Calvinism and Evangelical Arminianism

John L. Girardeau



I pass on, finally, to answer those objections to the Calvinistic doctrines of election and reprobation which are derived from the Moral Agency of Man

This, for two reasons, will be done briefly. In the first place, the preceding discussion, in which objections to these doctrines drawn from the moral attributes of God were subjected to a thorough-going examination, has swept away much of the ground upon which the Arminian erects difficulties professedly growing out of the relations between the divine efficiency and the agency of the human will. Again and again, by repeated statement usque ad nauseam, which could only have been justified, and was fully justified, by the common misconception and consequent misrepresentation of the true doctrine of symbolic Calvinism, and the importance of its being stated and expounded with a clearness and fulness that would render misapprehension impossible, it has been shown, that the causal efficiency of God did not so operate upon the will of man as to determine it to the commission of the first sin and thus to necessitate the Fall. Man sinned by a free - that is, not a merely spontaneous, but an avoidable, decision of his own will. For this even Twisse, the great Supralapsarian, explicitly contends. It has also been evinced, by a minute analysis of the doctrine of the Evangelical Arminian concerning the human will after the Fall, that he is shut up to a choice between two alternatives: either, that the prevenient and sufficient grace which he affirms to be conferred upon all men is regenerating grace; or, that it is the natural will, clothed with the power to accept or to reject the aid of supernatural grace, which determines the question of practical salvation. If he adopts the former alternative he admits the Calvinistic doctrine, so far as the nature of the grace is concerned, though not the numerical extent of its bestowal. If he chooses the latter alternative, he makes, in the last resort, common cause with the Pelagian. If he concedes prevenient and sufficient grace to be regenerating, he, along with the Calvinist, is pressed by the difficulty of reconciling the determining efficacy of God's will with the free action of the human will. If he denies that grace to be regenerating, he, along with the Pelagian, gets quit of the difficulty mentioned, but, with him, encounters the greater, of showing how a sinful will, undetermined by the divine efficiency, determines itself to the generation of holy dispositions and the performance of saving acts. 

In the second place, as it has been the design of this treatise, in the main, to consider the peculiar and distinctive doctrines of Evangelical Arminians in connection with election and reprobation, it would not comport with that purpose elaborately to examine the ground which is common between them and the earlier Arminians of the Remonstrant type. There is at bottom but little to discriminate the one system from the other as far as the moral agency of man is involved. So much as differentiates the Evangelical Arminian scheme, in regard to the relation of the human will to the grace of redemption, has passed under strict review in the foregoing remarks. For these reasons, what is to be said under this head of the subject will be compressed within narrow limits. 

Certain things must be premised. The meaning of the terms employed in the discussion ought to be definitely fixed; otherwise no satisfactory result can be reached. Nothing is more common among Calvinists than this remark, which is by many accepted as almost an axiom: The attempt to reconcile the sovereignty of God and the free agency of man is hopeless and therefore gratuitous. God is sovereign: man is a free-agent. Both these propositions are true. Each is separately established by its own independent evidence. Each, therefore, is to be maintained. Our inability to evince their consistency is no ground for rejecting either. Let us leave their reconciliation to another sphere of being, satisfied in this with the reflection that they are not contradictions. There is a sense in which all this is true; but, without qualifications of its meaning and definitions of its terms, the dictum as one of universal validity is so vague as to settle nothing. What is meant by one of the terms of the contrast - the sovereignty of God? It may be conceived as that aspect of the divine will which is expressed in both his efficient and permissive decrees. Accordingly it may be apprehended as in some instances absolutely pre-determining events, and as in others bounding, ordering and governing events which are not absolutely predetermined, but permitted to occur. Or, again, the sovereignty of God may be conceived as that aspect of his will which is expressed alone in efficient decree, and as therefore absolutely pre-determining events. Now it is evident that the question of reconciling the free-agency of man with that sort of divine sovereignty which operates in connection with permissive decree is a very different one from the question of reconciling the free-agency of man with that kind of sovereignty which operates in connection with efficient decree and absolute predetermination. This distinction cannot be disregarded, if we would get a clear apprehension of the state of the question. 

