limited Atonement but I believe in Unlimited Atonement” – he seems to be the one who exalts the grace of God.

Now use my words and see what happens.

I say, “I believe in Definite Atonement”. What can my opponent say?

He says, “Well I believe in Indefinite Atonement.”

Now if they want to use the language, I have no opportunity to do anything but to protest. But if I have the choice to use a language to represent my position I certainly do not want to put myself at the psychological disadvantage from the start. And the term “Definite Atonement” you will find in very fine writers like John Owen and William Cunningham of Scotland, and Warfield and others, is a much more accurate representation of precisely what the Reformed position holds. Let us abandon that expression “Limited Atonement” which disfigures the Calvinistic doctrine of grace in the work of Christ. I feel rather strongly on that, as you know.

21 Misunderstandings of Reformed Thinking

by Dr. Sam Storms (original source here)

There are a few things beside the native darkness and pride of the human heart that are a greater danger to the doctrines of grace than the widespread misunderstandings of those doctrines and their implications. The best solution to these misunderstandings is a study of the Reformed tradition itself and its clear statements about what the Bible does, and does not, teach regarding the doctrines of grace.

Before I addressed this important subject, I gave the conference four points of introduction. The first of those is the subject of this first post on those 21 misconceptions of Calvinism.

The Sources of These Misunderstandings

I distinguished three sources of misconceptions about Calvinism

The first was Arminian Misrepresentation. It is unquestionable that both today and in the past history of the church, Arminians have constantly repeated misrepresentations of the doctrines of grace. While these misrepresentations may have seemed to them the necessary implications of the views of their Calvinist opponents, they were made in many cases in spite of the clearest denials by the Reformed. It is unfair for anyone to charge their opponents with holding views that they deny even though they seem to be the logical implications of their positions. It is fair to point out that their views do lead to such implications. It is not fair to affirm that they hold or believe such implications when they explicitly deny them.

The second was Immature Reaction. Another source of various misunderstandings of the doctrines of grace comes from the over-reaction of immature Calvinists. In their new found vision of the absolute sovereignty of God and newly acquired revulsion to the widespread ignorance and denial of God’s sovereignty by professing Christians, it is easy for neophyte Calvinists to make all sorts of extremist statements and adopt all sorts of imbalanced views that time and calm consideration will show are filled with ill-considered assertions and careless implications. These statements are not the deliberate misrepresentations of Arminians or the calculated presumption of Hyper-Calvinists, but the enthusiastic overstatements of “Young Turks” or “Cage-stage” Calvinists.

The third was Hyper-Calvinist Presumption. But another and dangerous source of misunderstandings about Calvinism is the historical stream of real Hyper-Calvinism which developed in the centuries following the Reformation. Yes, there really is such a thing as Hyper-Calvinism! Of course, Hyper-Calvinism is not five point Calvinism. That is just Calvinism. Granted such Hyper-Calvinism scarcely exists anywhere any more. But its writings and its representatives do exist and pose a constant and, I fear, growing temptation to young, imbalanced Calvinists ready to embrace anything that appears to exalt a sovereign God. I warn you, then, that everything is not gold that glitters. Be careful of those who will tell you that the free and well-meant offer of the gospel, the doctrine of common grace, and duty-faith are Arminianism.

The Solution to These Misunderstandings

The root of each of these sources of misunderstanding is, I think, the same. It is rationalism. By that I mean the exaltation of human reason over the teaching of the Word of God. It is, of course, true that human reason is created by God and is a necessary tool in the interpretation of the Bible. This is undeniable. I concur with the Westminster Confession when it says:

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture …

But we must never forget that our reason is limited in two respects. It is both finite and fallen. We must be, therefore, modest and careful in the deductions which we draw from Scripture, guarding always against allowing our human reason to purge from Scripture things which seem contradictory to our reason. We must be prepared, to put this in other words, to allow the divine wisdom of Scripture to correct our human wisdom and reason. We must not jump quickly to unnatural and forced interpretations to remove from Scripture things which are offensive to our reason.

My third point of introduction was …

The Substantiation of These Misunderstandings

The title of 21 Misunderstandings of Calvinism assumes that we have some authority for what historical Calvinism or Reformed thinking is. Only on the basis of some authoritative statement of Calvinism can I show or substantiate that certain views are misunderstandings of its teaching. In my message at RP 15 I used two such authoritative statements of Calvinism.

First, I will use the historic Calvinistic Baptist Confession of Faith, the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith. It is the confession that can claim more than any other to have shaped Reformed and Particular Baptist thought. It has the further advantage of being a revision of the Westminster Confession, the classic Reformation confession, and echoing most of its language and doctrinal sentiments.

Second, I will use the Canons of Dort. The Canons of Dort were the first, creedal, and systematic exposition of the doctrines of grace in the history of the church and were affirmed by an international synod of Reformed churches and theologians in 1618-19. I think these two documents are indisputably authoritative, historical affirmations of Calvinism. Continue reading

Sovereignty Series

Dr. Steve Lawson – The Sovereignty of God

Session 1 – Radical Corruption: What Can a Dead Man Do?

Session 2 – Unconditional Election: Who Chose Whom?

Session 3 – Definite Atonement: For Whom Did Christ Die?

Session 4 – Sovereign Regeneration: How is one Born Again?

Sola Scriptura Ministries International – Toronto Conference September 12, 2014 at Markham Chinese Baptist Church

Doctrines of Grace Part 1

Doctrines of Grace Part 2