Calvinism and Arminianism 23

One of the greatest differences between the evangelical Calvinists and those they deride as “Hyper-calvinists,” is the evangelical Calvinists believe Arminians and Pelagians are otherwise sound “Christians,” and refer to them as their brothers and sisters. The Hyper-calvinists believe that as long as one is unconverted from his natural freewill state by the operation of the Spirit of God, and converted to the free grace of God by the Gospel of the grace of God, there is insufficient evidence to consider such as a “Christian,” or a “brother or sister.” This is not to say that they consign them to hell–that is not their desire, for by their own experience they understand that before that gracious divine call out of darkness, they, too, were “vessels of wrath even as others.” Arminians and Pelagians are as much in need for the gospel as any “heathen” or pagan. Calvinists would do well to “evangelize” their Arminian or Pelagian “brothers and sisters.”

So it is not irreligious, idle, or superfluous, but in the highest degree wholesome and necessary, for a Christian to know whether of not his will has anything to do in matters pertaining to salvation. Indeed, let me tell you, this is the hinge on which our discussion turns, the crucial issue between us; our aim is, simply, to investigate what ability ‘free-will’ has, in what respect it is the subject of Divine action and how it stands related to the grace of God. If we know nothing of these things, we shall know nothing whatsoever of Christianity, and shall be in worse case than any people on earth…That God’s mercy works everything, and our will works nothing, but is rather the object of Divine working, else all will not be ascribed to God. (Luther’s Reply to Erasmus)

What follows below is from Ian Murray’s work on conversion in the writing of Thomas Hooker (

Hooker saw the above as essential features in evangelistic preaching .and yet these truths alone by no means say everything which needs to be said about conversion. There are profounder elements still to be introduced and to these we now turn.

One, In conversion the human will is unswervingly hostile to Christ until it is renewed by the secret power of God. The will of the unregenerate man can turn in any direction except to Christ and to holiness. Certainly the man willing to believe the promises of God shall be saved but since the Fall such willingness was never found in any natural man:

The will of a natural man is the worst part about him. The worst thing he has, the greatest enemy he has, is his own heart and will. It is the corrupt will of a man that keeps him under the power of his sins, and keeps him off the power of an ordinance that would procure his everlasting good. I speak it the rather to dash that dream of wicked men, when they do ill, and speak ill, yet (say they), ‘my heart is good’. No, truly, if thy life be naught, thy heart is worse. It is the worst thing thou hast about thee … the deceitfulness of the heart is above all; the masterfulness of the heart is beyond all that we can conceive. A man may discern a man’s life, ‘but the heart is desperate deceitful, who can know it?’ The will of man is uncontrollable, it will stand out against all reasons and arguments, and nothing can move the will except God work upon it.

It has often been argued that to preach inability can be no part of evangelism as it must effectually paralyse any endeavour on the part of those who hear the message. But for Hooker anyone who so reasoned was displaying a seriously defective view of what, the gospel is intended to accomplish. If man only needed a change of status in the sight of God only needed to receive forgiveness—then silence about the real condition of the human will might be permissible but this is not all that man needs. To be saved his nature also must be renewed, his heart must be changed, and the sinful state of man’s will is one chief evidence of that necessity. To hide the real condition of man’s will is to ignore the foremost reason why regeneration is indispensable.

Hooker believed that the Scripture is clear in asserting what regeneration does. It is the act of God which, implanting a new principle of spiritual life, produces a new understanding and a new will, so that the person who is the subject of this act may truly be called ‘a new creature’. It is also an act of sovereign and almighty power, ‘wrought irresistibly, not issuing from the liberty of our choice, and therefore it is brought about by the irresistible impression of the work of the Spirit’. In regeneration ‘the soul behaves itself merely passively, and is wrought upon by an over-ruling power’.

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