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TEXT: II Timothy 1:13, Titus 2:10

SUBJECT: Five Points #1: Historical Introduction

This afternoon, with the Lord's blessing, I hope to begin a study of The Five Points of Calvinism. I do this every few years, not because I think Calvinism is the Gospel, but because I'm sure it clarifies the Gospel.

The Gospel, in short, is Christ died for our sins, and it is not a distinctly Calvinist doctrine. All Christians believe He did that for us. What the Five Points do is to answer some questions that surround the Gospel. They don't address every question, but the ones they do are among the most important. For example:

Without ascribing infallibility to the Five Points, I think they provide better answers than any other system I know of. If there's a better system out there, I'd like to hear it, but I'm quite sure it is not any of the systems currently popular in American Evangelical churches or seminaries or bookstores!

In my opinion, the Five Points are plainly taught in the Bible, and I know for a fact that they have satisfied some of the most intelligent, learned, and godly men in the history of the Church.

I'm going to get to the Five Points soon, I hope, but not today or next week (and maybe the week after). For now, I'll give you a thumbnail sketch of the history of the Five Points, and try to briefly explain what each one of them means. Next Sunday afternoon, the Lord willing, I'll lay down some laws for understanding the Five Points and for living up to them. And then, possibly, I'll give some of the doctrines that undergird the Five Points.

These things don't lend themselves too well to preaching and so I'll adopt more of a lecturing style. If you fall asleep, I won't be offended, because as Spurgeon once said, Some times we need a nap more than a sermon! If the style is boring, the subject isn't. Men have lived and died preaching and defending these things, and we'd do well to live up to their example.

THE HISTORY OF ARMINIANISM

The Five Points of Calvinism were not devised or written by John Calvin, who died more than fifty years before they were published. If any one man should be thanked for us having them, it would be Jacob Arminius, whose very name stands for the doctrines directly opposed to the Five Points!

The Five Points of Calvinism (in the form we now have them) come out of Holland in the early Seventeenth Century. Some decades before, the Church in that country turned away from Roman Catholicism and accepted the Reformed Faith. Needing an educated clergy, city fathers sent their best and brightest to Geneva to study at the academy founded by Calvin, and now presided over by his friend and successor, Theodore Beza.

One of the first students they sent there was a brilliant young man named Jacob Arminius. After completing his studies, he was ordained a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church, and later, made a professor of theology at the University of Leiden, where he served until his death six years later, in 1609.

Though everyone admired his intelligence and respected his piety, more than a few educated men objected to his teaching. He wasn't a heretic, of course, but some of what he said worried them, and made them think he was leaning a bit toward a Roman Catholic view of sin and grace. Accused of breaking with the Reformed Faith, he said he had not, but before the matter could be formally decided, Arminius became sick, and died just short of his fiftieth birthday.

If the teacher was dead, his students were still alive, and wanting to honor the man they loved so well, they summed up his teaching in Five Points. Whether he would have agreed with their summary, we don't know, but this is what they got out of his teaching:

    1. Free Will. Though man is fallen into sin and badly hurt by it, his will remains relatively undamaged. He is still free to repent and believe in Jesus Christ without God's special grace. Notice, I did not say, 'without God's grace', but without His 'special' grace. God has given common grace to all--they said-and this gives him the power to repent and believe. Not to save himself, please note, but to avail himself of the salvation in Jesus Christ.
    2. Conditional Election. God eternally chooses to save some sinners, but not all. Why does He choose some and not others? Because He looks into the future, sees that they will repent and believe some day, and, based on that foreknowledge, He chooses them for salvation and not the others, the ones whom He saw would not repent and believe.
    3. General Atonement. Jesus Christ died for everyone equally, making the salvation of all possible, but the salvation of no one sure. Hypothetically, His death could save everyone in the world or no one or any number in-between. It all depends on who accepts the Gospel of his own free will.
    4. Resistible Grace. The Holy Spirit wants to renew and sanctify everyone, but unless one cooperates with Him, He cannot (or will not) do either.
    5. Apostasy. It is possible for a truly converted man to sin away God's grace in this life and wind up in hell when he dies and forever.

