Richard Watson, “Calvinism Defined”

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Richard Watson


CALVINISM, that scheme of doctrine on predestination and grace, which was taught by Calvin, the celebrated reformer, in the early part of the sixteenth century. His opinions are largely opened in the third book of his “Institutes:” “Predestination we call the eternal decree of God; by which he hath determined in himself what he would have to become of every individual of mankind. For they are not all created with similar destiny; but eternal life is foreordained for some, and eternal damnation for others. Every man, therefore, being created for one or other of these ends, we say, he is predestinated, either to life, or to death.” After having spoken of the election of the race of Abraham, and then of particular branches of that race, he proceeds: “Though it is sufficiently clear, that God, in his secret counsel, freely chooses whom he will, and rejects others, his gratuitous election is but half displayed till we come to particular individuals, to whom God not only offers salvation, but assigns it in such a manner that the certainty of the effect is liable to no suspense or doubt.” He sums up the chapter, in which he thus generally states the doctrine, in these words: “In conformity, therefore, to the clear doctrine of the Scripture, we assert, that by an eternal and immutable counsel, God hath once for all determined both whom he would admit to salvation, and whom he would condemn to destruction. We affirm that this counsel, as far as concerns the elect, is founded on his gratuitous mercy, totally irrespective of human merit; but that to those whom he devotes to condemnation, the gate of life is closed by a just and irreprehensible, but incomprehensible, judgment. In the elect, we consider calling as an evidence of election; and justification as another token of its manifestation, till they arrive in glory, which constitutes its completion. As God seals his elect by vocation and justification, so by excluding the reprobate from the knowledge of his name, and sanctification of his Spirit, he affords another indication of the judgment that awaits them,” chap. 21, volume 3.

2. In the commencement of the following chapter he thus rejects the notion that predestination is to be understood as resulting from God’s foreknowledge of what would be the conduct of either the elect or the reprobate: “It is a notion commonly entertained, that God, foreseeing what would be the respective merits of every individual, makes a correspondent distinction between different persons; that he adopts as his children such as he fore-knows will be deserving of his grace; and devotes to the damnation of death others, whose dispositions he sees will be inclined to wickedness and impiety. Thus they not only obscure election by covering it with the veil of foreknowledge, but pretend that it originates in another cause,” Volume 3, chap. 22. Consistently with this, he a little farther on asserts, that election does not flow from holiness, but holiness from election: “For when it is said, that the faithful are elected that they should be holy, it is fully implied, that the holiness they were in future to possess had its origin in election.” He proceeds to quote the example of Jacob and Esau, as loved and hated before they had done good or evil, to show that the only reason of election and reprobation is to be placed in God’s “secret counsel.” He will not allow the future wickedness of the reprobate to have been considered in the decree of their rejection, any more than the righteousness of the elect, as influencing their better fate: “‘God hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.’ You see how he (the Apostle) attributes both to the mere will of God. If, therefore, we can assign no reason why he grants mercy to his people but because such is his pleasure, neither shall we find any other cause but his will for the reprobation of others. For when God is said to harden, or show mercy to whom he pleases, men are taught, by this declaration, to seek no cause beside his will. (Ibid.) “Many, indeed, as if they wished to avert odium from God, admit election in such a way as to deny that any one is reprobated. But this is puerile and absurd; because election itself could not exist, without being opposed to reprobation;-whom God passes by he therefore reprobates; and from no other cause than his determination to exclude them from the inheritance which he predestines for his children,” volume 3, chap. 23.

3. This is the scheme of predestination as exhibited by Calvin; and to the objection taken from justice, he replies, “They” (the objectors) “inquire by what right the Lord is angry with his creatures who had not provoked him by any previous offence; for that to devote to destruction whom he pleases, is more like the caprice of a tyrant, than the lawful sentence of a judge. If such thoughts ever enter into the minds of pious men, they will be sufficiently enabled to break their violence by this one consideration, how exceedingly presumptuous it is, only to inquire into the causes of the divine will; which is, in fact, and is justly entitled to be, the cause of every thing that exists. For if it has any cause, then there must be something antecedent on which it depends, which it is impious to suppose. For the will of God is the highest rule of justice; so that what he wills must be considered just, for this very reason, because he wills it.” Thus he assumes the very thing in dispute, that God has willed the destruction of any part of the human race, “for no other cause than because he wills it;” of which assumption there is not only not a word of proof in Scripture; but, on the contrary, it ascribes the death of him that dieth to his own will, and not to the will of God. 2. He pretends that to assign any cause to the divine will is to suppose something antecedent to, something above God, and therefore “impious;” as if we might not suppose something IN God to be the rule of his will, not only without any impiety, but with truth and piety; as, for instance, his perfect wisdom, holiness, justice, and goodness; or, in other words, to believe the exercise of his will to flow from the perfection of his whole nature; a much more honorable and Scriptural view of the will of God than that which subjects it to no rule, even though it should arise from the nature of God himself. 3. When he calls the will of God, “the highest rule of justice,” beyond which we cannot push our inquiries, he confounds the will of God, as a rule of justice to us, and as a rule to himself. This will is our rule; yet even then, because we know that it is the will of a perfect being: but when Calvin represents mere will as constituting God’s own rule of justice, he shuts out knowledge, discrimination of the nature of things, and holiness; which is saying something very different from that great truth, that God cannot will any thing but what is perfectly just. It is to say that blind will, will which has no respect to any thing but itself, is God’s highest rule of justice; a position which, if presented abstractedly, many Calvinists themselves would spurn. 4. He determines the question by the authority of his own metaphysics, and totally forgets that one dictum of inspiration overturns his whole theory,-God “willeth all men to be saved;” a declaration, which in no part of the sacred volume is opposed or limited by any contrary declaration.

