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1. Influence of the Doctrine in Daily Living. 2. A Source of Security and Courage. 3. Calvinistic Emphasis on the Divine Agency in Man's Salvation. 4. Only Calvinism Will Stand All Tests. 5. These Doctrines Not Unreasonable When Understood. 6. The Westminster Assembly and the Westminster Confession. 7. These Doctrines Should be Publicly Taught and Preached. 8. Ordination Vows and the Minister's Obligation. 9. The Presbyterian Church is Truly Broad and Tolerant. 10. Reason for the Depressed Fortunes of Calvinism Today.
1. INFLUENCE OF THE DOCTRINE IN DAILY LIVING
This is not a cold, barren, speculative theory, not an unnatural system of strange doctrines such as many people are inclined to believe, but a most warm and living, a most vital and important account of God's relations with men. It is a system of great practical truths which are designed and adapted, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, to mould the affections of the heart and to give right direction to the conduct. Calvin's own testimony in this respect is: "I would, in the first place, entreat my readers carefully to bear in memory the admonition which I offer; that this great subject is not, as many imagine, a mere thorny and noisy disputation, nor a speculation which wearies the minds of men without any profit; but a solid discussion eminently adapted to the service of the godly, because it builds us up soundly in the faith, trains us to humility, and lifts us up into an admiration of the unbounded goodness of God toward us, while it elevates us to praise this goodness in our highest strains. For there is not a more effectual means of building up faith than the giving our open ears to the election of God, which the Holy Spirit seals upon our heart while we hear, showing us that it stands in the eternal and immutable goodwill of God towards us; and that, therefore, it cannot be moved or altered by any storms of the world, by any assaults of Satan, by any changes, by any fluctuations or weaknesses of the flesh. For our salvation is then sure to us, when we find the cause of it in the breast of God."152152 Calvin's Calvinism, p. 29. These, we think, are true words and much needed today.
The Christian who has this doctrine in his heart knows that he is following a heaven-directed course; that his course has been foreordained for him personally; and that it is a good course. He does not yet understand all of the details, but even amid adversities he can look forward confident of the future, knowing that his eternal destiny is fixed and forever blessed, and that nothing can possibly rob him of this priceless treasure. He realizes that after he has finished the course here he shall look back over it and see that every single event in it was designed of God for a particular purpose, and that he will be thankful for having been led through those particular experiences. Once convinced of these truths, he knows that the day is surely coming when to all those who grieve or persecute him he shall be able to say, as did Joseph to his brothers, "As for you, ye meant evil against me, but God meant it for good." This exalted conception of God as high and lifted up yet personally concerned with even the smallest events leaves no place for what men commonly call chance, or luck, or fortune. When a person sees himself as one of the Lord's chosen and knows that every one of his acts has an eternal significance, he realizes more clearly how serious life is, and he is fired with a new determination to make his life count for great things.
2. A SOURCE OF SECURITY AND COURAGE
"It is the doctrine of a particular providence," says Rice, "that gives to the righteous a feeling of security in the midst of danger; that gives them assurance that the path of duty is the path of safety and of prosperity; and that encourages them to the practice of virtue, even when it exposes them to the greatest reproach and persecution. How often, when clouds and darkness seem to gather over them, do they rejoice in the assurance given by their Saviour, 'I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.'"153153 God Sovereign and Man Free, p. 46. The sense of security which this doctrine gives to the struggling saint results from the assurance that he is not committed to his own power, or rather weakness, but into the sure hands of the Almighty Father,—that over him is the banner of love and underneath are the everlasting arms. He realizes that even the Devil and wicked men, regardless of whatever tumults they may cause, are not only restrained of God but are compelled to do His pleasure. Elisha, lonely and forgotten, counted those who were with him more than those who were against him, because he saw the chariots and horsemen of the Lord moving in the clouds. The disciples, knowing that their names were written in heaven, were prepared to endure persecutions, and on one occasion we read that after being beaten and reviled "they departed from the presence of the council rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name," Acts 5:41.
"The godly consideration of predestination, and our election in Christ," says the seventeenth article in the creed of the Church of England, "is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons." Paul's injunction was, "In nothing be anxious." And it is only when we know that God actually rules from the throne of the universe, and that He has ordained us to be his loved ones, that we can have that inward peace in our hearts.
Dr. Clarence E. Macartney, in a sermon on Predestination, said: "The misfortunes and adversities of life, so called, assume a different color when we look at them through this glass. It is sad to hear people trying to live over their lives again and saying to themselves: 'If I had chosen a different profession,' 'If I had taken a different turning of the road,' 'If I had married another person.' All this is weak and unChristian. The web of destiny we have woven, in a sense, with our own hands, and yet God had His part in it. It is God's part in it, and not our part, that gives us faith and hope." And Blaise Pascal, in a wonderful letter written to a bereaved friend, instead of repeating the ordinary platitudes of consolation comforted him with the doctrine of Predestination, saying: "If we regard this event, not as an effect of chance, not as a fatal necessity of nature, but as a result inevitable, just, holy, of a decree of His Providence, conceived from all eternity, to be executed in such a year, day, hour, and such a place and manner, we shall adore in humble silence the impenetrable loftiness of His secrets; we shall venerate the sanctity of His decrees; we shall bless the acts of His providence; and uniting our will with that of God Himself, we shall wish with Him, in Him and for Him, the thing that He has willed in us and for us for all eternity."
Since the true Calvinist sees God's hand and wise purpose in everything, he knows that even his sufferings, sorrows, persecutions, defeats, etc., are not the results of chance or accident, but that they have been foreseen and foreappointed, and that they are chastisements or disciplines designed for his own good. He realizes that God will not needlessly afflict His people; that in the divine plan these are all ordered in number, weight and measure; and that they shall not continue a moment longer than God sees necessary. In sorrow his heart instinctively clings to this faith, feeling that for reasons wise and gracious though unknown, the affliction was sent. However keenly afflictions may at first wound, a little reasoned thought quickly brings him to himself again, and the sorrows and tribulations, in great measure, become pointless.
And in accordance with this the Scriptures say: "To them that love God all things work together for good," Rom. 8:28; "My son, regard not lightly the chastening of the Lord, Nor faint when thou art reproved of Him; For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, And scourgeth every son whom he receiveth," Heb. 12:5, 6. "It is Jehovah: let Him do what seemeth Him good," I Sam. 3:18. "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward," Rom. 8:18. "Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you," Matt. 5:11, 12. "If we endure (suffer with Him) we shall also reign with Him," II Tim. 2:12. "Jehovah gave, and Jehovah hath taken away; Blessed be the name of Jehovah," Job 1:21. When someone slanders us we shall at least not be so angry if we remember with David that "the Lord hath bidden him curse," II Sam. 16:11.
Our predestination is our one sure guarantee of salvation. Other things may give us comfort, but only this can give us certainty. It makes the Gospel to be what the word really means, "Good News." Any other system which holds that Christ's sacrifice did not actually save anyone but that it merely made salvation possible for all if they would comply with certain terms, reduces it to good advice; and any system which carries with it only a "chance" for salvation, also carries with it, of logical necessity, a "chance" to be lost. And what a difference it makes to fallen man as to whether the Gospel is good news or good advice! The world is full of good advice; even the books of heathen philosophers contained much of it; but the Gospel alone contains for man the good news that God has redeemed him.
