The Doctrines Of Grace

The terms  Doctrines Of Grace or  The Five Points Of Calvinism  refer to a body of biblical teaching summarised in five key points during the period known as the reformation. The terms can be unhelpful and misleading so a summary of the historical events is given first followed by the so called five points. The subject is worth considering by anybody concerned about bible truth, as a right understanding of this cornerstone doctrine will affect ones entire theology, for the two different perspectives contain two different Gospels and only one can be the real Gospel.

Early in the seventeenth century a debate arose in the Presbyterian Church of Holland when one of its professors, James Harmensen b. 1560 (Jakob Hermanszoon in the Dutch or Arminius in Latin – hence subsequent adherents have become known as Arminians) began to teach new ideas and the Church and State at that time being united as R.L. Dabney writes, ...the civil government took up the quarrel. Professor Harmensen (Arminius) and his party had to appear before the State and declare their objections against the doctrines of their own church (which they had promised to teach in their ordination vows). The professor presented a document containing five areas of doctrine his faction disagreed upon, these were:

  1. Original Sin
  2. Unconditional Predestination
  3. Invincible Grace In Conversion
  4. Particular Redemption
  5. Perseverance Of The Saints
Jacob Harmensen b. Holland 1560

The state ordered a general council of all the Presbyterian Churches in the world to consider this question, which became known as the Synod Of Dort  and met in Holland in 1618. Represented were churches from France, Germany, England and Switzerland and together the Synod decided to debate every question by the sole authority of scripture avoiding human philosophy and opinion. The result was a set of articles that rebutted the Arminians new theology and became known later as the  Five Points Of Calvin  after John Calvin, a central figure on behalf of orthodoxy and the church. Calvin however did not  invent  these points, they are simply statements of what Christians believed to be bible teaching intended to oppose the new error and were identical in substance to the Westminster Confession.

Arminianism (as it became known) is not a new error but the old semi-pelagianism of a thousand years before and influential among the Socinians and Unitarians who also developed a separate theology in the same period. It began for Arminius whilst he was teaching through Romans 7 when he began to develop new thoughts proposing that a man may experience desire for God whilst still be unregenerate ( not born again). It is at this point Arminius was accused of being  Pelagian  (the notion that men can choose for good and hence for God without Divine aid). Rather than further discussion of these errors, it is safer to simply assert the truth using the five points the Synod developed in their reply. The five points are often remembered by the acronym TULIP.

The Five Points Of The Synod Of Dort / Calvin

  1. Total Depravity
  2. Unmerited Election
  3. Limited Atonement
  4. Irresistible Grace
  5. Perseverance Of The Saints

Total Depravity

Total Depravity does not infer that every man is born as an infant from his mother’s womb totally and utterly depraved. Rather, the doctrine asserts the reality of the Bible’s teaching that every man is born into this world with a fallen and thus corrupted nature so that every part of that man or every faculty is tainted by sin and therefore corrupted. This means at some point every human faculty will fail to operate correctly, corruption will overpower the conscience and sin will result.

All human beings are capable of being honest but at some point will cease to be so, all human beings are capable of being compassionate but at some point will be selfish and cruel. All human beings are capable of being moral but at some point despite the witness of conscience will act immorally. This is why children don’t need to be instructed how to be naughty, disobedience is a natural inclination since the fall of man in Eden.

Unmerited Election

Does God save human beings because they are good or nice people? If the answer is yes, then we have to ask how good or how nice they must be. What happens if someone was good yesterday but has a bad day today, is it the bad day that counts if we die right then? In other words what is the standard for judgment? The bible maintains the standard is perfection if we hope to stand before God justified by our own merits.

Understanding the condition of  Total Depravity   we know we can never achieve perfection, we will always fail in the matter of righteousness as our conscience will confirm. If man then, is an imperfect being, if he is to be saved at all, it will be an entirely gratuitous calling to salvation or an Unmerited Election that is purely an act of God’s sovereign prerogative in His Holy purposes, according to His will. 

If one maintains one is saved by one’s own merits then salvation is not of grace but by human right. This is repugnant to the Gospel message.

Limited Atonement

Did the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus Christ atone for the sins of the whole world, of every single human being who ever lived? If so then all are saved, not one is lost and Hell is not a reality and human actions no matter how evil are irrelevant. Every tyrant, criminal and immoral soul must be accepted into heaven because God must refuse to judge anyone or any deed and therefore Himself has no justice or moral sense. This is not the God of the bible, it is the devil of the bible.

The God of the bible is more than moral, He is goodness itself and the source of it, He is perfect and perfectly pure, a condition that renders Him utterly Holy. This condition requires justice and judgment upon all He declines to show mercy upon according to His sovereign will. Atonement is the mercy of God towards those whom God sovereignly elects to salvation by satisfying His Holy justice in the person of God the Eternal Son suffering in their stead, granting them forgiveness of sins and new life. This condition is not available to those who are not elect and do not expressfaith in Christ and therefore is a Limited Atonement only for those God has called according to His purpose.

Jehan Cauvin (John Calvin) b. France 1509

Irresistible Grace

Can God’s Grace be resisted so that salvation can be declined by those God calls? If so, then they are not elect and election in the Bible makes no sense and whilst being “dead in their trespasses and sins” such are beyond God’s gracious help because they shall continue to resist it. When we deny Limited Atonement we commit the error of insisting all must be saved but when we maintain God’s Grace can be resisted we commit the error of insisting all must be lost.

God’s Sovereign Grace is dependent only upon His good will and pleasure and that will cannot be defeated by human will, those whom God elects to salvation He saves by His power and authority through Irresistible Grace, which is to the praise of His Glory.

Perseverence Of The Saints

What does this mean? That men endure in the way of salvation by their endeavours, that once the Lord has saved it is up to them to continue that work and maintain a particular standard so that at last they shall appear with the Lord in Glory? No, this they could never do in order to be saved neither can do to maintain that state of grace.

Perseverance Of The Saints refers to the enduring promise of God to save the elect believer so that they never can fall away. He sustains them through His mighty power as an act of Grace through the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in the soul of the believer. Though the response OF FAITH is inevitably good works those same good works are prepared by God in advance for us to do and are performed by His Grace at work in the believer.

If the Saints (saved believers) do not persevere by God’s decree then there can be no security in salvation and they can fall away and perish at any moment.

Conclusion

The summary of these key points of Christian Doctrine can be framed thus:

We are saved by Grace alone, through Christ alone by Faith alone, we rely upon Scripture alone and all is to the Glory of God alone. This conclusion itself is a bedrock of reformation theology and has become known as the “Solas” latin meaning, only or alone. You can read more about the Solas on the dedicated page.