Institutes of the Christian Religion – John Calvin

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The enormity of this book cannot be overstated. I’m not just talking about its size, although at nearly 1800 pages in total, it is rather large. Rather, the impact this book has had on Western thought, in general, and theology (particularly in the Protestant and Reformed tradition) in particular, is enormous. It is a book often alluded to, often cited, and often referenced. The format and organisation of modern systematic theology is heavily influenced by Calvin’s magnum opus.

Ultimately, this work does function as a systematic theology (although, interestingly, there is no section of eschatology). Calvin starts with the knowledge of God, the foundation of Calvin’s theology, and works all the way through his theological thought in a logical order, until he finishes with the relationship between Church and state – the final practical out working of Calvin’s theology into society. As a guide, Calvin uses the Apostle’s Creed to work out his thought.

The Institutes is arranged into 4 books. The first book is entitled Of the Knowledge of God the Creator. The book is split into two main sections: knowledge of God, and knowledge of man in relation to God. Calvin’s position is that the knowledge of God is not to be found in man or in the frame of this world, but in Scripture, whereby His highest revelation to us is His Triune nature. In relation to man, in the second section, Calvin considers the general government of human behaviour. Although God uses the wicked as instruments for His divine plan, He Himself is pure and free of any taint of sin.

The subject of second book is The Knowledge of God the Redeemer and looks at the person and work of Christ. First, through the lens of the law, and second through the lens of the Gospel. It is interesting to note the early development of the law/gospel distinction that is so prevalent in later Reformed theology.

Calvin first considers the reason for our redemption by looking at the fall of Adam, original sin, free will, and all the consequences this has on the human condition. Calvin advocates a high view of the depravity of man as a consequence of Adam’s sin, following in the footsteps of Augustine. His lengthy rebuttal of the concept of free will (as defined in the Roman Catholic sense) is incisive. After outlining, through the fall, the need for a saviour, Calvin enters into a discourse on the act of redemption itself.

He starts with the Law. Showing how the Law cannot save, but points to hope in salvation in its fulfilment, including an exposition of the ten commandments. Yet what was hidden in the Law is made manifest in the Gospel through Jesus Christ. Calvin shows in what way Christ is the fulfilment of the Law as our saviour, principally by considering Christ’s three offices as a mediator between God and man: prophet, priest, and king.

If book 2 is primarily about the God the Son, then book three is primarily about God the Holy Spirit. Whilst books 1 & 2 contained discussions on the objective work of God as both creator and redeemer, book 3 looks at the subjective work God to the individual believer; God as sanctifier. The book has three sections, encapsulated in its title: The Mode of Obtaining the Grace of Christ, the Benefits it Confers, and the Effects Resulting From It. Ultimately, this is Calvin’s main treatise on faith.

The mode of obtaining the grace of Christ is by faith; a special work of the Holy Spirit of God in the believer. Its benefits and effect are seen in our repentance and subsequent justification. The principal exercise of faith, Calvin argues, is prayer, which he treats in this section. He also goes on to look at the distinction between common grace (that which is given to all mankind) and special grace (that which is given to the elect only). From this distinction, Calvin propounds his doctrine of divine election.

Though his views on election is what Calvin is most known for, the subject takes up relatively little room (4 chapters, out of 25 in book 3) in this mammoth work, and is given no special status. Election is not a starting point for Calvin (it comes at the end of book 3, about 980 pages into the work) but is simply one among many orthodox teachings in the Institutes.

The (abbreviated) title of book 4 is: The External Means. This is the focus of the communion of the saints and is divided into three parts: the Church, the sacraments, and civil government.

Calvin explains the Biblical marks of a Church, its rule and government (such as different offices in the Church – presbyter, elder, and deacon), and the power of the Church in doctrine, law, and jurisdiction. He then specifically focuses in on the sacraments, and what is meant by baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In Calvin we see an almost full Covenant Theology in comparing the sacraments in the Old Testament with the sacraments in the New. Finally, Calvin finishes off the Institutes with a discussion on civil government, and the Church’s relationship to it.

It is easy to think of Calvin’s work as a book that only academics should be interested in (or weird non – academic nerds like me, I suppose), but Calvin did not write the Institutes for an academic use. He writes like a pastor. And, as all pastors should, he has two voices: one for the sheep, and one for the wolves. One thing I was not expecting in the Institutes was the amount of times Calvin defended his position against that of the Roman Catholics, or attacks the Roman Catholic position. Calvin, growing up and writing in a Roman Catholic world, was writing for those who would come up against Roman Catholic teaching all the time. He equipped them to reject the Roman Catholic position and also defend the Reformed, Protestant one. Yet it isn’t just the Papists that get the voice to the wolves. Anabaptists, “sophists”, “Schoolmen”, and individual heretics (such as Osiander, Servetus etc.) all get the treatment. Some of these views may be of little interest to the contemporary reader, but a great number are very similar to arguments one might hear today.

Yet, Calvin also has his voice to the sheep, too. He gives great encouragement to struggling Christians and offers many reasons to put hope in Christ, and to see the beauty of the Christian faith. Calvin was a pastor and it show in his work.

Finally, Calvin never sets up his system of Christian doctrine as a new invention. He is always quoting not only the Scripture to prove his point, but also early Church fathers, as well as medaeival theologians. He interacts most often with Augustine of Hippo, Bernard of Clairvaux, Jerome, Ambrose of Milan, Peter Lombard, and even Popes Leo, Gregory, and Innocent, among many others. Calvin is always keen to impress upon readers that the Reformation was just that – a Reformation, and not a Reinvention or even a Novel Invention. He also frequently interacts with ancient philosophical writers, such as Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, especially in book 1. The real genius of Calvin’s work, in my opinion, is how he is able to succinctly articulate profound Biblical truths within the framework of the theology and piety that the historic Church (minus Roman corruption) had already established.