4. Calvin was not, however, content thus to leave the matter; but resorts to an argument, in which he has been generally followed by those who have adopted his system with some mitigations: “As we are all corrupted by sin, we must necessarily be odious to God, and that not from tyrannical cruelty, but in the most equitable estimation of justice. If all whom the Lord predestinates to death are, in their natural condition, liable to the sentence of death, what injustice do they complain of receiving from him?” To this Calvin very fairly states the obvious rejoinder made in his day; and which the common sense of mankind will always make,-“They object, Were they not by the decree of God antecedently predestinated to that corruption which is now stated as the cause of their condemnation? When they perish in their corruption, therefore, they only suffer the punishment of that misery into which, in consequence of his predestination, Adam fell, and precipitated his posterity with him.” The manner in which Calvin attempts to meet this objection, shows how truly unanswerable it is upon his system. “I confess,” says he, “indeed, that all the descendants of Adam fell, by the Divine will, into that miserable condition in which they are now involved; and this is what I asserted from the beginning, that we must always return at last to the sovereign determination of God’s will; the cause of which is hidden in himself. But it follows not, therefore, that God is liable to this reproach; for we will answer them in the language of Paul, ‘O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?'” That is, in order to escape the pinch of the objection, he assumes that St. Paul affirms that God has “formed” a part of the human race for eternal misery; and that, by imposing silence upon them, he intended to declare that this proceeding in God was just. How the passage may be proved from its context to have no respect to the eternal state of men at all; but, if that were less obvious, it gives no answer to the objection; and we are brought round again, as indeed he confesses, to his former, and indeed only, argument, that the whole matter as he states it, is to be referred back to the divine will; which will, though perfectly arbitrary, is, as he contends, the highest rule of justice: “I say, with Augustine, that the Lord created those whom he certainly foreknew would fall into destruction; and that this was actually so, because he willed it; but of his will, it belongs not to us to demand the reason, which we are incapable of comprehending; nor is it reasonable, that the divine will should be made the subject of controversy with us, which is only another name for the highest rule of justice.” Thus he shuts us out from pursuing the argument. But the evasion proves the objection unanswerable. For if all is to be resolved into the mere will of God as to the destruction of the reprobate; if they were created for this purpose, as Calvin expressly affirms; if they fell into their corruption in pursuance of God’s determination; if, as he had said before, “God passes them by, and reprobates them, from no other cause than his determination to exclude them posterity with him.” why refer to their natural corruption at all, and their being odious to God in that state, since the same reason is given for their corruption as for their reprobation?-not any fault of theirs; but the mere will of God, “the reprobation hidden in his secret counsel,” and that not grounded on the visible and tangible fact of their demerit. Thus the election taught by Calvin is not the choice of some persons to peculiar grace from the whole mass, equally deserving of punishment; (though this is a sophism;) since, in that case, the decree of reprobation would rest upon God’s foreknowledge of those passed by as corrupt and guilty, which notion he rejects: “For since God foresees future events only in consequence of his decree that they shall happen, it is useless to contend about foreknowledge, while it is evident that all things come to pass rather by ordination and decree.” “It is a HORRIBLE DEGREE, I confess; but no one can deny that God foreknew the future fate of man before he created him; and that he did foreknow it, because it was appointed by his own decree.” Agreeably to this, he repudiates the distinction between will and permission: “For what reason shall we assign for his permitting it, but because it is his will? It is not probable, however, that man procured his own destruction by the mere permission, and without any appointment, of God.”

5. With this doctrine he again attempts to reconcile the demerit of men: “Their perdition depends on the divine predestination in such a manner, that the cause and matter of it are found in themselves. For the first man fell because the Lord had determined it should so happen. The reason of this determination is unknown to us.-Man, therefore, falls according to the appointment of divine providence; but he falls by his own fault. The Lord had a little before pronounced every thing that he had made to be ‘very good.’ Whence, then, comes the depravity of man to revolt from his God? Lest it should be thought to come from creation, God approved and commended what had proceeded from himself. By his own wickedness, therefore, man corrupted the nature he had received pure from the Lord, and by his fall he drew all his posterity with him to destruction.” It is in this way that Calvin attempts to avoid the charge of making God the author of sin. But how God should not merely permit the defection of the first man, but appoint it, and will it, and that his will should be the “necessity of things,” (all which he had before asserted,) and yet that Deity should not be the author of that which he appointed, willed, and imposed a necessity upon, would be rather a delicate inquiry. It is enough that Calvin rejects the impious doctrine; and even though his principles directly lead to it, since he has put in his disclaimer, he is entitled to be exempted from the charge;-but the logical conclusion is inevitable.

