Vindicating Calvinism: A Faith Traced in History

This article is to provide ample evidence that Calvinism is an historical facet of Christianity. It is the first of many articles I have written in defense of Calvinism.

I do not assert that you must affirm Calvinism in order to be a Christian. I do not assert that you are incapable of logical thought if you reject Calvinism. My goal is simply but firmly to prove that Calvinism is not an heretical system of theology. Here, I mean to relay Calvinism’s historical roots.

I hope this proves helpful to you.

A Faith Traced in History

First, notice that the tenants of Calvinism were present in the early church.

Let us therefore approach Him in holiness of soul, lifting up pure and undefiled hands unto Him, with love towards our gentle and compassionate Father because He made us an elect portion unto Himself…Seeing then that we are the special elect portion of a Holy God, let us do all things that pertain unto holiness…There was given a declaration of blessedness upon them that have been elected by God through Jesus Christ our Lord…Jesus Christ is the hope of the elect… – Clement Of Rome (A.D. 69)

We are elected to hope, committed by God unto faith, appointed to salvation. – Barnabas (A.D. 70)

[Christ speaking] I see that I shall thus offer My flesh for the sins of the new people. – Ibid.

To the predestined ones before all ages, that is, before the world began, united and elect in a true passion, by the eternal will of the Father… – Ignatius (A.D. 110)

In all these discourses I have brought all my proofs out of your own holy and prophetic writings, hoping that some of you may be found of the elect number which through the grace that comes from the Lord of Sabaoth, is left or reserved [set apart] for everlasting salvation – Ignatius (A.D. 110)

Christ died for the salvation of His people…for the church – Tertullian (A.D. 200)

The liberty of our will in choosing things that are good is destroyed. – Eusebius (A.D. 330)

Faith itself is to be attributed to God…Faith is made a gift. These men, however, attribute faith to free will, so grace is rendered to faith not as a gratuitous gift, but as a debt…They must cease from saying this. – Augustine (A.D. 370)

Second, notice that the tenants of Calvinism were clarified at the appropriate time.

In church history we see the development of doctrine, but only in a certain sense. Doctrine does not develop in the sense that the truth changes nor that it becomes more complex. Truth remains the same, yet our articulation of it progresses. As various controversies have risen, the need for clarification on Biblical truth has likewise been present.

For example, Trinitarianism needed to be articulated in light of Arianism. Does that mean that no one believed in the Trinity prior to the 4th century? Of course not – it means that the Scriptural testimony of our Triune God was not meticulously articulated by church leaders until the 3rd and 4th centuries. The same truth applies to Calvinism. Prior to the 16th century, did anyone believe in Calvinism? Well, the term “Calvinism” did not exist, but of course the teachings of Calvinism were present.

The truths of Calvinism were clarified when the need for clarification arose. The true church separated from the Roman Catholic church under grave conviction of certain doctrines, some of which are expressed in the “Five Solas” of the Reformation: Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura, Soli Deo Gloria. The motivation to split from Rome ran deeper than “justification through faith.” For the Reformers, the deeper issue was synergism (“with two energies”) versus monergism (“with one energy”). Namely: who accomplishes salvation? Does God accomplish salvation in its entirety (monergism) or do we accomplish something therein (synergism)?

The Reformers saw Roman Catholic doctrine as synergistic, thereby robbing God of glory and leaving no true hope for mankind who is truly dead in sin. When God’s monergistic work in salvation needed to be clarified, many rose to the task and articulated His sovereignty in salvation. Martin Luther was one such champion of monergism when he wrote his famous Bondage of the Will.

But now that God has taken my salvation out of the control of my own will, and put it under the control of His, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according to His own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him.  – Luther ed. Dillenberger, pg. 199, “Bondage of the Will” in Martin Luther

Third, notice that the tenants of Calvinism have been clearly confessed since their articulation in the 16th century.

Confessions in which Calvinistic doctrines are present include but are not limited to the following: 1528 Ten Theses of Berne, 1530 Augsburg Confession, 1549 Zurich Consensus, 1561 Belgic Confession, 1566 Second Helvic Confession, 1599 Geneva Study Bible, 1619 Canons of Dort, 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith, 1675 Helvetic Consensus, 1677 Baptist Catechism, 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, 1801 39 Articles of Religion, 1858 Abstract of Principles, 1966 Baptist Affirmation of Faith.