Quite simply, this is a phenomenal achievement of theological thought. So much can be gleaned from reading the Institutes – I managed to fill out 4 books worth of notes and reflections, as well as 270 highlighted quotations. I would highly recommend a read through the Institutes; it is a wonderfully beneficial exercise.

You can download H. H. Beveridge’s 1845 English translation of the Institutes in three different e-reader formats entirely for free here (courtesy of Monergism).

The Five Points of Grace

A couple of months ago during the Coronavirus pandemic I had a conversation with the Pastor of my church. Among other things, we spoke of salvation and of the so – called “5 Points of Calvinism”. Like almost every other Calvinist I have ever read or heard speak on the subject, I have issues with the “5 Points” and their English acronym “TULIP”.

For starters, “Calvinism” was a historical pejorative used initially by Lutherans, and then later by Arminians, against the established Reformed view of theology. It has nothing substantially to do with the man John Calvin at all, who would not understand, or appreciate, the term. Moreover, “Calvinism” in the original sense, was a whole system of theology: from epistemology to eschatology. Calvinism never had “5 Points”, but simply five answers to the five objections of Arminianism as put forth in the Canons of Dordt.

This inaccuracy notwithstanding, the “5 Points of Calvinism” have shifted from the precise and confessional document of the Canons of Dordt to a 20th Century English slogan under the acronym TULIP. So successful has this been that when you talk about the “5 Points of Calvinism”, people will often think of TULIP, rather than the Canons of Dordt. The problem is that TULIP as an acronym is problematic. Whilst it may be serviceable for what it is, the words used to fit difficult theology into a pronounceable English acronym often do more harm than good. TULIP stands for:

Total depravity

Unconditional election

Limited atonement

Irresistible grace

Perseverance of the saints

Many people have an aversion to Calvinism because of some of the misleading terminology expressed in the five points. The caricature to which Calvinism is often subject is usually founded the language used in TULIP. For example, “irresistible grace” seems to give an impression that God drags people, kicking and screaming, against their will. Similarly, “limited atonement” is interpreted to mean that some people who are seeking salvation in Christ are refused it.

In our conversation, my Pastor challenged me to come up with a better summary that better emphasised the centrality of God’s grace in salvation. After all, an alternative (and much superior) nickname for the 5 points of Calvinism is the “Doctrines of Grace”, due to how God’s grace is the true foundation of what they teach. This is my attempt to explain the 5 Points of Grace.

Regenerating Grace

The first of the five points of grace confronts the reality of our sinful human nature. We are not sinners because we sin. Rather, we sin because we are sinners. Our corrupt nature, inherited from Adam (Romans 5:12) is the cause, and not the result, of the sins we commit. The Bible makes it clear that we are born in this condition when it calls us “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3), and that the “intention of man’s heart is evil from His youth” (Genesis 8:21). This condition extends to the heart of every human, as the Psalmist says

“They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
    there is none who does good,
    not even one.”
(Psalm 14:3)

Yet not only do we have a sinful nature that affects us and keeps us from perfection, the Biblical reality is that it has corrupted us to the very heart. That is not to say that we are as bad or as evil as we could possibly be. God extends to us common grace by way of laws that restrict the evil in men’s hearts, as well as moral consciences. God, by His mercy and grace, restrains all of us – believer or no. He could leave us to our depraved hearts and desires that the Bible says are “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9), since we are slaves to our sinful nature (Romans 6:20), but out of His grace upholds us even in our sin.

The effect this has on us as people is that we reject God. We “loved the darkness rather than the light because [our] works were evil” (John 3:19) and are, in our nature, hostile to God. As Paul explains succinctly

“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:7 – 8)

Since we, due to our sinful humanity cannot please God, there is no way for us to come to Him of our own accord. We are, therefore, dependent upon God’s grace for salvation. Not only do we need God to help us, we need God to save us. We are dependent upon His grace to act first to reconcile us to Himself. Without His grace, we remain dead. With His grace, we are regenerated; born again. Only then, as people with new hearts and desires, may we come to the Father. Jesus was clear on this point when He said

“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44)

When God regenerates us, transforming our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26), we have the spiritual ability to put our faith in Christ. He has no obligation to give us new life. God is free to leave us in our sin. It is only through the free grace of God that He choses to change our hearts our corrupt nature begins its restoration.

Adopting Grace

A consequence of our corrupt nature is that we are, by birth, children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). That is, since our very natures are slaves to sin, God’s judgement rests upon all of us. Yet, God does not leave everyone in that state of condemnation. Out of His free grace, He adopts a people in His family as co – heirs of Christ (Romans 8:17).

It is a human temptation, as old as the church itself, to believe that we have made ourselves worthy of God’s adoption. Whether that means that we have to be a particular type of person, or have attained some level of obedience to God’s law, it amounts to the same central idea. It is our natural tendency to think that we have to earn God’s adopting love. It is the very reasoning that Paul often combats in his epistles, and no clearer does he rebut it than in Ephesians

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:4 – 9)

God uses the image of adoption for a reason. Adopted children do not earn the acceptance of their adopting parents. There are no works they must be able to perform beforehand. The adoption is based only on the free gracious provision of the adopting parents.

Our adoption as children of God is not based upon anything that we do, or anything that we are. The is no condition we must first meet. He has no obligation to adopt us as His children. We have done nothing to deserve the adoption as a co – heir with Christ; in fact, our thoughts and actions have left us in greater condemnation. Yet by God’s free grace, He sets His love upon us, in eternity past, to be united to Him by the sacrifice of Christ.

We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:10), as underserving and wretched as we are, and has chosen out of the overflowing of His grace to look upon us as holy, forgiven sons and daughters.