6. In much the same manner he contends that the necessity of sinning is laid upon the reprobate by the ordination of God, and yet denies God to be the author of their sinful acts, since the corruption of men was derived from Adam, by his own fault, and not from God. He exhorts us “rather to contemplate the evident cause of condemnation, which is nearer to us, in the corrupt nature of mankind, than search after a hidden and altogether incomprehensible one, in the predestination of God.” “For though, by the eternal providence of God, man was created to that misery to which he is subject, yet the ground of it he has derived from himself, not God; since he is thus ruined, solely in consequence of his having degenerated from the pure creation of God to vicious and impure depravity.” Thus, almost in the same breath, he affirms that men became reprobate from no other cause than “the will of God,” and his “sovereign determination;” that men have no reason “to expostulate with God, if they are predestinated to eternal death, without any demerit of their own, merely by his sovereign will;”-and then, that the corrupt nature of mankind is the evident and nearer cause of condemnation; (which cause, however, was still a matter of “appointment,” and “ordination,” not “permission;”) and that man is “ruined solely in consequence of his having degenerated from the pure state in which God created him.” These propositions manifestly fight with each other; for if the reason of reprobation be laid in man’s corruption, it cannot be laid in the mere will and sovereign determination of God, unless we suppose him to be the author of sin. It is this offensive doctrine only, which can reconcile them. For if God so wills, and appoints, and necessitates the depravity of man, as to be the author of it, then there is no inconsistency in saying that the ruin of the reprobate is both from the mere will of God, and from the corruption of their nature, which is but the result of that will. The one is then, as Calvin states, the “evident and nearer cause,” the other the more remote and hidden one; yet they have the same source, and are substantially acts of the same will. But if it be denied that God is, in any sense, the author of evil, and if sin is from man alone, then is the “corruption of nature” the effect of an independent will; and if this corruption be the “real source,” as he says, of men’s condemnation, then the decree of reprobation rests not upon the sovereign will of God, as its sole cause, which he affirms; but upon a cause dependent on the will of the first man: but as this is denied, then the other must follow. Calvin himself, indeed, contends for the perfect concurrence of these proximate and remote causes, although in point of fact, to have been perfectly consistent with himself, he ought rather to have called the mere will of God THE CAUSE of the decree of reprobation, and the corruption of man THE MEANS by which it is carried into effect:-language which he sanctions, and which many of his followers have not scrupled to adopt.

7. So certainly does this opinion involve in it the consequences, that in sin man is the instrument, and God the actor, that it cannot be maintained, as stated by Calvin, without this conclusion. For as two causes of reprobation are expressly laid down, they must be either opposed to each other, or be consenting. If they are opposed, the scheme is given up; if consenting, then are both reprobation and human corruption the results of the same will, the same decree, and necessity. It would be trifling to say that the decree does not influence; for if so, it is no decree in Calvin’s sense, who understands the decree of God, as the foregoing extracts and the whole third book of his “Institutes” plainly show, as appointing what shall be, and by that appointment making it necessary. Otherwise, he could not reject the distinction between will and permission, and avow the sentiment of St. Augustine, “that the will of God is the necessity of things; and that what he has willed will necessarily come to pass,” volume 3, chap. 23, sec. 8. So, in writing to Castellio, he makes the sin of Adam the result of an act of God: “You say Adam fell by his free will. I except against it. That he might not fall, he stood in need of that strength and constancy with which God armeth all the elect, as long as he will keep them blameless. Whom God has elected, he props up with an invincible power unto perseverance. Why did he not afford this to Adam, if he would have had him stand in his integrity?” And with this view of necessity, as resulting from the decree of God, the immediate followers of Calvin coincided; the end and the means, as to the elect, and as to the reprobate, are equally fixed by the decree, and are both to be traced to the appointing and ordaining will of God. On such a scheme it is therefore worse than trifling to attempt to make out a case of justice in favor of this assumed divine procedure, by alleging the corruption and guilt of man: a point which, indeed, Calvin himself, in fact, gives up when he says, “That the reprobate obey not the word of God, when made known to them, is justly imputed to the wickedness and depravity of their hearts, provided it be at the same time stated, that they are abandoned to this depravity, because they have been raised up by a just but inscrutable judgment of God, to display his glory in their condemnation.”

8. It was by availing themselves of the ineffectual struggles of Calvin to give some color of justice to his reprobating decree by fixing upon the corruption of man as a cause of reprobation, that some of his followers endeavored, in the very teeth of his own express words, to reduce his system to sublapsarianism. This was attempted by Amyraldus; who was answered by Curcellaeus, in his tract “De Jure Dei in Creaturas.” This last writer, partly by several of the same passages we have given above from Calvin’s Institutes, and by extracts from his other writings, proves that Calvin did by no means consider man, as fallen, to be the object of reprobation; but man not yet created; man as to be created, and so reprobated, under no consideration in the divine mind of his fall or actual guilt, except as consequences of an eternal preterition of the persons of the reprobate, resolvable only into the sovereign pleasure of God. The references he makes to men as corrupt, and to their corrupt state as the proximate cause of their rejection, are all manifestly used to parry off rather than to answer objections, and somewhat to moderate and soften, as Curcellaeus observes, the harsher parts of his system. And, indeed, for what reason are we so often brought back to that unfailing refuge of Calvin, “the presumption and wickedness of replying against God?” For if reprobation be a matter of human desert, it cannot be a mystery; if it be adequate punishment for an adequate fault, there is no need to urge it upon us to bow with submission to an unexplained sovereignty. We may add, there is no need to speak of a remote or first cause of reprobation, if the proximate cause will explain the whole case; and that Calvin’s continual reference to God’s secret counsel, and will, and inscrutable judgment, could have no aptness to his argument. Among English divines, Dr. Twisse has sufficiently defended Calvin from the charge, as he esteems it, of sublapsarianism; and, whatever merit Twisse’s own supralapsarian creed may have, his argument on this point is unanswerable.

