Reply to James White I
Reply to James White II
Reply to James White III
Rom. 9 & Eph. 1
Eph. 1 - Exegesis
Home > Doctrinal
> Calvinism >
We stated in the introduction that Calvinism has its roots in the views of St. Augustine. This man was also largely responsible for the acceptance of a-millennialism into mainstream Christianity, and the Roman Catholic doctrine that the Catholic Church is now God's Kingdom on earth. Prior to his conversion in the fourth century, Augustine was heavily involved in a pseudo-Christian Gnostic cult that held heretical ideas regarding the nature of God as well as the person of Christ. All of the Gnostic cultists were heavily influenced by the writings of the Greek philosophers. And Augustine was no exception.
Prior to the writings of Augustine, the Church universally held that mankind had a totally free will. Each man was responsible before God to accept the Gospel. His ultimate destiny, while fully dependent on God's grace and power, was also dependent on his free choice to submit to or reject God's grace and power. In the three centuries from the Apostles to Augustine the early Church held to NONE of the five points of Calvinism, not one. The writings of the orthodox Church, for the first three centuries, are in stark contrast to the ideas of Augustine and Calvin. Man is fully responsible for his choice to respond to or reject the Gospel. This was considered to be the Apostolic doctrine passed down through the local church elders ordained by the Apostles, and their successors. Below we have listed a few representative quotes from the earlier writers in order to give the flavor of the earliest tradition regarding election and free will. Some deal with the subject of perseverance and apostasy.
Clement of Rome
Justin Martyr (AD
"For so we say that there will be the conflagration, but not as the Stoics, according to their doctrine of all things being changed into one another, which seems most degrading. But neither do we affirm that it is by fate that men do what they do, or suffer what they suffer, but that each man by free choice acts rightly or sins; and that it is by the influence of the wicked demons that earnest men, such as Socrates and the like, suffer persecution and are in bonds, while Sardanapalus, Epicurus, and the like, seem to be blessed in abundance and glory. The Stoics, not observing this, maintained that all things take place according to the necessity of fate. But since God in the beginning made the race of angels and men with free-will, they will justly suffer in eternal fire the punishment of whatever sins they have committed. and this is the nature of all that is made, to be capable of vice and virtue. For neither would any of them be praiseworthy unless there were power to turn to both (virtue and vice). And this also is shown by those men everywhere who have made laws and philosophized according to right reason, by their prescribing to do some things and refrain from others. Even the Stoic philosophers, in their doctrine of morals, steadily honour the same things, so that it is evident that they are not very felicitious in what they say about principles and incorporeal things. For if they say that human actions come to pass by fate, they will maintain either that God is nothing else than the things which are ever turning, and altering, and dissolving into the same things, and will appear to have had a comprehension only of things that are destructable, and to have looked on God Himself as emerging both in part and in whole in every wickedness; or that neither vice or virtue is anything; which is contrary to every sound idea, reason, and sense." (Justin Second Apology, VII)
"Could not God have cut off in the beginning the serpent, so that he exist not, rather than have said, ‘And I will put enmity between him and the woman, and between his seed and her seed?’ Could He not have at once created a multitude of men? But yet, since He knew that it would be good, He created both angels and men free to do that which is righteous, and He appointed periods of time during which He knew it would be good for them to have the exercise of free-will; and because He likewise knew it would be good, He made general and particular judgments; each one’s freedom of will, however, being guarded." (Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, 102)