Effectual Grace

The incarnate Son of God has many names given to Him in Scripture. From Old Testament titles such as “Prince of Peace” and “Son of Man” to other titles in the New Testament, such as “Christ” and “Lord”. However, the most common name He is given is the name “Jesus”. As we are told in the Bible, the name Jesus means “God saves” and He was named Jesus because “He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

There is no doubt from that Gospels (not to mention the prophecies of the Old Testament) that this was Jesus’s main purpose is His incarnation on Earth 2000 years ago. He came to save His people from their sins. This tells us two things about God’s grace for the salvation of His people.

First, is that He came to save a specific people. “He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21, emphasis mine). Jesus has a people He can call His own. Nobody is saved accidentally or randomly. No Christian is adopted into God’s covenant family mistakenly. God’s grace in seeking to save the lost (Luke 19:10) was, and is, purposeful. His plan of salvation is for a particular purpose, for a particular people. Out of His mere grace, we, as a Church, have the right to call Christ our own, just as He calls us His own.

The New Testament frequently references the Church as Christ’s bride. The marriage relationship was made and designed to point to the reality of Christ and His Church. It is an illustration of our relationship with Jesus. So, just as all married people have one wife, or husband, to whom they are married, so too Christ has one people, the Church. Just as a man or woman knows whom they will marry and has set their love upon them before they consummate the marriage in the wedding ceremony, so too does Christ know His people, the Church, before our Heavenly wedding in glory. There is no guesswork or uncertainty. God, out of nothing but grace, has given us confidence and surety, that we have been chosen as His from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) and that Christ has set His gracious love upon us, before we even knew Him (1 John 4:10,19)!

Secondly, God’s grace in saving us will be effective. “He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21, emphasis mine). Not only are we told that God has assured us that we are saved as a specific people for Christ, but that our salvation is secured as a certainty. In other words, God has not merely made it possible for us to be saved in Christ’s Church; He has actually and really delivered us! God’s grace is an effectual grace. It has not left the job of our salvation unfinished so that we have to make the finishing touches ourselves by our own efforts (including faith that we exercise). Our justification before God was complete on the cross. Whilst we may not experience it until later in time, Christ has already achieved our salvation!

Let Paul explain more fully from the book of Romans,

“[B]ut God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.” (Romans 5:8-10)

Paul shows us here that God saved us while we were yet sinners. Before we had even exercised faith in Him, our salvation was already secure! The language of reconciliation is in the past tense. ‘We were reconciled by the death of His Son’ (v. 10, emphasis). It is not conditional in us in any sense; God’s grace is effective in truly saving us by the blood of Christ.

Sufficient Grace

The first point in this summary of the 5 points of grace established that grace was necessary for our salvation. We are dependent upon God’s grace in order for us to have our natures changed from one that rejects and hates God, to one that is spiritually able to respond to Him and appropriate the benefits of Christ’s blood. The point to be made here, building on the last two points, is that grace is not only necessary, but it is sufficient. That is, not only do we all need grace, but grace is all we need.

We’ve already seen how the Bible shows that man’s nature is corrupt and cannot please or accept God. We are naturally hostile to God. Any effort ours will only serve to further our separation and hostility. In order to come to God for forgiveness and reconciliation, God must be the one initiate a change in our nature and regenerate our hearts. But not simply is God the initiator of our regeneration, He is the author and finisher. He does it all. There is no further work or act that contributes to our regeneration except the Spirit of God who regenerates us by His grace.

The work of the Spirit in the regeneration of man encompasses a complete renovation. Consider what the Bible says that the Holy Spirit does in us, out of grace:

  1. A New Birth

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12 – 13)

“Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5 – 8)

2. A New Heart

“And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:6)

“‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. ‘I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

3. A New Creation

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

“For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” (Galatians 6:15)

4. A Resurrection

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-5a)

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses” (Colossians 2:13)

God’s work in the renewal of our nature is comprehensive. In all the above Scripture quotations, God is identified as the one working our regeneration. The stress is always upon what He does in us; we contribute nothing. All can be summed up by Paul’s pithy summary in Titus,

“He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5)

The exercise of faith in the experience of the believer, therefore, is reactionary of what the Spirit has done already for us. He draws us to the Father (John 6:44), He convinces and convicts us of our sin (John 16:8), He teaches us of Christ by His Word (Romans 10:17), regenerates and renews us, making us able to accept and trust in Christ and His work for us. It is entirely of His all-powerful and sufficient grace!

Victorious Grace

As Christians, we are involved in a spiritual battle. Though are natures are renewed by the Holy Spirit, that does not mean that we are free from sin in our life. Paul grieves over his continued sin in Romans 7, saying

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:15 – 19)

Although this is our experience as believers, it is only temporary. God has not only secured our salvation from the penalty of sin (justification), He will one day deliver us from the presence of sin (glorification). God has promised us that as surely as we are justified before Him, so too will we be glorified in Heaven. The spiritual battle in which we are engaged will be successful. We cannot lose. God has secured our salvation and will not allow us to be defeated. The grace that He gives in salvation is victorious over sin, death, and the Devil.

A true believer will never be finally lost. Eternal life is our possession now, even if it is not our reality now (John 6:47). God’s grace not only saves us, but it keeps us. He is not only patient and gracious to us when we were rebellious sinners, but He extends that mercy and grace to us as believers, too. Though we may sin, and sin seriously, God will not cast us away. The Holy Spirit that dwells within us is God’s promise to keep us. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he says

“And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put His seal on us and given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 1:21 – 22)

The word translated as ‘guarantee’ in the ESV is also translated ‘deposit’, ‘down – payment’, or sometimes ‘earnest’. The image that Paul is using is that of real estate, and other significant financial transactions. Buying a house, for example, often requires a deposit that acts as a guarantee from those which wish the purchase the house. They pay part of the final price immediately to signify their committal to buy the property later. Moreover, if they pull out on their commitment, their deposit is forfeited. It marks a point of ‘no return’ for the buyers.

