Dr. Roger W. Maslin
Introduction: This article seeks to examine the main points of Calvinism and how they have influenced the historic confessions of faith. I will limit it to The New Hampshire Confession of 1833, The Westminster Confession and The Baptist Faith and Message. The Confessions are not creeds, such as the Apostles Creed, that are recited as a part of liturgical worship but are statements of commonly held beliefs by different communions. The doctrines of Calvinism are generally held by the reformed churches and others, and are often summed up under the acrostic TULIP. So we will pursue our subject under these headings. Although I know nothing of a creed or confession that outlines their beliefs in this way, I do recognize it as “the reformed system of doctrine which exalts the God of heaven and earth for the salvation He gives to man.” I am not including the Scripture references given with each confession, but they can be viewed with the whole confessions on the internet.
1. Total Depravity. This is not to be understood as the inability to do something moral but refers to the inability of man to do anything to save himself.
The Westminster Confession: (Chapter VI Of the Fall of Man, of Sin, and the punishment thereof.)
II. By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion, with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body.
III. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation
IV. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.
V. This corruption of nature, during this life, does remain in those regenerated; and although it be, through Christ, pardoned, and mortified; yet both itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.
(From Chapter IX OF Free Will)
III. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.
The New Hampshire Confession (3. Of the Fall of Man)
We believe that man was created in holiness, under the law of his Maker; but by voluntary transgression fell from that holy and happy state; in consequence of which all mankind are now sinners, not by constraint, but choice; being by nature utterly void of that holiness required by the law of God, positively inclined to evil; and therefore under just condemnation to eternal ruin, without defense or excuse.
The Baptist Faith and Message (III. Man)
Man is the special creation of God, made in His own image. He created them male and female as the crowning work of His creation. The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God's creation. In the beginning man was innocent of sin and was endowed by his Creator with freedom of choice. By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race. Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation. Only the grace of God can bring man into His holy fellowship and enable man to fulfill the creative purpose of God. …
Commentary: On this point, as well as two others, the confessions are in essential agreement. They are not contending that people are as bad as they can be, but they are spiritually dead, and sin has affected every part of man’s being including the mind and the will, so much so, that man cannot do anything to save himself. Salvation must be by grace alone and the faith itself is a gift of God. Through the fall man is enslaved by sin and the devil. Total depravity has reference to man’s natural condition apart from any restraining or transforming grace.
2. Unconditional Election
The Westminster Confession (Chapter III Of God’s Eternal Decree)
V. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, has chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto; and all to the praise of His glorious grace.
I. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
II. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.
New Hampshire Confession ( 9 Of God’s Purpose of Grace)
We believe that Election is the eternal purpose of God, according to which he graciously regenerates, sanctifies, and saves sinners; that being perfectly consistent with the free agency of man, it comprehends all the means in connection with the end; that it is a most glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, being infinitely free, wise, holy, and unchangeable; that it utterly excludes boasting, and promotes humility, love, prayer, praise, trust in God, and active imitation of his free mercy; that it encourages the use of means in the highest degree; that it may be ascertained by its effects in all who truly believe the gospel; that it is the foundation of Christian assurance; and that to ascertain it with regard to ourselves demands and deserves the utmost diligence.
The Baptist Faith and Message (God’s Purpose of Grace)
Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility.
Commentary: Unconditional election means that one’s election cannot be dependent or contingent on any spiritually worthy actions or merit one may commit. This point in Calvinism asserts that God predestines to choose to soften the heart of certain fallen individuals, and to liberate them from spiritual death. This he does not because of any merits or demerits in them. This He does of His own sovereign will and purpose. If He did not do this, there would not be anybody saved. The Bible nowhere declares His purpose to save everybody but to call out a people for Himself. You will notice also in all of the confessions the “use of means” to accomplish His eternal purposes. I do not see any support in these confessions for Arminianism for either Baptist or Reformed groups. Nor is it accurate to state that they have not historically affirmed this position. An examination of the Scriptures cited in these Confessions should affirm and confirm their support now. To me this is a pivotal point in these confessions and Calvinism. If you accept this statement of belief, the other points logically follow, whether detailed or explained thoroughly through the Confessions.
3 Limited Atonement.
Westminster Confession, Chapter III Of God’s Eternal Decree
VI. As God has appointed the elect unto glory, so has He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power, through faith, unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.