Influential individual confessors of Calvinism, who are now deceased, have included but are not limited to the following: Martin Luther, John Calvin, Theodore Beza, Zacharias Ursinus, Roger Williams, John Owen, Benoit Turretin, Francis Turretin, Thomas Watson, Matthew Henry, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Richard Baxter, John Gill, John Bunyan, Augustus Toplady, J.C. Ryle, William Carey, George Mueller, Charles Spurgeon, Herman Bavinck, Louis Berkhof, Charles Hodge, Abraham Kuyper, Geehardus Vox, Francis Schaeffer, B.B. Warfield, A.T. Robertson, James P. Boyce, John L. Dagg, Martyn Loyd Jones, James M. Boyce.

Influential individual confessors of Calvinism, who are still living, have included but are not limited to the following: Wayne Grudem, Michael Horton, John MacArthur, J.I. Packer, John Piper, Thomas Schreiner, R.C. Sproul, Paul Washer, James White, Bruce Ware, David Platt, Albert Mohler, Jason Allen, Owen Strachen, Matt Chandler, Jared Wilson, Greg Gilbert, Mark Dever, C. J. Mahaney, D. A. Carson, Paul Helm, Douglas Moo, G. K. Beale, Vern Poythress, John Frame, Timothy Keller, Kevin DeYoung, Thabiti Anyabwile, Alistair Begg, Douglas Wilson, Bryan Chappell, Ligon Duncan, Voddie Baccham.

Fourth, notice that Calvinism has played a foundational role in Baptist history.

Baptists sprung from the Puritans in England, who were entirely Calvinistic. From this body Baptists differentiated themselves in two main groups: Particular (Calvinistic) and General (non-Calvinistic) Baptists. In 1790, America boasted 979 Baptist churches, most of which were Calvinistic. The trend would continue until the mid-19th century split into Northern and Southern Baptists, to resurface in the 1980’s on the back of the Conservative Resurgence. H. Leon McBeth writes, “There can be no doubt that Calvinism has been a major part of Baptist heritage” (McBeth, pg. 699, The Baptist Heritage; all information in this paragraph was taken from McBeth).

In light of these four brief points, I submit to you that Calvinism is an historical facet of Christianity. Labelling Calvinism “unchristian” is historically untenable. Though the assertions of Calvinism need not be confessed by a Christian, they cannot with any historical weight be considered heretical. Heresy is different than error. Orthodoxy grants you full liberty to say, “The Calvinist is in error,” yet historically no one can fairly claim, “The Calvinist is heretical.”

Baptists have always included those who are Calvinistic and shall continue to do so. Baptists claim Calvinistic believers as fellow believers and work hand in hand with them as they serve the Lord together. – David Allen and Steve Lemke, 9, Whosoever Will


Unconditional Election in Corporate and Individual Confessions

I would like to provide a list of corporate and individual confessions that affirm Unconditional Election. This is of course not a comprehensive list – and I will be updating this article as the weeks and months go by, constantly adding more as I find them. I mean this only to serve as a singular testimony of multiple testifiers.

Corporate Confessions

Belgic Confession (1561)
“We believe that— all Adam’s descendants having thus fallen into perdition and ruin by the sin of Adam— God showed himself to be as he is: merciful and just. God is merciful in withdrawing and saving from this perdition those who, in the eternal and unchangeable divine counsel, have been elected and chosen in Jesus Christ our Lord by his pure goodness, without any consideration of their works. God is just in leaving the others in their ruin and fall into which they plunged themselves.”

Articles of Religion, Church of England (1571) [Grudem, 1174]
“Predestination to life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) He had constantly decreed by His counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom He had chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honor. Wherefore those which were endowed with so excellent a benefit of God would be called according to God’s purpose by His Spirit working in due season: they will through grace obey the calling: they will be justified freely: they will be made sons of God by adoption: they will be made like the image of His only begotten Son Jesus Christ: they will walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God’s mercy, they will attain everlasting felicity.”

Geneva Study Bible Notes (1599)
“(6) He declares the efficient cause, or by what means God the Father saves us in his Son: because, he says, he chose us from everlasting in his Son. (d) To be adopted in him. (7) He expounds the next final cause which is twofold, that is, sanctification and justification, of which he will speak later. And by this also two things are to be noted, that is, that holiness of life cannot be separated from the grace of election: and again, whatever pureness is in us, is the gift of God who has freely of his mercy chosen us. (e) God then, did not choose us because we were, or otherwise would have been holy, but to the end we should be holy. (f) Being clothed with Christ’s righteousness. (g) Truly and sincerely.”

Canons of Dort (1619)
“Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, He has out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of His own will, chosen from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault from the primitive state of rectitude into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom He from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect and the foundation of salvation.  This elect number, though by nature neither better nor more deserving than others, but with them involved in one common misery, God has decreed to give to Christ to be saved by Him, and effectually to call an draw them to His communion by His Word and Spirit; to bestow upon them true faith, justification, and sanctification; and having powerfully preserved them in the fellowship of His son, finally to glorify them for the demonstration of His mercy, and for the praise of the riches of His glorious grace.”

