3.5 Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace.
3.6 As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power, through faith, unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.
3.7 The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy, as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.
3.8 The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men, attending the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel.
CHAPTER 10 - OF EFFECTUAL CALLING
10.1 All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by his almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.
10.2 This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.
10.3 Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth: so also are all other elect persons who are uncapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.
10.4 Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet they never truly come unto Christ, and therefore cannot be saved: much less can men, not professing the Christian religion, be saved in any other way whatsoever, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, and the laws of that religion they do profess. And, to assert and maintain that they may, is very pernicious, and to be detested.
Now, it is evident that the denomination to which my former church belongs (the “Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians,” or “ECO”) views this particular Reformed confession (among others) as a good expression of their theological position. Consider the following statements from ECO's "Essential Tenets and Confessional Standards":
The Reformed understanding of the church’s confessional and theological tradition sees contemporary Christians as participants in an enduring theological and doctrinal conversation that shapes the patterns of the church’s faith and life. Communities of believers from every time and place engage in a continuous discussion about the shape of Christian faith and life, an exchange that is maintained through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Today’s church brings its insights into an ongoing dialogue with those who have lived and died the Faith before us. Voices from throughout the church’s life contribute to the interchange – ancient voices that articulate the enduring rule of faith, sixteenth and seventeenth century voices that shape the Reformed tradition, and twentieth century voices that proclaim the church’s faith in challenging contexts. The confessions in the Book of Confessions were not arbitrarily included, but were selected to give faithful voice to the whole communion of saints.
The Book of Confessions is an appropriate expression of the Reformed commitment to honor our fathers and mothers in the Faith. It begins with two foundational creeds, shared throughout the whole Church. The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed is the decisive dogmatic articulation of Trinitarian faith. It establishes the vocabulary, grammar, and syntax of Christian theology. The Apostles’ Creed is the Baptismal creed that expresses the shared belief of the faithful as persons are incorporated into the body of Christ. Two Reformation confessions, Scots and Second Helvetic, and one Reformation catechism, Heidelberg, give voice to the dawning of the Reformed tradition. The seventeenth century Westminster standards powerfully express God’s sovereignty over all of life. The Theological Declaration of Barmen, the Confession of 1967, and A Brief Statement of Faith articulate the church’s fidelity to the gospel in the midst of uncongenial and sometimes hazardous cultures. These confessions, from widely different contexts, are complementary. They do not sing in unison, but in a rich harmony that glorifies God and deepens our enjoyment of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.
Are these the only voices that could be included in the church’s theological conversation? No, but they are faithful witnesses to the gospel and appropriate expressions of the Reformed perspective on Christian faith and life. Participating in their colloquy frees us from the narrow prison cell of our own time and place by listening to the voices of our brothers and sisters who struggled to be faithful in diverse circumstances. Through their confessions of faith we are privileged to hear their wisdom in the midst of our own struggle to be faithful. We overhear conversations among our forebears that expand and enrich our apprehension of the gospel. Sometimes we simply listen in on their discussion, at other times we pay particular attention to one of their voices, and many times we find ourselves participating actively in lively instruction.
The questions of our parents in the faith may not be identical to ours, but their different approaches enable us to understand our own questions better. Their answers may not be identical to ours, yet their answers startle us into new apprehensions of the truth. We may sometimes be puzzled by their particular questions or answers, but even that perplexity serves to clarify our own thinking and the shape of our faithfulness. Throughout the conversation we are aware that all councils may err, yet because we are not doctrinal progressives we acknowledge the confessions have a particular authority over us: we are answerable to them before they are answerable to us.
This section closes with the following words:
Neither the Fellowship nor the ECO can imagine that it should or could disavow the Reformed confessional heritage. Whatever the church’s confessional and theological failings may be, they are the failings of all of us. The task now is to embody faithful ways of being Presbyterian. The most appropriate footing for a new venture is the faithful doctrinal and theological foundation provided by the creeds, confessions, and catechisms of the Book of Confessions.
Not only does ECO implicitly affirm the Reformed theology expressed in the Westminster Confessions, but we find also an explicit affirmation of the Reformed doctrines of "Total Depravity," "Unconditional Election" and "Irresistible Grace." In the next section entitled "Essential Tenets," we read:
Presbyterians have been of two minds about essential tenets. We recognize that just as there are some central and foundational truths of the gospel affirmed by Christians everywhere, so too there are particular understandings of the gospel that define the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition. All Christians must affirm the central mysteries of the faith, and all those who are called to ordered ministries in a Presbyterian church must also affirm the essential tenets of the Reformed tradition. Recognizing the danger in reducing the truth of the gospel to propositions that demand assent, we also recognize that when the essentials become a matter primarily of individual discernment and local affirmation, they lose all power to unite us in common mission and ministry.
Essential tenets are tied to the teaching of the confessions as reliable expositions of Scripture. The essential tenets call out for explication, not as another confession, but as indispensable indicators of confessional convictions about what Scripture leads us to believe and do. Essential tenets do not replace the confessions, but rather witness to the confessions’ common core. This document is thus intended not as a new confession but as a guide to the corporate exploration of and commitment to the great themes of Scripture and to the historic Reformed confessions that set forth those themes.
Under heading III ("Essentials of the Reformed Tradition"), A ("God’s grace in Christ"), we find an affirmation of the doctrine of Total Depravity (the "T" in the acronym "TULIP"):
As a result of sin, human life is poisoned by everlasting death. No part of human life is untouched by sin. Our desires are no longer trustworthy guides to goodness, and what seems natural to us no longer corresponds to God’s design. We are not merely wounded in our sin; we are dead, unable to save ourselves. Apart from God’s initiative, salvation is not possible for us. Our only hope is God's grace. We discover in Scripture that this is a great hope, for our God is the One whose mercy is from everlasting to everlasting.
