In the year 1610, Jan Uytenbogaert and forty-one other followers of Jacob Arminius crafted a remonstrance (a formal protest) consisting of five articles of opposition to the Belgic Confession and the Reformed faith. These five articles of the of the followers of Arminius, who became known as the Remonstrants, were officially reviewed and condemned by a Dutch National Synod held in Dordrecht in 1618-1619. The Synod produced a confession of its own, the Canons of Dort, where each of Remonstrants’s five articles were countered. And subsequently, the five Canons of Dort have become known as the 5-points of Calvinism.
I for one am deeply thankful for this 400-year-old document. As with Charles Spurgeon, I am an unashamed Calvinist. The five points of Calvinism are important to me, and so many other Reformed Christians, because they prescribe all praise and glory to God by affirming the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation.
Though the 5-points of Calvinism stress the sovereignty of God in salvation, they do not deny human responsibility. Yes, God is sovereign in salvation, but man is also responsible to repent and believe. And, in regards to human responsibility, there are another 5-points to Calvinism. These additional 5-points, dealing with human responsibility, are outlined by Paul in Romans 10:14-17. After explaining the doctrine of unconditional election in Romans 9, Paul, with equal clarity and force, explains man’s responsibility in salvation:
Romans 10:14-17 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
Point 1: It is Our Responsibility to Call on Christ, 14a
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?
I once heard of church that had a lot of unconverted people who openly thought that they were among God’s elect. Though they continued to attend church, they were told by the pastor of this church that they could not repent, that they could not believe, and that they could not come to Christ. They were told that the gospel was not a promise given to them as sinners. Thus, they could do nothing but wait and see what God would do. So, there they were—waiting and waiting, with some concluding that they must not have been chosen by God.
This, however, is not Calvinism—at least not the Calvinism represented by the Canons of Dort. The Canons of Dort confirms the Scriptural teaching that all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Rom. 10:13). The Canons of Dort also confirms that all who hear the gospel are equally responsibility to call out to Christ for salvation. Moreover, the Canons of Dort confirms that sinners will be held accountable for their unbelief:
The fact that many who are called through the ministry of the gospel do not come and are not brought to conversion must not be blamed on the gospel, nor on Christ, who is offered through the gospel, nor on God, who calls them through the gospel and even bestows various gifts on them, but on the people themselves who are called (Act. 3.9).
If you refuse to believe the gospel, you are refusing God’s promise to you.
Point 2: It Is Our Responsibility to Believe on Christ, 14b
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?
The Puritan, Joseph Hussey (1660-1726), is considered one of the first Hyper-Calvinists. Hussey denied that it was the responsibility of all sinners to repent and believe the gospel. Moreover, Hussey believed it was even wrong for preachers to command sinners to repent and believe the gospel. According to Hussey, it was wrong to offer hope to all not only because it is impossible for the non-elect to believe, but because God did not extend the promise of the gospel to the non-elect. This type of thinking, in 1835, was sadly codified in the Gospel Standard Confession: “We deny duty faith and duty repentance—these terms signifying that it is every man’s duty to spiritually and savingly repent and believe.”
Yet, this is not the Calvinism of the Canons of Dort. As with the Bible, the Canons of Dort stresses that it is the duty and responsibility of everyone to believe the gospel (John 3:36, John 6:40). As John Owen stated:
We are expressly commanded to believe, and that upon the highest promises and under the greatest penalties. This command is that which makes believing formally a duty. Faith is a grace as it is freely wrought in us by the Holy Spirit, the root of all obedience and duties, as it is radically fixed in the heart. But as it is commanded it is a duty; and these commands, you know, are several ways expressed, by invitations, exhortations, propositions.
In fact, the Canons of Dort places the blame for unbelief not on the gospel, but on the unbeliever: “The cause or blame for this unbelief, as well as for all other sins, is not at all in God, but in humanity” (Art. 1.5). “That many who have been called through the gospel do not repent or believe in Christ but perish in unbelief is not because the sacrifice of Christ offered on the cross is deficient or insufficient, but because they themselves are at fault” (Art. 2.6).
Point 3: It Is Our Responsibility to Listen to Christ, 14c
And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?
If a sinner is going to be saved, they must call on Christ. But, to call on Christ, a sinner must believe on Christ. And if a sinner is going to believe on Christ, a sinner must know about Christ. If you are not a believer, then you should run to God’s word (seeing that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God).