Westminster Confession of Faith (1646)
“V. 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, has chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere 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.”

London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689)
“5. Those of mankind that are predestinated to 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 mere free grace and love, without any other thing in the creature as a condition or cause moving him thereunto.”

New Hampshire Confession of Faith (1833)
“We believe that election is the eternal purpose of God, according to which he graciously regenerates, sanctifies, and saves sinners; that being perfectly consistent with the free agency of man, it comprehends all the means in connection with the end; that it is a most glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, being infinitely free, wise, holy and unchangeable; that it utterly excludes boasting, and promotes humility, love, prayer, praise, trust in God, and active imitation of his free mercy; that it encourages the use of means in the highest degree; that it may be ascertained by its effects in all who truly believe the gospel, that it is the foundation of Christian assurance; and that to ascertain it with regard to ourselves demands and deserves the utmost diligence.”

Individual Confessions

I. Past

Chrysostom, 344/354-407 (Edwards, pg. 104)
“Christ chose us to have faith in him before we came into being, indeed even before the world was founded. The word foundation was well chosen, to indicate that it was laid down from some great height.”

Jerome, c. 347-420 (Edwards, pg. 105)
“Paul does not say he chose us before the foundation of the world on account of our being saintly and unblemished. He chose us that we might become saintly and unblemished, that is, that we who were not formerly saintly and unblemished should subsequently be so…. So understood it provides a counter-argument to one who says that souls were elected before the world came to be because of their sanctity and freedom from any sinful vice.”

Augustine, c. 430 (Calvin, pg. 620)
“After stating a most startling proposition concerning those who were not yet born, and afterward putting the question to himself by way of objection, ‘What then? Is there unrighteousness with God?’ [Paul] had an opportunity of answering, that God foresaw the merits of both, he does not say so, but has recourse to the justice and mercy of God.”

Bernard, d. 1153 (Calvin, pg. 622-633)
“His friends hear apart when he says to them, Fear not, little flock: to you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom. Who are these? Those whom he foreknew and predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son. He has made known his great and secret counsel. The Lord knoweth them that are his, but that which was known to God was manifested to men; nor, indeed, does he deign to give a participation in this great mystery to any but those whom he foreknew an predestinated to be his own.”

Luther, d. 1546 (Boettner, “Unconditional Election”)
“This mightily offends our rational nature, that God should, of His own mere unbiased will, leave some men to themselves, harden them and condemn them; but He gives abundant demonstration, and does continually, that this is really the case; namely, that the sole cause why some are saved, and others perish, proceeds from His willing the salvation of the former, and the perdition of the latter, according to that of St. Paul, ‘He hath mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth.’”

Calvin, d. 1564 (pg. 612)
“[God’s] gratuitous election has only been partially explained until we come to the case of single individuals, to whom God not only offers salvation, but so assigns it, that the certainty of the result remains no dubious or suspended.”

Henry, d. 1714 (pg. 2118)
“Election, or choice, concerns that whole batch or mass of the human race from which believers are set apart. Predestination concerns the blessings they are intended for, especially the adoption of children, that at the appropriate time we would become his adopted children and so enjoy the right to all the privileges of children.

Edwards, d. 1758 (Lucas, pg. 27-28)
“As the language from ‘A History of the Work of Redemption’ demonstrates, Edwards’s understanding of the covenant of redemption had two elements: it was pretemporal and it was intra-Trinitarian. Edwards held that Christ covenanted with the other two members of the Godhead before the foundation of the world to purchase the salvation of the elect, and in so doing to glorify God himself.” (Lucas on Edwards)

Spurgeon, d. 1892 (Capoccia, “Election”)
“‘But,’ others say, ‘God elected them on the foresight of their faith.’ Now, God gives faith therefore He could not have elected them on account of faith, which He foresaw. If there were twenty beggars in the street, and I determine to give one of them a dollar, will anyone say that I determined to give that one a dollar, that I elected him to have the dollar, because I foresaw that he would have it? That would be talking nonsense. Likewise, to say that God elected men because He foresaw they would have faith, would be too absurd for us to listen to for a moment. Faith is the gift of God. Every virtue comes from Him. Therefore it cannot have caused Him to elect men, because it is His gift. Election, we are sure, is unconditional.”

