A major gun in the Calvinist arsenal against Arminianism is the issue of assurance of salvation. Calvinists relish pointing out that an Arminian never has assurance of his salvation. In contrast, they say, Calvinists are absolutely assured of their salvation since God has foreordained it from the deep dark, inscrutible counsels of God.
However, in this post, I would like to claim that Calvinists really have no assurance at all of their salvation.
Let me first hasten to say that, true to the accusations of Calvinists, we Arminians do believe in the possibility that believers could neglect so great a salvation so as to make shipwreck of their faith. And I realize that we take seriously the apostolic warnings to their Christian brothers to hold fast to faith lest we turn away from the living God and trample the blood of the Son of God underfoot–after having received the knowledge of the truth. And so, I own all those Calvinistic charges that Arminians fear the possibility of apostasy and therefore have no absolute assurance of their final salvation. Moreover, I freely admit that we Arminians believe that Jesus’ death doesn’t save anyone who is not united with Christ by faith. I own all this–no point in reminding me.
I’m just saying Calvinists have a different problem with assurance. Let me explain what it is.
The Arminian has the Divinely bound assurance that Jesus died for him, for the Word clearly and unequivocally declares that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son to die on its behalf. And so, if you ask the Arminian, “Did Jesus die for you?” he will respond with absolute assurance, “Yes, Jesus died for me as well as for you.”
But if you ask the Calvinist, “How do you know Jesus died for you?” his response is be-stuttered. He can’t say, “I know Jesus died for me because the Bible tells me so.” And so he retreats to the position that since he is a believer, he knows that Jesus died for him since the Bible teaches that Jesus died for the elect.
However, this argument is based on the Calvinist’s personal experience. But isn’t personal experience tainted by Total Depravity, by the Calvinist’s own admission? What if Satan has merely tricked the Calvinist into thinking that he is a believer? It wouldn’t be the first time that someone was mistaken about his salvation.
In this light, a Calvinist just doesn’t seem capable of absolute assurance that Jesus died for him. Now to be sure, they can assure themselves on the basis of Scripture that Jesus died for the elect. But after that, Calvinistic assurance that Jesus died for him gets fuzzy. He has to say, “Well, I think I’m a believer, and if so, I must be elect, and so therefore, Christ must have died for me.” Ultimately then, Calvinistic assurance that Jesus died for him is based penultimately on the fact (or mis-fact based on depraved misperception) that he is a believer. Calvinistic assurance all comes unhinged if the person is mistaken as to whether he truly is a believer.
Moreover, the Calvinist minister who wishes to encourage the regenerate person who starts wavering on assurance cannot make an absolute statement, “Brother Joe, I know Jesus died for your sins” since the minister cannot actually know for sure that the person, in fact, was regenerate. There you have it! Despite the thundering cannons of Calvinism on this issue, Calvinism really doesn’t have absolute assurance of salvation.
So, pick your poison. Be an Arminian with assurance that you will be saved only if you continue to the end in faith, or be a Calvinist without the assurance that Jesus died for you.
James M. Leonard