I can hear it now. The Arminians are screaming “YES!” believing all the time that Calvinism is the doctrine of devils and spewed forth from the very depths of hell. Any chance that they get to equate Calvinism with Satan is gladly taken and enjoyed. What Arminian wouldn’t want these doctrines vilified by throwing Satan into the Calvinist’s camp.
The Calvinist, on the other hand, does not want the negative publicity that the devil would bring. No one in their right mind would want him or say they believe the same way. Who would write a book and then solicit Satan himself to pen a blurb for the back cover? Certainly not a true, biblical Calvinist. But, Satan and demons are orthodox; theologically sound. And Calvinists know that their system and doctrine are pure and truly biblical. So, if Satan knows and believes the truth, and Calvinism is the nearest to the truth that fallen humanity can get, it follows then that Satan is a Calvinist. Right? Not so fast. We will answer the question later, for now some definitions are in order.
James Boice wrote, “while Calvinism is much more than a mind set, it nevertheless begins with a mind that is enlightened by the truth of the gospel.” “The Calvinist believes”, said Beeke, “that God is the Lord of life and Sovereign of the universe whose will is the key to history... He is free and independent of any force outside Himself to accomplish His purposes... He knows the end from the beginning... He creates, sustains, governs, and directs all things....”
This is a great place to start. Calvinism views the gospel as true, and sees God as God. He is the key to history; there would be nothing without him. God is the source of life and as the Creator he has the right to govern his creatures. This implies that he is the Lawgiver, is sovereign, and has the power and ability to accomplish all that he wills. Another implication is that God has plans and purposes for his creation and as a result, directs all things to their appointed ends. Nothing that has been said would be denied by the devil and demons. They would acknowledge these truths. But, this is only the beginning; we must go deeper.
THE FIVE POINTS
Unfortunately, Calvinism has been defined and boiled down to five points. This may be a good place to start, but I do not think that we can stop here. The five points are beneficial, but they are open to misinterpretations and caricatures. They will be briefly defined but we will move beyond them.
The first point is the depravity of humanity. Mankind possesses a fallen, sinful nature. It is our nature to sin. Just as a dog licks itself and barks, due to the fact that it has the nature of a dog, we sin because that is our nature. It is what we do naturally. We have to try to stop sinning, but we do not have to try to sin. Read carefully the words of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:1-3,
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, pens some very condemning and humbling words. Unconverted man is spiritually dead and has a sinful nature. And as such, stands to inherit wrath.
The words of Paul in Romans 3:9-20 are no less telling and sobering.
What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
Jeremiah 13:23 says, “can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.” “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” wrote Isaiah in 64:6. Ecclesiastes 9:3 says that man is “full of evil”. Genesis 6:5 reveals that “every intention of the thoughts of his heart [man] was only evil continually.” The list of verses go on and on; the next one just as damning as the previous.
The verdict is in- mankind is depraved; we are incarnate devils. Humanity is sinful and corrupt; incapable of any good toward God. “The whole of man”, wrote Calvin, “is overwhelmed- as by a deluge- from head to foot, so that no part is immune from sin and all that proceeds from him is to be imputed to sin.” He wrote further that, “original sin, therefore, seems to be a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul, which first makes us liable to God’s wrath... we are so vitiated and perverted in every part of our nature that by this great corruption we stand justly condemned and convicted before God... this perversity never ceases in us, but continually bears new fruits....” Michael Horton is just as accurate and definitive when he writes,
the human race in Adam is now the false prophet, who misrepresents God’s word in its futile and treasonous demand for autonomy; the false priest, who corrupts God’s sanctuary instead of guarding, keeping, and extending it; and the false king, who is no longer the medium of God’s loving reign but now exercises a cruel tyranny over the earth and his fellow vice-regents.
Herman Bavinck summarizes the teaching on depravity well when he wrote, “corruption of human nature is so total that humans are by nature incapable of any spiritual good, inclined to all evil, and on account of it alone deserving of eternal punishment.” The Westminster Confession reads, “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” (VI. II).
James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken, The Doctrines Of Grace: Rediscovering The Evangelical Gospel (Wheaton: Ill: Crossway, 2002), 180.
Joel R. Beeke, “The Marrow of Calvinism” in Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction To Calvinism (Orlando, Fl: Reformation Trust, 2008), 39.
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 2.1.2.
Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way (Zondervan, 2011), 414.
Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vols. ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 3:98.