"I said briefly by anticipation, that God, wishing men and angels to follow His will, resolved to create them free to do righteousness; possessing reason, that they may know by whom they are created, and through whom they, not existing formerly, do now exist; and with a law that they should be judged by Him, if they do anything contrary to right reason: and of ourselves we, men and angels, shall be convicted of having acted sinfully, unless we repent beforehand. But if the word of God foretells that some angels and men shall be certainly punished, it did so because it foreknew that they would be unchangeably [wicked], but not because God had created them so. So that if they repent, all who wish for it can obtain mercy from God: and the Scripture foretells that they shall be blessed, saying, ‘Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputeth not sin;’ that is, having repented of his sins, that he may receive remission of them from God; and not as you deceive yourselves, and some others who resemble you in this, who say, that even though they be sinners, but know God, the Lord will not impute sin to them." (Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, 141)
"Here, then, is a proof of virtue, and of a mind loving prudence, to recur to the communion of the unity, and to attach one’s self to prudence for salvation, and make choice of the better things according to the free-will placed in man; and not to think that those who are possessed of human passions are lords of all, when they shall not appear to have even equal power with men." (Justin, On the Sole Government of God, VI)
"But if some had been made by nature bad, and others good, these latter would not be deserving of praise for being good, for such were they created; nor would the former be reprehensible, for thus they were made [originally]. But since all men are of the same nature, able both to hold fast and to do what is good; and, on the other hand, having also the power to cast it from them and not to do it, — some do justly receive praise even among men who are under the control of good laws (and much more from God), and obtain deserved testimony of their choice of good in general, and of persevering therein; but the others are blamed, and receive a just condemnation, because of their rejection of what is fair and good. And therefore the prophets used to exhort men to what was good, to act justly and to work righteousness, as I have so largely demonstrated, because it is in our power so to do, and because by excessive negligence we might become forgetful, and thus stand in need of that good counsel which the good God has given us to know by means of the prophets. ... No doubt, if any one is unwilling to follow the Gospel itself, it is in his power [to reject it], but it is not expedient. For it is in man’s power to disobey God, and to forfeit what is good; but [such conduct] brings no small amount of injury and mischief. ... But because man is possessed of free will from the beginning, and God is possessed of free will, in whose likeness man was created, advice is always given to him to keep fast the good, which thing is done by means of obedience to God.
"And not merely in works, but also in faith, has God preserved the will of man free and under his own control, saying, “According to thy faith be it unto thee; “ thus showing that there is a faith specially belonging to man, since he has an opinion specially his own. And again, “All things are possible to him that believeth;” and, “Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee.” Now all such expressions demonstrate that man is in his own power with respect to faith. And for this reason, “he that believeth in Him has eternal life while he who believeth not the Son hath not eternal life, but the wrath of God shall remain upon him.” In the same manner therefore the Lord, both showing His own goodness, and indicating that man is in his own free will and his own power, said to Jerusalem, “How often have I wished to gather thy children together, as a hen [gathereth] her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Wherefore your house shall be left unto you desolate.”" (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk. IV, 37)
The above passage is immediately followed by Irenaeus' refutation of the Gnostic cults who "maintain the opposite to these conclusions."
"Has the Word come for the ruin and for the resurrection of many? For the ruin, certainly, of those who do not believe Him, to whom also He has threatened a greater damnation in the judgment-day than that of Sodom and Gomorrah; but for the resurrection of believers, and those who do the will of His Father in heaven. If then the advent of the Son comes indeed alike to all, but is for the purpose of judging, and separating the believing from the unbelieving, since, as those who believe do His will agreeably to their own choice, and as, [also] agreeably to their own choice, the disobedient do not consent to His doctrine; it is manifest that His Father has made all in a like condition, each person having a choice of his own, and a free understanding; and that He has regard to all things, and exercises a providence over all, "making His sun to rise upon the evil and on the good, and sending rain upon the just and unjust."