What, next, is meant by the other term of the contrast - the free-agency of man? I shall not here pause to discuss the unnecessary question, whether there is not a difference between the freedom of the will and the freedom of the man; but shall assume that there is no such difference worth contending about, since the will is precisely the power through which the freedom of the ma expresses itself. To affirm or deny the freedom of the will is the same thing as to affirm or deny the freedom of the man. The very question is, whether or not the man is free in willing, or free to will. If he is not free in respect to his will, it is certain that he is not in respect to any other faculty. Now, if we may credit the common judgment of mankind, there are two distinct kinds of freedom which ought never to be confounded. The one is the freedom of deliberate election between opposing alternatives, of going in either of two directions, the freedom, as it is sometimes denominated, of otherwise determining. The other is the freedom of a fixed and determined spontaneity. It might have been well if these two things had always been kept distinct; if the term freedom had been restricted to the former, and the term spontaneity had been assigned to the latter. This was the judgment of so acute and judicious a thinker as Calvin, and had that course been pursued a vast amount of logomachy would have been avoided. Let us illustrate the importance and test the accuracy of this abstract distinction by concrete cases. Man in innocence possessed the freedom of deliberate election between the opposite alternatives of sin and holiness. So has the Church universal held. He may have chosen either. He was not determined by a fixed moral spontaneity either to holiness or to sin. Man in his fallen and unregenerate condition does not possess the freedom of deliberate election between the opposing alternatives of holiness and sin. By his first fatal act of transgression, he determined his spiritual condition as one of fixed spontaneity in the single direction of sin. He is spontaneously free to choose sin, but he is not, without grace, free deliberately to elect holiness. Here then is a case of spontaneous freedom, but not of the freedom of deliberate choice between conflicting alternatives. Man as a saint in glory has not the freedom of deliberate election between the alternatives of holiness and sin; he is determined by a fixed spontaneity in the direction of holiness. He is spontaneously free in the choice of holiness, but he is not free deliberately to elect sin. When, therefore, it is assumed that the free-agency of man is an independent truth resting upon its own indisputable evidence, it must be inquired, Which of these kinds of free-agency is meant? For it is of vital importance to know in what sense the term is employed. And it is also of the greatest consequence to understand in what circumstances man is contemplated, when free-agency in either one or the other sense is predicated of him. 

Let us now apply these obvious distinctions between two forms of divine sovereignty on the one hand, and two kinds of human freedom on the other, to the maxim which has been cited in regard to the reconcilability of the sovereignty of God and the free-agency of man. Let it be observed that in this dictum the sovereignty of God is regarded as his efficient and pre-determining will. It is plain that the question is not, how the free-agency of man can be reconciled with the sovereignty of God considered as his permissive will. It is only when the free action of the human will is viewed in its relation to the efficient and pre-determining will of God that apparent contradiction results - an apparent contradiction with which it is said we must rest content in our present sphere of thought. 

How was it in the case of man before the Fall? If he possessed the freedom of deliberate election between the opposite alternatives of holiness and sin, if he was free to sin and free to abstain from sinning, it would seem to be clear that God did not by his efficient will pre-determine that he should sin; for in that case, the sin of man would have been necessitated and therefore unavoidable. On the other hand, if God had efficaciously pre-determined man's sin, it would seem to be equally clear that man could not have had the freedom of deliberate election between holiness and sin, between sinning and not sinning. To say that God pre-determined the first sin, and that man was free to abstain from its commission, that is, that he might not have sinned, would be to affirm not merely an apparent, but a real contradiction. As predetermined by the divine will to sin he was obliged to sin; as free to abstain from sinning he was not obliged to sin. The contradiction is patent. This contradiction is not inherent in the Calvinistic doctrine. The Calvinistic Confessions, which surely ought to be accepted as exponents of Calvinism, affirm that man before the Fall was possessed of the freedom of deliberate election between the alternatives of sin and holiness; and they also teach that God decreed to permit - they do not assert that he efficiently decreed - the first sin. There is consequently no question of reconciling the free-agency of man before the Fall with the sovereignty of God considered as his efficient and pre-determining will, so far as the first sin is concerned. The relation was between the sovereignty of God as his permissive will and the freedom of man deliberately to choose between the opposite alternatives of holiness and sin; and whatever difficulties may arise in connection with that relation, they cannot be regarded as involving even a seeming contradiction. 