This system, logical and severe though it may be, does not make one sad and silent, but courageous and active. Knowing himself to be immortal until his work is done, courage is a natural result. Smith's estimate of the Calvinist is expressed in the following words: "His feet plucked from the horrible pit and planted on the Eternal Rock, his heart thrilled with an adoring gratitude, his soul conscious of a Divine love that will never forsake him and a Divine energy that in him and through him is working out eternal purposes of good, he is girded with invincible strength. In a nobler sense than Napoleon ever dreamed, he knows himself to be a 'man of destiny.'" And again he says, "Calvinism is at once the most satisfying and the most stimulating of creeds."154154 The Creed of Presbyterians, pp. 53, 94.
Yet along with these motives for courage are to be found others which keep the person properly humble and grateful. In the present stage of the world he sees himself as a brand plucked from the burning. Knowing himself to have been saved not by any merit or wisdom of his own, but only by God's grace and mercy, he is deeply conscious of his dependence on God, and has the greatest incentive to right living. All in all no surer way will be found to fill the mind at one time with reverence, humility, patience, and gratitude than to have it thoroughly saturated with this doctrine of Predestination.
3. CALVINISTIC EMPHASIS ON THE DIVINE AGENCY IN MAN'S SALVATION
He will be only a very imperfect Christian who does not know these deeper truths which are brought to light by the doctrine of Predestination. He can have no adequate appreciation of the glory of God, nor of the riches of grace which are given him through redemption in Christ; for nowhere else as brightly as in the predestination of the elect to life does the glory of God shine out in its full-orbed splendor, undimmed and unsullied by human works of any kind. It shows us that all that we are and all that we have that is desirable we owe to His grace. It rebukes human pride and exalts Divine mercy. It makes man to be nothing and God to be everything, and thus preserves the proper relation between the creature and the infinitely exalted Creator. It exalts one absolute Sovereign, who is the universal Ruler, and humbles all other sovereigns before Him, thus showing that all men in themselves and apart from God's special favor are on the same level. It has championed the rights of mankind wherever it has gone, in the State as well as in the Church.
The doctrine of Predestination emphasizes the Divine side of salvation while its rival system emphasizes the human side. It impresses upon us the fact that our salvation is purely of grace, and that we were no better than those who are left to suffer for their sins. It thus leads us to be more charitable and tolerant toward the unsaved and to be eternally thankful that God has saved us. It shows us that in our fallen state our wisdom is folly, our strength weakness, and our righteousness of no account. It teaches us that our hope is in God, and that from Him must come all our help. It teaches us that lesson of which so many are fatally ignorant, the blessed lesson of self-despair. Luther tells us that he "used frequently to be much offended at this doctrine," because it drove him to self-despair; but that he afterward found this kind of despair was profitable and near of kin to divine grace. In fact we may say that it solves more questions, it involves fewer difficulties, it gives more solid ground for faith and hope, and it more exalts and glorifies God than does any doctrine which contradicts it. We do not go too far in saying that it is fundamental to the religious conceptions of the Biblical writers, and that to eradicate it from either the Old or the New Testament would transform the entire Scriptural representation. The matter was well put by Dr. J. Gresham Machen when he said, "A Calvinist is constrained to regard the Arminian theology as a serious impoverishment of the Scripture doctrine of divine grace; and equally serious is the view which the Arminian must hold as to the doctrines of the Reformed Churches."155155 Christianity and Liberalism, p. 51.
It must be evident that there are just two theories which can be maintained by evangelical Christians upon this important subject; that all men who have made any study of it, and who have reached any settled conclusions regarding it, must be either Calvinists or Arminians. There is no other position which a "Christian" can take. Those who deny the sacrificial nature of Christ's death turn to a system of self salvation or naturalism, and cannot be called "Christians" in the historical and only proper sense of the term.
By way of comparison we may say that the Lutheran Church emphasizes the fact that salvation is by faith alone; the Baptist Church emphasizes the importance of the sacraments, particularly baptism, and the right of individuals and of congregations to exercise private judgment in religious affairs; the Methodist Church emphasises the love of God to men, and man's responsibility to God; the Congregational Church emphasizes the right of private judgment and of local congregations to manage their own affairs; the Roman Catholic Church emphasizes the unity of the Church, and the importance of a connection with the Apostolic church. But all of these, while good in themselves, are paled by the great doctrine of the sovereignty and majesty of God which is emphasized by the Presbyterian and Reformed Churches. While the others are more or less anthropological principles, this is a theological principle, and it presents to us a GREAT GOD who is high and lifted up, who is seated upon the throne of universal dominion.
Dr. Warfield has given us a good analysis of the formative principles which underlie the Lutheran and the Reformed Churches. After saying that the distinction is not that the Lutherans deny the sovereignty of God, nor that the Reformed deny that salvation is by faith alone he adds: "Lutheranism, springing from the throes of a guilt-burdened soul seeking peace with God, finds this peace in faith, and stops right there . . . It will know nothing beyond the peace of the justified soul. Calvinism asks with the same eagerness as Lutheranism the great question: 'What shall I do to be saved?' and answers it precisely as Lutheranism answers it. But it cannot stop there. The deeper question presses upon it, 'Whence this faith by which I am justified?' . . . It has zeal, no doubt, for salvation, but its highest zeal is for the honor of God, and it is this question which quickens its emotions and vitalizes its efforts. It begins, it centers, and it ends with the vision of God in His glory; and it sets itself before all things to render to God His rights in every sphere of life activity."156156 Article, Calvin as a Theologian and Calvinism Today, pp. 23, 24. And again he says: "It is the vision of God in His majesty, in a word, which lies at the foundation of Calvinistic thinking," and after a man has seen this vision he "is filled on the one hand with a sense of his own unworthiness to stand in God's sight, as a creature, and much more as a sinner, and on the other with adoring wonder that nevertheless this God is a God who receives sinners." All dependence on self is gone, and he casts himself on the grace of God alone. In nature, in history, in grace, everywhere, from eternity to eternity, he sees the all-pervading activity of God.
If God has a definite plan for the redemption of man it is very important that we shall know what that plan is. The person who looks at a complicated machine but who is ignorant of the purpose it was designed to accomplish and ignorant of the relation of its several parts, must be unable to understand or usefully to apply it. Likewise, if we are ignorant of the plan of salvation, the great end aimed at, or the relation of the several parts, or if we misunderstand these, our views will be confused and erroneous; we shall be unable properly to apply it to ourselves or to exhibit it to others. Since the doctrine of Predestination reveals to us so much concerning the way of salvation, and since it gives so great comfort and assurance to the Christian, it is a great and blessed truth.
We have no hesitation in affirming that this system of belief and doctrine, as given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is the true and final system of Philosophy. Furthermore, Theology studies God Himself, while the physical sciences and liberal arts study only His garments. In the very nature of the case, therefore Theology must be the "Queen of the Sciences." Philosophy, as it has usually been studied by the different schools of thought, is indeed the ground and mistress of the merely human sciences, but is itself only an auxiliary science in the study of Theology.
Calvinistic Theology is the greatest subject that has ever exercised the mind of man. Its very starting point is a profound apprehension of the exaltation and perfection of God. With its sublime doctrines of God's sovereign grace, power, and glory, it rises to far greater heights than does any other system. In fact, the one to whom it is presented is moved to cry with the psalmist, "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain unto it"; or to exclaim with the apostle Paul, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!" (Ps. 139:6; Rom. 11:33). It is a subject which has challenged the intellects of all great thinkers in earnest times, and there is little wonder that we are told that these are things which angels desire to look into. To pass from other systems to this one is like passing from the mouth of a river and launching out on the mighty ocean. We leave the shallows behind and feel ourselves out on the great broad deep.
