Calvinism and Evangelical Arminianism

John L. Girardeau


The affirmation or denial of the doctrine of Unconditional Election, the consideration of which has now been closed, must stamp the complexion of one's whole theology. It is one of the most controlling of all doctrines, in the influence it exerts upon the formation of a theological system. If it be admitted, the whole provision of redemption is viewed as designed to effect the certain salvation of the elect, Christ as a Saviour appointed to save his people from their sins, and the atonement as offered for them in order to secure that result. Total depravity and total inability are logically supposed; for if unconditional election be a fact, man is contemplated as utterly unable to accomplish anything, even the least, in the way of saving himself. The application of salvation, at every step from the beginning to the end, accords with the sovereign purpose of God, by his own power to recover the sinner from his condition of despair. The grace which saves is efficacious and invincible. Synergism in order to regeneration becomes impossible. Faith in Christ is seen to be a pure gift of grace. Justification is acknowledged to be due to the gratuitous imputation of another's righteousness, and as that righteousness is the perfect obedience to the Law, rendered by the incarnate Son of God in conformity with the terms of an eternal covenant between God the Father and himself as the Head and Representative of an elect seed given to him to be redeemed, their justification in him involves an indefectible life. The same is seen to be true of adoption, which forever fixes the regererate children of God in his paternal regards. The life of the saints cannot be lost. Sanctification is viewed as the process by which the Spirit makes the elect meet for the heavenly inheritance won inalienably for them by their glorious Surety and Substitute; and their perseverance in grace is the necessary result. In fine, this doctrine reduces redemption to unity, as a scheme originating in the mere good pleasure and sovereign determination of God, supposing the dependence of man's will upon God's will, making the salvation of those whom God chooses as his people absolutely certain, and necessitating the ascription of the whole, undivided glory of the completed plan to the free, efficacious and triumphant grace of God. Nothing is projected which is not executed, nothing begun which is not finished, nothing promised which is not done. Conceived in the infinite intelligence of God, the scheme is consummated by his infinite power, and the results are commensurate with the infinite glory of his name. 

If, on the other hand, unconditional election is denied, the genius of redemption becomes contingency. The atonement was offered to make the salvation of all men only possible; the human will has the power to accept or reject the tender of assisting grace, and decides the supreme question of receiving or not receiving Christ as a Saviour; repentance and faith precede regeneration - the sinner with the subsidiary help of grace arranges for his own new creation and resurrection from the death of sin; the effects of justification and adoption are conditioned upon the continued choice of the human will to avail itself of them; and the man may by his own election reach heaven in order to God's electing him to that end, or, although having been regenerated, justified, adopted and, it may be, entirely sanctified, he may at last fall from the threshold of glory into hopeless perdition. A magnificent scheme of divine philanthropy, embracing in its arms the whole world, professing to make the salvation of all men possible, it miscarries in consequence of its dependence upon the mutable state and the contingent action of the human will, and in its completion issues in the actual salvation of no more souls than unconditional election proposes to save. Its poverty of result is as great as its richness in promise: its achievement in inverse ratio to its effort. 

It is proposed now to go on and compare the schemes of Calvinism and Evangelical Arminianism, in regard to the doctrine of Justification by Faith. In order to a clear view of the case, the Calvinistic doctrine will first be stated, without an immediate presentation of its proofs, and the Evangelical Arminian will be subjected to a somewhat particular examination - examination, I say, for it is a question of no mean difficulty what exactly it is. Such proofs of the former doctrine as may be furnished will be submitted during the discussion of the latter.