Indeed, John Calvin was a great reformer, a great theologian, author, and preacher. John Calvin was not all of this of his own strength; it was by God’s grace that he was all of this in order that he could serve the purpose of God. He was a man of the sixteenth century whom God used to preserve the truth so that we, the Protestant Reformed Churches in the twenty-first century, may enjoy and confess the right doctrine of preaching.
The doctrine of predestination was of supreme importance to John Calvin. Through the whole of his ministry, he defended the doctrine of predestination against those who vehemently opposed him, even when it meant standing alone. Predestination is fundamental to his Institutes, his commentaries, and his book, Calvin’s Calvinism. This is because Calvin realized that the doctrine of double predestination is the “foundation of salvation” (Engelsma, 266).
Calvin believed that the doctrine of predestination controls the preaching of the gospel. He confessed that the preaching of the gospel is the gracious saving of the elect and at the same time it is the non-gracious hardening of the reprobate (Engelsma, 283). The call of God in the gospel to believe is strictly bound by the decree of predestination. According to Calvin, predestination is the very reason why the gospel is believed by some, and rejected by others. The effect of the preaching is that some are saved, and others perish – this is God’s sovereign, eternal decree of predestination (Engelsma, 270).
The way Calvin begins the section of the Institutes dealing with predestination is significant:
“The covenant of life [gospel] not being equally preached to all, and among those to whom it is preached not always finding the same reception, this diversity discovers the wonderful depth of the Divine judgment. Nor is it to be doubted that this variety also follows, subject to the decision of God’s eternal election” (3.21.1).
In Calvin’s Calvinism, Calvin attacks Pighius’ teaching that God shows grace to all in the preaching of the gospel. “The fiction of Pighius is puerile and absurd, when he interprets grace to be God’s goodness in inviting all men to salvation, though all were lost in Adam…” (Calvin, 49). The idea that God is gracious to all the hearers of the gospel “cuts the call of the gospel loose from eternal election and attributes the saving effect of the call to the acceptance, that is, the will, of those sinners who are saved by the call” (Engelsma, 283). Calvin unwaveringly opposed this doctrine because he was determined to keep God’s decree of eternal election as the source of salvation (Engelsma, 283).
The ecumenical Synod of Dordt adopted Calvin’s understanding of the relationship of double predestination to the preaching of the gospel, and made it creedal for the church of Christ. Head 1, Article 4 expresses two effects of the preaching: “those who believe not” and those who “receive it, and embrace Jesus the Savior.” Article 6 states “That some receive the gift of faith from God and others do not receive it proceeds from God’s eternal decree.”
Astonishingly, in our day, almost the entire Reformed and Presbyterian church world teach that the preaching is a gracious offer of salvation by God to all. They teach and believe that God expresses an attitude of favor to all men in the preaching, and he desires to save all men. These churches imagine and claim that they are in line with the teaching of John Calvin.
The Protestant Reformed Churches, faithful to Calvin, are a witness against the erroneous and false teaching of those that hold to an offer of God in the preaching to all men and that it is God’s desire and intention to save all men, etc. The PRC firmly confess and teach that God does not love all men; neither does He desire to save all men in harmony with what God taught us through John Calvin. Faithful to John Calvin’s teaching, the PRC affirms that God does certainly call everyone to repent and believe. In the preaching God calls externally everyone to repent and believe, and internally only the elect by the Holy Spirit. God causes some who hear the Word to believe, and He causes some who hear to hate that Word. Those who hear the word and believe are the objects of the Holy Spirit’s gracious and efficacious work in their hearts. The preaching is grace only to the elect, and it is a hardening power to the reprobate.
The significance of the call for those who believe (because of God’s grace only) is that God will gather all of his elect from all nations of the earth. The significance of the call for those who reject the call is that it reveals how truly wicked their sinful heart is as they reject the gospel. Not only this, but it makes their judgment all the worse.
In 1924, when the Christian Reformed Church adopted the infamous Three Points, the real point of the first point was that they said God had a certain attitude of favor or love towards the reprobate. Because of common grace, they wanted a well-meant offer of the gospel to all. The command to repent and believe was replaced with an offer of salvation, thus dethroning God and making man’s salvation dependent on man’s will and work. This was a denial of the doctrine of double predestination as manifested in the preaching taught clearly by John Calvin and the Synod of Dordt. The well-meant offer of the gospel can never be harmonized with reprobation. How can a God who hates the reprobate desire their salvation and show grace to them?
Herman Hoeksema was able to stand against the CRC’s teaching of common grace and the offer of the gospel to all men in the assurance of John Calvin’s teachings. Herman Hoeksema had to return to John Calvin’s teachings concerning the matter of the preaching as relating to predestination. For Herman Hoeksema, the issue in the common grace debate was the well-meant offer of the gospel expressing a favor of God to the reprobate. From John Calvin’s teachings, Hoeksema was able to combat this error. Not only was he able to fight this error, but he was able to prove that the CRC had departed from John Calvin. (For an extensive proof of this, see Herman Hoeksema’s three articles titled “Calvin and Common Grace” in volume 37 of the Standard Bearer.)
Is there a way that the Protestant Reformed Churches are born of John Calvin? Indeed there is. The PRC came into existence because its original founders and leaders took a decisive stand foursquare in John Calvin’s doctrine of predestination in regards to the preaching.
Let us imagine that John Calvin was alive in 1924 and had attended the Synod of 1924, when the Three Points of Common Grace were adopted. He would have shot out of his chair and said, “Mr. Chairman, I object. There is no such thing as “a favorable attitude of God to the reprobate” or a “well-meant offer of salvation to the reprobate.” Gesturing to the man at the center of the debate, he would have continued, “Rev. Herman Hoeksema is correct.”
Even though this could not have happened literally that John Calvin objected to those proceedings, he does in fact give clear testimony that he is in agreement with the PRC in its insistence that the preaching is controlled by predestination and that there is no “well-meant offer” to the reprobate ungodly.
Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Vol. 2. Trans. John Allen. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1949. 2 vols. 170
Calvin, John. Calvin’s Calvinism: Treatises on the Eternal Predestination of God & the Secret Providence of God. Grand Rapids, MI: RFPA, 1987. 49
The Confessions and the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches. Jenison, MI: RFPA, 2005. 155-156.
Engelsma, David J. The Reformed Faith of John Calvin: The Institutes in Summary. Jenison, MI: RFPA, 1987. 266-283.