Monday, January 14, 2008

Calvinists Who Don't Know They Are, 1

Labels are used for convenience, but sometimes prove themselves to be quite inconvenient. As an amateur historian, I appreciate labels when they're used with some precision. They help us to make contact with the people and ideas and history that came before us. So, they can be useful. But they can also, when used sloppily or dishonestly, do more to occlude than elucidate. "Calvinist" and "Arminian" are two such labels. They're helpful when understood and used appropriately, but terribly harmful when called upon without understanding or precision.

But J.I. Packer helps us in understanding the label "Calvinist," and in so doing makes it clear that there are more "Calvinists" in the world than we'd suspect. In fact, many may be "Calvinists" and not know it. From Packer's Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God:

"Nor, again, am I going to spend time proving to you the particular truth that God is sovereign in salvation. For that, too, you believe already. Two facts show this. In the first place, you give God thanks for your conversion. Now why do you do that? Because you know in your heart that God was entirely responsible for it. You did not save yourself; He saved you. Your thanksgiving is itself an acknowledgement that your conversion was not your own work, but His work. You do not put it down to chance or accident that you attended a Christian church, that you heard the Christian gospel, that you had Christian friends and, perhaps, a Christian home, that the Bible fell into your hands, that you saw your need of Christ and came to trust Him as your Saviour. You do not attribute your repenting and believing to your own wisdom, or prudence, or sound judgment, or good sense. Perhaps, in the days when you were seeking Christ, you laboured and strove hard, read and pondered much, but all that outlay of effort did not make your conversion your own work. Your act of faith when you closed with Christ was yours in the sense that it was you who performed it; but that does not mean that you saved yourself. In fact, it never occurs to you to suppose that you saved yourself.

"As you look back, you take to yourself the blame for your past blindness and indifference and obstinacy and evasiveness in face of the gospel message; but you do not pat yourself on the back for having been at length mastered by the insistent Christ. You would never dream of dividing the credit for your salvation between God and yourself. You have never for one moment supposed that the decisive contribution to your salvation was yours and not God's. You have never told God that, while you are grateful for the means and opportunities of grace that He gave you, you realize that you have to thank, not Him, but yourself for the fact that you responded to His call. Your heart revolts at the very thought of talking to God in such terms. In fact, you thank Him no less sincerely for the gift of faith and repentance than for the gift of a Christ to trust and turn to. This is the way in which, since you became a Christian, your heart has always led you. You give God all the glory for all that your salvation involved, and you know that it would be blasphemy if you refused to thank Him for bringing you to faith. Thus, in the way that you think of your conversion and give thanks for your conversion, you acknowledge the sovereignty of divine grace. And every other Christian in the world does the same.

"It is instructive in this connection to ponder Charles Simeon's account of his conversation with John Wesley on Dec. 20th, 1784: '"Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions.... Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?" "Yes," says the veteran, "I do indeed." "And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?" "Yes, solely through Christ" "But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you now somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?" "Now, I must be saved by Christ from first to last." "Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?" "No." "What, then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother's arms?" "Yes, altogether." "and is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?" "Yes, I have no hope but in Him." "Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; fir this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree."'"

10 comments:

Michele said...

Thanks for this helpful post, Thabiti!

samurai said...

An excellent post about Calvinism... I will still hiesitate to use the 'label' though. :-)

Todd Pruitt said...

Every non-Calvinist I know sure does pray like one.

Great post.

Pastor Randy said...

That's a great quote from a great book. The label of Calvinism is not a bad label when understood. Unfortunately there are too many people who do not understand it and they teach others their false understanding.

Laura said...

Wow... that last paragraph gave me chills. Just think of such a conversation taking place today, without hostility or rancor!

Stephen Ley said...

Outstanding! What a treasure J.I. Packer is to the church.

Professor Howdy said...

What did the despensationalists say???

DjR said...

Wot? Is that a typo from J.I. Packer?! mh genoito! Given the context, it is IMO a bit misleading, so worth correcting. We should read: "Charles Simeon's account of his conversation with John Wesley...".

If anyone is interested in seeing the incident as reported in Carus's Memoir, just point your browser here, and head for pp. 182-183.

David Reimer

The Seeking Disciple said...

Excellent quote on the coversation between Simeon and Wesley. Despite their obvious theological differences, they were united under the lordship of Christ. How I long for that to be the case in the body of Christ today.

FellowElder said...

djr,

Thanks for catching that typo!

T-