Baptist Faith and Message (IV. Salvation Underlining mine)
Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord
(Under C God the Holy Spirit)- He convicts men of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. He calls men to the Saviour, and effects regeneration
New Hampshire Confession (4. Of the Way of Salvation )
We believe that the salvation of sinners is wholly of grace, through the mediatorial offices of the Son of God; who by the appointment of the Father, freely took upon him our nature, yet without sin; honored the divine law by his personal obedience, and by his death made a full atonement for our sins; that having risen from the death, he is now enthroned in heaven; and uniting in his wonderful person the tenderest sympathies with divine perfections, he is every way qualified to be a suitable, a compassionate, and an all-sufficient Saviour.
Commentary: Limited Atonement or “particular redemption” is not as easy to understand or explain. No one can limit the potential extent of Christ’s entire life, suffering, and death. If everyone believed they would be the beneficiary of His complete redemption. But they do not believe, apart from God’s electing grace, and the convicting, regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. Although His atoning death is infinitely intensive in saving power and thus unlimited in that sense, it is not infinitely extensive. It is not universal in the extent of its saving power. While everyone shares “provisionally” in the atonement of Christ, it is only the believer (the elect) who experiences the full benefit of His redemption.. You will notice the Baptist confessions make only brief mention of the atonement, but it has reference to believers. Nowhere will you find universal salvation affirmed in the Confessions.
4. Irresistible Grace
Westminster Confession (Under Chapter IX Of Free Will)
IV. When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, He frees him from his natural bondage under sin; and, by His grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so, as that by reason of his remaining corruption, he does not perfectly, or only, will that which is good, but does also will that which is evil.
(Of Effectual Calling Chapter X)
VIII. To all those for whom Christ has purchased redemption, He does certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same; making intercession for them, and revealing unto them, in and by the word, the mysteries of salvation; effectually persuading them by His Spirit to believe and obey, and governing their by His word and Spirit; overcoming all their enemies by His almighty power and wisdom, in such manner, and ways, as are most consonant to His wonderful and unsearchable dispensation.
(Of Christ the Mediator Chapter VIII)
I. All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed time, effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.
Baptist Faith and Message ( IV. Salvation)
Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.
Commentary: The Reformed Confession does a better job here of explaining the all-sufficient grace through their treatment of “effectual calling.” It is the logical outcome of Total Depravity and Unconditional Election. If you accept these then you should easily understand that God is not going to fail or fall short of His eternal purposes. It is true that there is a general call to salvation, but it is just as clear that there is an effectual call. The general call is eminently resistible, insufficient, and ineffective to give life to a dead soul or liberate an enslaved heart. Here is where God’s regenerative acts comes into play. This special call or act is invincible, overpowering all opposition. There is no need to add anything to this all-sufficient grace such as human cooperation.
5. Perseverance and Preservation of the Saints
Westminster Confession (Chapter XI Of Justification)
V. God does continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified; and although they can never fall from the state of justification, yet they may, by their sins, fall under God's fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of His countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance.
New Hampshire Confession 11. (Of the Perseverance of Saints)
We believe that such only are real believers as endure unto the end; that their persevering attachment to Christ is the grand mark which distinguishes them from superficial professors; that a special Providence watches over their welfare; and they are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation
Baptist Faith and Message (Under V. God’s Purpose of Grace)
All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
Commentary: On this last point there is general agreement. Baptist’s favorite designation is “eternal security,” but it involves more than that, the perseverance and preservation of the saints. The true believer (saint, elect) will persevere in his faith. The professing Christian may apostatize when there has been no regeneration. Whenever God creates faith in the human heart, He will sustain that faith, that saving relationship with Christ, causing us, by His grace, to persevere in faith. All of the confessions recognize the continued existence and struggle with sin, a backsliding, but never an undoing of regeneration.
I would like to close with statements from Charles Spurgeon from his AUTOBIOGRAPHY, and recommend the Web site: “What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism.” This is written by the pastoral staff of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minn. Here is a good discussion of Calvinism as it relates to the Scriptures. There are also other statements from great men of God. I recommend that you print the 26 pages.
I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what is nowadays called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel...unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the Cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called.p.168
Born, as all of us are by nature, an Arminian, I still believed the old things I had heard continually from the pulpit, and did not see the grace of God. When I was coming to Christ, I thought I was doing it all myself, and though I sought the Lord earnestly, I had no idea the Lord was seeking me...I can recall the very day and hour when first I received those truths in my own soul—when they were, as John Bunyan says, burnt into my heart as with a hot iron...
One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher's sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me, "How did you come to be a Christian?" I sought the Lord. "But how did you come to seek the Lord?" The truth flashed across my mind in a moment—I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, "I ascribe my change wholly to God" (AUTOBIOGRAPHY, pp. 164-5).