A Possible Sheep in Wolves’ Clothes or a Hard-core Calvinist Through and Through?—Notes on Calvin and Calvinism: Was John Calvin Really a Calvinist?
Dr. Phil Stringer, “Was John Calvin a Calvinist?” Grace Leadership Conference, 2011, Quentin Road Bible Baptist Church, Lake Zurich, IL.
Kent Kelly, “Inside the Tulip,” Southern Pines, NC, 1986.
Calvin’s Commentaries and Calvin’s “Institutes.”
In recent years, there has been a growing trend in Christianity for people to claim that John Calvin, the founder of modern Calvinism, did not really believe or teach what is being taught by Calvinists today. Many want to hold Calvin up as some sort of an iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation while, at the same time, they wish to distance themselves from the radical unbiblical teachings attributed to Calvin. They claim that the Five Points of Calvinism, known by the acronym “TULIP,” were actually invented by the Synod of Dort, over fifty years after Calvin’s death, having little or nothing to do with what Calvin actually taught. Some even want to go so far as to claim that Calvin really taught a Free Grace gospel. Startling!
Who are these people, mentioned above?
1. “New” Calvinists. This group generally holds to the modern five points of Calvinism but stands against “double predestination,” sometimes referred to as, “hypercalvinism,” the teaching that God predestined some for heaven and some for hell (neither can do anything to change that fate). They claim that Calvin did not teach double predestination.
2. “Moderate” Calvinists. They hold to only one to four of the five points of Calvinism. Most from this category would object to “limited atonement,” (the “L” of TULIP) the Calvinist false, unbiblical teaching that Christ died only for the elect. Some “moderate” Calvinists also deny that their concept of Calvinism teaches Lordship “Salvation.” Some also deny that Calvin taught Lordship “Salvation.”
3. Free Grace believers. Now, this is astonishing! But, yes, there are actually some who hold to the Free Grace Gospel of the Bible who think that John Calvin was, in reality, a Free Grace theologian! “He has just gotten a bad rap,” they say. How naïve is this! I submit that those who make this claim have read only short isolated clips of what Calvin wrote. Folks such as this love to answer Calvinists by saying, “Well, even Calvin himself didn’t believe what you teach.” Frankly, it is an impossible stretch to demonstrate that Calvin taught Free Grace theology. His standard pattern of writing throughout his commentaries is, when confronted with a Bible text that unmistakably declares that Christ died for the sins of ALL the world and, further, when the Bible explains the Gospel message of God’s Free Grace salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, Calvin initially states what the text says plainly (Free Grace); HOWEVER, he quickly filters the text through his preconceived skewed theological construct, restating, contradicting and denying what the text of the Bible clearly declares. This theological filter appears to have originated from his background of being a Roman Catholic Priest and, for a time, a humanist. He also held the teachings of Augustine in the highest regard.
Was Calvin simply a moderate or limited Calvinist, a Free Grace Gospel teacher who has been misquoted, or, in reality, a strong Calvinist or Hyper-Calvinist? Let’s look at some quotations from Calvin and see what he really said.
From Calvin’s Commentaries
1. John 6:33 KJV: “For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.” Calvin’s response: “This passage teaches that the whole world is dead to God, except so far as Christ quickens it, because life will be found nowhere else than in him.” NOTE: Calvin’s comment here affirms four of the five points of Calvinism (T, U, L, I) and denies that God gave his Son to the whole world (while God’s gift of salvation through belief in his Son is offered to the whole world, sadly, many will reject his gift—Matt. 23:37).
2. John 3:16 KJV: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Calvin’s response: Calvin begins by acknowledging the clear meaning of the verse, but then quickly reverses his position: Calvin: “Let us remember, on the other hand, that while life is promised universally to all who believe in Christ, still faith is not common to all. For Christ is made known and held out to the view of all, but the elect alone are they whose eyes God opens, that they may seek him by faith.” Additionally, Calvin said, “We must not assume that ‘the world’ means every single individual human being, ‘world’ refers to those who have the capacity and ability to believe.” NOTE: Calvin affirms in this statement, unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace (U, L and I of the Calvinist acronym TULIP). Dr. Phil Stringer relates further that Calvin repeatedly says throughout his Commentaries that “all,” or, “the world” mean, to him, all kinds of human beings, some out of each class or race of people, or ranks of life, not every human being. Calvin, thereby, attempts to dodge the clear straightforward meaning of “all” or “all the world,” in Scripture, as meaning EVERYONE. As Dr. Stringer put it so aptly, “Even a child can understand that all means ALL.”