9. As it is not intended here to enter into this controversy, on which multitudes of books have been written, and the leading authors are known almost to every one, the above may be sufficient to convey a just notion of Calvin’s own opinions. After these subjects had long agitated the reformed churches, and given rise to several modifications of Calvin’s original scheme, and to numerous writings in refutation of it, the synod of Dort digested the whole into five articles, from which arose the celebrated controversy on the five points. These articles, as being the standard of what is generally called strict Calvinism, are, in substance, as follows:-
(1.) “Of Predestination. As all men have sinned in Adam, and have become exposed to the curse and eternal death, God would have done no injustice to any one, if he had determined to leave the whole human race under sin and the curse, and to condemn them on account of sin; according to those words of the Apostle, ‘All the world is become guilty before God,’ Rom. 3:19, 23; 6:23. That some, in time, have faith given them by God, and others have it not given, proceeds from his eternal decree; for ‘known unto God are all his works from the beginning,’ &c, Acts 15:18; Eph. 1:11. According to which decree, he graciously softens the hearts of the elect, however hard, and he bends them to believe; but the non-elect he leaves, in his judgment, to their own perversity and hardness. And here, especially, a deep discrimination, at the same time both merciful and just; a discrimination of men equally lost, opens itself to us; or that decree of election and reprobation which is revealed in the word of God; which, as perverse, impure, and unstable persons do wrest to their own destruction, so it affords ineffable consolation to holy and pious souls. But election is the immutable purpose of God; by which, before the foundations of the world were laid, he chose, out of the whole human race, fallen by their own fault from their primeval, integrity into sin and destruction, according to the most free good pleasure of his own will, and of mere grace, a certain number of men, neither better nor worthier than others, but lying in the same misery with the rest, to salvation in Christ; whom he had, even from eternity, constituted Mediator and head of all the elect, and the foundation of salvation; and therefore he decreed to give them unto him to be saved, and effectually to call and draw them into communion with him, by his word and Spirit; or he decreed himself to give unto them true faith, to justify, to sanctify, and at length powerfully to glorify them, &c, Eph. 1: 4-6; Rom. 8:30. This same election is not made from any foreseen faith, obedience of faith, holiness, or any other good quality and disposition, as a prerequisite cause or condition in the man who should be elected, &c. ‘He hath chosen us,’ not because we were, but ‘that we might be, holy,’ &c, Eph. 1:4; Rom. 9:11-13; Acts 13:48. Moreover, Holy Scripture doth illustrate and commend to us this eternal and free grace of our election, in this more especially, that it doth testify all men not to be elected; but that some are non-elect, or passed by, in the eternal election of God, whom truly God, from most free, just, irreprehensible, and immutable good pleasure, decreed to leave in the common misery into which they had, by their own fault, cast themselves; and not to bestow on them living faith, and the grace of conversion; but having been left in their own ways, and under just judgment, at length, not only on account of their unbelief, but also of all their other sins, to condemn and eternally punish them, to the manifestation of his own justice. And this is the decree of reprobation, which determines that God is, in no wise, the author of sin, (which, to be thought of, in blasphemy,) but a tremendous, incomprehensible, just judge, and avenger.”
(2.) “Of the Death of Christ.” Passing over, for brevity’s sake, what is said of the necessity of atonement, in order to pardon, and of Christ having offered that atonement and satisfaction, it is added, “This death of the Son of God is a single and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sins; of infinite value and price, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world; but because many who are called by the Gospel do not repent, nor believe in Christ, but perish in unbelief; this doth not arise from defect or insufficiency of the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but from their own fault. God willed that Christ, through the blood of the cross, should, out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, efficaciously redeem all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to him by the Father; that he should confer on them the gift of faith,” &c.
(3.) “Of Man’s Corruption, &c. All men are conceived in sin, and born the children of wrath, indisposed (inepti) to all saving good, propense to evil, dead in sin, and the slaves of sin; and without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, they neither are willing nor able to return to God, to correct their depraved nature, or to dispose themselves to the correction of it.”
(4.) “Of Grace and Free will. But in like manner as, by the fall, man does not cease to be man, endowed with intellect and will; neither hath sin, which hath pervaded the whole human race, taken away the nature of the human species, but it hath depraved and spiritually stained it; so that even this divine grace of regeneration does not act upon men like stocks and trees, nor take away the properties of his will; or violently compel it, while unwilling; but it spiritually quickens, heals, corrects, and sweetly, and at the same time powerfully, inclines it; so that whereas before it was wholly governed by the rebellion and resistance of the flesh, now prompt and sincere obedience of the Spirit may begin to reign; in which the renewal of our spiritual will, and our liberty, truly consist; in which manner, (or for which reason,) unless the admirable Author of all good should work in us, there could be no hope to man of rising from the fall by that free will, by which, when standing, he fell into ruin.”
(5.) “On Perseverance. God, who is rich in mercy, from his immutable purpose of election, does not wholly take away his Holy Spirit from his own, even in lamentable falls; nor does he so permit them to glide down, (prolabi,) that they should fall from the grace of adoption, and the state of justification; or commit the ‘sin unto death,’ or against the Holy Spirit; that, being deserted by him, they should cast themselves headlong into eternal destruction. So that not by their own merits or strength, but by the gratuitous mercy of God, they obtain it, that they neither totally fall from faith and grace, nor finally continue in their falls and perish.”