Point 4: It Is Our Responsibility to Preach Christ, 14d
And how are they to hear without someone preaching?
Though Hyper-Calvinists do not deny that the gospel should be preached to all as a historical and factual reality, they deny the gospel is to preached as a promise to all. Joseph Hussey, for instance, stated: “There are no free offers … anyone who claimed to believe in God’s election and yet offered Christ to all was only a ‘half-hearted Calvinist.’” The Gospel Standard Confession states: “While we believe that the Gospel is to be preached in or proclaimed to all the world, we deny offers of grace; that is to say, that the gospel is to be offered indiscriminately to all (Art. 29).” Even John Gill stated: “That there are universal offers of grace and salvation made to all men, I utterly deny.” And in another place Gill claimed:
How irrational it is, for ministers to stand offering Christ, and salvation by him to man, when, on the one hand, they have neither power nor right to give; and on the other hand, the person they offer to, have neither power nor will to receive. . . . It is not consistent with our ideas of God, that he should send ministers to offer salvation to man, to whom he never intended to give it.
This, thankfully, is not the Calvinism of the Bible or the Calvinism of John Calvin or the Calvinism of the Canons of Dort. The Bible says that the gospel is not only to be preached to all the world, but that God in the gospel promises that everyone who comes to Him in faith shall be saved. Likewise, the Canons of Dort confesses:
It is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people (Art. 2.5).
John Calvin himself claimed: “The gospel invites all to partake of salvation without any difference.” And in another place, he said: “It is certain that all those to whom the Gospel is preached are invited to a hope of enteral life.” Loraine Boettner summarized this well when he stated:
The Gospel is, nevertheless, to be offered to all men, with the assurance that it is exactly adapted to the needs of all men, and that God has decreed that all who place their faith in Christ shall be saved by Him. No man is lost because of any deficiency in the objective atonement, or because God has placed any barrier in His way, but only because of subjective difficulties, specifically, because his own evil disposition and his freely exercised wicked will prevent his believing and accepting that atonement. God’s attitude is perhaps best summed up in the parable of the marriage feast and the slighted invitations, where the king sends this message to the invited guests, “I have made ready my dinner; my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come to the marriage feast.”
Not only does the Canons of Dort claim that the gospel is a universal offer of salvation for all, it claims that God is sincere in His desire that sinners come to Christ in faith:
It is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel (Art. 2.5).
All who are called through the gospel are called earnestly. For urgently and most genuinely God makes known in the Word what is pleasing to him: that those who are called should come to God. God also earnestly promises rest for their souls and eternal life to all who do come and believe (Art. 3.8).
Charles Spurgeon not only felt that it was his duty to preach the gospel to all, he felt that it was his duty to earnestly preach the gospel to all as a sincere offer: “I entreat you to stop and consider. Do you know what it is you are rejecting this morning? You are rejecting Christ, your only Saviour. . . . I should be worse than a friend if I did not now, with all love and kindness, and earnestness, beseech you to lay hold on eternal life.” Spurgeon knowing that some would object to such an appeal, went on to state: “Some Hyper-Calvinist would tell me I am wrong in so doing. I cannot help it. I must do It. As I must stand before my Judge at last, I feel that I should not make full proof of my ministry unless I entreat with many tears that ye would be saved, that ye would look to Jesus Christ and receive his glorious salvation.”
But Spurgeon, though criticized by some, was only being consistent with the example of Paul who said, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20).
Preaches are not just commissioned by God to preach the truth faithfully with their speech, they are commissioned by God to preach the truth faithfully with their emotions as well. They are to implore sinners with love and compassion to come to Christ. Not like Jonah who simply relayed God’s message, we are called to relay the message correctly with our words and with our hearts. We represent Christ. We are to remember that it is Christ who makes His appeal through us. Thus, we are called to be faithful in representing the sincere desire of God for all to come unto Him. Thus, we are to exhort, compel, and even plead with sinners, as George Whitefield did so earnestly:
I offer you salvation this day; the door of mercy is not yet shut, there does yet remain a sacrifice for sin, for all that will accept of the Lord Jesus Christ. He will embrace you in the arms of his love. O turn to him, turn in a sense of your own unworthiness; tell him how polluted you are, how vile, and be not faithless, but believing. Why fear ye that the Lord Jesus Christ will not accept of you? Your sins will be no hindrance, your unworthiness no hindrance; if your own corrupt hearts do not keep you back nothing will hinder Christ from receiving of you. He loves to see poor sinners coming to him, he is pleased to see them lie at his feet pleading his promises; and if you thus come to Christ, he will not send you away without his Spirit; no, but will receive and bless you. O do not put a slight on infinite love–he only wants you to believe on him, that you might be saved.