3. Matthew 23:37 KJV: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Calvin’s response: “Again, when the sophists seize on this passage, to prove free will, and to set aside the secret predestination of God, the answer is easy. God wills to gather all men, say they; and therefore all are at liberty to come, and their will does not depend on the election of God. I reply: The will of God, which is here mentioned, must be judged from the result. For since by his word he calls all men indiscriminately to salvation, and since the end of preaching is, that all should betake themselves to his guardianship and protection, it may justly be said that he wills to gather all to himself. It is not, therefore, the secret purpose of God, but his will, which is manifested by the nature of the word, that is here described; for, undoubtedly, whomsoever he efficaciously wills to gather, he inwardly draws by his Spirit, and does not merely invite by the outward voice of man.” NOTE: Calvin holds to the classic Calvinist denial of free will while affirming the Calvinist U, L and I.
4. 2 Peter 3:9 KJV: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Calvin’s response: once again, Calvin makes an initial affirmation of what the verse plainly states, but he quickly denies his affirmation with the following statement, “But it may be asked, If God wishes none to perish, why is it that so many do perish? To this my answer is, that no mention is here made of the hidden purpose of God, according to which the reprobate are doomed to their own ruin, but only of his will as made known to us in the gospel. For God there stretches forth his hand without a difference to all, but lays hold only of those, to lead them to himself, whom he has chosen before the foundation of the world.” Comment: Calvin clearly twists the clear meaning of the text, pushing his notion of limited atonement.
5. 1 John 2:2 KJV: “And he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” Calvin’s response: “Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? I pass by the dotages of the fanatics, who under this pretense extend salvation to all the reprobate, and therefore to Satan himself. Such a monstrous thing deserves no refutation. . . . It seems to me that the Apostle is to be understood as speaking only of all those who believe, whether Jews or Gentiles, over the whole world. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world.” Once again, Calvin denies the simple straightforward message of 1 John 2:2, while pushing his own theological platform of limited atonement.
6. James 2:17 KJV: “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” Calvin remarks, “He [James] says that faith is dead, being by itself, that is, when destitute of good works. We hence conclude that it is indeed no faith, for when dead, it does not properly retain the name.” James 2:18 KJV: “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works; shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” Calvin’s response: “Shew me by works thy faith; for since it is not an idle thing, it must necessarily be proved by works. The meaning then is, Unless thy faith brings forth fruits, I deny that thou hast any faith. This verse is a key to the meaning of James: faith is to be proved by works; then faith properly justifies and saves, and works prove its genuineness.” COMMENT: Calvin makes the standard error of Lordship “Salvation” teachers in misinterpreting James. James’ epistle clearly speaks to believers about the quality of their faith, NOT the reality of faith. Calvin unmistakably declares the Calvinist teaching of perseverance, the “P” of the Calvinist TULIP. Calvinist perseverance is nothing other than the false teaching of Lordship “Salvation.” For a detailed look at this subject, see Dr. Tom Cucuzza’s outstanding book, “Secure Forever! God’s Promise or Our Perseverance,” St. Cloud, MN: Xulon Press, 2008 (see the link on the right column of Expreacherman.com).
7. Finally, if there were any doubt left in anyone’s mind about where Calvin stood on what is known today as, “Calvinism,” look at this main title in Calvin’s “Institutes” section dealing with the subject of predestination. The title itself leaves no doubt on Calvin’s position: “Of the Eternal Election by Which God has Predestined Some to Salvation and Others Predestination in Hell.” This title and statement of his position, declares Calvin to be, not only a Calvinist, but a HYPERCALVINIST!