Paul uses this image of the Spirit of God. He is our deposit, or guarantee, given to us. The gift of the Spirit is the immediate gift He has given us as a sign that He is committed on our complete salvation from sin in eternity. We have a foretaste of that final glorification, even though it is not yet a full reality. Furthermore, the Spirit as our deposit guarantees that God will keep us. As a deposit, the Spirit is making a promise for our final salvation. If that promise is broken, God forfeits His Holy Spirit. For this to happen, there would be rift in the Trinity; God would cease to be God.

In other words, what God is saying us in giving the Holy Spirit as a seal and guarantee is that for God to abandon you and renege on His promise of salvation, He would cease to be God. That is a sure a promise and guarantee that could exist.

Although, at times our spiritual battle seems to be going poorly and sin is threatening to overwhelm us, God has guaranteed our victory. Nothing can possibly remove us from His hand,

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38 – 39)

He came to save us, and He will not let us go. He is a good shepherd who will not abandon His sheep. Even as redeemed people, we do not deserve with unending patience and mercy that God shows us in keep us in love. It is only by His all-conquering grace will we win final victory over sin.

Whilst this summary of the 5 points of grace is neither comprehensive, nor perfect, they serve to point to the reality that salvation is the Lord’s. He has won it for us, and we may boast in none of it.

“The doctrines of grace stand or fall together, and together they point to one central truth: salvation is all of grace because it is all of God; and because it is all of God, it is all for His glory”

James Montgomery Boice

Recovering the Reformed Confessions – R. Scott Clark

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The main argument of this book manifests in two complementary threads; one broad and one narrow.

The broad thread of the book addresses the practice of the American Reformed Churches: their theology, piety, and practice. Specifically, how their theology, piety, and practice has deviated away from the Reformed confessions to which they purportedly hold. This particular thread of the book was difficult for me to follow and relate to, in practice, since I do not live in America, much less attend a Reformed church there. RSC distinguishes broadly between three types of churches. There is the ‘borderline’ group of conservatively evangelical churches that sit between the liberal ‘mainline’ and the confessionally Reformed ‘sideline’. It is this latter group of churches that form the focus of the book, yet insight can still be gleaned on confessionalism from this side of the pond, as someone who would personally sit in the ‘sideline’ camp but whose church would be in the ‘borderline’ camp.

The narrow thread of the book is the call for the Church (specifically the American sideline churches, but I think the author would extend this more generally) to recover the means of grace as the modus vivendi for the Christian. In particular, RSC argues the case for the confessional theology, piety, and practice.

Against the Reformed theology, piety, and practice of the confessions (essentially defined as the so-called “6 Forms of Unity” – Westminster Confession of Faith, Shorter Catechism, Larger Catechism, Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dordt), RSC posits that the contemporary church has fallen prey to two major errors.

On the one hand, contemporary Christians suffer from a Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty (QIRC). RSC argues that this is symptomatic of a type of fundamentalism, that leads to improper boundary markers for orthodoxy. Clark uses 6/24 creation (in the literalistic sense of 24hr periods), theonomic reconstruction, and a faulty view of justification (in particular, the Federal Vision/New Perspective-type covenant moralism) as examples of this theme.

On the other hand, there is the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience (QIRE) focussing on ways to circumvent God’s prescribed means of Word and sacrament. Specifically, RSC focuses on the experientialism of the Pentecostal movement within Reformed churches. Not necessarily in charismatic gifts (though they must be included), but also in aberrant ways of discerning God’s moral will. RSC digs deeper, and looks at pietism and revivalism as more foundational causes for the rejection of confessional piety. RSC makes a particular example of Jonathan Edwards’ pietism and makes a good case that such pietism is a return to medieval mysticism. Personally, I found this section the most relatable of the book, since the QIRE that RSC refers to is the dominant error that I encounter within my own context.

RSC seeks to recover a confessional Reformed approach to theology by first propounding the correct meaning of the analogical nature of our language about God, maintaining the Creator/creature distinction, and the categories of archetypal and echtypal theology.

To do this, if we are to retain the label “Reformed” at any rate, must be done within the public and, RSC argues, binding confession of the Reformed faith as expressed in the ecclesiastically sanctioned consensus documents of the confessions.

But how should we use the Confessions to this end? Three historic positions are discussed: “systematic” subscription, “full” subscription, and “good faith” subscription. Ultimately, the first leads to liberalism (since any specifics eventually are lost general themes) and the last is really no subscription at all.

In terms of the confessions themselves, RSC supports the idea of Churches revising the confessions to speak on heresies that have subsequently arisen since the 17th century. He argues this is was the heart of the divines who wrote them, and I agree with him. The confessions are written with anti-heterodox language throughout; specifically against the Papist views but also, of course, the Arminian views in the Canons of Dordt. The confessions then, must also be in some sense polemic rejections of what the Bible does not teach as well as apologetic summaries of what it does. Since, of course, many errors and controversies have arisen and have become prevalent since the 17th century, it would seem prudent to address these confessionally.

RSC goes on to defend the Reformed tradition more broadly, arguing from the classic Reformed theologians themselves, and the confessional documents, that the Reformed faith is:

1. Biblical
2. Catholic
3. Vital (i.e. living and life-giving)
4. Evangelical
5. Churchly

The final sections essentially address two major areas of contention when it comes to the application in the lives of churches and individual believers of the Reformed confession.

First is a section on the regulative principle of worship (RPW): its definition, and application. A main crux point is about the singing of uninspired songs and RSC claims that the singing of uninspired hymns is not consistent with any historical understanding of the RPW. However, RSC also offers a number of arguments as to why other canonical songs, other than the Psalms, may also be sung a capella.

