|Vol. 14 No. 4 April 2012||
John Calvin, famed 16th century reformer, taught many preachers who attended his theological school in Geneva, Switzerland. Since the teaching of German reformers heightened Calvin’s interest in theology, he decided to continue his study in the realm of religion instead of pursuing law. Over some 25 years, he wrote, edited and set his beliefs down in a formal record known as The Institutes of the Christian Religion. His influence continues to be felt more than four centuries after his death by tuberculosis, while the doctrines he made so popular have found a place in the heart and creeds of as many as 80 to 90 percent of mainline denominations.
Calvin’s doctrine held that every man born into the world upon birth became infected, as it were, by Adam’s sin, often referred to as “Original Sin.” It is claimed that we do not only experience the effects of Adam’s sin, but we also inherit his guilt of sin (cf. Ezekiel 18:20), and our very nature is totally depraved upon birth. Therefore, upon birth, we supposedly were totally depraved and hateful toward God and everything good and holy, deserving God’s condemnation and the wrath of hell. This is his doctrine of total, hereditary depravity, the unbiblical foundation upon which everything else (equally unbiblical) in his system is built.
Calvin’s doctrine imposes limitations on the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which was commissioned by the Lord to be carried into the entire world and delivered to every person. The doctrine of this uninspired, human system suggests that due to the depravity of the human heart, the Gospel is impotent to convert the sinner until such time as the Holy Spirit acts directly upon the heart of the individual (called prevenient grace), preparing him or her to both understand and receive the Word. It is further claimed by Calvin that even faith itself is a gift the Holy Spirit puts into the heart of those God has predestined as “the elect,” while withholding the gift of faith from those he allegedly foreordained (specific individuals with real names) to be the “non-elect.”
The Holy Spirit was sent by Jesus upon His return to heaven to do a work the Father had designated for Him. Jesus told those disciples who would soon become his apostles that He would not leave them as orphans, but would send the “Comforter” to them (chapters 14-16 of John’s Gospel record). The Holy Spirit was not sent to overshadow the propitiatory or atoning work that Christ had done through His vicarious death for man. The Holy Spirit, in part, was sent to aid the messengers who would declare the fullness of the Gospel in complete accuracy, even speaking in languages they had never either studied or spoken before (Acts 2:6-10). The Holy Spirit came to testify of Jesus (John 15:26), as did the apostles with the help of the Spirit (1 John 4:14). That testimony was to the effect that God, the Father, sent his Son to be the Savior of the world (not just a few souls here and there).
Paul was not reluctant to travel to Rome and preach the Gospel message there just as he had done so many times and places before. He boldly pronounced, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17). The apostle declared that the Gospel, not the Holy Spirit, is the power unto salvation. The Holy Spirit’s work enabled the presentation of a complete and perfect message of God’s offer of grace and pardon. “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world…” (Titus 2:11-12).
The Gospel message, being part of the complete Word of God, is not impotent to convert the sinner. The Gospel/Word of God is that which sanctifies (John 17:17), sets men free from the bondage of sin (John 8:32) and further produces faith in the human heart (Romans 10:17), rather than a direct gift imposed/instilled into the heart. Neither the Lord nor the Holy Spirit converted Paul directly, but rather, Jesus told him to go into the city of Damascus where he would be taught what he should do (cf. Acts 22:16). God uses agency to convert the sinner: “the word of his grace” (Acts 14:3). “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (1 Peter 1:23). The apostle indicated it was the Gospel message by which the Corinthians had come to be saved (1 Corinthians 15:1-2).
God’s Word is neither impotent nor is His Gospel message impotent through Jesus our Savior:
“For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).
Hear the Holy Scripture:
“But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:6-17).
Do we ever stop and wonder why God did not have Paul write about the Holy Spirit’s direct operation upon the human heart in the matter of justification? John Calvin spoke and wrote far more about it than did the Holy Spirit. In fact, the Holy Spirit is silent about that. Is that not interesting? Will you follow Calvin to the grave, or Christ unto life eternal in heaven?