Warfield, d. 1921 (Boettner, “Unconditional Election”)
“The Biblical writers are as far as possible from obscuring the doctrine of election because of any seemingly unpleasant corollaries that flow from it. On the contrary, they expressly draw the corollaries which have often been so designated, and make them a part of their explicit teaching. Their doctrine of election, they are free to tell us, for example, does certainly involve a corresponding doctrine of preterition. The very term adopted in the New Testament to express it… embodies a declaration of the fact that in their election others are passed by and left without the gift of salvation; the whole presentation of the doctrine is such as either to imply or openly to assert, on its very emergence, the removal of the elect by the pure grace of God, not merely from a state of condemnation, but out of the company of the condemned.”

Bavinck, d. 1921 (pg. 262)
“The glory of election is especially seen in its object: the people of God in Christ. To be elect ‘in Christ’ is to be organically united to his body, the church. Christ was foreordained to be head of the church. this communal emphasis has sometimes been taken as reason to avoid speaking about personal election for individual children of God. Such a restriction is a pure abstraction since humanity, people, family, and church always consist of particular persons. It is also contrary to Scripture, for scripture teaches a personal election…and speaks of the names of the elect that are written in the Book of Life.”

Robertson, d. 1934 (pg. 517)
“(kathos exelexato hemas en autoi). First aorist middle indicative of eklego, to pick out, to choose. Definitive statement of God’s elective grace concerning believers in Christ.”

Boettner, d. 1990 (“Unconditional Election”)
“The doctrine of absolute Predestination of course logically holds that some are foreordained to death as truly as others are foreordained to life.”

Boice, d. 2000 (“Reformed Theology”)
“This is what election means. It is God choosing to save those who, apart from His sovereign choice and subsequent action, certainly would perish.”

II. Present

Grudem (pg. 70)
“Election is an act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereign good pleasure.”

Horton (pg. 245)
“Election is God’s choice of particular people as recipients of his merciful grace in his Son out of the mass of condemned humanity. Though united to Christ in history, through faith, within the covenant of grace, the elect were chosen in Christ from all eternity in the covenant of redemption.”

MacArthur (pg. 593)
“Through God’s sovereign will before the creation of the world and, therefore, obviously independent of human influence and apart from any human merit, those who are saved have become eternally united with Christ Jesus.”

Packer (“Election: God Chooses His Own”)
“The biblical doctrine of election is that before Creation God selected out of the human race, foreseen as fallen, those whom he would redeem, bring to faith, justify, and glorify in and through Jesus Christ… This divine choice is an expression of free and sovereign grace, for it is unconstrained and unconditional, not merited by anything in those who are its subjects.”

Piper (“Five Reasons to Embrace Unconditional Election”)
Unconditional election is God’s free choice before creation, not based on foreseen faith, to which traitors he will grant faith and repentance, pardoning them, and adopting them into his everlasting family of joy.”

Schreiner (pg. 561)
“The salvation that believers enjoy is ultimately a gift. in other words, God gets the glory for salvation because he chose and elected believers to be saved. He chose both Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ before the world began (Eph. 1:4) for ‘the praise of his glorious grace’ (Eph. 1:6).”

Sproul (“TULIP and Reformed Theology: Unconditional Election”)
“God does not foresee an action or condition on our part that induces Him to save us. Rather, election rests on God’s sovereign decision to save whomever He is pleased to save.”

Wallace (“My Understanding of the Biblical Doctrine of Election”)
“The biblical doctrine of election is that it is unconditional, irresistible, and irrevocable. All this to the glory of God–without in any way diminishing the dignity or responsibility of man.”

Washer (pg. 82)
“God is both the author and finisher of our salvation, that the salvation of a person individually, and that of the church collectively, is the work of God. he initiates it, sees to its perseverance, and brings it to its ultimate consummation on the day of Christ Jesus.”

White (“The Potter Has Rights Over the Clay”)
This is truly the key element of this [issue], for grammatically there is no escape from the plain assertion here made: God the Father predestined us. He did not predestine a plan, He did not merely predestine a general conclusion to all things, but He chose us and predestined us. The “us” of Ephesians 1:5 is the “we” of Ephesians 1:11 and the “elect” of Romans 8:33 and those who are “given” by the Father to the Son in John 6:37.”

Concluding Remarks

What is evident is that Unconditional Election began to be widely articulated in the 1500’s, at the time of the Protestant Reformation. A thousand years beforehand, the church had clarified that salvation was solely of God – in response to the heresy of Pelagianism. Augustine himself was involved in this conflict, he himself a strong confessor of Unconditional Election. Yet what we find is that there was not a need for Unconditional Election to be articulated in detail until the Protestant Reformation (in a similar way that the Trinity was not articulated universally until Arianism threatened the church).

