I don’t usually post on weekdays or even post more than once a week, but I decided to do an in-between post this week for a couple of reasons. For one thing, I wanted to add more to my last post, but I did not want to make it to too long. For another thing, I thought I wanted to address a particular part of Calvinism that doesn’t exactly fit in my series on TULIP.
The first point I want to make is this: the term Calvinist is a rather broad label. Not all Calvinists believe all five points of TULIP. Few Calvinists believe that God “sovereignly” decreed to damn certain people to hell and hates those reprobates. I am not criticizing Calvinists with this series. My hope for this series is simply to strengthen the faith of the many people struggling with Calvinism and “How could a loving God…?” by helping show that Calvinism has a robust theological and consistent alternative.
Today I am going to address the problems that Calvinism can cause in causing many people to doubt their salvation or doubt that they can be saved. This week I have been reading John Bunyan’s autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. As I was reading I came across a great example of the sort of doubts Calvinistic thinking can cause. Paragraphs 57-61 shows a part of his struggle with his doubts concerning the Calvinistic doctrine of Unconditional Election and Limited Atonement:
57. Neither as yet could I attain to any comfortable persuasion that I had faith in Christ; but instead of having satisfaction here, I began to find my soul to be assaulted with fresh doubts about my future happiness; especially with such as these, whether I was elected? But how, if the day of grace should now be past and gone?
58. By these two temptations I was very much afflicted and disquieted; sometimes by one, and sometimes by the other of them. And first, to speak of that about my questioning my election, I found at this time, that though I was in a flame to find the way to heaven and glory, and though nothing could beat me off from this, yet this question did so offend and discourage me, that I was, especially sometimes, as if the very strength of my body also had been taken away by the force and power thereof. This scripture did also seem to me to trample upon all my desires; It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth; but of God that showeth mercy. Rom. ix. 16.
59. With this scripture I could not tell what to do: for I evidently saw, unless that the great God, of His infinite grace and bounty, had voluntarily chosen me to be a vessel of mercy, though I should desire, and long, and labour until my heart did break, no good could come of it. Therefore this would stick with me, How can you tell that you are elected? And what if you should not? How then?
60. O Lord, thought I, what if I should not indeed? It may be you are not, said the Tempter; it may be so indeed, thought I. Why then, said Satan, you had as good leave off, and strive no farther; for if indeed, you should not be elected and chosen of God, there is no talk of your being saved; For it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth; but of God that showeth mercy.
61. By these things I was driven to my wits’ end, not knowing what to say, or how to answer these temptations: (indeed, I little thought that Satan had thus assaulted me, but that rather it was my own prudence thus to start the question): for that the elect only attained eternal life; that, I without scruple did heartily close withal; but that myself was one of them, there lay the question.
John Bunyan was struggling with doubts and questions like am I the elect? Is there salvation left for me? Is there any point in trying to pursue faith if I cannot obtain it? Calvinists have very poor counsel for those hurting and doubting. When the struggling ask why, all Calvinists have to answer is that it is “God’s will”, to stop trying, or they answer with Romans 9:22 taken entirely out of context:
“ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” ” (Romans 9:22 ESV)
You have but to look at the text in context, and not overlook hundreds of passages and you will find that all can be saved, that God loves all and wants all to be saved. (1 Timothy 2:4, 1 John 2:2, John 3:16, 1 John 4:8, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, Mathew 5:44, Luke 6:35, Isaiah 53:6, etc.)
In paragraphs 66-68 John Bunyan’s autobiography continues:
66. After this, that other doubt did come with strength upon me, But how if the day of grace should be past and gone? How if you have overstood the time of mercy? Now I remember that one day, as I was walking in the country, I was much in the thoughts of this, But how if the day of grace is past? And to aggravate my trouble, the Tempter presented to my mind those good people of Bedford, and suggested thus unto me, that these being converted already, they were all that God would save in those parts; and that I came too late, for these had got the blessing before I came.
67. Now I was in great distress, thinking in very deed that this might well be so; wherefore I went up and down, bemoaning my sad condition; counting myself far worse than a thousand fools for standing off thus long, and spending so many years in sin as I had done; still crying out, Oh! that I had turned sooner! Oh! that I had turned seven years ago! It made me also angry with myself, to think that I should have no more wit, but to trifle away my time, till my soul and heaven were lost.
68. But when I had been long vexed with this fear, and was scarce able to take one step more, just about the same place where I received my other encouragement, these words broke in upon my mind, Compel them to come in, that my house may be filled; and yet there is room. Luke xiv. 22, 23. These words, but especially those, And yet there is room, were sweet words to me; for truly I thought that by them I saw there was place enough in heaven for me; and moreover, that when the Lord Jesus did speak these words, He then did think of me: and that He knowing that the time would come, that I should be afflicted with fear, that there was no place left for me in His bosom, did before speak this word, and leave it upon record, that I might find help thereby against this vile temptation. This I then verily believed.
Praise to God, he did not let John Bunyan continue in his doubts and struggles but gave him hope and courage to find faith. As we all probably know John Bunyan did truly turn to God and wrote one of the most esteemed Christian book of all time beside the Bible, Pilgrims Progress.
Those who overcome their doubts concerning God and his love for all people, yet still do not entirely reject the doctrines of Calvinism, continue in this inconsistent frame of mind which if it does not take a toll on their strength of faith, it often leads other people around them into doubts. Here are two videos discussing:
- Calvinist John Piper’s response to a person struggling with finding faith (here).
- A young lady named Megan Phelps who left the church because of the Calvinistic teaching of Romans 9 (here).
Have a great week growing in the faith and confidence of Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice!
“Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!””
-Mark 9:24 (ESV)
All Scripture quotes are from the ESV translation