Articles

Calvinism Unpopular But Right

This article first appeared in the December 1966 issue of the Standard Bearer, vol.43, Issue 5.

The religious and doctrinal outlook of this now beyond middle age twentieth century is not that of Calvinism or that of the Reformed Faith. It is rather that of an inclusivistic or syncretistic and non-doctrinal religion. The movement of this religion is not in the direction of "revival," as is widely claimed, nor in that of Reformation, but toward a united world (ly) church. The trend is away from the old Protestant Reformation and its biblical principles which led men from the false church to the perfect doctrine of salvation. Now men speak not of a reformation, but in rather left-wing political terminology of a "new revolution," as per (and that typically) Billy Graham. This seems to many alert people to be an almost imperceptible trend back to the Romish church. At the best, the modern religious outlook is that of Arminianism, that influential error which runs with great popular acceptance throughout the majority of American churches.

Arminianism is popular because it is man-centered, flattering to human nature, concerns itself as little as possible with doctrine, shuns controversy, shies from debate, in fact, deliberately and consistently has no place for any of the latter. It gains acceptance because it sounds pious, is apparently very philanthropical (it talks so much of "love"), and presents a popular, geared-to-the-times delivery which furnishes men in sensational language with what they already know, or what they want to hear. It is only rarely now that we who call ourselves reformed, and aim to be strictly and consistently so, are charged as we used to be with being "ultra-Calvinistic," with always excoriating Arminians, or with preaching election "in almost every sermon." Consistently Reformed people are, increasingly, finding themselves in a place where, as to the religious and theological world, they go unnoticed. Seldom do they hear the criticism that once was their honor.

If men would only take a good look at the lie in their right hand, and see it to be what it is, the perversion we call Arminianism, the worst falsehood on earth, then they would not be deceived by creeping theological liberalism and modernism, nor be enamored with the wild denominational mergers now attracting so much attention. The need of the times is not for more evangelism, but for a return to the truth of the Westminster standards and the Reformed confessions, which, to make it short, we call Calvinism. We indeed need ministers who will do the work of an evangelist, but especially do we need men who will give prominence in their ministry to the truth of God's absolute sovereignty, men who will preach the dynamic power of the gospel without watering down its full strength, without blunting the sharp edges of the Sword of the Spirit, without toning down the clear call of Christ. Salvation must be proclaimed as being not of man's free will (there is no such creature), but of God's good will; and conversion, not of man's autonomous act in turning to God, but a turning which is the fruit of God's work of regeneration. The pure Word of God must be fully preached. The church must return to its original purity, must renounce all error and everything repugnant to the Word of God. Until it does, the church will have, perhaps, popularity, but no power. The church must not say "yes" and "no." It must not one day preach Calvinism and another day Arminianism. It must never cease preaching Calvinism. It must not preach the Five Points of Calvinism in the morning worship only to deny them in the evening service. Nor must it preach Calvinism in the first two points of the sermon, only in the conclusion to drag in Arminianism. It must not merge "yes" with "no" and try to come out with "maybe." It must not attempt to blend Calvinism with Arminianism. It must not try to make the two the equilibrium in "the balance of truth." That is, it must not become Amyraldian. It must not have fellowship with such unfruitful works of darkness. It must not preach a "twilight" gospel, a "gray" gospel, but a gospel of light. If in the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, the church cannot find its usefulness, then it cannot find usefulness in error. If the Word of God as found in Scripture is not enough for men, philosophy will be of no avail.

Let the liberal church have its god which is no god, which hangs on man's leash, and serves man rather than rules over all. But let the true church proclaim that God is God, that God is not only a God, but the only God, the God who is the living God, the high and mighty Ruler of the universe, eternal sovereign and King of kings.

Men must be called upon to have done with vague, indefinite expressions of religion, which they seem to think will preserve unity. They must have a distinct, forthright gospel, such as Paul, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Knox and others preached. Unity inheres not in some nebulous conception of "love," nor in a friendly spirit of compromise, but in the faith of Scripture; not in the anti-intellectual non-theology of modernism, nor in the truncated creeds of Fundamentalism, but in the faith of the Reformers.