Within this section, RSC offers an interesting interpretation of “in spirit and truth” from Jesus’s words from John 4. I confess, the interpretation I would have held would be along the lines of Calvin: “worship the true God correctly”. But Clark argues (and I think convincingly) that the verse should be rendered “in the Spirit and the Truth”, pointing to Trinitarian worship in the Holy Spirit and Jesus Himself.

Final section on the Sabbath and its continued place in Christian worship. The Sabbath as a one-day-in-seven rest from labour for the purpose of the worship of God and the attend of Word and sacrament was defended – both historically and exegetically.

These final sections were the most challenging to read for me. As RSC notes, adherence to both the RPW (in its historic sense) and Sabbatarianism is extremely counter – cultural. However, we should always be testing our practices against the Scriptures, not the culture (even church culture). RSC is surely correct that our attitudes to worship must change from the QIRE that dominates the contemporary Church, and instead restore the means of grace to their rightful place as the primary Christian experience.

Hitting the Target: The Canons of Dordt, Part 4

The final part of this short introduction and overview of the Canons of Dordt finishes by considering the third, fourth, and fifth heads of doctrine. A list of some useful resources for further study is attached at the end.

The Third and Fourth Heads of Doctrine

What the first two heads of doctrine have in common, as we saw in part three, is that they were considering the salvation of believers in terms of God’s intention and decree. First in terms of election in eternity past, and then in the work of Christ on the cross. The Canons concluded, as we have seen, that God’s purpose in election was to show His grace in the predestination of a specific people unto election, soley for His glory and not on the grounds of any foreseen merit or work within the believer. They then concluded that Christ’s intention on the cross was to save for Himself a people, given to Him as a gift by the Father, and that those people would be wholly and actually saved through His blood, rather than simply to make salvation generally ‘available’.

In contrast, the third, fourth, and fifth heads of doctrine focus in on the experience of the believer in the salvation process. In terms of the TULIP acronym, these heads of doctrine line up with the ‘T’, total depravity, and the ‘I’, irresistible grace.

As mentioned previously, the third and fourth heads of doctrine are considered together. This is because what the third article of the Remonstrance said about God’s grace was not controversial, except in the context of what the Remonstrants went on to say in the fourth. The third article expounded the necessity of grace for salvation; that man does not have saving grace within himself but must be born again of God. The Arminians even sound like Calvinists when they say “that man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the energy of his free-will, inasmuch as he, in the state of apostasy and sin, can of and by himself neither think, will, nor do anything that is truly good (such as having faith eminently is)” (article 3 of the Remonstrance; all emphases in quotations are my own).

What the Arminians are doing is denying the Pelagian view of humanity that claimed man was able, in and of himself, to do that which is good apart from the grace of God. This is what the Canons themselves teach in article 1. However, a troubling thread of thought finds root for the Remonstrants at this point. Notice that they say that having faith is a ‘good’ that the sinner cannot (innately) ‘do’. Although this is formally true, what they go on to claim, in article 4 of the Remonstrance is in fact that good cannot be done “without prevenient or assisting…co-operative grace”. Now the Remonstrance in article 4 have re – defined grace. Compare this statement again to their words in article 3: “that it is needful that he be born again of God in Christ, through his Holy Spirit, and renewed in understanding, inclination, or will, and all his powers”.

In other words the Arminians say “you cannot do good without grace, including faith” (article 3) but then say “to do good I must co – operate with grace” (article 4). Surely co – operating with grace is a good…but they have already said they can’t perform such a good.

In reality, then, grace as the Arminians define it is not simply an instrument of receiving, believing, and resting in Christ, but grace works in two ways. There is God’s grace that actually restores man’s nature to one that can do some good (previent grace – as Arminius himself taught, see part one) and then that nature is able to co – operate with the saving grace of God.

The clearest positive repudiation of this view came from article 14 of the Canons:

“Faith is therefore to be considered as the gift of God, not on account of its being offered by God to man, to be accepted or rejected at his pleasure, but because it is in reality conferred upon him, breathed and infused into him; nor even because God bestows the power or ability to believe, and then expects that man should by the exercise of his own free will consent to the terms of salvation and actually believe in Christ, but because He who works in man both to will and to do, works in man both to will and to believe, and indeed He works all in all.

Here the Canons explicitly say God’s grace is not such that He gives them the power to believe and then requires some further co – operation, but that God works in man both to will and to believe. On the flipside, they negatively reject the Arminian position in rejection 4:

“That the unregenerate man is not really nor utterly dead in sin, nor destitute of all powers unto spiritual good, but that he can yet hunger and thirst after righteousness and life, and offer the sacrifice of a contrite and broken spirit, which is pleasing to God.  For these things are contrary to the express testimony of Scripture: “you who were dead in your trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1,5).  And: “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5, 8:21).  Moreover, to hunger and thirst for deliverance from misery and for life, and to offer unto God the sacrifice of a broken spirit, is peculiar to the regenerate and those that are called blessed (Ps 51:17; Mt 5:6).”

Aside from this issue, the Canons also deal pastorally with difficulties that might arise. Firstly, in article 15 below, they address the issue about considering those who are not saved and the apparent injustice of God giving saving grace to some but not others. The Canons highlight how man – centred this view of thinking is, but do so in a humble way. They make the point that God owes grace to no – one. If He did, we would no longer be talking about grace. By definition, God’s grace is entirely free. The question, of course, is not why some people aren’t saved, but why anyone is saved at all. They advise charity to those who do profess faith (however weak it may seem) and actually call the Christian to use this teaching to act with humility, because God did not chose us because we were better than anyone else. This means that a ‘proud Calvinist’ ought to (but is not always) a contradiction in terms.