"And to as many as continue in their love towards God, does He grant communion with Him. But communion with God is life and light, and the enjoyment of all the benefits which He has in store. But on as many as, according to their own choice, depart from God, He inflicts that separation from Himself which they have chosen of their own accord. But separation from God is death, and separation from light is darkness; and separation from God consists in the loss of all the benefits which He has in store. Those, therefore, who cast away by apostasy these forementioned things, being in fact destitute of all good, do experience every kind of punishment. God, however, does not punish them immediately of Himself, but that punishment falls upon them because they are destitute of all that is good. Now, good things are eternal and without end with God, and therefore the loss of these is also eternal and never-ending. It is in this matter just as occurs in the case of a flood of light: those who have blinded themselves, or have been blinded by others, are for ever deprived of the enjoyment of light. It is not, [however], that the light has inflicted upon them the penalty of blindness, but it is that the blindness itself has brought calamity upon them: and therefore the Lord declared, "He that believeth in Me is not condemned," that is, is not separated from God, for he is united to God through faith. On the other hand, He says, "He that believeth not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God;" that is, he separated himself from God of his own accord. "For this is the condemnation, that light is come into this world, and men have loved darkness rather than light. For every one who doeth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that he has wrought them in God." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk. V, XXVII)<>Tatian (AD110-172)
"Why are you fated to grasp at things often, and often to die? Die to the world, repudiating the madness that is in it. Live to God, and by apprehending Him lay aside your old nature. We were not created to die, but we die by our own fault. Our free-will has destroyed us; we who were free have become slaves; we have been sold through sin. Nothing evil has been created by God; we Ourselves have manifested wickedness; but we, who have manifested it, are able again to reject it." (Tatian, Address to the Greeks, XI)
"Moreover, man thus constituted will be protected by both the goodness of God and by His purpose, both of which are always found in concert in our God. For His purpose is no purpose without goodness; nor is His goodness without a purpose, except forsooth in the case of Marcion’s God, who is purposelessly good, as we have shown. Well, then, it was proper that God should be known; it was no doubt a good and reasonable thing. Proper also was it that there should be something worthy of knowing God. What could be found so worthy as the image and likeness of God? This also was undoubtedly good and reasonable. Therefore it was proper that (he who is) the image and likeness of God should be formed with a free will and a mastery of himself; so that this very thing — namely, freedom of will and self-command — might be reckoned as the image and likeness of God in him. For this purpose such an essence was adapted to man as suited this character, even the afflatus of the Deity, Himself free and uncontrolled. But if you will take some other view of the case, how came it to pass that man, when in possession of the whole world, did not above all things reign in self-possession — a master over others, a slave to himself? The goodness of God, then, you can learn from His gracious gift to man, and His purpose from His disposal of all things. At present, let God’s goodness alone occupy our attention, that which gave so large a gift to man, even the liberty of his will. God’s purpose claims some other opportunity of treatment, offering as it does instruction of like import. Now, God alone is good by nature. For He, who has that which is without beginning, has it not by creation, but by nature. Man, however, who exists entirely by creation, having a beginning, along with that beginning obtained the form in which he exists; and thus he is not by nature disposed to good, but by creation, not having it as his own attribute to be good, because, (as we have said,) it is not by nature, but by creation, that he is disposed to good, according to the appointment of his good Creator, even the Author of all good. In order, therefore, that man might have a goodness of his own, bestowed on him by God, and there might be henceforth in man a property, and in a certain sense a natural attribute of goodness, there was assigned to him in the constitution of his nature, as a formal witness of the goodness which God bestowed upon him, freedom and power of the will, such as should cause good to be performed spontaneously by man, as a property of his own, on the ground that no less than this would be required in the matter of a goodness which was to be voluntarily exercised by him, that is to say, by the liberty of his will, without either favor or servility to the constitution of his nature, so that man should be good just up to this point, if he should display his goodness in accordance with his natural constitution indeed, but still as the result of his will, as a property of his nature; and, by a similar exercise of volition, should show himself to be too strong in defense against evil also (for even this God, of course, foresaw), being free, and master of himself; because, if he were wanting in this prerogative of self-mastery, so as to perform even good by necessity and not will, he would, in the helplessness of his servitude, become subject to the usurpation of evil, a slave as much to evil as to good. Entire