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Monergist Reformer: John Calvin


To call John Calvin a monergist seems stupidly obvious, given that the fundamental doctrines bearing that description have—incorrectly—been given his name. Nevertheless, I will do so, if only for the sake of continuity. Besides, since “Calvinism” is a misnomer, and Calvin had no part in formulating the Canons of Dort (being excused from that assembly on the grounds of being deceased) or the TULIP acronym (no one really knows who invented that handy but misleading device), nor was he available to advise our Lord and his apostles in the original presentation of those doctrines, it is worth our time investigating whether Calvin was truly a Calvinist. To that end, I present for your consideration, courtesy of Steve Lawson, exhibits T, U, L, I, and P.

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Man is a slave of sin. . . . Man’s spirit is so alienated from the justice of God that man conceives, covets, and undertakes nothing that is not evil, perverse, iniquitous, and soiled. Because the heart, totally imbued with the poison of sin, can emit nothing but the fruits of sin. Yet one must not infer therefrom that man sins as constrained by violent necessity. For, man sins with the consent of a very prompt and inclined will. But because man, by the corruption of his affections, very strongly keeps hating the whole righteousness of God and, on the other hand, is fervent in all kinds of evil, it is said that he has not the free power of choosing between good and evil—which is called free will.

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If you say that He [God] foresaw they would be holy, and therefore elected them, you invert the order of Paul. You may, therefore, safely infer, if He elected us that we might be holy, He did not elect us because He foresaw that we would be holy. . . . For when it is said that believers were elected that they might be holy, it is at the same time intimated that the holiness which was to be in them has its origin in election. And how can it be consistently said, that things derived from election are the cause of election?

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I should like to know how the wicked can eat the flesh of Christ which was not crucified for them, and how they can drink the blood which was not shed to expiate their sins.

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[Writing in 1 John 2:2, “and not for ours only,” John] added this for the sake of amplifying, in order that the faithful might be assured that the expiation made by Christ, extends to all who by faith embrace the gospel. Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? I pass by the dotages of the fanatics, who under this pretense extend salvation to all the reprobate, and therefore to Satan himself. Such a monstrous thing deserves no refutation. They who seek to avoid this absurdity, have said that Christ suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect. This solution has commonly prevailed in the schools. Though then I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage; for the design of John was no other than to make this benefit common to the whole church. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world. For then is really made evident, as it is meet, the grace of Christ, when it is declared to be the only true salvation of the world.

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The external call alone would be insufficient, did not God effectually draw to Himself those whom He has called.

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There is this difference in the calling of God, that He invites all indiscriminately by His word, whereas He inwardly calls the elect alone (John 6:37).

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The gospel is preached indiscriminately to the elect and the reprobate; but the elect alone come to Christ, because they have been “taught by God.”

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We ought not to wonder if many refuse to embrace the Gospel; because no man will ever of himself be able to come to Christ, but God must first approach him by His Spirit; and hence it follows that all are not drawn, but that God bestows this grace on those whom He has elected. True, indeed, as to the kind of drawing, it is not violent, so as to compel men by external force; but still it is a powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit, which makes men willing who formerly were unwilling and reluctant.

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[The elect differ] in no respect from others, except in being protected by the special mercy of God from rushing down the precipice of eternal death. . . . That they go not to the most desperate extremes of impiety, is not owing to any innate goodness of theirs, but because the eye of God watches over them, and His hand is extended for their preservation.

—John Calvin, cited in Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 517–519, 521, 525–527.



Posted 2018·10·15 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Church History · John Calvin · Monergism · Steve Lawson

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