Thursday, 7 April 2016

CALVIN'S "DOGMA OF PERDITION."

We reprint the main portions of a very remarkable article contributed to the Contemporary Review by one who speaks of Calvin as "good and godly." The article was suggested by a lecture delivered by J. A. Froude at St. Andrew's on Calvinism, and the writer signs himself John Young : —

The first and fundamental article of Calvinism is eternal, universal predestination — eternal redemption and eternal reprobation : a certain fixed number of human beings are foredoomed to perdition, and another certain fixed number are predestinated to salvation, any change; even in a solitary instance, through out eternity being impossible. One desiderates very naturally some strong evidence that these terrible conclusions are actually accepted by any sound mind, but the evidence is forthcoming and is irresistible. The Westminster Confession of Faith, a tho roughly Calvinistic creed, which most of the evangelical churches accept, with more or fewer modifications, thus declares : — Chap, iii. 3. " By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others fore-ordained to everlasting death. 4.. these angels and men thus predestinated and fore-ordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number is so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished. 5. 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, hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory out of His 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. ... 7. The rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy, as He pleaseth for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath, for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice."
 Whatever exception may be taken to these blasphemous human utterances, there can be no question as to their unequivocal meaning. The men who drew up and consented to these articles of belief, manifestly betrayed no hesitation or misgivings whatever ; on the contrary, they seem assured that, somehow, they had got access to the eternal secrets of God's mind, and were able to read them like, and open book, and were empowered, to pronounce authoritatively on their unalterable meaning, Will it be credited that there is not a shred, not a tittle to indicate the existence of such eternal decrees? We are entitled to ask, where are they, who has discovered them, who has seen them, or has access to them in any sense? They may exist or they may not, but who has found them, and where? Above all, who has been empowered to open, to read, and to reveal them? They are simply non-existent, so far as men are concerned. The impious presumption of first imagining the existence of such decrees, then of asserting their existence as an ascertained fact, and then of imposing the belief in them on all and sundry, is not to be measured.
 Had there been more of reverent reticence, and more of modesty and tenderness of statement, the world would have been less shocked and embittered. But Calvin, good and godly as he undoubtedly was, was hard, stern, and cold. Fortified, by isolated passages and phrases in the Bible capable of a very different interpretation, he has put into words a conception of the Great Father almost more revolting than can be found in the Pagan world, ancient or modern. The God of Calvinism, the Being whom some Christians, misinterpreting certain sacred words have set up for the adoration of mankind, whatever else He be, is not the eternal fountain of justice and of love. Innumerable beings who never asked existence at His hand, and had no part whatever in that existence. He created and fore-doomed to eternal perdition. This, is Calvinism, and this, with little or no modification, is adopted by multitudes of Christian people, and most of all through the length and breadth of Scotland.
 Eternal, universal predestination manifestly throws back the entire of human agency on the Almighty, Everything that transpires on earth, good or bad, is as really divine as if no mediate agency had intervened. It was a logical necessity of Calvin's system, that human free will should be utterly given up. If the course of every single life, and the whole course of all human agency on earth be, as Calvin assumed, eternally fore-ordained, then, free will existing, a single outbreak of this force might at any moment upset the wisest pre-arrangements and introduce interminable anarchy. Calvin's clear, cold eye detected this possible outcome, and he at once abandoned the notion of free agency in creatures. There is one sole agent in the universe — only one — the Great God. He may employ the hands and the minds of His creatures; but it is He, and He only, that is the real actor. He has instruments through whose medium He accomplishes his purposes, but the mind and the hands that guide and use the instruments are His, directly and wholly His.
 If all the grandest and all the pettiest outcomes of what seems to be human agency are eternally predetermined by God, men are not actors at all in any true sense. They are degraded to mere puppets, appearing or disappearing, moving or at rest, acting in this direction or in that, simply in virtue of a decree of which they are ignorant, and which they can neither evade nor resist. Neither praise nor blame, neither virtue nor vice can belong to them. They are not agents at all, they are mere instruments through which another acts, and whether it be for good or for evil is no concern, and certainly no crime, of theirs. The whole responsibility of what ever is transacted on earth belongs to the Great Being. Every lie, every cruelty, every injustice; every impurity attaches wholly and only to God. It belongs to men not at all, for the strongest of all reasons; this, namely, that they are compelled, however unconsciously, by a force which they cannot escape. Necessity is laid upon them. They yield to the eternal predestination of God, of which they are ignorant, but which rules and must rule them absolutely, will they or will they not.