10. The controversy on these difficult subjects was not decided by the decrees of the synod of Dort, which, it will be seen under that article, were purposely drawn up in a politic and wary manner, so as to quadrate with the opinions, and not to outrage the feelings, of any grade of Calvinists. Prior to the convention of that celebrated assembly, the doctrines of Calvin had been refined upon and incautiously carried out to some of their legitimate consequences, in a manner almost without precedent, except that of the Mohammedan doctors on the absolute fate which holds a distinguished place in the Koran. Several of the brightest and most acute wits in Europe occupied themselves in sublimating to the height of extravagance the two kindred branches of predestination,-the eternal and absolute election of certain men to everlasting glory, and the reprobation of the rest of mankind to endless punishment, without regard in the divine mind to the foreseen faith of one class or to the foreseen unbelief of the other. This course was commenced by Beza, the contemporary and successor of Calvin, who possessed neither his genius nor his caution; and his writings contain several rash assertions on these points, which, it is probable, would never have obtained the approbation of his departed friend and instructer. Zanchius, with true Italian astuteness, carried on this process of refinement in high style; and his predestinarian improvements were only equalled by those of Piscator, Pareus, Keckerman, Hommius, Kimedontius, Polanus, Sturmius, Danaeus, Thysius, Donteklock, Bogerman, Gomar, Smoutius, Triglandius, down to the minor tribe of Contra-Remonstrants, Damman, Maccovius, and Sibrandus Lubbertus. Nor were the clever divines of our own country a whit behind the foreigners in accomplishing this grand object; and the theological reader, on seeing the names of Perkins, Whitaker, Abbot, and Twisse, will instantly recognise men whose doctrinal vagaries were familiar to all the Calvinists in Europe. No one can form an adequate conception of the injury thus inflicted on the divine attributes of wisdom, goodness, and mercy, as they have been revealed in the Scriptures, unless he has read the immense mass of quotations from the writings of these and other divines, which were presented to the notice of the synod of Dort by the Remonstrants, especially in their Rejection of Errors under each of the five points in dispute; the proofs of which were quoted from their respective authors, and the accuracy, and faithfulness of which were never called in question. Not only would the minds of all sober Christians in these days be shocked when perusing the monstrous sentiments propounded in those extracts, but even the tolerably stiff Calvinists of Oliver Cromwell’s time felt themselves scandalized by any allusion to them, and would not admit that their opinions had the least affinity to such desecrating dogmas. Little more than twenty years after the synod of Dort, that distinguished polemical divine and accurate scholar, Dr. Thomas Pierce, published his able and very interesting pamphlet, entitled, “A Correct Copy of Some Notes concerning God’s Decrees;” in which, without naming the authors, he gave ten extracts from celebrated Calvinistic treatises, to prove, that “there are men of no small name who have told the world, that all the evil of sin which is in man proceedeth from God only as the author, and from man only as the instrument.” Four of these extracts will furnish sufficient matter to every judicious mind for mournful reflection on the strange obliquities to which the human understanding is liable:–(1.) “A wicked man, by the just impulse of God, doth that which is not lawful for him to do.” (2.) “When God makes an angel or a man a transgressor, he himself doth not transgress, because he doth not break a law. The very same sin, namely, adultery or murder, inasmuch as it is the work of God, the author, mover, and compeller, is not a crime; but inasmuch as it is of man, it is a wickedness.” (3.) “God can will that man shall not fall, by his will which is called voluntas signi; and in the mean while he can ordain that the same man shall infallibly and efficaciously fall, by his will which is called voluntas beneplaciti. The former will of God is improperly called his will, for it only signifieth what man ought to do by right; but the latter will is properly called a will, because by that he decreed what should inevitably come to pass.” (4.) “God’s will doth pass, not only into the permission of the sin, but into the sin itself which is permitted. The Dominicans,” the high predestinarian order in the church of Rome, “do imperfectly and obscurely relate the truth whilst, beside God’s concurrence to the making way for sin, they require nothing but the negation of efficacious grace, when it is manifest that there is a farther prostitution of sin required.” Of these four passages, the first is from Calvin himself, the second from Zuinglius, and the third and fourth from Dr. Twisse. This pamphlet was the first in a smart controversy, in which Doctor (afterward Bishop) Reynolds, Baxter, Hickman, and Barlee, took part against Dr. Pierce, but in which those eminent men virtually disclaimed all community of sentiment between themselves and such high predestinarians. In their warmth, however, they accused the Doctor of having “rifled the well-furnished cabinet of the Batavian Remonstrant writings,” and of not having hesitated “to be beholden to very thieves, namely, such roguish pamphlets as Fur Predestinatus and others are, rather than want materials for invectives against Calvin, Beza, Twisse,” &c. In his reply, the Doctor says, “When I published my papers on God’s decrees, I had never so much as seen that well-furnished cabinet, the ‘Acta Synodalia Remonstrantium;'” and he proves that he has copied none of his extracts from Fur Predestinatus. As his opponents were “so unthankful for the lenity” which he had displayed in giving “so short a catalogue,” he added other affirmations of a still more revolting import, if that were possible. The four extracts which follow, will serve as a correct specimen of the gross and unguarded assertions of some of those good men who were thus exposed; the first two are from Zanchius, the other two from Piscator, both of them men of renown in that age:-(1.) “Reprobates are compelled with a necessity of sinning, and so of perishing, by this ordination of God; and so compelled that they cannot choose but sin and perish.” (2.) “God works all things in all men, not only in the godly, but also in the ungodly.” (3.) “Judas could not but betray Christ, seeing that God’s decrees are immutable; and whether a man bless or curse, he always doth it necessarily in respect of God’s providence, and in so doing he doth always according to the will of God.” (4.) “It doth or at least may appear from the word of God, that we neither can do more good than we do, nor omit more evil than we omit; because God from eternity hath precisely decreed that both [the good and the evil] should so be done. It is fatally constituted when, and how, and how much, every one of us ought to study and love piety, or not to love it.” In that newly emancipated age, the ample discussion of these topics could not fail to produce much good; and the result in the course of a few years was, that a vast number of those who had implicitly followed the guidance of Calvin, deserted his standard, and either went completely over to the ranks of Arminius, or halted midway under the command of Baxter. From that time to the middle of the eighteenth century, those dogmas which are usually designated as ultra-Calvinian or Antinomian, received no support, except from such shallow divines as Dr. Crisp and his immediate admirers. But when the Rev. John Wesley and his brother, as Arminians, propounded the doctrines of the Gospel in as evangelical a manner, and with as marked success, as any Calvinist, a number of those excellent men, both in the church and among the Dissenters, who had been early benefitted by the ministry of the two brothers, thought, as many now do, that it was impossible for any thing to be evangelical that was not Calvinistic; and, apparently with the design of being at as great a remove as possible from a reputed heresy, they became in principle real Antinomians. In forming this conclusion, and in running to a supposed opposite extreme, such persons seem to have forgotten that those truly evangelical principles,-which in Germany and the neighboring states effected the reformation from Popery, which transformed sinners into Christians and martyrs, and which, in the perverted state of society that then obtained, but too painfully reminded the sainted sufferers of the domestic, municipal, and national grievances and persecutions to which the earliest confessors of the name of Christ were subjected,-had been in beneficial operation long before Calvin’s doctrinal system was brought to maturity, and when he was known only as the humble and diligent pastor of the church of Geneva. And even after the publication of his “Institutes,” which contained the peculiarities of his creed, he had to wait many years, to labor hard, not always in the most sanctified spirit, both from the pulpit and the press, and to endure many personal mortifications, before he was able to obtrude his novel dogmas on his own immediate connections, or to make any sensible impression on the generally received theology of his learned contemporaries. Such persons ought also to recollect, that, as Dr. Watts justly observes, “some of the most rigid and narrow limitations of grace to men are found chiefly in Calvin’s Institutions, which were written in his youth. But his comments on Scripture were the labors of his riper years and maturer judgment.”