The inquiry next arises, What is the relation between the sovereign will of God and the free-agency of man after the Fall? In his fallen condition, unmodified by the influence of supernatural grace, man does not possess the freedom of deliberate election between the contrary alternatives of sin and holiness. That sort of freedom, as has been shown, he had in his estate of innocence, but he lost it when he fell. By his own free, that is, unnecessitated, self-decision in favor of sin, he established in his soul a fixed and determined spontaneity in the direction of sin. He sins freely, in the sense of spontaneously; in sinning he is urged by no compulsory force exerted by a divine influence either upon him or through him, but follows the bent of his own inclination - in a word, does as he pleases. He is not, however, free to be holy or to do holy acts. Spiritually disabled, he is no more free to produce holiness than is a dead man to generate life. When, therefore, it is affirmed that man is a free-agent in his sinful and unregenerate condition, it must be demanded, what sort of free-agency is meant. If the freedom of choosing between sin and holiness be intended, the affirmation is not true. He only possesses the freedom which is implied by a fixed spontaneity in accordance with which he pleases to sin. Only in that sense is he a free-agent, as to spiritual things. In inquiring, whether the free-agency of man in his sinful and unregenerate condition can be reconciled with the sovereign will of God as efficient and determinative, it must be remembered that it is only the freedom of sinful spontaneity concerning which the inquiry is possible. It alone, and not the freedom of election between sin and holiness, is one of the terms of the relation. What this relation is between the sinful spontaneity of the unregenerate man and the sovereign will of God as efficient and determining, I will not now discuss,1 for the reason that the matter which is under consideration here is the relation between the sovereignty of God and the free-agency of man in respect to the great concern of practical salvation. 

Before the regeneration of a sinner the question of reconciling his free-agency as to spiritual things with the sovereignty of God viewed as efficient cannot exist, for the plain reason that the unregenerate man has no such free-agency. He is not free to choose holiness, to accept in his natural strength the gospel offer and to believe on Christ unto salvation. It is not intended to affirm that God positively interposes hindrances in the way of his performing these spiritual acts, or that the legal obstacles in the way of his salvation have not been removed by the atoning work and merit of the Saviour. The contrary is true. Nor is the ground taken, that tlte unregenerate sinner is not under obligation to obey the call and command of God to all men to comply with the terms of the gospel, or that he is not bound to use such means of grace as are divinely placed in his power, or that he has no natural ability and opportunities to employ those means. But although all this is conceded, still the doctrine of Scripture is that he has no freedom to will his own spiritual life, and consequently no freedom, in the absence of that life, to will the existence of spiritual dispositions and the discharge of spiritual functions. His spontaneous habitudes are exclusively sinful: he is dead in trespasses and sins. To talk then of reconciling the sovereignty of God with the free-agency in spiritual things of the unregenerate sinner is to talk of reconciling that sovereignty with nothing. One of the terms of the supposed relation is absent, and the relation is non-existent. There is no problem to be solved. The influence of the Spirit of God upon the sinner before regeneration, however powerful, is simply illuminating and suasive. It enlightens, instructs and convinces, warns, invites and persuades; but as such divine operations are confessedly not determining, the problem under consideration does not emerge in connection with them. 