This is the Calvinism of the Canons of Dort:
In order that people may be brought to faith, God mercifully sends messengers of this very joyful message to the people and at the time he wills. By this ministry people are called to repentance and faith in Christ crucified. For “how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without someone preaching? And how shall they preach unless they have been sent? (Art. 1.3).
Point 5: It Is Our Responsibility to Send Out Ambassadors of Christ, 15
And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
Notice in verse 15 that the chronological chain of events begins with sending out preachers. Sinners will not call if they don’t believe, and they will not believe if they don’t know, and they will not know if there are not preachers preaching the gospel, and preachers will not preach unless they are sent.
This is true for every Christian. God has sent and commissioned us to be fishers of men. And, according to Paul, we are to verbally preach the gospel. Francis of Assisi could not have been more wrong when he famously stated: “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” Without preaching the gospel with words, sinners cannot hear, and without hearing, sinners cannot believe, for “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word” (Rom. 10:17). Being a good example alone has never saved anyone. We must use words. It is our duty to be intentional in sharing the gospel.
Is this not amazing? God could have chosen to save sinners by proclaiming the gospel through angels, or by directly speaking to them as He did Saul on the road to Damascus. God could have written the gospel in the clouds, but He has chosen to use broken instruments, like ourselves, as His messengers. He has chosen to use clay vessels with all our weaknesses to spread the gospel to the world. He has chosen to use us as His ambassadors.
Yes, God is absolutely sovereign in salvation, but in His sovereignty, He has chosen to use human instruments as His means. He has chosen to use dirty feet to go throughout the world to spread the gospel, “As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news.’”
And this is why the church is to send out missionaries (Matt. 28:19-20). John Ryland Sr. will forever be remembered for his rebuke to the famous missionary to India, William Carey: “Young man,” Ryland said, “sit down: when God pleases to covert the heathen, He will do it without your aid or mine.” I would like to have seen Ryland make that comment to the Apostle Paul, or even to John Calvin.
Calvin, the great proponent of election and predestination, is one of the greatest supporters of missions in church history. Fleeing religious persecution, thousands of refugees from around Europe, especially from France, fled to the safe-haven of Geneva. What did Calvin do? He trained them to be pastors and missionaries. He said: “A good missionary is a good theologian.” Not only did Calvin send out missionaries, he prayed for them, he kept in touch with them, and he financially supported them. In 1555, Calvin helped plant 5 churches in France. By 1559, Calvin planted 100 churches in France. By 1562, with the help of sister churches, over 2,000 churches were planted in France. Calvin was instrumental in sending missionaries not only to France but also to Italy, the Netherlands, Hungary, Poland, and the free Imperial city-states in the Rhineland. Calvin even sent two missionaries, in 1557, to Brazil.
It is Not Our Responsibility to Save Sinners, 16
But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”
Though it is our responsibility to evangelize our children, preach to our lost family members, witness to our co-workers, and to send out missionaries, we must keep in mind, as good Calvinists, it is not our responsibility to save sinners. We are called to plant seeds and water the ground, but remember that God is the only One who can give the increase (1 Cor. 3:5-7). Yes, we should earnestly implore sinners to come, but we have no right to manipulate people’s emotions and force the disingenuous to make superficial and useless confessions of faith. Our job is not to save, but to be faithful messengers. The reason many of the Jews were not coming to Christ in Paul’s day was not because they had not heard the gospel, for as it is written: “Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?”(Isa. 53:1). That is, the reason so many Jews were rejecting the gospel was not the fault of the gospel or the fault of the messengers of the gospel.
God has not given us the power to save sinners; He has only given us the responsibly to preach the gospel. Yet, this is no small task of little importance, but a vital role in God’s economy of redemption. Salvation is of the Lord, but it (1.) comes by us calling on Christ, and this (2.) comes by faith in Christ, and this (3.) comes by hearing the gospel of Christ, and this (4.) comes by Christians preaching the gospel of Christ, and this (5.) begins with the beautiful feet being sent out to all the world with a life saving message for all who believe, for “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).
And these, my friend, are the other 5 Points of Calvinism.