In our article last week, we examined the first of the Five Points of Calvinism – “Total Depravity”. In his fallen state, man is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2: 1 cf Rom 5: 12). Totally depraved and undone, he is not able to choose God (Rom 3: 10-12), and is destined to eternal damnation (Rom 6: 23a).
2. Unconditional Election
The second Calvinistic cardinal point – “Unconditional Election” comes naturally from the doctrine of Total Depravity. If man is totally unable to save himself from sin, then salvation can come only by the grace of God: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Eph 2: 8). The sinner does nothing to merit His salvation. He is saved by God’s grace and sovereign election – “not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph 2: 9).
John Calvin summarised this truth well: “We are believers because we have been elected.” This glorious truth is reiterated in the Book of Acts: “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13: 48). apt
God chose us not because we are good or deserve to be saved. The Bible teaches that God has foreknown us even before time and elected us to salvation even before we existed: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: 4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love” (Eph 1: 3-4)
“It ought to be understood that God’s decree of election is not at all based on foreknown faith. God did not look down through the ages to see just who would be good enough to believe in His Son, and then chose them on the basis of their faith. Such a notion does not glorify God but man, and is clearly erroneous” (Theology for Every Christian by Rev Dr Timothy Tow and Rev Dr Jeffrey Khoo).
Ephesians 1: 5 tells us clearly of God’s sovereign choice of His people. He had elected us “according to the good pleasure of his will”. This truth is affirmed by the apostle John – that those who “believe on his name … were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn 1: 12-13).
3. Limited Atonement
The third main point – “Limited Atonement” or “Particular Redemption” – brings us to the central truth of the Gospel – the purpose of Christ’s death at Calvary. Christ’s redemptive work is universal in three respects – its sufficiency, applicability and availability to all.
As expressed succinctly by Augustine in the formula: “Sufficient for all, efficient for the elect”, Christ’s atonement is adequate to save every sinner, but it is limited in its extent to the elect: “And he (Christ) is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (I Jn 2: 2).
The words of the German hymn, “Jesus’ blood and righteousness”, by Count Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf (translated by John Wesley) give us a better understanding of this doctrine:
Lord, I believe Thy precious blood,
Which, at the mercy seat of God,
Forever doth for sinners plead,
For me, e’en for my soul, was shed.
Lord, I believe were sinners more
Than sands upon the ocean shore,
Thou hast for all a ransom paid,
For all a full atonement made.
“Although the atonement is universal or unlimited in its sufficiency, applicability and availability, it must be noted that the atonement is limited or particular in its intention, design and ultimate results. It is not every single human being but only those whom God had elected that will be saved” (ibid).
Our late founding pastor, Rev Dr Timothy Tow, summarised this doctrine with an illustration of a “Cheap Sale” advertisement by a big store. As the sale is open to all, everyone is free to enter the store but not all will make a purchase.
Christ died to save a particular number of sinners – those whom “he hath chosen … in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1: 4). This is clear from the angel’s announcement to Joseph that “she (Mary) shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt 1: 21). In His high priestly prayer, our Saviour affirmed that He is the Mediator for the elect: “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine” (Jn 17: 9). (… to be continued)