4. ONLY CALVINISM WILL STAND ALL TESTS
The harmony which exists between all the branches of Scriptural doctrine is such that truth or error in regard to any of them almost inevitably produces truth or error, in a greater or less degree, in regard to all the others,—which means that only Calvinists hold views which are, in all respects, Scriptural in regard to any of the leading doctrines of Christianity. This does not mean that the main substance of the most important doctrines, such as the Divinity of Christ, His sacrificial death, His resurrection, the work of the Holy Spirit, etc., are not held by others; but that the general tendency of mistaken views in regard to these distinctively Calvinistic tenets is to lead to greater departures from sound doctrines on other subjects. As a general rule anti-Calvinists so seriously impoverish doctrines such as the atonement, the agency of the Holy Spirit, the guilt and inability of man, regeneration, etc., that these are often little more than empty words; and along with this impoverishment goes the tendency to neglect them entirely. Anti-Calvinists commonly make little distinction between the objective work of Christ for us, and the subjective work in us; and for all practical purposes the atonement is reduced to little or nothing else than an exhibition and proof of God's indiscriminate love to men, through which it is shown that God is ready and willing to forgive. The tendency of other systems is to the "moral persuasion" theory of the atonement, while Calvinism holds that the suffering of Christ was a full satisfaction made to the justice of God,—that his sufferings were a full equivalent of those which were due to His people for their sin.
We are living in a day in which we see practically all of the historic Protestant churches attacked by unbelief from within. Many of them have already succumbed; and the line of descent has invariably been from Calvinism to Arminianism, and from Arminianism to Modernism or Unitarianism; and this latter state has proved to be self-destructive. We firmly believe that the fortunes of Christianity are bound up with the fortunes of Calvinism. Certainly the history of Modernism and Unitarianism in this country has proved that they are too weak to maintain themselves. Where the principles of Calvinism are abandoned, there is a powerful tendency leading downward into the depths of Naturalism. Some have declared—and rightly we believe—that there is no consistent middle ground between Calvinism and Atheism.
These distinctions which we have set forth between Calvinism and Arminianism are broad and important; and until one has made a special study of these truths he does not realize what a large amount of heresy has been incorporated into the Arminian system. If one system is true, the other is radically false. As strict Calvinists we believe these doctrines to embody final truth and to be eternally right. We believe this to be the only system of Christian truth which is taught in the Bible and the only one that can be logically and respectably defended before the world. And certainly it is much easier to defend a type of Christianity which is in harmony with both Scripture and reason than to defend any other type. We believe that Calvinism and consistent theism do not merely have points of contact but that they are identical, and that to fall away from Calvinism is to fall away by just so much from a truly theistic conception of the universe. Dr. Warfield has said that Calvinism is "Theism come to its rights," that it is "Evangelicalism in its pure and only stable expression," that it is "religion at the height of its conception." We believe that the future of Christianity—as its past has done—lies in its hands, and that as Christianity progresses in the world this system of doctrine will gradually come to the front.
Because of the inconsistent position of Arminianism as a half-way measure between a religion of grace and a religion of works, it has been able to offer but little resistance to the naturalistic tendencies of the last few years. Practically all of the professedly Arminian churches have been swallowed up by the present day Liberalism.
"If we are not only to defend Christianity against modern attacks," says Dr. S. G. Craig, "but to commend it with any hope of success to the modern world, we must undertake the task armed with a consistent and scientifically conceived life and world view that rests on Christian facts and principles. . . . I hold with those who believe that such a consistent Christian life and world view is given us only in Calvinism, and hence that a renaissance of Calvinism is an outstanding need of the times if we are successfully to defend even what we call common Christianity in the forum of the world's thought." The late Henry B. Smith was right at least in principle when he wrote, "One thing is certain—that infidel science will rout everything excepting thorough-going Christian orthodoxy. All the flabby theories, and the molluscous formations, and the immediate purgatories of speculation will go by the board. The fight will be between a stiff thorough-going othodoxy and a stiff thorough-going infidelity. It will be, e.g., Augustine or Comte, Athanasius or Hegel, Luther or Schopenhauer, J. S. Mill or John Calvin." The fight is between the naturalism of science and the supernaturalism of Christianity; all compromising schemes are doomed to failure. (Let it be understood at this point that we have no quarrel with true science as such. We recognize the great value of Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Astronomy, etc., and realize that much of our twentieth century progress has been possible only through the contributions which these sciences have made. We welcome truth from whatever source it comes, and believe that in the end it will be seen to substantiate Christianity. The psalmist declared, "The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament showeth His handiwork," Ps. 19:1; and again, "O Jehovah, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth," Ps. 8:1; and certainly the more we know about these things the better we shall understand God. Our quarrel rather is with certain unbelieving scientists who attempt to bring their anti-Christian or even atheistic theories over into the spheres of religion and philosophy, and who profess to speak with authority on subjects concerning which they are ignorant.)
It is very interesting to notice how, in the history of the Church, other systems of theology have risen and fallen while this system has steadily endured. Arminianism, in its present form at least, is of comparatively recent date. From the time of the Reformation until late in the eighteenth century it was consistently outlawed by Protestant church counsels and creeds. Nor has it fared much better in the Catholic Church. In the fourth century Augustine succeeded in making his doctrine of Predestination the recognized doctrine of Christendom and at no time has the Catholic Church consistently and officially adopted the tenets of Arminianism. Likewise Neatorianism, Arianism, Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Socinianism, etc., have risen, have had their day, and passed out; while this system, known in different ages as Augustinianism or Calvinism, has remained fundamentally the same in its basic principles. Is not this in itself a strong proof that it is the true system? In regard to the Calvinism of the Westminster Confession, Dr. C. W. Hodge has said: "The newer modifications of Calvinism have passed away, and this pure consistent form of supernaturalism and evangelicalism stands as an impregnable barrier against the floods of naturalism which threaten to overwhelm all the churches in Christendom."
In Calvinism alone does the logical and consistent mind find rest. That it is a logical system is admitted even by its opponents. A man who is acquainted with Calvinism will either love or hate it, but even if he hates it, he cannot but speak respectfully of it. The criticism is sometimes made that it places too much stress on logic and too little on emotion. It is true that this anthracite Calvinism does not blaze up like straw; but it is also true that once afire it produces an intense and steady heat. "Calvinism," says Prof. H. H. Meeter, "bears the distinction among religious groups of being highly intellectual. Calvinism is known for its dialectics. The Calvinists are recognized as the logicians par excellence among theologians. Oliver Wendell Holmes even went so far as to satirize this aspect of Calvinism in his burlesque: 'The Deacon's Masterpiece.' The old one-hoss shay, which was so well constructed that every nut and bolt and bar and spoke was of equal strength and collapsed all at once before the meeting house, was to him the story of Calvinism. As a masterpiece of logic it had continued for ages, but was supposed to have collapsed completely when transcendentalism gained the ascendancy in New England."157157 The Fundamental Principle of Calvinism, p. 25.
The objection, however, that it over-emphasizes logic, has no adequate basis, as anyone who approaches the system from a sympathetic standpoint can readily see. Yet if we are to err on either side it is probably better to err on the side of the intellect than on the side of the emotions. But who ever heard of a system being thrown out because it was too logical? Instead we glory in its logical consistency.
5. THESE DOCTRINES NOT UNREASONABLE WHEN UNDERSTOOD
Perhaps no other system of thought has been so grossly and grievously and at times so deliberately misrepresented as has Calvinism. Many of those who have criticized Calvinism have done so without making any adequate study of the system, and it may truly be said that our opponents in general know little of our opinions except what they have picked up by hearsay in which there is neither connection nor consistency. The doctrine of Predestination especially makes the wisdom of the world a laughing stock, and in turn the wisdom of the world scoffs at Predestination. If any doctrine is to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Gentiles foolishness, certainly this one is. Nakedly stated, the doctrine of Predestination seems paradoxical; and those who are acquainted with no more than the mere statement of it are likely to feel surprised that it could have been maintained by the pious and thoughtful minds that have maintained it. But in this case, as in many others, when we carefully examine its ground and construction, its paradoxical character is at least diminished, if it does not disappear altogether.
