Jesus and the "Five Points"
To speak of "Calvinism" or "The Five Points of Calvinism" is something of a misnomer. Not that Calvin would have disagreed with the doctrines thus espoused by the Synod of Dort in 1618, but we must not imagine that these ideas originated with John Calvin and his contemporaries. On the contrary, we might easily address this teaching as "Augustinianism" or even "Paulism". We even find Jesus teaching the same things in the compass of a few verses in John 6!
The Synod of Dort met to counter the teaching of one Jacobus Arminius whose doctrine was presented to the Dutch Parliament in "Five Points" challenging the Reformation teachings of the Belgic and Heidelberg Confessions of Faith. It was in "Five Points" that the Synod of Dort replied.
The Arminian Remonstrance ran roughly along these lines:
- Although affected by the Fall, man still had a measure of free will whereby he might choose to receive the gospel;
- God's election of certain individuals was conditional upon their desire to be saved;
- Christ died to save all men, universally, giving God the ability to pardon those who believed;
- The work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration depended upon the cooperation of the sinner;
- It was possible to fall from grace: to be saved today, but lost tomorrow.
The response of the Synod of Dort in reaffirming the Reformed position took the form of an acrostic on the word "TULIP". It is along the lines of this convenient device that we shall look at Jesus' teaching in John 6:36-37. In its context, of course, this saying of Jesus falls in the midst of his teaching about himself as the bread of life (v. 35), one of the great "I am" sayings of the gospel of John, but we shall limit ourselves for the purposes of this study to showing that Jesus taught what we now know as "The Five Points of Calvinism".
"Total depravity" refers to man's inability to choose anything spiritually good for himself. Jesus said: "But I said unto you, that ye also have seen me, and believe not" (v. 36); "No man can come to me, except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him" (v. 44).
The Fall of Adam as the representative head of the human race was such that, on account of his covenant relationship with God, "in Adam's Fall, we sinned all", as the couplet goes. The apostle Paul begins his argument for the grace of God in giving Jesus Christ as the new head of the race, thus: "as by one man sin entered the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned..." (Romans 5:12); and after a long parenthesis he picks up the thought again: "as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation..." (v. 18); and again: "as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners..." (v. 19).
Such is our bondage to original sin that the Psalmist cried: "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Psalm 51:5). This is not a slight on the chastity of David's mother, but an acknowledgement of the state into which that first sin of Adam plunged the whole human race. Paul describes the plight of these outside of Christ as "dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1).
Our association with Adam's sin is further aggravated by our own actual sins. According to Eliphaz the Temanite, this consists in man's "drinking iniquity like water" (Job 15:16). The prophet Isaiah brings to us the totality of our depravity when he displays it as reaching even to the best things that we do: "we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (64:6). Paul brings together several threads of this Old Testament teaching in Romans 3:10-18:
There is none righteous (moral), no not one; there is none that understandeth (intellectual); there is none that seeketh after God (will). They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one ... There is no fear of God before their eyes.
Only an efficient, efficacious atonement can release us from this bondage to sin and corruption. Left to ourselves, our own "free will", we cannot, we will not, receive the gospel. "No man can come to me" (John 6:44). "Ye cannot serve the LORD" (Joshua 24:19).
"All that the Father giveth me shall come to me," says Jesus (John 6:37). He says:
I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion ... Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour.
Romans 9:15, 21
He gives them before they come; they are "chosen in him before the foundation of the world" having been "predestinated unto the adoption of children ... according to the good pleasure of his will" (Ephesians 1:4-5). Any part that we may imagine we have played in our ownn salvation is denied: "For by grace are ye saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship" (Ephesians 2:8-10).
This is a great transaction: "all that the Father gives me shall come to me" (John 6:37); "of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing" (v. 39). It is an exclusive transaction: "No man can come unto me except it were given unto him of my Father" (v. 65). In his great high priestly prayer, Christ acknowledges that his own power "to give eternal life to as many as (God has given me)" (John 17:2); he acknowledges they are God's, speaking of "the men which thou gayest me out of the world; thine they were, and thou gayest them me" (v. 6). He prays for these to the exclusion of all others: "I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me" (v. 9), that God would keep them "whom thou hast given me" (v. 11); "I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory" (v. 24).