Nor can it occur in respect to regeneration itself. In the supreme moment of regeneration, which from the nature of the case is an instantaneous act of almighty power, the sinner can be nothing more than the passive recipient of a newly created principle of life. The omnipotent grace of God efficaciously causes a new spiritual existence, makes the previously dead sinner a new creature in Christ Jesus. The ability to will holiness, the freedom to choose it, are thus divinely produced. Free-agency in regard to spiritual things is originated. That sort of free-agency not having existed until called into being by the regenerating act, it is idle to talk of reconciling it with the sovereign and efficient will of God expressed in that act. The only reconciliation, in the case, which it is possible to conceive is that between a producing cause and its effects; and it would be unmeaning to speak of their reconciliation before the effect is produced. 

After the regeneration of the sinner has been effected, the question as to the reconciliation of divine sovereignty and human free-agency becomes a pertinent one, and, I am free to confess, an insoluble one. It is clearly the teaching of the Scriptures that God determines the will of the renewed man to holiness, and also that the will of the renewed man freely, that is, spontaneously chooses holiness. The renewed nature, after being started into existence, is not left to develop the principle of life, like a potential germ, in accordance with inherent and self-acting laws or spiritual forces. It continually needs fresh infusions of grace, new accessions of spiritual strength; and the grace which created the nature, and implanted in it the principle of spiritual life, is necessary not only to sustain that life, but also to determine its activities. At the same time the renewed nature spontaneously exerts its own energies. In a word, God determines the renewed will, but the renewed will acts in accordance with its own spontaneous elections. A single explicit passage of Scripture proves this representation of the case to be correct. The apostolic injunction is: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure."2 

How this is so, who can explain? It is a mystery unfathomed, and probably, in the present sphere of thought, unfathomable. The difficulty does not consist in the fact that God creates a will endowed with the power of free, spontaneous action. He also creates the intellect and the feelings with their own spontaneous activities. But the difficulty lies in this: that having created a will with ability spontaneously to elect its own acts, he by an efficient influence determines those acts. This he did not do in the instance of man before the Fall. He did not determine his spontaneous activities. But this he does in the case of the believer in Christ, so far as he is regenerate and his will is renewed, and in the case of the saint in glory. Here the maxim, which has been the subject of criticism in these remarks, holds good. In our inability speculatively to harmonize the sovereign efficiency of God with the spontaneous freedom of the saint, we are obliged to accept both facts upon the authority of the divine Word. Both being true, there can be no real contradiction between them; and our impotence to effect their reconciliation is but one of the many lessons which enforce the humility springing from the limitation of our faculties, furnish scope for the exercise of faith, and stimulate to the quest of truth. But formidable as this difficulty is, it is not the insuperable difficulty involved in the supposition that the efficient determination of the divine will consists with the freedom of deliberate election between contrary alternatives, on the part of the human will. The one may be inconceivable; the other is incredible. 

The bearing of this statement of the distinctions which ought to be observed touching divine sovereignty and human free-agency upon the objections to the doctrines of election and reprobation will be apparent as those objections shall be considered. It goes far towards answering them by anticipation, and will justify brevity in dealing with them. 

First, It is alleged that these doctrines are inconsistent with liberty and therefore with moral accountability. 

Secondly, It is alleged that these doctrines are inconsistent with personal efforts to secure salvation. 

We must divide. As election influences only the case of the elect, the question is, first, whether it is inconsistent with their liberty and moral accountability; and, secondly, whether it is inconsistent with their efforts to secure salvation. The only mode in which it can be conceived to be inconsistent with their free moral agency in these forms is, that by means of efficacious grace it irresistibly effects the production of holiness. 