Hence we ask that this system shall be examined without passion and that it shall be studied in its relations and logical consistency. We have already seen that it is abundantly established on Scripture authority; and when we add to this the evidence which comes from the laws of Nature and the facts of human life, it becomes altogether possible, probable, just, and righteous. Viewed in this light it ceases to be the arbitrary illogical, immoral doctrine that its opponents delight to picture, and becomes a doctrine which sheds glory on the divine Majesty. These, of course, are not the doctrines which the natural man expects to find. Salvation by works is the system which most naturally appeals to unenlightened reason; and if we had been left to develop a system ourselves, there is hardly one chance in a thousand that we would have developed a system in which a redeemer acting in his representative capacity would have earned these blessings and graciously given them to his people. Says Zanchius, "The judgment of the flesh, or of mere unregenerates reason, usually starts back from this truth with horror; but, on the contrary, the judgment of a spiritual man will embrace it with affection," (p. 152). "If Arminianism most commends itself to our feelings," says Froude, "Calvinism is nearer to the facts, however harsh and forbidding those facts may seem." It is plain that Calvinism makes its appeal to Divine revelation rather than to man's reason; to facts rather than sentiment; to knowledge rather than supposition; to conscience rather than to emotion.
As stated before, many people see nothing in this system but a strange sort of foolishness. But when studied with a little care these doctrines are found to be neither so uncertain nor so difficult as men would lead us to believe; and the uncertainty and difficulty which does attach to them is due largely to our pride, love of sin, and ignorance of the real state of our heart. Those who have come to accept this system almost feel that they are living in a different world, so different is their outlook upon life. "Wherever the sons of God turn their eyes," says Calvin, "they behold such wonderful instances of blindness, ignorance and insensibility, as fills them with horror; while they, in the midst of such darkness, have received Divine illumination, and know it, and feel it, to be so."158158 Calvin's Calvinism, p. 30.
If we may paraphrase the words of Pope we can most fittingly say of this subject: "A little Predestination is a dangerous thing; Then drink deep, or else touch not the sacred spring." Here, as in some other instances, first draughts confuse and unsettle the mind, but deeper draughts overcome the intoxicating effects and bring us back to our right senses.
This sublime philosophy of God's sovereignty and man's freedom is found in all parts of the Bible. No attempt, however, is made to explain to us how these two factors are related. The unvarying assumption is that God is the Sovereign Ruler who governs even the intimate thoughts and feelings and impulses of men; yet on the other hand man is never represented as anything else than an intelligent, free, moral agent who is responsible for his actions. The doctrines of foreordination, sovereignty, and effectual providential control, go hand in hand with those of the liberty and responsibility of rational creatures. It is not claimed that the doctrine of Predestination is free from all difficulties, but it is claimed that its denial is attended with more and greater difficulties. That a Being of infinite wisdom, power and goodness would create a universe and then turn it adrift like some huge vessel without a pilot, is a supposition which subverts our basic ideas of God, which contradicts the repeated testimony of the Scriptures, and which is contrary to our daily experience and common sense. Charles Hodge prefaces his discussion of "The Decrees of God," with the following statement: "It must be remembered that Theology is not Philosophy. It does not assume to discover truth, or to reconcile what it teaches as true with all other truths. Its province is simply to state what God has revealed in His word, and to vindicate those statements as far as possible from misconceptions and objections. This limited and humble office of Theology it is especially necessary to bear in mind, when we come to speak of the acts and purposes of God. 'The things of God knoweth no man; but the Spirit of God' (1 Cor. 2:11). In treating, therefore, of the decrees of God, all that is proposed is simply to state what the Spirit has seen fit to reveal on that subject."159159 Systematic Theology, I., p. 535.
6. THE WESTMINSTER ASSEMBLY AND THE WESTMINSTER CONFESSION
This system of Theology, which is usually referred to as Calvinism or the Reformed Faith, finds its most perfect expression in the Westminster Confession. The Westminster Assembly was called together by the English Parliament. Its work extended over a period of five and one half years, and was finished in 1648. It was a representative body, made up of one hundred and twenty-one ministers or theologians, eleven lords, twenty commoners, from all the counties of England and the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, with seven commissioners from Scotland. And whether judged by the extent and ability of its labors, or by its influence upon later generations, it stands first among Protestant councils. The most important production of the Assembly was its Confession of Faith, a matchless compendium of Biblical truth which was the noblest achievement of the best period of British Protestantism. It has rightly been called the theological masterpiece of the last four centuries. Dr. Warfield said of the Westminster Confession that it was "The most complete, the most fully elaborated and carefully guarded, the most perfect, and the most vital expression that has ever been framed by the hand of man, of all that enters into what we call evangelical religion, and of all that must be safeguarded if evangelical religion is to persist in the world."
Dr. F. W. Loetscher, in an address before the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U. S. A., 1929, referred to the Westminster Standards as, "these incomparable works of religious and theological genius;" "those noblest products of the great religious revival that we call the Reformation; those matchless formularies which at least English-speaking Christendom has come to regard as the most comprehensive, precise, and adequate embodiment of the pure Gospel of the grace of God." And in the same address he also said, "I realize that such a characterization of these venerable documents will appear to many, even among those whom I have the honor of addressing on this occasion, as an unwarranted exaggeration, if not a sheer anachronism. For the fashion of the day minimizes the value of creeds, and our Confession, like many others, must often undergo the sorrowful experience of being damned with faint praise even in the home of its reputed adherents."
Dr. Curry, who for a time was Editor of the "Methodist Advocate" of New York, in an editorial on Creeds, called the Westminster Confession "the ablest, clearest, and most comprehensive system of Christian doctrine ever framed—a wonderful monument to the intellectual greatness of its framers."
In these standards we have the grandest conception of theological truth that has ever entered the mind of man. As a system it exhibits far more depth of theological insight than does any other, and it is worthy the admiration of the ages. It is a system which produces men of strong doctrinal convictions. The person who holds it has a definite basis for belief and is not "tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error."
But while the Westminster Confession is so logically wrought out, so clear and comprehensive in its statements, how sadly it is neglected today by the members and even by the ministers of the Presbyterian and Reformed Churches! "The Confession of Faith," says Dr. Frank H. Stevenson, the first president of the Board of Trustees of Westminster Theological Seminary, "remains in the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church, neglected, well-nigh forgotten, but unamended, untinkered with in twenty-five years of doctrinal confusion. It is the creed of the church, and every line sustains a courageous stand. Not for its own sake alone, but because it gives full honor to Christ it is a worthy standard beneath which to carry on what Paul prophetically called 'the good fight of faith.'"160160 Article printed in Christianity Today, Sept., 1930, p. 7. With those words we fully agree.