This transaction is realised in time, as we see from the Book of Acts. When Paul and Barnabas first turned to the Gentiles, we are told: "as many as were ordained to eternal life believed" (13:48); the testimony concerning Lydia was: she "heard us, whose heart the Lord opened" (16:14); and when Paul preached at Corinth, amidst much initial discouragement, he was told: "I have much people in this city" (18:10).
Election is thus seen not to be conditional upon any response in man, but on account of the free grace of God, and the covenant which exists on our behalf between the Father and the Son.
Limited atonement is also called particular redemption. "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me" (John 6:37). Jesus teaches the efficiency and efficaciousness of his atonement: "all", everyone of them, "shall come". Those who teach that nothing more was accomplished at Calvary than the potential for salvation, take away from the efficacy of the cross. They actually set a greater limit to the atonement than those who hold to particular redemption! One is left with the fearful possibility that Christ had died for nobody — for who left to himself, will embrace this way of salvation?
Thanks be to God, there are those who are "born again": "not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13). To these, and these alone, is the atonement limited. They are "the church" whom Christ loved "and gave himself for" (Ephesians 5:25). These are "the many" for whom the blood of Christ's covenant is shed (Matthew 26:28); for whom "the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom" (Mark 10:45).
References to Christ dying for the sins "of the word" or "whosoever" or "all" must be balanced in the whole scope of Scripture with this obvious limitation. "All" the elect "shall" come to Jesus; but this leaves no loophole for our cooperation in the affair. Those who "come" to Christ, conversely, are only those whom "the Father giveth" him.
Again "All that the giveth me shall come to me" (John 6:37) teaches us that God's grace and calling are irresistible. We are not found cooperating with the Holy Spirit in our new birth, just as surely as we did not cooperate with our parents in our first conception. Rather we are "led by the Spirit of God" (Romans 8:14). The Good Shepherd calls his sheep: "the sheep hear his voice ... He leadeth them out ... the sheep follow him; for they know his voice" (John 10:3-4). Indeed, they cannot resist his call, but must fall to the earth, so to speak, as did the apostle Paul at his first calling (Acts 9:4). That man later testified that God "called me by his grace, to reveal his son in me" (Galatians 1:15-16).
This calling is irresistible on account of the cooperation that does exist on our behalf with the Godhead. Jesus speaks of this in John 6: "No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me draw him" (v. 44); "Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me" (v. 45). All "shall come" (v. 37).
Perseverance of the Saints
"Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (v. 37); "and this is the Father's will, which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day" (v. 39); "whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life" (v. 54). The Good Shepherd gives to his sheep "eternal Life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand" (John 10:28). Again in his prayer, Jesus says: "Those that thou gayest I have kept and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition" (John 17:12).
This doctrine tells of the keeping power of God: "he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6). Not that this leaves the door open for antinomianism — those who say that "once saved, always saved" means that we can do what we like after salvation without any fear of retribution. If we are called "out of darkness" (1 Peter 2:9), how can we dwell any longer therein? We are called to be "perfect" (Matthew 5:48) and we can hardly enumerate the Scriptural exhortations to holiness of living.
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid! (By no means, certainly not). How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?"
Having made this caveat, however, the outworking of our salvation is in God's hands, without any diminution to our responsibility: "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13). "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37). What a blessed reassurance for God's people. Not saved today and lost tomorrow, almost at our own whim and fancy, but the keeping hand of God for all eternity. Nothing shall "separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:39).
"The Five Points of Calvinism", then, did not originate with Calvin but with Jesus Christ. The whole argument has been aptly and ably summed up by the apostle Paul in the closing verses of Romans 8, which have never been explained away by the opponents of the Reformed Faith. Those who "love God" are "the called according to his purpose", whom he not only "foreknew" but "predestinated", "called", "justified" and just as certainly "glorified".
If God be for us, who can be against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? I am persuaded that (nothing) shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Jesus said: "But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out."