1. It is admitted that such is the result of election upon the elect. 

2. This, however, does not prove it to be inconsistent with their free moral agency, but the contrary, for the following reasons: 

(1.) Did not grace create a will to be holy, there could be no such will in a sinner. As has been already shown, he lost the liberty of willing holiness by reason of sin. He cannot, in his own strength, recover it. The dead cannot recover life. As, then, efficacious grace, the fruit of election, restores to him the liberty to will holiness, so far from being inconsistent with that liberty, it is proved to be its only cause. How a cause can be inconsistent with its effect, and an effect due to its operation alone, it is impossible to see. Upon this point the Evangelical Arminian maintains contradictory positions. He holds that as man is naturally dead in sin, he cannot of himself will holiness. Grace must give him that ability, that is, that spiritual liberty to will holiness. But he also holds that if grace does this, it destroys the liberty of the moral agent. 

(2.) The liberty and moral accountability of the elect cannot be destroyed by election, acting by means of efficacious and determining grace, for if it were, there could be no such thing as immutable confirmation in holiness. But Evangelical Arminians themselves admit the fact that the glorified saints are confirmed in holiness, so as to be beyond the danger of a fall. Now, there are only two suppositions possible: either, the glorified saints are confirtmed by virtue of their own culture of holy habits, that is to say, by virtue of the holy characters which they, themselves have formed; or, they are confirmed by the determining grace of God. The first supposition is manifestly inconsistent with the confirmation of infants dying in infancy, and of adults who, like the penitent thief on the cross, are transferred to heaven without having had the opportunity of developing holy characters on earth. The second supposition must therefore be adopted, to wit, that the saints in glory are confirmed in their standing by the infusions of determining grace. But it surely will not be contended that they are deprived of liberty and moral accountability on that account. No more, then, are saints on earth. The principle is precisely the same in both cases. Further, Evangelical Arminians acknowledge that those who reach heaven are elected to final salvation. If election, according to their own admission, is not inconsistent with the liberty and moral accountability of moral agents in heaven, why should it be held to be inconsistent with those attributes in moral agents on earth? 

(3.) The doctrine of Prayer, as held by both Evangelical Arminians and Calvinists, completely refutes this objection. Prayer is a confession of human helplessness, a cry for the intervention of almighty and efficacious grace. When we cannot deliver ourselves, we appeal to God for deliverance. When our wills are confessedly impotent, we implore grace to quicken and determine them. We pray not merely to be helped, but to be saved. Would he, whose feet are stuck fast in the horrible pit and the miry clay, be relieved by such an answer to his prayers as Hercules is fabled to have given to the wagoner: Help yourself, and then I will help you? I cannot help myself, he cries; O Lord, pluck thou my feet out of the horrible pit and out of the miry clay. When God answers his prayer, delivers him, puts his feet upon a rock, and a new song in his mouth, does he interfere with the suppliant's liberty and moral accountability? If so, the more of such interference, the better for despairing sinners. Its absence is hell; its presence is heaven. The case is too plain to need argument. Let the experience of converted sinners decide. 

(4.) The sudden, overwhelming, irresistible conversion of some men furnishes an answer to this objection. The fact of such conversions Wesley frankly admitted. How could he help it? Had he not seen them with his own eyes? Had he not read of them in the Bible? And are such conversions incompatible with the liberty and moral accountability of those who are their blessed subjects? When Saul of Tarsus, the hater of Jesus, the savage inquisitor thirsting for the blood of the saints, was suddenly, overwhelmingly, irresistibly converted and transmuted into a flaming preacher of the Cross, was the supernatural, efficacious and determining transformation inconsistent with his liberty and moral accountability? 

(5.) The doctrine of a Special Providence, maintained alike by Evangelical Arminians and Calvinists, overthrows this objection. It is confessed to be a scriptural truth, that God by an influence exerted in his natural providence upon the minds and hearts of men often determines their thoughts, inclinations and purposes, without violating their liberty and accountability. Why, then, should it be thought a thing incredible that he may, with the same result, exercise a like determining influence by his grace? What is grace but special providence running in redemptive moulds? The argument here from analogy is conclusive. To deny determining grace is to deny determining providence. To admit determining providence is to admit determining grace. 