God is under no obligation to confer this grace upon any; for how can He be indebted to one who had no previous gifts to bestow as a foundation for such recompense?  By no means, how can He be indebted to one who has nothing of his own but sin and falsehood?  He, therefore, who becomes the subject of this grace owes eternal gratitude to God, and gives Him thanks forever.  Whoever is not made partaker thereof is either altogether regardless of these spiritual gifts and satisfied with his own condition, or is in no apprehension of danger, and vainly boasts the possession of that which he has not.  Further, with respect to those who outwardly profess their faith and amend their lives, we are bound, after the example of the apostle, to judge and speak of them in the most favorable manner; for the secret recesses of the heart are unknown to us.  And as to others who have not yet been called, it is our duty to pray for them to God, who calls the things that are not as if they were.  But we are in no way to conduct ourselves towards them with haughtiness, as if we had made ourselves to differ.”

They also reject the contemporary view that ‘the Holy Spirit is a gentleman; He will never force Himself on you’ as a way of explaining that the Holy Spirit can be resisted. They say, in rejection 8:

“That God in the regeneration of man does not use His omnipotence to potently and infallibly bend man’s will to faith and conversion; but that all the works of grace having been employed which God uses to convert man, man may yet so resist God and the Holy Spirit, when God intends man’s regeneration and wills to regenerate him, and indeed that man often does so resist that he prevents entirely his regeneration, and that it therefore remains in man’s power to be regenerated or not.  For this is nothing less than the denial of all that efficiency of God’s grace in our conversion, and the subjecting of the working of Almighty God to the will of man, which is contrary to the apostles, who teach that we believe according to the working of the strength of his might (Eph 1:19); and that God fulfills every desire of goodness and every work of faith with power (2 Th 1:11); and that “His divine power has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Pt 1:3).”

The third and fourth heads of doctrine explain how God effectively calls those whom He has chosen, and for whom Christ died, and worked in us a gift of faith. We are, in our fallen nature, entirely unable to exercise faith or co – operate with God’s grace as we are truly dead in our sins. This is a monergistic work of God, in that there is only one worker, God, in regeneration, rather than the synergistic model offered by the Arminians, where God and man co – operate.

The Fifth Head of Doctrine

Finally, we come to the fifth head of doctrine, the ‘P’ – perseverance of the saints. The Remonstrants were decidedly unsure on this is issue of perseverance, and seemed to lean (but not with any real conviction) on the side that true Christians indeed could lose their salvation and completely depart from grace. Whilst the believer has the power to resist the lure of Satan, sin, and the Devil, as they said in article 5, the believer might not actually resist and fall away altogether.

Into the Arminian uncertainty, the Synod provided clarity and assurance. In article 3 they clearly state:

“By reason of these remains of indwelling sin, and also because the temptations of the world and of Satan, those who are converted could not persevere in that grace if left to their own strengthBut God is faithful, who, having conferred grace, mercifully confirms and powerfully preserves them therein, even to the end.”

Article 1 had maintained that sin did always remain in the believer on Earth (denying Perfectionism). However, as article 3 above says, these sins would actually cause the believer to lose their salvation if they relied on their own strength. Yet God upholds us by His grace to preserve them in faith. This does not mean, however, that the Canons sanction the ‘once – saved – always – saved’ system (often preached in Fundamentalist Baptist circles) that teach that you can be saved on a profession of faith and that repentance and obedience to the law is not a necessary fruit of justification. It’s not a ‘free ticket to Heaven’ theology. Article 2 has already stressed that:

“[B]lemishes cleave even to the best works of the saints.  These are to them a perpetual reason to humiliate themselves before God and to flee for refuge to Christ crucified; to mortify the flesh more and more by the spirit of prayer and by holy exercises of piety; and to press forward to the goal of perfection, until at length, delivered from this body of death, they shall reign with the Lamb of God in heaven.”

Moreover, the Canons even admit that truly regenerate believers can fall into serious sin, in article 5, but the believer “sometimes for a while lose the sense of God’s favour, until, when they change their course by serious repentance”. The Canons maintain the seriousness of sin, and its need for repentance, all whilst assuring the believer that they never can fall further than God’s grace. This leads to the Canons’ statement in article 6, defining clearly what the preservation of the saints means:

“God, who is rich in mercy, according to His unchangeable purpose of election, does not wholly withdraw the Holy Spirit from His own people even in their grievous falls; nor does He allow them to proceed so far as to lose the grace of adoption and forfeit the state of justification, or to commit the sin unto death or against the Holy Spirit; nor does He permit them to be totally deserted and plunge themselves into everlasting destruction.”

This is a most comforting doctrine for God’s children. We can know full assurance of our salvation; God will not let us fall from His grace. We may be tempted, and fall into sin. We may lose the sense of God’s grace and God may seem far from us for a season, but we have a sure hope that God will preserve us for His glory.

Rather than being a licence to sin or live without holiness, the Canons say the exact opposite in article 12:

“This certainty of perseverance, however, is so far from exciting in believers a spirit of pride, or of rendering them carnally secure, that on the contrary it is the real source of humility, filial reverence, true piety, patience in every tribulation, fervent prayers, constancy in suffering and in confessing the truth, and of solid rejoicing in God; so that the consideration of this benefit should serve as an incentive to the serious and constant practice of gratitude and good works, as appears from the testimonies of Scripture and the examples of the saints.”

This legacy is borne out in history. Following the Synod of Dordt, those who adhered to its confession were sometimes referred to as ‘Precisionists’ in the Dutch Republic. In England, they were known as ‘Puritans’. These are not people typically associated with a low view of holiness in favour of licentious living.

Finally, the Canons make sure to pastorally point to the means of grace (the Word preached, and the sacraments – baptism and the Lord’s supper – administered) as the instruments through which He preserves us by His grace. As article 14 says:

“[I]t has pleased God, by the preaching of the gospel, to begin this work of grace in us, so He preserves, continues, and perfects it by the hearing and reading of His Word, by meditation thereon, and by the exhortations, threatenings, and promises thereof, and by the use of the sacraments.”