7. THESE DOCTRINES SHOULD BE PUBLICLY TAUGHT AND PREACHED
The doctrine of sovereign Predestination, as well as the other distinctive doctrines of the Calvinistic system, should be publicly taught and preached in order that true believers may know themselves to be special objects of God's love and mercy, and that they may be confirmed and strengthened in the assurance of their salvation. What a misfortune it is for the truth which reflects so much glory upon its Author and which is the very foundation of happiness in man to be suppressed or to be confined merely to those who are specializing in Theology! For the Christian this should be one of the most comforting doctrines in all the Scriptures. Furthermore, there is scarcely a distinctive Christian doctrine that can be preached in its purity and fullness without a reference to Predestination. These doctrines are so reciprocally related and interwoven that any one has a bearing on others; and this doctrine of Predestination is the one which unites and organizes all the others. Apart from it the others cannot be seen in their true light nor their relative importance properly estimated. Concerning the place of the doctrine of Predestination in the Christian system, Zanchius writes as follows: "The whole circle of arts have a kind of mutual bond and connection, and by a sort of reciprocal relationship are held together and interwoven with each other. Much the same may be said of this important doctrine; it is the bond which connects and keeps together the whole Christian system, which, without this, is like a system of sand, ever ready to fall to pieces. It is the cement which holds the fabric together; nay, it is the very soul that animates the whole frame. It is so blended and interwoven with the entire scheme of Gospel doctrine that when the former is excluded, the latter bleeds to death."161161 Predestination, p. 124.
We are commanded to go and "preach the gospel"; but in so far as any part of it is mutilated or passed over in silence we are unfaithful to that command. Certainly no Christian minister is at liberty to take his scissors and cut out of his Bible all of those passages which are not to his liking. Yet for all practical purposes is not that the effect when important doctrines are deliberately passed over in silence? Paul could say to his Christian converts, "I shrank not from declaring unto you anything that was profitable"; and again, "I testify unto you this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I shrank not from declaring unto you the whole counsel of God," Acts 20:20, 26, 27. If the Christian minister today would be able to say this, let him beware of withholding such important truth. Paul repeatedly referred to these doctrines. His letter to the Romans (chs. 8 to 11) and to the Ephesians (chs. 1 and 2) are the most prominent in this respect. In writing to the Romans he was in effect bringing these things before the whole world and stamping a universal imprimatur upon them; and if he considered them so important that they should be written to the primitive Christians in the young church at Rome which he had not visited, we may be sure that they are important for Christians today. Christ and the apostles preached these things, and that not merely to a few people but to the multitudes. There is hardly a chapter in the Gospel of John which does not either mention or imply election or reprobation. When a plain, straight-forward, common-sense man asks, "Is the doctrine of Predestination taught in the Bible?" the answer certainly should be in the affirmative,—that it is constantly taught in both the Old and the New Testaments. Furthermore, the Westminster Confession states it very explicitly. Hence we are to teach it and to explain it in so far as that is possible. Paul urges us to "put on the whole armor of God"; yet what a large part of that armor a person lacks if he is ignorant of this great doctrine of Predestination!
Augustine rebuked those in his day who were passing over the doctrine of Predestination in silence, and when he was sometimes charged with preaching it too freely he refuted the charge by saying that where Scripture leads we may follow. Luther, and especially Calvin, strongly emphasized these truths, and Calvin developed them so clearly and forcefully that the system has ever since been called "Calvinism." Not only in the countries where the Reformation was at its best, but later in Holland, Scotland, England at the time of the Westminster Assembly, and America during the earlier periods of her history, these doctrines were commonly preached and were the means of developing deep religious convictions in all classes of people.
It was Calvin's conviction that the doctrine of Election should be made the very center of the Church's confession, and that if it were not thus emphasized the Church should be prepared to see this wonderful doctrine buried and forgotten. The correctness of his views is shown by the fact that those groups which did not emphasize it, whether in England, Scotland, Holland, the United States, or Canada, have, for all practical purposes, lost it completely.
The one who is entrusted with a message from the King must give it as he has received it; and surely the greatest of all messages, that of predestination unto life, should not be passed over in silence. "An ambassador," says Zanchius, "is to deliver the whole message with which he is charged. He is to omit no part of it, but must declare the mind of the sovereign he represents, fully and without reserve. He is to say neither more nor less than the instructions of his court require, else he comes under displeasure, perhaps loses his head. Let the minister of Christ weigh this well."162162 Predestination, p. 124. These are doctrines which have been expressly given by divine revelation. They make wholly for the divine glory, bringing comfort and courage to the elect, and leaving sinners without excuse. True, man does not like to be told that he is a sinner and unable to help himself. Such doctrine is too humiliating. But if he is lost without Christ, the sooner he knows it the better. For us to refuse to preach it is to be false to our Lord and negligent in our duty to our fellow men. To ignore it is to act like a doctor who refuses to operate to save the life of a patient because he knows the operation will cause the patient pain. If these truths were fearlessly and courageously preached Modernism and unbelief would not creep into our churches as they are doing. The group of professing Christians would perhaps be smaller but more loyal and effective in Christian works.
The preaching of these doctrines will, of course, stir up some controversy. But controversy is not to he looked upon as an unmixed evil. As long as error exists there must be controversy. The attacks which were made upon the doctrines of the Church by the pagans and heretics during the early Christian centuries and in the Middle Ages forced the Church to reexamine her doctrines, to work them out, to explain, purify and fortify them. They compelled a closer study of the Bible. A number of brilliant churchmen arose who wrote books and articles on the Christian Faith, and as a result the Church was greatly enriched by the intellectual and spiritual fruits thus produced.
It is a mistake to say that people will no longer listen to doctrinal preaching. Let the minister believe his doctrines; let him present them with conviction and as living issues, and he will find sympathetic audiences. Today we see thousands of people turning away from pulpit discussions of current events, social topics, political issues, and merely ethical questions, and trying to fill themselves with the husks of occult and puerile philosophies. In many ways we are spiritually poorer than we should be, because in our theological confusion and bewilderment we have failed to do justice to these great doctrinal principles. If rightly preached these doctrines are most interesting and profitable. The author's experience as a Bible teacher has shown him that no other subjects so electrify and hold the attention of students as do these. Furthermore, we may ask, What excuse has the Presbyterian Church for its continued existence as a separate denomination if Calvinism is to be discarded as a non-essential? Much of our present-day weakness is due to the fact that our people have had but little instruction concerning these distinctive doctrines of the Presbyterian system, and this lack of instruction has led directly into the ecumenical movement in which attempts are being made to unite churches of very different types with only a minimum of doctrine.
The doctrine of Predestination is a doctrine for genuine Christians. Considerable caution should be exercised in preaching it to the unconverted. It is almost impossible to convince a non-Christian of its truthfulness, and in fact the heart of the unregenerate man usually revolts against it. If it is stressed before the simpler truths of the Christian system are mastered, it will likely be misunderstood and in that case it may only drive the person into deeper despair. In preaching to the unconverted or to those who are just beginning the Christian life, our part consists mainly in presenting and stressing man's part in the work of salvation,—faith, repentance, moral reform, etc. These are the elementary steps so far as man's consciousness extends. At that early stage little need be said about the deeper truths which relate to God's part. As in the study of Mathematics we do not begin with algebra and calculus but with the simple problems of arithmetic, so here the better way is to first present the more elementary truths. Then after the Person is saved and has traveled some distance in the Christian way he comes to see that in his salvation God's work was primary and his was only secondary, that he was saved through grace and not by his own works. As Calvin himself put it, the doctrine of Predestination is "not a matter for children to think much about"; and Strong says, "This doctrine is one of those advanced teachings of Scripture which requires for its understanding a mature mind and a deep experience. The beginner in the Christian life may not see its value or even its truth, but with increasing years it will become a staff to lean upon."163163 Systematic Theology, p. 368. But while it is true that this doctrine cannot be adequately appreciated by the unconverted nor by those who are just beginning the Christian life, it should be the common property of all those who have traveled some distance in that way.
It is worthy of notice that in developing his "Institutes" Calvin did not treat the doctrine of Predestination in the early chapters. He first developed the other doctrines of the Christian system and deliberately passed over this even in several cases where we might naturally have expected to find it. Then in the last part of his theological discussion it is developed fully and is made the crown and glory of the entire system.