Professing Christians and professed sound Bible believers must come to the realization that perhaps contemporaneous evangelists do, but the Word of God does not, teach that man is merely very far-gone from original righteousness. They do teach, but the Word of God does not, that it is in the power of man to will to be saved, and that men must make themselves willing. They must recognize the truth that man is wholly gone from original righteousness apart from Christ, and that "it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy." They must know that a universal redemption, so popular among Fundamentalists, is a very sad and comfortless idea unless it is based on a universal salvation. For a universal atonement without a universal salvation islike a lead life-preserver, like an anchor imbedded in a marshmallow. They must understand Christ's prayer, "I pray for them; I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given me; for they are Thine." They must believe and preach that we are chosen in Christ from all eternity, before the foundation of the universe, before having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand.

They must have enough enlightenment to see that Arminianism cannot boast of having one aspect of indispensable truth in the doctrine of man's responsibility. Arminianism has no valid emphasis on human responsibility. Nor has it the right to identify responsibility and free will. Arminianism and free will are practically synonymous, but not Arminianism and human responsibility. Man is free in his will to act according to his nature. But his nature is fallen in sin, hence man is free only in the direction of sin. He is wise to do evil, but to do good he has no knowledge. He is wholly incapable of doing any good and is inclined to all evil. Yet despite his total depravity and total inability he has responsibility to the law of God and the high standard of the gospel. Ability is not the measure of responsibility. If it were, then the worse man gets the less responsibility he would have. Man is indeed a willing creature. He has an awful power of will, the power to forsake God. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. It is also a fearful thing to fall under the power of your own fallen will. For then a man will choose sin to the end, and go down with his load of sin to the pit. If there is no eternal plan of redemption according to which God ordains to save through Christ the elect He has chosen, then no one will be saved.

If God's eternal purpose embraces not only a happy end for me, but also all the means to that end, the fulfillment of which is not conditioned on man's acceptance, but on the free bestowal of sovereign grace, then I shall without fail be saved. If Christ died for all whom He represented as Substitute, then He shall infallibly lead all His people to glory. If the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted, then chosen dead sinners shall be made alive and they shall never perish. If faith and repentance do not result in regeneration, but are the effect and result of regeneration, then God shall have all the glory and men throughout all ages shall believe to the saving of the soul.

This is all so contrary to the thinking of the man on the street and the preaching of Billy Graham, who believe in a salvation which is effected not by grace alone, but by the sinner's activity. Arminianism claims, "This love of God that is immeasurable, unmistakable and unending, this love of God that reaches to whatever a man is, can be entirely rejected. God will not force Himself upon any man against his will... But if youreally want it, you must believe — you must receive the love of God, you must take it" (Billy Graham, Decision, October, 1962, emphasis: RCH). Arminianism teaches that our faith saves us, our faith in the final analysis clinches salvation. You can pray, you can believe, you can accept Christ, you are self sufficient,you have a free will that can turn in any direction. This is really bad news, not "the good news" to the sinner enlightened and savingly convicted of his sins. For he will answer it, I am lost and ruined! All that I can ever do cannot equal the work of conversion, let alone that of salvation! I feel that I can do nothing at all! If my eternal life depends upon something I must do, I am lost! If faith is a condition unto my salvation which I must fulfill, if faith must originate with me, then my salvation is by works — and that excludes me — for all my works are filthy rags! Faith must be the gift of God so that I can believe! If I may believe through grace, then, praise God, my deliverance is His work from beginning to end! This is Calvinism. It is unpopular, but it is right. It is despised but glorious. It alone can say, Sola Dei Gloria!

Last modified on 16 July 2015
Harbach, Robert

Rev. Robert C. Harbach (1914-1996) was born in Riverdale, MD on July 27, 1914. He graduated from the Protestant Reformed Seminary in 1955 and was ordained in October of that year.  He served congregations in Lynden, Washington (1955-1963), Kalamazoo, Michigan (1963-1974), and as Home Missionary (1974-1979).  He retired from the active ministry in 1979.  He passed to glory on December 14, 1996.

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