Joel Beeke: The Calvinist’s Ultimate Concern

If we had to reduce Calvinism to one concept, we might be safest to echo Warfield, who said that to be Reformed means to be theocentric. The primary interest of Reformed theology is the triune God, for the transcendent-immanent, fatherly God in Jesus Christ is God Himself. Calvinists are people whose theology is dominated by the idea of God. As Mason Pressly says: “Just as the Methodist places in the foreground the idea of the salvation of sinners; the Baptist, the mystery of regeneration; the Lutheran, justification by faith; the Moravian, the wounds of Christ; the Greek Catholic, the mysticism of the Holy Spirit; and the Romanist, the catholicity of the church, so the Calvinist is always placing in the foreground the thought of God.”

To be Reformed is to stress the comprehensive, sovereign, fatherly lordship of God over everything: every area of creation, every creature’s endeavors, and every aspect of the believer’s life. The ruling motif in Calvinism is, “In the beginning God…” (Gen. 1:1).

In His relation to us, God has only rights and powers; He binds Himself to duties sovereignly and graciously only by way of covenant. In covenant, He assumes the duties and responsibilities of being a God unto us, but that does not detract from His being the first cause and the last end of all things. The universe is ruled not by chance or fate, but by the complete, sovereign rule of God. We exist for one purpose: to give Him glory. We have only duties to God, no rights. Any attempt to challenge this truth is doomed. Romans 9:20b asks, “Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” God enacts His laws for every part of our lives and demands unconditional obedience. We are called to serve Him with body and soul, in worship and daily work, every second of every day.

To be Reformed, then, is to be concerned with the complete character of the Creator-creature relationship. It is to view all of life coram Deo, that is, lived before the face of God. As Warfield wrote:

The Calvinist is the man who sees God: God in nature, God in history, God in grace. Everywhere he sees God in His mighty stepping, everywhere he feels the working of His mighty arm, the throbbing of His mighty heart. The Calvinist is the man who sees God behind all phenomena and in all that occurs recognizes the hand of God, working out His will. [The Calvinist] makes the attitude of the soul to God in prayer its permanent attitude in all its life activities; [he] casts himself on the grace of God alone, excluding every trace of dependence on self from the whole work of his salvation.

The doctrine of God—a fatherly, sovereign God in Christ Jesus—is therefore the center of Reformed theology. R. C. Sproul puts it this way: “How we understand the nature and character of God himself influences how we understand the nature of man, who bears God’s image; the nature of Christ, who works to satisfy the Father; the nature of salvation, which is effected by God; the nature of ethics, the norms of which are based on God’s character; and a myriad of other theological considerations, all drawing on our understanding of God.” So Calvinists define all doctrine in a God-centered way. Sin is horrible because it is an affront to God. Salvation is wonderful because it brings glory to God. Heaven is glorious because it is the place where God is all in all. Hell is infernal because it is where God manifests His righteous wrath. God is central to all of those truths.

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The Plan of Salvation by B. B. Warfield, a short summary

 

The first thing that caught my attention, after Warfield skillfully introduces his reader to “The Differing Conceptions”, in which he briefly explains the meaning of “Naturalistic, Sacredotalistic, Universalistic and Particularistic, was this great sheet, a brilliant summary.

Order of Decrees

Sheet by B. B. Warfield (The Plan of Salvation), added some color, changed the font etc.

After being stunned by this I was then able to continue his study with a helper, this sheet, on the side, (I recommend reading the whole book, to get a full understanding, of what Warfield is saying here) Warfield then dives into the depths of each “sub-point” (Palagian, Remonstrant, Orthodox Greek …) to deliver to us the work of salvation by God alone.

I will just briefly skim through the remaining four chapters:


 

The Naturalistic view, also called “Autosoterism” or “universal Heathenism”, is in a short form:

“negatively, the denial of the true God, and of the gift of his grace, and positively, the notion that salvation can be secured by man’s own power and wisdom”
(B. B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation, p.26, ichtuspublications)

and has nothing to do with biblical Christianity but unfortunately it is gaining in popularity, sadly even among evangelicals today.


 

Sacredotalism, the belief of the Catholic Church, B. B. Warfield states in his book about Sacredotalism:

God in working salvation, does not operate upon the human soul directly but indirectly; that is to say, through instrumentalities which he has established as the means by which his saving grace is communicated to men. As these instrumentalites are committed to human hands for their administration, a human factor is thus intruded between the saving grace of God and its effective operation in the souls of men; and this human factor, indeed, is made the determining factor in salvation.
(B. B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation, p.48,49, ichtuspublications)


 

Universalism, sadly, the most widespread belief of evangelicalism today, is the notion that God does not interact with individual persons, but to all men alike, meaning, that either everyone is saved or no one. Obviously most evangelicals won’t admit to either side. Here is where Warfield closely looks at the inconsistent worldview of “Arminianism”.

The great problem requires to be faced by universalizing evangelicalism, therefore, of how it is God and God alone who saves the soul, and all that God does looking towards the saving of the soul he does to and for all men alike, and yet all men are not saved.
(B. B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation, p.73, ichtuspublications)


 

Ending at Particularism, the “Augustinian” or “Calvinistic” view is:

The Calvinist is he who holds with full consciousness that God the Lord, in his saving operations, deals not generally with mankind at large, but particularly with the individuals who are actually saved. Thus, and thus only, he contends, can either the supernaturalism of salvation which is the mark of Christianity at large an which ascribes salvation to God, or the immediacy of the operations of saving grace which is the mark of evangelicalism and which ascribes salvation to the direct working of God upon the soul, come to its rights and have justice according to it … The denial of particularism is constructively the denial also of the immediacy of saving grace, that is of evangelicalism, and of the supernaturalism of salvation, that is of Christianity itself. It is logically the total rejection of Christianity.
(B. B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation, p.86,87, ichtuspublications)

And:

Calvinism, with its doctrines of election and irresistible grace, is the only system which can make credible the salvation of any sinner: since in these doctrines alone are embodied in its purity the evangelical principles that salvation is from God alone and from him only in the immediate working if his grace.
(B. B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation, p.70,71, ichtuspublications)


 

This small booklet with about 100 pages is a truly great lecture, on “How God saves a soul”.

Originally delivered as a series of lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary, “The Plan of Salvation” is a masterful articulation of various views of salvation among Christian believers. Warfield, in this own thoughtful way, analyzes and interacts with each viewpoint and arrives at the conclusion that salvation is either from God or from ourselves. This thought-provoking book will be sure to foster a better understanding of God and his role in salvation, convincing you that a renewed heart is truly of the Lord. (Blurb by ichtuspublications, Copyright 2015 – ichtuspublications)

I highly recommend reading this book!

John McArthur: The Complexity of Divine Love

Great sermon by John MacArthur. He starts off with a small introduction about the love we should meet someone with and then informs us about the common grace of God. He then swings over to the magnificent and everlasting love the Lord has for his chosen sheep. Scriptures out of the Old and New Testament are used as an Illustration. This sermon is as always packed with biblical insight and knowledge. A must-watch for Christians searching for the biblical truth of God’s saving love.

Bibleverses used in this sermon:

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Stephen Nichols: Those Who Are Called: The Effectual Work of the Holy Spirit

Salvation is the sovereign work of the triune God. His grace planned it all and accomplishes it all. Even more, through His grace, the Holy Spirit ensures that all the elect will come to Christ through faith and repentance. This session will explain the role of the Holy Spirit in effectual calling and regeneration.