3. Election cannot be inconsistent with personal efforts to secure salvation. 

(1.) An obvious reason is, that its very design is to accomplish that result. This is its teleology. How can those be hindered from believing, repenting and performing the duties of holiness, by that which is the sole cause of faith, repentance and holy living? And it must be remembered, that these graces are not merely means, but parts, of salvation. Those, therefore, who are elected to be saved are elected to believe, to repent, and to bring forth all the fruits of holiness. To say that election is not inconsistent with efforts to secure salvation is not enough: it is the producing cause of those efforts. Without it they never would be put forth; with it they certainly will. Did the elect not employ these efforts they would defeat God's predestinating purpose. That such is his purpose was incontestably proved by Scripture testimony in the former part of this treatise. 

(2.) Election is not inconsistent with the use of the means of grace, for the plain reason that the use of those means by the elect is included in the electing decree. The means of grace are the Word of God, the Sacraments and Prayer. These means the elect are predestinated to employ, in order to the attainment of salvation as the predestinated end. 

How the determining grace of God, which is the fruit of election, consists with the free, that is, spontaneous, action of the human will is, as has been confessed, a mystery which cannot be explained. But not only is the consistency a fact clearly asserted by the Scriptures, but the denial of it would be the denial of the possibility of salvation; for did not God's grace determine the will of the sinner towards salvation it is absolutely certain that it would never be so determined. And, further, to deny the fact is to deny the possibility of heavenly confirmation in holiness; which is to deny what Arminians admit. 

4. The remaining question is, whether the decree of reprobation is inconsistent with the free moral agency of the non-elect sinner. 

(1.) That ground can only be taken upon the supposition, that as God in consequence of election irresistibly produces the holiness of the elect, so in consequence of reprobation he irresistibly produces the sins of the reprobate. This position has already been abundantly refuted. God is not the author of sin; nor does the Calvinistic doctrine affirm that he is. On the contrary it solemnly maintains that he is not; and teaches, that, in the first instance, man had ample ability to refrain from sinning, and that he sinned by a free and avoidable election of his own will. The objection under consideration represents the Calvinist as holding that man sinned at first and sins now because he was reprobated. This is an utter mistake. He holds that every man who is reprobated was reprobated because he sinned. It is palpably clear, therefore, that, as reprobation had nothing to do in bringing about sin in the first instance, in that instance it was simply impossible that it could have been inconsistent with the free moral agency of man. The objection amounts to this absurdity: man freely sinned and was therefore reprobated; consequently, reprobation so obstructed the free-agency of man that he could not avoid sinning! 

(2.) The decree of reprobation infuses no sinful principle or disposition into men now. Their inability to obey God, and their positive inclination to disobey him, are the results of their own free and unnecessitated choice, in the first instance, and their indisposition to avail themselves of the offer of salvation, and to put forth efforts to secure holiness, is what they now spontaneously elect. They do not desire holiness, and God is under no obligation to change their wills by his grace. If it be said, that they cannot choose holiness and salvation because they are reprobated, it is sufficient to reply, first, that they are reprobated because they did not choose holiness, and do not choose it now, but chose sin, and choose it now; and, secondly, that they cannot choose holiness because they will not, and reprobation precisely coincides with their own wills. To say that they do not will to be damned, is only to say that they are not willing to experience the retributive results of their own self-elected conduct. Of course, they are not. No criminal is willing to be hanged. But if he was willing to commit the crime for which he is hanged, his hanging is of his own getting. The sentence of the judge is not inconsistent with his free-agency when he perpetrated the deed. God gives no man the will to sin, but he justly inflicts the doom of self-elected sin. Nor can his sentence of reprobation be, in any sense, regarded as the cause of that doom. It inflicts what the sinner has freely chosen. In fine, reprobation is no further inconsistent with the sinner's seeking salvation than is his own will. He does not wish to be holy, and reprobation keeps him where he desires to be. Reprobation did not cause sin; it justly punishes it.


  1. The doctrine of Calvin upon that subject I presented in the Southern Presbyterian Review, for October, 1880.
  2. Phil. ii. 12, 13.