11. His first tract on predestination was published in 1552; and the first complete edition of his “Institutes” did not see the light till the year 1558; but the change in Melancthon’s opinions, from the fatality of Stoicism, to the universality, of the Gospel, occurred at least six years prior to 1535, when the second edition of his “Common Places” was published, that contained his amended creed, and strong cautions against the contrary doctrines. One of the most eloquent and best informed writers of the present age has, in reference to this subject, justly observed: “Both Luther and Melancthon, after their creed became permanently settled at the diet of Augsburg, (A.D. 1530,) kept one object constantly in view,-to inculcate only what was plain and practical, and never to attempt philosophizing. They perceived, that before the reformation the doctrine of divine foreknowledge had been grossly misconceived and abused, although guarded by all the logic of the schools; and they felt, that, after it, they had themselves at first contributed to increase the evil, by grounding upon the same high argument, although for a very different purpose, the position of an infallible necessity. Thenceforward, therefore, they only taught a predestination which the Christian religion explains, and the Christian life exemplifies. Thus, while their adversaries philosophized upon a predestination of individuals, preferred one before another by divine regard because worthy of such a preference, they taught only that which has been revealed with certainty,-the predestination of a peculiar description of persons, of a people zealous of good works, of the Christian church contemplated as an aggregate, not on account of its own dignity, but on account of Christ its supreme Head, and the author of eternal salvation to all who obey him. While restoring Scriptural simplicity to the doctrine of predestination, perplexed and disfigured by the vanity of the schools, they studiously and anxiously preserved every trace of that universal benevolence by which Christianity is particularly distinguished. ‘Let us,’ they said, ‘with both our hands, or rather with all our heart, hold fast the true and pious maxim, that God is not the author of sin, that he sits not in heaven writing Stoical laws in the volumes of fate; but, endowed with a perfect freedom himself, he communicates a liberty of action to his creatures; firmly opposing, the position of necessity as false, and pernicious to morals and religion. God, we may be assured, is no cruel and merciless tyrant; he does not hate and reject men, but loves them as a parent loves his children.’ Universal grace, indeed, was at all times a favorite topic with the Lutherans; nor would they admit of any predestination except that of a beneficent Deity, who was in Christ reconciling the world to himself; except a predestination conformable with that order of things which he has established, and with the use or abuse of the means which he has ordained. ‘The Almighty,’ they said, ‘has seriously willed and decreed, from eternity, all men to be saved and to enjoy everlasting felicity; let us not therefore indulge in evil suggestions, and separate ourselves from his grace, which is as expanded as the space between heaven and earth; let us not restrain the general promise, in which he offers his favor to all without discrimination, nor confine it to those who, affecting a peculiar garb, wish to be alone esteemed pious and sanctified. If many perish, the fault is not to be imputed to the divine will, but to human obstinacy, which despises that will, and disregards a salvation destined for all men.’ ‘And because many are called, but few are chosen, let us not,’ they added, ‘entertain an opinion highly impious,–that God tenders his grace to many, but communicates it only to a few; for should we not in the greatest degree detest a Deity by whose arbitrary will we believed ourselves to be excluded from salvation?’ Upon the important point likewise of the conditional acceptance of the individual, their ideas were not more distinct than their language was explicit. ‘If God chose,’ they argued, ‘certain persons only in order to unite them to himself, and rejected the remainder in all respects alike, would not such AN ELECTION WITHOUT CAUSES seem tyrannical?’ Let us therefore be persuaded, that some cause exists in us, as some difference is to be found between those who are, and those who are not, accepted. Thus they conceived that, predestinating his elect in Christ, or the Christian church, to eternal salvation, he excludes none from that number by a partial adoption of favorites, but calls all equally, and accepts of all who obey his calling, or, in other words, who become true Christians by possessing the qualifications which Christianity requires.-‘He,’ they stated, who ‘falls from grace cannot but perish, completely losing remission of sin, with the other benefits which Christ has purchased for him, and acquiring in their stead divine wrath and death eternal.’ Melancthon, who in his private correspondence expressly termed Calvin the Zeno of his day, says, ‘Let us execrate the Stoical disputations which some introduce, who imagine that the elect always retain the Holy Spirit, even when they commit atrocious crimes,-a manifest and highly reprehensible error; and let us not confirm in fools security and blindness.'”
These quotations might be augmented by others from the earliest Lutheran authors, more Arminian in their import than any which Arminius ever wrote: but the preceding are sufficient to show, that, during upward of thirty years, the Protestant church in Germany was nourished by doctrines most manifestly at variance with the refinements afterward promulgated by Calvin. Real conversions of sinners were never more abundant than in that golden age; yet these were produced by the blessing of God upon an evangelical agency that had scarcely any thing in common with the Genevan dogmas. With these and similar facts before him, therefore, no Calvinist can in common honesty claim for the peculiarities of his creed, for those doctrines which distinguish it from the Melancthonism of the Protestant churches of England and Germany, the exclusive title of EVANGELICAL. Equally fallacious is the ground on which he can prefer any such claim on account of the alleged counsel and advice given by Calvin to our reformers while they were engaged in the formation of our Articles and Liturgy. On no fact in the ecclesiastical history of this country are our annalists more completely at agreement than on this,-that Calvin’s name and writings were scarcely known in England till the time when the persecution under Queen Mary forced many of our best divines into banishment; and that, to the great future disquietude of the church, several of these exiles on their return imported a personal bias either in favor of his discipline or of his dogmas. Anterior to that period he had received no such pressing invitations from our reformers, and from the king himself, as Melancthon had done, for his friendly theological aid in drawing up the doctrinal and disciplinary formulae of our national church. The man who asserts the contrary to this, and who has the hardihood to deny the Melancthonian origin of the Articles and Liturgy, discovers at once his want of correct information on these subjects, and has never read the convincing documents appended to the Archbishop of Cashel’s (Dr. Laurence’s) “Eight Sermons,” being the Bampton Lectures for 1804, and entitled, “An Attempt to Illustrate those Articles of the Church of England which the Calvinists improperly consider as Calvinistical;” Todd’s treatise “On Original Sin, Free Will, &c, as maintained by certain Declarations of our Reformers;” Plaifere’s “Appello Evangelium;” nor even the portable yet convincing pamphlets of Kipling and Winchester, the former entitled “The Articles not Calvinistic; the latter,” A Dissertation on the Seventeenth Article of the Church.”