Here, the Canons are touching on a wider Reformed view of the means of grace. The central importance of Word, baptism, and the Lord’s supper in the life of the Church is established. They are not optional extras. They are the way in which God saves His people (yes, the Scriptures uses that language, see 1 Peter 3:21) in the sense that He preserves us in the faith. They are the visible word of promise to us.

We persevere, not by our own strenght, merit, or goodness. We persevere because the Holy Spirit upholds us, strengthens us, and works in us by the means He has ordained. We may feel far from God is difficult seasons, but we have assurance that God will never release us from His hands.

The Canons of Dordt stand in history as a triumph of a classic understanding of God’s predestination unto election. It stands in the tradition of Paul against the Judaisers, Augustine against Pelagius, Luther against Erasmus. The Canons give assurance to the believer in their salvation, because it ultimately does not hinge upon what we do – in our exercise of faith or whether we are able persevere. Instead, the Canons teach that salvation is of the Lord, and it’s all about grace.

Another name of the summary of the theology of the Canons of Dordt is “the doctrines of grace”. They express the Biblical reality of salvation by faith alone, through grace alone, in Christ alone. They remain a confessional standard for the Dutch Reformed churches, along with the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism (collectively known as the 3 Forms of Unity), and is widely revered across the Reformed world.

Futher Resources:

The Belgic Confession (1561)
The Heidelberg Catechism (1563)
The Remonstrance (1610)
The Canons of Dordt (1619)
R. Scott Clark, Commentary on the Canons of Dordt (33 part)
R. Scott Clark, Growing Beyond TULIP
R. Scott Clark, The Synod of Dort: Keeping Venom from the Lips of Children
Echo Zoe podcast, featuring Dr. R. Scott Clark.
Office Hours podcast, featuring Dr. W. Robert Godfrey
W. Robert Godfrey, Who Was Arminius?
W. Robert Godfrey, Saving the Reformation: The Pastoral Theology of the Canons of Dort, Reformation Trust, Orlando, Florida, USA (2019) [D.r Godfrey’s translation of the Canons in this work is particularly excellent]
Richard Muller, The Problem of TULIP

Hitting the Target: The Canons of Dordt, Part 3

Readers may be familiar with the ‘five points of Calvinism’ (which has already been shown in part two to be somewhat of an anachronism) that seek to summarise the Canons of Dordt in five points that spell TULIP. Whilst this is an imperfect, yet admittedly useful acronym the Canons themselves are arranged in the order ULTIP, to correspond with the order of the articles of the Remonstrance.

Here, I will look at the first two heads of doctrine of the Canons of Dordt (to be read in full here for reference).

The First Head of Doctrine

The first head of doctrine concerns the predestination and election of God, often summarised as teaching unconditional election (the ‘U’ in TULIP). The Canons teach that God elects, out of the sinful mass of humanity, a people for Himself. Those to whom God predestines to give the gift of faith are truly saved; others are left in their sins. The basis of this predestination unto salvation of the elect, the Canons stress, is not on the basis of forseen faith in the believer. Over against the Arminians, the Canons (specifically in article 9) express that the faith of the believer is not a prerequisite condition upon which God saves, but faith flows forth from God’s election.

Perhaps clearest and most forceful refutation of the Arminian position is found in article 7 (emphases in all quotes are my own):

“Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, He has out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of His own will, chosen from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault from their primitive state of uprightness into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom He from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect and the foundation of salvation.  This elect number, though by nature neither better nor more deserving than others, but with them involved in one common misery, God has decreed to give to Christ to be saved by Him, and effectually to call and draw them to His communion by His Word and Spirit; to bestow upon them true faith, justification, and sanctification; and having powerfully preserved them in the fellowship of His Son, finally to glorify them for the demonstration of His mercy, and for the praise of the riches of His glorious grace; as it is written: “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him, in love having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He bestowed grace upon us in the Beloved” (Eph 1:4-6).  And elsewhere: “Whom He predestined, these He also called, and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified” (Rom 8:30).”

The Canons, in multiple articles, are quick to point out that those whom God does not elect (or passes over) are not treated unfairly. In this sense, the Canons clearly define, as in article 15 below, that this predesination is a “double predestination”. That is, the election is not simply God electing some special people, and then the rest of humanity are left to choose whether to believe or not. Rather, due to the fundamental condition of humanity (as the third and fourth heads of doctrine will flesh out later), those who are not elected never believer because they will alway choosing to sin against God. Therefore, all the non – elect are necessarily predestined by omission and this is the decree of reprobation.

The Canons are careful to refute the misrepresentation that implies that God is the author sin in the lives on the non – elect in order to damn them. This is the view known as “equal ultimacy”. This is a ‘positive – positive’ view of double predestination. It holds that God works equally in the predstination of the elect as He does the reprobate: ‘positively’ working new life in the hearts of the elect and, in the same and equal manner, ‘positively’ working new evil in the hearts of the reprobate. The view of the Canons is instead a “positive – negative” double predestination. God ‘positively’ works new life in the believer, and ‘negatively’ refrains from giving mercy to the reprobate. Calvinists are often accused of believing in equal ultimacy, but the Canons explicitly rule it out as blasphemous. Instead, God condemns the reproabte out of the sin they themselves have wrought in their sinful nature, by their own choice. God in no way needs to work evil in our heart to cause a just basis for His condemnation. In the words of article 15:

“[N]ot all, but some only, are elected, while others are passed by in the eternal decree; whom God, out of His sovereign, most just, irreprehensible, and unchangeable good pleasure, has decreed to leave in the common misery into which they have willfully plunged themselves, and not to bestow upon them saving faith and the grace of conversion; but, permitting them in His just judgment to follow their own ways, at last, for the declaration of His justice, to condemn and punish them forever, not only on account of their unbelief, but also for all their other sins.  And this is the decree of reprobation, which by no means makes God the Author of sin (the very thought of which is blasphemy), but declares Him to be an awful, irreprehensible, and righteous Judge and Avenger thereof.”