These are the Five Points of Arminianism, and although I disagree with each of them, I have to say this much for them: they make good sense and, by accepting one of them, logic presses you to accept them all. Many Christians accept some, but not all, but this is only the result of either sloppy thinking or (being a Calvinist I can say) God's grace!

THE FIVE POINTS OF CALVINISM

These five points were called The Remonstrances, which means 'the protests'. The students of Arminius were protesting against the Reformed Faith then held in the churches and universities of Holland. The protests were published in 1610.

About eight years later, the Church of Holland answered them. The leading pastors and scholars met in the city of Dort to deliberate and debate the issues. After seven months of study and conversation, they published a long document called The Canons of Dort. By 'canons' they don't mean big guns (though some Calvinists think that's what they are), but 'rules' or doctrines.

From these Canons we now have the Five Points of Calvinism, which, as I said a few minutes ago, directly oppose the other Five Points. The easiest way to remember them is to use the word, TULIP. And, to keep you from mixing up the tulip with a rose or a petunia, or some other flower, just remember the Five Points of Calvinism come from Holland and Holland's national flower is the tulip!

What are the Five Points of Calvinism?

    1. Total Depravity. This does not mean man is as bad as he can be, but that sin has gotten into all of him, including his will which is in rebellion against God, in bondage to Satan, and unable to repent and believe without God's special grace.
    2. Unconditional Election. This means that, from eternity, God chooses to save some sinners, and not others, and He does that, not because the chosen ones are foreseen to be better than the others, but because of some reason known only to Him.
    3. Limited Atonement. The wording is most unfortunate. Had the enemies of Calvinism been chosen to select a more inflammatory name, they couldn't have done it, for it seems to minimize what our Lord did on the cross, or to limit the value of His death! What it does, in fact, is to explain what our Lord did that day between noon and three o'clock. Did He die to merely open the door to God, providing we then walk through it? Or did He die to both open the door and then carry us to God? I know this is only a figure of speech, but think about it. Did Christ die to make your salvation possible? Or did He die to save you? I don't care what your mouth says about this-or your brain either. I want to know what your prayers say! When you praise the Lord Jesus Christ for dying in your place, do you praise Him for making you savable or for saving you? This third point of Calvinism is not really about the extent of the atonement; it's about the meaning of the atonement!
    4. Irresistible Grace. If 'limited atonement' is badly named, 'irresistible grace' is only a smidgen better. The wording brings to mind God forcing one to be saved. A man as smart and gentle as C.S. Lewis likened to rape. But he got it wrong. God is not a rapist forcing Himself on sinners, but a Lover wooing us until we love Him too. Irresistible Grace, therefore, means God will save everyone He intends to save, and that all of our follies and sins will not frustrate His saving purpose in Christ.
    5. Perseverance of the Saints. The last point of Calvinism is often confused with Eternal Security or 'once saved always saved'. It includes this dear truth, of course, but there's a lot more to it than this. Eternal Security is entirely futuristic, that is, it says if you're saved in this life, you'll be saved in the next life too. But Perseverance turns it around: If you're saved in the next life, you'll be saved in this life too! And 'being saved' in this life means, not professing faith and then forgetting all about it, but living the Christian life. Not perfectly, but consistently. It says, with all our faults and failures, the saints remain loyal to Jesus Christ.

THE CLOSE

If the Five Points of Calvinism are not the five most important doctrines taught in the Bible, neither are they the least five important. While some Christians can think about nothing else, others won't think about them at all. But if the Points are taught in the Bible, and if they clarify the Gospel of all things, we owe it to God, to ourselves, and to others to study them with care and to help others to know and love them. Not to stir up a party spirit, but for the love of God, His Word, and His People.

Let us remember the other name of Calvinism and live up to it. What are they called? They're called The Doctrines of Grace because that's what they're about. And if they're about 'grace' they're also about humility and love, obedience and thankfulness.

Let us hold fast to the pattern of sound words-Paul says in one place, and adds in another, Adorn the doctrines of God our Savior in all things.

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