12. There is one fact connected with these assumed yet unfounded claims, which has never yet been placed in its proper light, but which it may be well briefly to notice in this place. Calvin himself, in 1535, wrote the following truly Melancthonian paragraphs as part of his preface to the New Testament in French: “This Mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ, was the only, true, and eternal Son of God, whom the Father was about to send into the world, that he might collect all men together from this horrid dispersion and devastation. When, at length, that fulness of time arrived, that day preordained by the Lord, he openly showed himself as that Messiah who had for so many ages been the desire of all nations, and hath most abundantly performed all those things which were necessary for the redemption of all men. But this great blessing was not confined solely within the boundaries of the land of Israel, since, on the contrary, it was intended [porrigendum] to be held out for the acceptance of the whole human race; because through Christ alone the entire family of man was to be reconciled to God, as will be seen, and most amply demonstrated, in these pages of the New Testament.” “To this inheritance of our heavenly Father’s kingdom we are all called without respect of persons,-whether we be men or women, high or low, masters or servants, teachers or disciples, [doctores,] divines or laics, Jews or Greeks, Frenchmen or [Romani] Italians. From this inheritance no one is excluded, if he only so receive Christ as he is offered by the Father for the salvation of all men, and embrace him when received.” Great research has been displayed by the Calvinists at different periods, in endeavoring to discover, in the public formularies of the church, or in the private productions of our reformers, some trace of affinity between them and the writings of Calvin. Only two cases of such affinity have yet been found; and, unfortunately for the validity of all pretensions of this kind, neither of them contains a single peculiarity of Calvinism, but, on the contrary, both are of the moderate and evangelical class of the Melancthonian school. One of the passages thus discovered is here subjoined from Cranmer’s “Defence of the True and Catholic Doctrine of the Sacrament,” &c; and bears all the marks of verisimilitude to the second of the preceding paragraphs from Calvin, though written fifteen years after it:-“Almighty God, without respect of person, accepteth the oblation and sacrifice of priest and lay person, of king and subject, of master and servant, of man and woman, of young and old, yea, of English, French, Scot, Greek, Latin, Jew, and Gentile; of every man according to his faithful and obedient heart unto him, and that through the sacrifice propitiatory of Jesus Christ.” Had either this or the other passage contained the least tinge of what is now considered as belonging exclusively to the system of Calvin, the English admirers of that great man would have had some grounds for the assertions which have been too confidently made, because so easily refuted.

13. Having given this summary of the sentiments of Calvin himself, and of the ancient or strict Calvinists, it is proper to observe, that there are, and always have been, many who generally embrace the Calvinistic system, but object to some particular parts, and to the strong language in which some of the propositions are expressed. These are called moderate or modern Calvinists, who differ from Calvin, and the synod of Dort, chiefly on two points,-the doctrine of reprobation, and the extent of the death of Christ. The theory of Baxter has already been noticed. This and all other mitigated schemes rest on two principles, the sufficiency of the atonement for all mankind, and the sufficiency of grace for those who do not believe. Still something more is held to be necessary than this sufficiency of grace in order to actual salvation; namely, an acceptance by man, which can only be made under that degree of effectual supernatural aid which is dispensed only to a certain number of persons, who are thus distinguished as the “elect of God.” The main characteristic of all these theories, from the first to the last, from the highest to the lowest, is, that a part of mankind are shut out from the mercies of God, on some ground irrespective of their refusal of a sincere offer to them of salvation through Christ, made with a communicated power of embracing it. Some power they allow to the reprobate, as natural power, and degrees of superadded moral power; but in no case the power to believe unto salvation; and thus, as one well observes, “When they have cut some fair trenches, as if they would bring the water of life unto the dwellings of the reprobate, on a sudden they open a sluice which carries it off again.” The whole labor of these theories is to find out some plausible reason for the infliction of punishment on them that perish, independent of the only cause assigned by the word of God–their rejection of a mercy free for all, and made attainable by all.