The articles of the first head of doctrine address some more pastoral concerns. Some people, the Synod envisaged, would worry about being unchangeably numbered among the reprobate and therefore would never be saved. They saw their struggling Christian life as a liability for assurance of their salvation and perhaps thought to give up hope in the face of the knowledge that some people are not predestined to salvation by God. The Canons answer this concern most helpfully in article 16:

Those in whom a living faith in Christ, and assured confidence of soul, peace of conscience, an earnest endeavor after filial obedience, a glorying in God through Christ, is not as yet strongly felt, and who nevertheless make use of the means which God has appointed for working these graces in us, ought not to be alarmed at the mention of reprobation, nor to rank themselves among the reprobate, but diligently to persevere in the use of means, and with ardent desires devoutly and humbly to wait for a season of richer grace.  Much less cause to be terrified by the doctrine of reprobation have they who, though they seriously desire to be turned to God, to please Him only, and to be delivered from the body of death, cannot yet reach that measure of holiness and faith to which they aspire; since a merciful God has promised that He will not quench the smoking flax, nor break the bruised reed. But this doctrine is justly terrible to those who, regardless of God and of the Savior Jesus Christ, have wholly given themselves up to the cares of the world and the pleasures of the flesh, so long as they are not seriously converted to God.”

Those who are granted faith in God, however weak, however troubled, however discouraged, should not be worried about reprobation as He is gracious to carry even the feeblest of us. The doctrine about reprobation ought to convict those who are in no way desirous of the things of God and lust only after the pleasures of the flesh.

Furthermore, the case of infant mortality is also considered briefly in article 17, calling on Christian parents that they ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom it pleases God to call out of this life in their infancy.”

After the initial 18 articles, the Canons procede to offer 9 rejections of Arminian errors. The most important of these rejections is Rejection 4, which explicitly calls out the idea that “in the election unto faith this condition is beforehand demanded that man should use the light of nature aright, be pious, humble, meek, and fit for eternal life, as if on these things election were in any way dependent” as a mark of the Pelagian heresy of the 5th century, where men must do good works in order to earn their slavation. This was the fundamental error of the Remonstrance’s first article that the Synod categorically denied, both in a positive (through the articles) and negative (through the rejections) fashion.

The Second Head of Doctrine

Whilst the first head of doctrine was the longest, the second was the shortest, with 9 articles and 7 rejections. In terms of the familiar acronym, TULIP, the second head of doctrine corresponds to the ‘L’ – limited atonement. Since this is the most controversial section of the Canons, it is worth taking some extra care here.

First is to note that the popular English slogan for what the Canons teach here is misleading. It is not misleading in the sense that it is false, but in that it is not really specific to what the Synod was attempting to convey. From the beginning, we must recognise that every theological system in Christianity (unless you are a Universalist and believe in the salvation of every single human being) limits the atonement in at least some way. All of them – Calvinism, Arminianism, Molinism, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy. The issue at stake is about in what manner the atonement is limited.

In the discussion here between the Arminian and Calvinist views, it would be useful to recall what the Arminians themselves wrote in the Remonstrance of 1610. Article 2 states:

“Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption, and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins, except the believer

Clearly, the Arminians held to a universal or unlimited view of the extent of the atonement. That is, they believe that Jesus’ sacrifice was applied to, and was intended for, the redemption of every human being. However, the Arminian position held that the efficacy or effectiveness of the atonement is limited. If everyone has the atonement of Christ applied to them, then it cannot be effective in all of them since all are not actually redeemed and forgiven. Therefore, the Arminians presented a system where the atonement has an unlimited extent, but a limited effect.

Over and against this, the Synod taught that the atonement should properly be considered as having a limited extent. That is, Christ’s death on the cross was only ever intended to redeem His elect. In doing so, the Synod recognised that whilst the extent of the atonement was limited, its effect must be unlimited and completely effective. In other words, Christ’s death accomplishes salvation for each and every person to whom it is applied, since it is only applied to the elect.

It is important to note that the Canons make it clear that despite the atonement being limited in its extent, that does not mean that the Gospel should only be preached to some and not to all. Article 5 proclaims:

“Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life.  This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.”

Although many attack Calvinists for thinking that ‘limited atonement’ must mean we ought to limit those to whom we preach the Gospel, the Canons of Dordt deny this. The simple reason is that nobody knows who the elect are. If God dictated to us who the elect were, we would only need to preach the Gospel to them. But since He has not chosen to do so, we must share the Gospel widely in the earnest hope that God will use our preaching to save sinners. All those He does save through the proclamation of the Gospel are shown to be of the elect.

However, whilst the Gospel ought to be shared freely and widely, we must recognise that God has predestined to save His elect (as in the first head of doctrine above). Article 8 expresses the reality of the extent and efficacy of the atonement succinctly:

“For this was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation; that is, it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to Him by the Father; that He should confer upon them faith, which, together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, He purchased for them by His death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them, free from every spot and blemish, to the enjoyment of glory in His own presence forever.”

The Canons make it abundantly clear that while the Arminians claimed that Jesus made salvation possible for all people, the Calvinist view teaches that Jesus’ death on the cross actually and effectively saves all those for whom it was intended. To put it somewhat more crudely, the cry of Calvary for the Arminian is “Jesus might save some, if they choose to believe”, but for the Calvinist it is “surely God has guaranteed the salvation of His people”.

The third, fourth, and fifth heads of doctrine are the subject of part four.