freedom of will, therefore, was conferred upon him in both tendencies; so that, as master of himself, he might constantly encounter good by spontaneous observance of it, and evil by its spontaneous avoidance; because, were man even otherwise circumstanced, it was yet his bounden duty, in the judgment of God, to do justice according to the motions of his will regarded, of course, as free. But the reward neither of good nor of evil could be paid to the man who should be found to have been either good or evil through necessity and not choice. In this really lay the law which did not exclude, but rather prove, human liberty by a spontaneous rendering of obedience, or a spontaneous commission of iniquity; so patent was the liberty of man’s will for either issue. Since, therefore, both the goodness and purpose of God are discovered in the gift to man of freedom in his will, it is not right, after ignoring the original definition of goodness and purpose which it was necessary to determine previous to any discussion of the subject, on subsequent facts to presume to say that God ought not in such a way to have formed man, because the issue was other than what was assumed to be proper for God. We ought rather, after duly considering that it behooved God so to create man, to leave this consideration unimpaired, and to survey the other aspects of the case. It is, no doubt, an easy process for persons who take offence at the fall of man, before they have looked into the facts of his creation, to impute the blame of what happened to the Creator, without any examination of His purpose. To conclude: the goodness of God, then fully considered from the beginning of His works, will be enough to convince us that nothing evil could possibly have come forth from God; and the liberty of man will, after a second thought, show us that it alone is chargeable with the fault which itself committed." (Tertullian, Against Marcion, Bk. II, ch. vi)
"God put the question [to Adam - "where art thou"] with an appearance of uncertainty, in order that even here He might prove man to be the subject of a free will in the alternative of either a denial or a confession, and give to him the opportunity of freely acknowledging his transgression, and, so far, of lightening it. In like manner He inquires of Cain where his brother was, just as if He had not yet heard the blood of Abel crying from the ground, in order that he too might have the opportunity from the same power of the will of spontaneously denying, and to this degree aggravating, his crime; and that thus there might be supplied to us examples of confessing sins rather than of denying them: so that even then was initiated the evangelic doctrine, “By thy words thou shall be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” (Tertullian, Against Marcion, Bk. II, xxv)
"That rich man did go his way who had not “received” the precept of dividing his substance to the needy, and was abandoned by the Lord to his own opinion. Nor will “harshness” be on this account imputed to Christ, the Found of the vicious action of each individual free-will. “Behold,” saith He, “I have set before thee good and evil.” Choose that which is good: if you cannot, because you will not — for that you can if you will He has shown, because He has proposed each to your free-will — you ought to depart from Him whose will you do not." (Tertullian, On Monogamy, XIV)
Clement of Alexandria
"And for this reason we think that God, the Father of all things, in order to ensure the salvation of all His creatures through the ineffable plan of His word and wisdom, so arranged each of these, that every spirit, whether soul or rational existence, however called, should not be compelled by force, against the liberty of his own will, to any other course than that to which the motives of his own mind led him (lest by so doing the power of exercising free-will should seem to be taken away, which certainly would produce a change in the nature of the being itself); and that the varying purposes of these would be suitably and usefully adapted to the harmony of one world, by some of them requiring help, and others being able to give it, and others again being the cause of struggle and contest to those who are making progress, amongst whom their diligence would be deemed more worthy of approval, and the place of rank obtained after victory be held with greater certainty, which should be established by the difficulties of the contest." (Origen, Bk. II ch. I)
There seems to have been no exceptions among early Christian writers to the orthodox teaching that man has been granted by God a free will to choose his destiny, and that salvation is available to all. The opposing view, that man is controlled by fate, could only be found in the Greek philosophical schools, Gnosticism, and Eastern mysticism during the first 300 years of Christianity. It is no wonder that the man who introduced Greek fatalism into Christianity should come from a Gnostic and Neo-Platonic background. Augustine's theory differed from the Greek philosophers mainly by naming the CAUSE of fate — God's mysterious will which must not be questioned, and cannot be understood by mortals. The impact of Augustine's teaching probably would not have been nearly so great if Pelagius had not gone to the opposite extreme in renouncing Augustine.
While those of the Reformed persuasion are right to reject the Latin heresies of Rome, they have been lax to recognize the Greek heresies introduced before the Latin era, which are equally contrary to the truth of the Christian Faith "once for all delivered to the saints" by the Apostles of Jesus Christ. They seem to hold a higher opinion of philosophers, like Augustine, than of the Apostles themselves, and those to whom the Apostles entrusted the Apostolic tradition.