It may be further said that in preaching this doctrine care should be taken not to exaggerate any statements, and also to show that it is founded not upon arbitrary will but upon infinite wisdom and love.
8. ORDINATION VOWS AND THE MINISTER'S OBLIGATION
Every minister and elder who is ordained in the Presbyterian and Reformed churches solemnly vows before God and men that he sincerely receives and adopts the Confession of Faith of his church as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures, (Pres. Ch. U. S. A., see Form of Government, XIII:IV; XV:XII).Since these confessions are thoroughly Calvinistic, this means that none but Calvinists can honestly and intelligently accept this ordination. An Arminian has not the slightest right to be a minister in a Calvinistic church, and any Arminian who does become a minister in a Calvinistic church lacks good morality as well as good theology. To declare one thing and believe the contrary is hardly consistent with the character of an honest man. And yet while our ordination vows are so thoroughly Calvinistic, how few ministers there are who proclaim these doctrines! One could scarcely tell from the pulpit utterances of the nominally Calvinistic churches today what the essentials of the Reformed Faith really are. Our pulpits as well as our church publications, our schools and seminaries, ring with the Arminian doctrines of merit and free-will. The present day Presbyterian and Reformed Churches seem to have no adequate conception of the fundamental importance of their great doctrinal heritage. The writings of Calvin and Luther, of the great Puritan divines, and of the great theologians since that time should be better known to our young theologians than merely by their titles. The scholastic form and cumbersome style of these works has perhaps deterred many from making a thorough study of them, but we should remember that the study of Theology is not indulged in merely for the pleasure it affords. We do not expect to find novels when we take up the folios of the old masters in Theology.
Many young men enter the ministry without any real acquaintance with the doctrine of the Church in which they intend to serve, and when they hear of any who preach agreeably to the Westminster Standards they consider them as "setters forth of strange doctrines." The great need of the Church today is for men of firm convictions and settled minds rather than the latitudinarian type of Modernists or Liberals who wander to and fro rejoicing that they have no dogmatic opinions and no theological preferences. It seems that the majority of our ministers no longer believe these Calvinistic doctrines, and that many of them, contrary to their solemn ordination vows, are putting forth by crafty and unfair methods their strongest efforts to destroy the faith that they have solemnly sworn they have been moved by the Holy Spirit to defend. If these doctrines are true they should be clearly and aggressively taught and defended in our churches, seminaries, and colleges. If they are not true they should be stricken from the Confession of Faith. Honesty is as important in theology as in trade or commerce, as important in a religious denomination as in a political party. A Presbyterian minister is not a free lance, but is a presbyter who has pledged himself to this system of doctrine. Those who deny these doctrines in Presbyterian pulpits are being false to their ordination vows, and should withdraw to denominations holding their views. Certainly no church officer has a right to accept the honors and remunerations which come from the outward acceptance of a creed which he does not believe or teach.
"The creed of a Church," says Shedd, "is a solemn contract between church-members: even more so than the platform of a political party is between politicians. The immorality of violating a contract, some people do not seem to perceive when a religious denomination is concerned; but when a political party is the body to be affected by the breach of the pledge none are sharper to see and none are more vehement to denounce the double-dealing. Should a faction arise within the Republican party, for example, and endeavor to alter the platform while still retaining the offices and salaries which they had secured by professing entire allegiance to the party, and promising to adopt the fundamental principles upon which it was founded and by which it is distinguished from the Democratic and other political parties, the charge of political dishonesty would ring through the whole rank and file of Republicanism. And when in the exercise of party discipline such factionists are turned out of office, and perhaps expelled from the political organization, if the cry of political heresy-hunting and persecution should be raised, the only answer vouchsafed by the Republican press would be that of scorn. When political dishonesty would claim toleration under cover of more 'liberal' policies than the party is favoring, and would keep hold on party emoluments while advocating different sentiments from those of the mass of the party, it is curtly told that no one is compelled to join the Republican party or to remain in it, but that if a person does join it or remains in it, he must strictly adopt the party creed and make no attempts, secret or open, to alter it. That a Republican creed is for Republicans and no others, seems to be agreed on all sides; but that a Calvinistic creed is for Calvinists and no others, seems to be doubted by some. . . .
"If in the heart of the Democratic party a school should arise which would claim the right, while remaining in the party, to convert the body to Republican principles and measures, it would be told that the proper place for such a project is outside of Democracy, not within it. The right of the school to its own opinions would not be disputed, but the right to maintain and spread them with the funds and influences of the Democratic party would be denied. . . . They would say to the malcontents 'We cannot prevent you from having your own peculiar views and do not desire to, but you have no right to ventilate them in our organization.'"164164 Shedd, Calvinism, Pure and Mixed, p. 160.
Calvinistic churches are sometimes accused of intolerance or persecution when departures from the church creed are made the subject of judicial inquiry. We submit, however, that this charge is unjust and that such a church is entirely within her rights when she requires her ministers and teachers to conform their preaching and teaching to the denominational standards.
From these considerations it will be clear why many of us have so little enthusiasm for church union movements which would unite groups holding widely different systems of doctrine. We believe the Calvinistic system to be the only one set forth in the Scriptures and vindicated by reason, and therefore the most stable and influential in the production of righteousness. Yet to all who differ from us we cordially allow the right of private judgment, and sincerely rejoice in the good which they are able to accomplish. We rejoice that other systems of theology approximate ours; yet we cannot consent to impoverish our message by setting forth less than what we find the Scriptures to teach. If a union could be consummated in which Calvinism would be accepted as the system of truth taught in the Bible, we should be delighted to enter into it; but we believe that for us to accept anything short of that would be to surrender vital truth, and that anything vague enough to embrace Calvinism and other systems of doctrine would not be worth propagating. We believe that the superficial advantage of numbers which would result from such a union would amount to but little when balanced against the spiritual discord which would inevitably follow. Hence, we wish to remain Presbyterian until the doctrines of the Reformed Faith, which are simply the doctrines of the Word of God, become the doctrines of the Church universal.
These doctrines, now so disregarded or unknown if not openly opposed, were universally believed and maintained by the reformers, and following the Reformation were written into the creeds, catechisms, or articles of every one of the Protestant churches. Any one who will compare the printed pulpit utterances of our own day with those of the Reformers will have no difficulty in perceiving how contradictory and irreconcilably hostile they are to each other.
9. THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IS TRULY BROAD AND TOLERANT
While the Presbyterian Church is pre-eminently a doctrinal Church, she never demands the full acceptance of her standards by any applicant for admission to her fold. A credible profession of faith in Christ is her only condition of Church membership. She does demand that her ministers and elders shall be Calvinists; yet this is never demanded of lay members. As Calvinists we gladly recognize as our fellow Christians any who trust Christ for their salvation, regardless of how inconsistent their other beliefs may be. We do believe, however, that Calvinism is the only system which is wholly true. And while one can be a Christian without believing the whole Bible, his Christianity will be imperfect in proportion as he departs from the Biblical system of doctrine. In this connection Prof. F. E. Hamilton has well said: "A blind, deaf and dumb man can, it is true, know something of the world about him through the senses remaining, but his knowledge will be very imperfect and probably inaccurate. In a similar way, a Christian who never knows or never accepts the deeper teachings of the Bible which Calvinism embodies, may be a Christian, but he will be a very imperfect Christian, and it should be the duty of those who know the whole truth to attempt to lead him into the only storehouse which contains the full riches of true Christianity." "The Calvinist," says Dr. Craig, "does not differ from other Christians in kind, but only in degree, as more or less good specimens of a thing differ from more or less bad specimens of a thing." We are not all Calvinists as we travel the road to heaven, but we shall all be Calvinists when we get there. It is our firm conviction that every redeemed soul in heaven will be a thorough-going Calvinist. Christians in general must admit that when we all "attain unto the unity of the faith" (Eph. 4:13), and know the full truth, we shall be either all Calvinists or all Arminians.