14. After all, however, it is pleasant to find these indications of a growing consciousness, on the part of modern predestinarians, that the common notions and common language of mankind on these deep subjects are not far from the truth. And though some too fastidious Arminians may complain, that, in this desire to enlist the views and words of common sense on the side of Calvinism, many of those by whom they are employed attach to them a meaning very different from that which ordinary usage warrants; yet even this tendency to approximate to right views should be regarded as favorable to the progress of truth, and the evidently improved feeling which has suggested such approximation ought to be met in a conciliating spirit. But this is a fault which must always be an appendage to such a system, however it may be modified; and does not exclusively apply to its modern supporters. The following remarks by Archbishop Laurence on the ambiguity of language not unfrequently discernible in the writings of Calvin himself, are worthy of consideration:-“In whatever sense he wished these words to be understood, it must be admitted that he sometimes adapted the style of others, who had a very different object in view, to his own peculiar opinions. And hence, from the want of a due discrimination, the sentiments of his contemporaries, opposite in their natural tendency, are often improperly forced into the vortex of Calvinism. Systematizing was his darling propensity, and the ambition of being distinguished as a leader in reform his predominant passion: in the arrangements of the former, he never felt a doubt, or found a difficulty; and in the pursuits of the latter he displayed an equal degree of perseverance and ardor. Thus, in the doctrine of the Eucharist, it is well known that he labored to acquire celebrity, and conciliate followers, by maintaining a kind of middle sacramental presence between the corporeal of the Lutherans, and the mere spiritual of the Zuinglians; expressing himself in language which, partly derived from one, and partly from the other, verged towards neither extreme; but which, by his singular talent at perspicuous combination, he applied, and not without success, to his own particular purpose. Nor was he less solicitous to press into his service a foreign phraseology upon the subject more immediately before me; a subject on his theory of which he not a little prided himself, and seemed contented to stake his reputation. He perceived that the Lutherans, strongly reprobating every discussion upon the decrees of a Deity unrevealed to us, founded predestination solely on a Scriptural basis; contending for a divine will which is seriously, not fictitiously, disposed to save all men, and predetermined to save all who become and continue sincere Christians. Zuingle, indeed, had reasoned from a different principle; and, although persuaded that God’s mercies in Christ were liberally bestowed on all without distinction, on infants who commit not actual crime, and on the Heathen as well as the Christian world, he nevertheless was a necessitarian in the strictest sense of the expression; referring events of every kind to an uncontrollable and absolute predetermination. Zuingle, however, died in 1531, before the youth of Calvin permitted him to assume the character of a reformer; who found Bullinger then at the head of the Zuinglian church, not only applauding, but adopting, the moderation of the Lutherans; and, to use the phrase of Turretin, plainly Melancthonizing. But the doctrine alluded to, it may be imagined, was of a species too limited and unphilosophical for one of his enterprising turn of mind, who never met with an obstacle which he attempted not instantly to surmount. Disregarding, therefore, the sober restrictions of the times, he gave loose to the most unbounded speculation: yet, anxious by all means to win over all to his opinion, he studiously labored to preserve, on some popular points, a verbal conformity with the Lutherans. With them, in words, he taught the universality of God’s good will; but it was a universality which he extended only to the offer of salvation; conceiving the reprobate to be precluded from the reception of that offer by the secret decree of an immutable Deity. The striking feature of their system was an election, in Christ, by which they meant an election as Christians. This also, in words, he inculcated: his idea, however, of an election in Christ was totally different from theirs; for he held it to be the previous election of certain favorites by an irrespective will of God, whom, and whom alone, Christ was subsequently appointed to save. But his ingenuity was such, in adapting the terms borrowed from another source to his own theory, that some erroneously conceive them to have been thus originally used by the Lutherans themselves. Hence, therefore, much confusion has arisen in the attempt of properly discriminating between the various sentiments of Protestants upon this question, at the period under consideration: all have been regarded as formed upon the model which Calvin exhibited; at least by writers who have contemplated him as the greatest reformer of his age, but who have forgotten that, although they chose to esteem him the greatest, they could not represent him as the first in point of time; and that his title to preeminence, in the common estimation of his contemporaries, was then far from being acknowledged.”

15. On one topic, however, Calvin and the older divines of that school were very explicit. They tell us plainly, that they found all the Christian fathers, both of the Greek and the Latin church down to the age of St. Augustine, quite unmanageable for their purpose; and therefore occasionally bestow upon them and their productions epithets not the most courteous. Yet some modern winters, not possessing half the splendid qualifications of those veterans in learning, make a gorgeous display of the little that they know concerning antiquity; and wish to lead their readers to suppose, that the whole stream of early Christianity has flowed down only in their channel. Every one must have remarked how much like Calvin all those fathers speak whose words are quoted by Toplady in his “Historic Defence.” Nor can the two Milners, in their “History of the Church,” entirely escape censure on this account,-though both were excellent men, and better scholars than Toplady. But from the manner in which they “show up” only those ancient Christian authors, some of whose sentiments seem to be nearly in unison with their own, they induce the unlearned or half informed to draw the erroneous conclusion,-that the peculiarities of Calvinism are not the inventions of a comparatively recent aera, and that they have always formed a prominent part of the profession of faith of every Christian community since the days of the Apostles.

All men must admire the candid and liberal spirit which breathes in the subjoined high but just eulogium on Calvin, from the pen of the same amiable Archbishop: “Calvin himself was both a wise and a good man; inferior to none of his contemporaries in general ability, and superior to almost all in the art, as well as elegance, of composition, in the perspicuity and arrangement of his ideas, the structure of his periods, and the Latinity of his diction. Although attached to a theory, which he found it difficult in the extreme to free from the suspicion of blasphemy against God, as the author of sin, he certainly was no blasphemer; but, on the contrary, adopted that very theory from an anxiety not to commit, but, as he conceived, to avoid blasphemy,-that of ascribing to human, what he deemed alone imputable to divine, agency.”

This selection was taken from “A Biblical and Theological Dictionary” by Richard Watson, and printed in 1833. Richard Watson was a leading Methodist theologian of that time.