 There is more truth than is often recognised in the aphorism, that each man is the creator of the God whom he worships. Given the man, his nature, his character, and his life; you could pronounce with a close approach to certainty what his God must be. Calvin's God is most painfully Calvin himself, only exaggerated and worsened. The man, serious and devout, was by nature, stern, rigid, severe, logical, not intuitional or emotional at all. The syllogism was his guide to all truth, the premises, major an minor, and the copula, were his instruments. And yet withal the astounding fact is, that his entire system is based on a pure assumption. He starts from a principle which may or may not be true, but which is neither more nor less than a mere begging of the question. That principle is eternal, universal predestination. A modest man, one profoundly reverent, conscious of his limited powers, and overawed by the conception of an infinite, eternal, uncreated Being would have shrunk back from pronouncing on the underlying plans and purposes of a vast universe. But there was no shrinking with the Great Reformer. He met the tremendous problem with perfect confidence. As if he had been present at the council of Eternity, as if he had seen and heard and understood all that was transacted, he, without a misgiving, publishes to the world God's eternal decrees. But they are his, not God's; the outcome of his mind and spirit, not God's. They are baseless imaginations, without a shred of proof or ground. How he formed the conviction that there were such eternal decrees it is not hard to imagine. Had Calvin been entrusted with the creation of a world, he with his hard, cold, and rigid nature, would have played the tyrant with all his rebellious subjects, but would have exalted and honoured those who fell in with his plans and upheld his authority. And such as he himself was, his God must be, loving to the good, but merciless and ruthless to the bad.
 It is a tremendous conception, that all human things, good or evil, beneficent or disastrous, great or small, the feelings, desires, thoughts, words, and acts of all men, are eternally pre-determined for them, and cannot of necessity be either than they actually are. In one obvious respect it is palpably true, that whatever is must have been considering all the circumstances, and especially the free-agency of men. But it is quite another thing to imagine that the certainty which God foresees He also makes inevitable by an eternal decree. In this case God is the only real actor, and man is a mere irresponsible instrument. In the other case, man is the conscious, voluntary cause and creator of all that springs out of His free choice, and God simply recognises the patent fact of this agency. To which of these alternative cases, had they been put before him, Calvin would have attached himself might have been predicted, beforehand from his marked idiosyncrasy.
 Imagine the dark problem of the universe before him. Fearlessly he attempts its solution, but in his own spirit, and from the ground of his own principles and character. God is sovereign, amenable to none. His will is supreme as it is absolutely irresistible. But Calvin forgets that the Sovereign of the universe is responsible to Himself, if to none else, and is under the law of His own Being — the law of righteousness and love. Calvin's idea of God's sovereignty is neither more nor less than this, that God hap a right to do with His own as He pleases. True, most true, but that which pleases Him is always righteous and loving. With the view of exalting Divine sovereignty, Calvin represents God as determining from eternity to create myriads of beings for everlasting holiness and happiness, and myriads, more numerous, for everlasting sin and misery. Irrespective of character, or rather with a character which is predestined for them, and which they can neither escape nor change, myriads are fitted for salvation and myriads more are fitted for perdition. But this is Calvin, not God — the native product of a cold, stern, ruthless human soul, not the will of the loving Father of spirits.
 A man — a good and holy man, without doubt—sets himself to search into the thoughts and purposes of the Eternal God. He fancies himself in the place of God, tries to go back  in thought to the unbeginning eternity, and then and there he ventures to decide and pronounce what it would be wise and right and best for God to plan and to do. But the fatal, the insuperable difficulty is that the everlasting past has no voice. No intelligible sound can be heard forth from it in any direction, all is mere wicked assumption. Nevertheless Calvin ponders the awful problem, harder than the riddle of the Sphinx, he conjectures and speculates, and at last satisfies himself that he knows the entire vast scheme of creation, and providence and all the deepest purposes and intentions of the Creator. But his impious presumption is terribly punished. The God whom he represents is immeasurably more odious and detestable than the worst of his sinful creatures. He not only punishes those who deserve punishment, but he creates myriads of beings, predestining to be wicked and to be tortured for ever in the fires of perdition. And this is held, and held tenaciously by multitudes, as among the surest varieties of Christianity. We ask, and are entitled to ask, on what basis does it stand? None, absolutely none. It has no basis, it is mere pure assumption, assumption besides of the most dishonouring and daring kind. It supposes that a man—no matter how gifted and pious — gained access to the councils of eternity, and was empowered to reveal and expound them. Such, at least, was Calvin's conviction; and, without a shred of evidence, without the faintest whisper from the voice-less past, he fills up the eternal void with his own monstrous fancies : for be it kept in mind, they are mere pure fancies, and not creditable to either his head or his heart. Even the Popish dogma of purgatory has far more of verisimilitude than Calvin's decree of damnation. If there be no truth set forth in human words, which on one side or other does not tend to error, it is not less certain that there is no human error which has not some grain of truth at the bottom of it. The idea of a purificatory discipline in the future world is based on the strongest grounds. Who, among even the purest and noblest of men — who in dying, could be capable of entering into a region of perfect holiness? Not one. The idea of perfect holiness, by a momentary change of place at death, is too incongruous to be entertained. The process of purification may be marvellously accelerated by new influences and in a new sphere, but surely we cannot, as if by a jerk, pass into perfect purity from amidst all the imperfections and errors and sins of earth.  It is simply impossible. Moral purification is, and must be, a gradual process, a process which may be more or less rapid, but which cannot be accomplished by a mere act of power. But the question is whether the purifying process in the future state shall be brought to bear on all, or only on some. With Calvin, this is no question. The curse of Calvinism is the figment of eternal reprobation, and the root of the curse is the denial of free will.
 JOHN YOUNG.

Freeman's Journal (Sydney) 21 June 1873

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