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The Heart of True Calvinism


To many people, Calvinism is nothing more than five points. But, while the five points are a fair partial summary of Calvin’s soteriology, that is all they are. Calvin’s theology was so much broader than that, and could by no means be reduced to any mnemonic acrostic (TULIP). Burk Parsons writes on “the heart of Calvin and God’s sovereign mastery of it.” This is the essence of Calvinism.

imgSo what is true Calvinism according to Calvin? In one sense, Calvinism is as systematically profound as Calvin’s life’s work, as historically extensive as all that has been deduced from Calvin’s writings during the past five centuries, and, as Calvin would have it, as doctrinally narrow as the sixty-six books of sacred Scripture. A true Calvinist is one who strives to think as Calvin thought and live as Calvin lived—insofar as Calvin thought and lived as our Lord Jesus Christ, in accordance with the Word of God.
   As Christians, we understand that we are not our own but have been bought with a price. By His saving grace, the Lord has taken hold of our hearts of stone, regenerated and conformed them into spiritually pliable hearts, and poured into them His love by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. This was Calvin’s perception of the Christian life:
imgIf we, then, are not our own [cf. 1 Cor. 6:19] but the Lord’s, it is clear what error we must flee, and whither we must direct all the acts of our life.
   We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours.
   Conversely, we are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God’s: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal [cf. Rom. 14:8; cf. 1 Cor. 6:19]. O, how much has that man profited who, having been taught that he is not his own, has taken away dominion and rule from his own reason that he may yield it to God! For, as consulting our self-interest is the pestilence that most effectively leads Io our destruction, so the sole haven of salvation is to be wise in nothing through ourselves but to follow the leading of the Lord alone. [Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.7.1]
   We are not our own; we belong to the Lord. That confession, in essence, is the heart of true Calvinism. Our salvation belongs to the Lord, from beginning to end (Ps. 3:8; Rev. 7:10). He has captivated our minds and has made His light to shine abroad in our hearts (2 Cor. 4:6, 10:5). Our whole being belongs to Him—heart, soul, mind, and strength. This is what Calvin proclaimed, and this is the foundation on which his life was established.
   The Lord took hold of Calvin, and Calvin thus could not help but take away “dominion and rule from his own reason” [ibid.] and yield it Lord alone. That is the glorious brilliance reflected by any study of Calvin. There was nothing in Calvin himself that was superhuman, super-theologian, or super-churchman. Calvin was a man whom God chose to call out of darkness and into His marvelous light so that he might go back into the darkness and shine brightly unto every generation of God’s people until Christ returns.

—Burk Parsons, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons (Reformation Trust, 2008), 6–7



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