It must always be kept in mind that Calvinism includes much more than those peculiar features which distinguish it from Arminianism. It holds firmly to the great doctrines of the Trinity, the Divinity of Christ, the Miracles, the Atonement, the Resurrection, the Inspiration of the Scriptures, etc., which form the common faith of evangelical Christendom.
In regard to the truly broad and tolerant nature of the Presbyterian Church we shall now take the privilege of quoting rather extensively from Dr. E. W. Smith's admirable little book, "The Creed of Presbyterians,"—more than sixty-five thousand copies of which have already been distributed.
"The catholicity of Presbyterianism, its liberality of thought and feeling, its freedom from sectarian narrowness and bigotry, is one of its crowning characteristics . . . The catholicity of Presbyterianism is no mere sentiment. It is not a thing of individual profession or platform declamation. It is rooted in our creed. It is proclaimed in our Standards. It is embodied in our doctrine of the Church. 'The visible Church,' says our Confession, 'consists of all those throughout the world who profess the true religion together with their children.' (Conf. of F., XXV:2). Thus, formally and publicly do we repudiate the name of 'the' church and claim only to be a church of Jesus Christ. Not only do our Standards contain no denunciation of the antagonistic views of sister Evangelical churches, they are said to be the only church Standards in existence which make explicit and authoritative recognition of other evangelical churches as 'true branches of the Church of Jesus Christ.' (Book of Church Order, Chap. II, sec. II, par. II). To the 'Communion of Saints,' our Confession devotes an entire chapter. We are there taught that our 'holy fellowship and communion,' in each other's gifts and graces, in worship and mutual service of love, 'is to be extended unto all who in every place call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.' (XXVI:2).
"The catholicity of our standards finds beautiful expression in the Presbyterian attitude toward all sister evangelical churches. While a branch of evangelical Christendom unchurches all sister denominations, such action is abhorrent to Presbyterian feeling and unknown to Presbyterian practice. Members and ministers of other evangelical churches we treat as in all respects true members and ministers equally with ourselves of the Church of Christ.
"While several of these churches decline giving letters of dismission from their own to other communions, we make no distinctions. We dismiss members to Baptist, Episcopal or other Christian congregations, in precisely the same form, and with the same affectionate confidence, as though we were transferring them to churches of our own name.
"Some evangelical denominations deny the validity of ordinances performed by sister churches, and when a minister or a member would come to them from a sister denomination, the one must be re-ordained, the other re-baptized. Such denial is utterly contrary to the Presbyterian spirit and usage. We never repeat the rite. The ordinance of a sister church we accept as no less valid than if performed by ourselves.
"While from many evangelical pulpits the ministers of sister churches are shut out, or from co-officiation in sacred ceremonies, such exclusion is never practiced by us. It is alien to the Presbyterian heart and habit. We are as free and cordial in asking Episcopal, Baptist, or other evangelical ministers, to occupy our pulpits, or assist us officially in administering the Lord's Supper, as in asking our own pastors.
"We unchurch no true Christian. We reject no ministerial ordination. We repudiate no administered scriptural sacrament of a sister church. Returning good for evil, we recognize our high-church fellow clergyman as a true minister of Christ, and our immersionist brother as having been validly baptized. We respond with all our hearts to the 'Amen' of the Methodists; we join with our brethren in any psalmody that puts the crown upon the brow of Jesus; and most lovingly do we invite our fellow Christians of every name and denomination to partake with us of the emblems of His broken body and His shed blood. We have no prejudice, no peculiarity, no crotchet of any kind, to restrict our Christian sympathies and dig a chasm between us and other servants of our Master. Our catholicity is wide as evangelical Christendom," (pp. 189-193).
And again he says: "The catholicity of the Presbyterian Church appears in her one condition of church membership. She demands nothing whatever for admission to her fold except a confession, uncontradicted by the life, of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The applicant is not asked to subscribe to our Standards or assent to our theology. He is not required to be a Calvinist, but only to be a Christian. He is not examined as to his orthodoxy, but only as to his 'faith in and obedience unto Christ.' (Conf. of Faith, 28:4). He may have imperfect notions about the Trinity and the Atonement; he may question infant baptism, election, and final perseverance; but if he trusts and obeys Christ as his personal Saviour and Lord, the door of the Presbyterian Church is open to him, and all the privileges of her communion are his.
"When churches prescribe conditions of membership other than the simple conditions of salvation, they are guilty of making it harder to get into the Church than into heaven. To such ecclesiastical tyranny and exclusiveness the Presbyterian Church stands in utter contrast. Her Standards declare that as simple faith in Christ makes us members of God's family, so 'those who have made a profession of faith in Christ are entitled to all the rights and privileges of the Church.' (Bk. Ch. Order, III, 3.) Thus with a broad and beautiful catholicity the gates of our Presbyterian Zion are flung wide as the gates of Heaven for all the children of God," (pp. 199, 200).
After declaring that the Presbyterian and Reformed constitute the largest Protestant family in the world, Dr. Smith, in eloquent language, gives the following grand summary of her missionary achievement: "More catholic and imposing even than the Presbyterian numbers is the worldwide range of the Presbyterian empire. While the adherents of other Protestant communions are more or less massed in single countries, the Lutherans in Germany, the Episcopalians in England, the Methodists and Paptists in the United States, the line of the Presbyterian Church is gone out through all the earth. She thrives this hour in more continents, among a greater number of nations and peoples and languages than any other evangelical church in the world. As her witness in Continental Europe, she has the historic Presbyterian Reformed Churches of Austria. Bohemia, Galicia, Moravia, Hungary, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, of Russia, and Switzerland and Spain. She is rooted and fruitful in Africa, in Australia, in Asia, in Great Britain, in North America, in South America, in the West Indies, in New Zealand, in Melanesia,—the people of this faith and order gird the earth. Presbyterianism possesses a power of adaptation unparalleled by any other system. It has furnished an unduly large proportion of the outstanding preachers, evangelists, editors, authors, educators, statesmen, and civic leaders; and from its abundant spiritual life are going forth the mighty forces of Christian missions into all the heathen world," (p. 211).
10. REASONS FOR THE DEPRESSED FORTUNES OF CALVINISM TODAY
What reasons are we to assign for the present day defection from Calvinism? That the celebrated five points of the Calvinistic star are not shining so brightly today will hardly be disputed by any one. When we consider the trend of present day thought we readily conclude that the fortunes of Calvinism (if we may change the figure) are not at their flood. In many places where it once flourished it has now almost disappeared. There are practically no "Calvinists without reserve" left among the acknowledged leaders of religious thought in France, Switzerland, or Germany where Calvinism was once able to give such a good account of itself. In England Calvinism has practically disappeared. In America there is no longer any large church in its corporate capacity aggressively maintaining the Calvinistic heritage. In Scotland, however, we are glad to say that the heroic Free Church still raises its voice amid the sad defection of the larger bodies. And in the great free church of Holland, the "Gereformeerde kerken," we have a truly Calvinistic church in the modern world,—one in which the Christian religion is aggressively set forth on the basis of Holy Scripture in the Reformed Faith.
History shows us quite plainly, however, that periods of spiritual prosperity alternate with periods of spiritual depression. But above all, we believe in the invincibility of truth. "Truth crushed to earth shall rise again; The unending years of God are hers."