In response to Semi-Pelagian heresies and the anthropocentric Catholic soteriology, the church rose to the occasion and, by God’s grace, publicly articulated Scripture’s stance on Unconditional Election. The Synod of Dort (1618) and Martin Luther’s “Bondage of the Will” (1525) serve as cap-stone events, signifying the church’s clarification of truth (John Piper has some helpful thoughts regarding Luther’s “Bondage of the Will” – watch here).

As Arianism brought need for Trinitarianism to be articulated, so 16th century Catholic soteriology urged the true body of Christ to articulate Unconditional Election. The doctrine of Unconditional Election is clearly seen in individual confessions dating back to the early church, but this explains why it isn’t common in corporate confessions of faith until the Protestant Reformation. How can so much conflict fester among genuine brethren concerning election? Because no single doctrine provokes the prideful flesh more. It is quite literally the crest of intellectual humility to delightfully embrace such a doctrine that says, “Even my will is not my own. I am the clay, He is the Potter. As He has made me, so He is just to do so.”


1561 Belgic Confession, “Article 16: The Doctrine of Election,”

1599 Geneva Study Bible, Notes on Ephesians 1:4,

1619 Canons of Dort, “First Head: Article 7,”

1646 Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter III: “Of God’s Eternal Decree,”

1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 3: “Of God’s Decree,”

1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith, “IX. Of God’s Purpose of Grace,”

2000 Baptist Faith and Message, “V. God’s Purpose of Grace,”

Bavinck, Herman. John Bolt, ed. Reformed Dogmatics (Abridged in One Volume). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011.

Boice, James Montgomery. “Reformed Theology.”, 1999.

Boettner, Loraine. “Unconditional Election.”, accessed May, 2016.

Calvin, John. Henry Beveridge, trans. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008.

Edwards, Mark J., et al. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament VIII. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Henry, Matthew. Martin H. Manser, ed. The New Matthew Henry Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

Horton, Michael. Pilgrim Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012.

Lucas, Sean Michael. God’s Grand Design. Wheaton: Crossway, 2011.

MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007.

Packer, J.I. “Election: God Chooses His Own.” Monergism, accessed May, 2016.

Piper, John. “Five Reasons to Embrace Unconditional Election.” Desiring God, 2013.

Robertson, Archibald Thomas. Word Pictures in the New Testament: Volume IV. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1931.

Shreiner, Thomas. The Kind in His Beauty. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013.

Sproul, R.C. “TULIP and Reformed Theology: Unconditional Election.” Ligonier Ministries, 2012.

Spurgeon, C.H. Tony Cappocia, ed. “Election.”, 1998.

Wallace, Daniel. “My Understanding of the Biblical Doctrine of Election.”, 2004.

Washer, Paul. The Gospel Call and True Conversion. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2013.

White, James. “The Potter Has Rights Over the Clay.”, accessed May, 2016.

Catch that Footnote?

I had the privilege of attending the Together for the Gospel 2016 conference in Louisville, KY. I joined 10,000 fellow believers and several very dear friends in times of preaching and song. One of the exhibits at the T4G bookstore was “The Museum of the Bible.” This displayed several aged books from church history, including one owned by Martin Luther and an original printing of Calvin’s Institutes. The youngest display peaked my interest most: a 1611 copy of the King James Bible.

Here is a blurry picture:


The King James Version is a literary marvel. I own a copy myself and am very grateful for its rich history. Yet there are some who claim the KJV is the only viable English translation of Scripture. The English Standard Version, New American Standard Version, Holman Christian Standard Version, etc. are “New World” translations – the fruit of ungodly efforts to pervert the truth of God. We generally call this conviction “KJV Onlyism.” Popular proponents of this include Steven Anderson and Kent Hovind. This post does not robustly rebut KJV Onlyism, but I would like to demonstrate a fundamental flaw in it.

Look closer at the picture above – the bottom-left corner.

Catch that footnote?


It’s a footnote! The picture is blurry – it reads: “Or, one that hath right to redeeme.” This footnote is similar to those found in modern translations of the Bible. It informs the reader of alternate viable translations. This footnote (one among many) is evidence that the KJV translators believed their efforts could be improved upon. “The Greek says this… or, it could be saying this…” If the KJV is the only viable English translation, then why did its translators believe that it was errant?

If the translators were alive today, certainly they would recognize the superiority of some modern translations, which have taken advantage of older Greek Manuscripts and greater understanding of Greek grammar (ex. the Granville Sharpe Construction). The translators would recognize their superiority because their utmost concern was to translate into English what the Greek and Hebrew actually meant.

For more info, check out James White’s comments here.