It seems that there is a certain desire in our day among professing “Calvinist” Christians to disregard, diminish, or dismiss what might rightly be called the “fundamentals” of the Calvinistic system of theology. From various quarters we are hearing the view expressed that “Calvinism is more than the ‘Five Points’” – that it is more than the “TULIP” of Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and the Perseverance of the saints. With that sentiment, of course, we would heartily concur; but with this qualification: although Calvinism is more than the “Five Points”, it is certainly not less! And as with many other issues (even in other branches of theology) it is so easy to get caught away with the superstructure and ornamentation of the building that the foundations are left unattended so that the whole house finally collapses.
Surely history itself ought to teach us that lesson clearly. What is present day Modernism in theology, but the house of general evangelicalism lying in ruins. And where did the collapse begin? It began with the popularity of casting aspersions at the old fundamentalist truths of Ruination by the fall, Redemption by the blood, and Regeneration by the Spirit. These things, people were told, were only “part of the story.” that was true enough. But what so many failed to see was that they were that particular part of the story – the opening pages, if you like – without which the rest of the book made no sense and was totally irrelevant to the true needs of man.
As far as the history of “Reformed” theology goes, even the most casual glance will show that there is not another single branch of that science more apt to fall into many and varied forms of Moderatism than that which is called “Calvinist”. One of the main reasons for this, and one of the greatest pitfalls and dangers, is the opportunities that it presents for misguided souls to exercise a form of intellectual pride on account of the wholeness and the completeness of the system and its logic. But – and here is the whole point – as long as the “Fundamentals” (the dear old Five Points, as it were) are dearlyheld and never forgotten, those dangers and pitfalls are to a large extent taken away from out of our Christian path. To see this, we need only begin with the T for Total depravity: let a man or woman once truly settle that in their heart and mind – that as far as the issues of their soul’s salvation are concerned they are totally unable to do themselves any good – let a person once settle that point alone, and the mind must bow, not rise, in the presence of such a truth.
We remember Mr. Spurgeon spoke about how he loved to “proclaim those strong old doctrines that are called by nickname Calvinism.” And, said he, in that same context, “I know of no such thing as paring off the rough edges of a doctrine.” My friends, there are “more ways than one to skin a cat,” as the old proverb has it; and, indeed, there are more ways than one to “pare off the rough edges” of those “strong old doctrines that are called by nickname Calvinism.” And what we need to be careful of is that some of the “complimentary” issues that belong to that system of theology called Reformed or Calvinistic don’t prove themselves to be the very things that become the fine blades to do that very “paring off”. By all means, let us see men and women raising up a good theological house, fully fitted out in all its rooms and branches. But let us make sure that they have fully grasped and accepted the only plot of ground on which they must “humbly” build in the first place. If a man, or a church, or a generation have a superstructure embellished with “the Reformed view of” – this, that, and the next thing, without those rough and rugged old rocks of fundamental, foundational, facts in the free-grace gospel of the Bible, then the superstructure will fall, and great will be its fall.
Is there no generation to follow ours? In the grace of God are we not to look for a continuous stream of men and women coming to embrace those truths of grace? Where then will they receive their ABC if we have thrown it out of the window of the school of Christ that the church is supposed to be? Will they be born as Deans of Faculties at the moment of their conversion! And has the plague-sore of intellectual pride taken such a hold that we are now ready to dispense with those truths that we ourselves only came to know not many years since? And will we parade our knowledge of those “intricate points” the names of which we ourselves could scarcely pronounce, let alone understand, in the days of our infancy.
We hear today of our educational system being in danger of producing people, as it is said, “Educated beyond the level of their intelligence.” It is a concept worth considering. And let the “reformed” church of today be careful lest it produces a coming generation educated theologically beyond the level of its spirituality. Once let it become the fashionable thing – the “in” language – to disdain those simple, bold statements that come under the heading of the Five Points of Calvinism, and we will soon have a generation (is it with us already?) that has embraced the status, but has never come to terms with the stigma of being hell-deserving wretches saved only on account of the exercise of God’s free mercy to their souls, so gloriously expressed in “those strong old doctrines that are called by nickname Calvinism.”
Of course the Five Points are not the end of the road in things of our reformed faith; but they are most certainly the beginning of it. They are like the Wicket Gate in the Pilgrim’s Progress; they are the “door” that puts us on the right theological path for traversing the whole of the Bible from one end to the other. There was a man on the Pilgrim path in Bunyan’s great allegory; he was on the path – far ahead on the path – but he never reached the end of the road, for he had not “entered in at the strait gate, but had climbed up some other way.” And his name was “Ignorance”! Need we say more?
W. J. Seaton.
Extract from The Wicket Gate Magazine, published in the UK, used with permission.