That Calvinism has many adversaries is not to be wondered at. As long as the fact remains that, "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged" (I Cor. 2:14), so long will this be a strange, foolish system to the natural man. As long as fallen human nature remains as it is, and as long as the decree stands that Christ Himself is to be "a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence" to the natural man (I Peter 2:8), these things will be an offense to many. Nor was it to be marveled at that the immortal Swiss reformer who was called to such a prominent place in the development and defence of these doctrines has been on the one hand the most passionately loved and admired, and on the other the most bitterly hated and abused, among all the outstanding leaders in the Church.
Since faith and repentance are special gifts from God, we should not be astonished at the unbelief of the world; for even the wisest and acutest of men cannot believe unless they receive these gifts. It is very appropriately written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning will I bring to naught" (I Cor. 2:19); and again, "The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their craftiness; and again, The Lord knoweth the reasonings of the wise, that they are vain. Wherefore let no one glory in men," (I Cor. 3:19-21). The cause of any person believing is the will of God; and the outward sound of the Gospel strikes the ear but in vain until God is pleased to touch the heart within.
This is a system which has always been strongly opposed by the world, and it is as strongly opposed now as ever. Indeed, how could it be otherwise when man by nature is at enmity and war with Him from whose mind it has emanated? It is not to be expected that God in His wisdom and man in his folly would agree. God is an all-wise and all-holy sovereign; man unchanged is a sin-blinded rebel, who wants no ruler and most certainly not an absolute ruler. Since the enmity of man's heart toward the distinctive doctrines of the Cross is as great and as intense as ever, a system such as Pelagianism or Naturalism, which teaches salvation by our own good works, or such as Arminianism, which teaches salvation partly by works and partly by grace, strikes a quicker response in the unregenerate heart. When the Gospel becomes palatable to the natural man it ceases to be the Gospel that Paul preached. And it is worth remembering here that in nearly every town in which Paul preached his Gospel did cause either a riot or a revival and not infrequently both. "Calvinism may be unpopular in some quarters," says McFetridge. "But what of that? It cannot be more unpopular than the doctrines of sin and grace as revealed in the New Testament"
Another reason for the depressed fortunes of Calvinism today is its tremendous emphasis upon the supernatural. In all events and in all things, from eternity to eternity, Calvinism sees God. His hand is visible in all the phenomena of nature and in all the events of history. Through all occurrences His one increasing purpose runs. We live in an age which is anti-supernaturalistic; hence it is distinctively hostile to Calvinism. The emphasis today is upon the physical sciences, upon rationalism in thought and sentiment. Even in present day Christianity the tendency is to take the Bible merely as a human production and to look upon Christ merely as the outstanding man. Present day Modernism, which in its consistent form is pure naturalism and autosoteric, is the very antithesis of Calvinism. All of this has produced a naturalistic religion which says, "Hands off," to God; and it is not strange that Calvinism, with its great emphasis on the supernatural, is not popular in our day. We need not be surprised, then, when the adherents to these doctrines are found to be in the minority. The truth or falsity of Scripture doctrines cannot be left to the outcome of a popular vote.
In the following words Dr. B. B. Warfield, that giant of thought and action, has given us a good analysis of the attitude which the world has taken toward Calvinism in recent years. After saying that Calvinism is "Theism come to its rights," that it is "religion at the height of its conception," and that it is "Evangelicalism in its pure and only stable expression," he adds: "Consider the pride of man, his assertion of freedom, the boast of power, his refusal to acknowledge the sway of another's will. Consider the ingrained confidence of the sinner in his own fundamentally good nature and his full ability to perform all that can be justly demanded of him.
"Is it strange that in this world—in this particular age of this world—it should prove difficult to preserve not only active, but vivid and dominant, the perception of the everywhere determining hand of God, the sense of absolute dependence on Him, the conviction of utter inability to do even the least thing to rescue ourselves from sin—at the height of its conception? Is it not enough to account for whatever depression Calvinism may be suffering in the world today, to point to the natural difficulty—in this materialistic age, conscious of its newly realized powers over against the forces of nature and filled with the pride of achievement and of material well-being—of guarding our perception of the governing hand of God in all things, in its perfection; of maintaining our sense of dependence on a higher power in full force; of preserving our feeling of sin, unworthiness, and helplessness in its profundity? Is not the depression of Calvinism, so far as it is real, significant merely of this—that to our age the vision of God has become somewhat obscured in the midst of abounding triumphs, that the religious emotion has in some measure ceased to be the determining force in life, and that the evangelical attitude of complete dependence on God for salvation does not readily commend itself to men who are accustomed to lay forceful hands on everything else they wish, and who do not quite see why they may not take heaven also by storm?"165165 Article, Calvinism Today, p. 7.
Yet there is no occasion for Calvinists to feel discouraged. The easy going religion of today, with its emphasis on social problems rather than on doctrine, has brought into the Church multitudes which in other ages would have remained outside; and the mere fact that Calvinists are not so conspicuous in the congregation does not necessarily mean that their actual numbers have decreased. "There are very likely more Calvinists in the world today than ever before," says Dr. Warfield. "Even relatively, the professedly Calvinistic Churches are, no doubt, holding their own. There are important tendencies of modern thought which play into the hands of this or that Calvinistic conception. Above all, there are to be found everywhere humble souls, who, in the quiet of retired lives, have caught a vision of God in His glory and are cherishing in their hearts that vital flame of complete dependence on Him which is the very essence of Calvinism."166166 Article, The Theology of Calvin, p. 8. And again, "I fully believe that Calvinism, as it has supplied the sinews of evangelical Christianity in the past, so is its strength in the present, and is its hope for the future."
And in close conformity with this Dr. F. W. Loetscher, has said: "It is no wonder that our age, distraught by its very knowledge, irreverent of antiquity, impatient of creeds and dogmas, intolerant alike of human and divine authority, overborne by the currents of atheistic Naturalism and pantheistic Evolution, is directing its heaviest artillery of unbelief against Calvinism as the strongest citadel of supernatural revelation and redemption. And as Professor Henry B. Smith prophesied a generation ago: 'One thing is certain—that infidel science will rout everything excepting a thorough-going Christian orthodoxy.' Let us, then, resolutely accept this challenge. And let us be of good cheer; for Calvinism can no more perish from the earth than sinful man can utterly lose his sense of dependence upon God, or the Almighty can abdicate the throne of His universal dominion."
James Anthony Froude, the distinguished professor of Church History in Oxford University, England, said of the rather lifeless religion which had become so common in his day: "This was not the religion of your fathers; this was not the Calvinism which overthrew spiritual wickedness, and hurled kings from their thrones, and purged England and Scotland, for a time at least, of lies and charlatanry. Calvinism is the spirit which rises in revolt against untruth, the spirit which, as I have shown you, has appeared and reappeared, and in due time will appear again, unless God be a delusion and man be as the beasts that perish."
It may be proper at this point to say that the author of this book was not reared in a Calvinistic Church, and he well remembers how revolutionary these doctrines seemed when he first came in contact with them. During one Christmas vacation of his College course he happened to read the first volume of Charles Hodge's "Systematic Theology," which contains a chapter on "The Decrees of God," and which stated these truths with such compelling force that he was never able to get away from them. Furthermore, he takes some pride in the fact that he has reached this position only after a rather severe mental and spiritual struggle, and he feels deeply sympathetic toward others who may be called upon to go through a somewhat similar experience. He knows the sacrifice required to withdraw from the church of his youth when he became convinced that that church taught a system which contained much error. Most of his closest relatives and friends belonged to that church, and he will perhaps be pardoned if he betrays a bit of intolerance toward those "born Presbyterians" who remain members of the Presbyterian Church while openly opposing or ridiculing these doctrines.
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