This grace does not end when we turn to sin. Although we are each deserving of God’s eternal condemnation, the eternal Son assumed our human nature, joining us in our misery and offering Himself on the cross in order to free us from slavery to death and sin. Jesus takes our place both in bearing the weight of condemnation against our sin on the cross and in offering to God the perfect obedience that humanity owes to Him but is no longer able to give. All humanity participates in the fall into sin. Those who are united through faith with Jesus Christ are fully forgiven from all our sin, so that there is indeed a new creation. We are declared justified, not because of any good that we have done, but only because of God’s grace extended to us in Jesus Christ. In union with Christ through the power of the Spirit we are brought into right relation with the Father, who receives us as His adopted children.
Notice that, according to ECO, "all humanity participates in the fall into sin," and is thus "deserving of God's eternal condemnation." This means that newborns are just as deserving of God's eternal condemnation as adults (which, as we've seen, was the view of Calvin and the Westminster Divines). Moreover, according to the doctrine of Total Depravity (or "Total Inability"), we are, by nature, completely unable to respond positively to God and his grace, and must undergo a radical spiritual transformation (in which our heart is regenerated by God) before we are able to exercise faith in Christ and be saved. All who do not undergo this transformation of the heart and exercise faith in Christ before physical death must suffer the full outpouring of God’s wrath in hell for all eternity. And apart from God’s mercifully choosing to intervene in a person’s life and causing them to undergo this transformation, no one would be saved. We would all remain in a state of spiritual blindness and hardness of heart that makes us utterly incapable of responding to the gospel of Christ with saving faith.
To quote Reformed pastor and bestselling author Tim Keller, "...all human beings, given a hundred chances, a thousand chances, an infinite number of chances, will always – because their desires are such – will always choose to be their own lord and savior, and they'll never choose Jesus. And what God does, is he opens the eyes of some so they'll see the truth, but he doesn't open the eyes of everybody." Although these words by Keller are part of his explanation of what he calls the "Doctrine of Election," this is actually a good summary explanation of the Reformed doctrine of "Total Depravity," and what it entails (i.e., that apart from God's choosing to "open the eyes of some so they'll see the truth," no one would ever "choose Jesus" and thus be saved).
Under section B ("Election for salvation and service") we find the doctrine of Total Depravity affirmed once more, along with the related doctrines of Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace (the "U" and "I" in "TULIP"):
The call of God to the individual Christian is not merely an invitation that each person may accept or reject by his or her own free will. Having lost true freedom of will in the fall, we are incapable of turning toward God of our own volition. God chooses us for Himself in grace before the foundation of the world, not because of any merit on our part, but only because of His love and mercy. Each of us is chosen in Christ, who is eternally appointed to be head of the body of the elect, our brother and our high priest. He is the one who is bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh, our divine Helper who is also our Bridegroom, sharing our human nature so that we may see His glory. We who receive Him and believe in His name do so not by our own will or wisdom, but because His glory compels us irresistibly to turn toward Him. By His enticing call on our lives, Jesus enlightens our minds, softens our hearts, and renews our wills, restoring the freedom that we lost in the fall.
As is evident from the above quote, the Calvinistic doctrines of "Total Depravity," "Unconditional Election" and "Irresistible Grace" are very much bound together in Reformed theology. This is also evident from the quote by Keller, where his explanation of the "doctrine of election" would make equal sense (if not more sense) when understood as an explanation of the doctrine of Total Depravity (and perhaps of Irresistible Grace as well). According to the Reformed doctrine of election affirmed by ECO, only those individuals who are chosen by God before the foundation of the world will escape "God's eternal condemnation," of which we are told all human beings (both young and old) are deserving. It is these elect individuals alone who will be finally and eternally saved. Those not chosen by God before the foundation of the world for salvation will suffer God's wrath for all eternity, forever excluded from heaven and without hope of ever being shown divine mercy. Thus, according to the theology affirmed by the Presbyterian church to which I belonged (and the denomination with which it is affiliated), there are some people born into the world whom God has never had any intention of actually saving. And having never had any intention of saving them, it means that God has never had any intention of doing what is in their best interests. In other words, God never truly loved them at all. This, dear reader, is the shocking (and, I believe, God-dishonoring) conclusion to which the Reformed doctrine of election leads.
Imagine, if you will, a newborn child who has just come into the world. She is being tenderly embraced by her mother as tears of joy stream down her cheeks. Her proud father looks on. Now, imagine that Calvinism is true, and that neither the child nor her parents are elect (keep in mind that, according to most Calvinists – indeed, most Christians – the majority of people born into this world will not be saved, and are thus not elect). According to Calvinism, the non-elect parents love their child more than God does (for he does not really love her at all). As the parents gaze lovingly into the eyes of their newborn daughter, they want only the best for her, and are prepared to do whatever they can to secure her future happiness in this world. But as God "looks down" from heaven, he knows full well that whatever happiness may be in store for this child during her relatively brief, mortal existence on earth will end as soon as she breathes her last. God - who brought her into existence, and continually sustains her in existence - knows full well what her eternal fate will be. He knew before she was even conceived. Being non-elect, she is destined for an eternity in hell. Even as her parents look to the future with hearts full of hope for their newborn child, God looks to the future and sees their daughter forever banished from his presence, and suffering eternal conscious torment in hell. And why must this awful, nightmarish fate be hers? Why will she not ultimately be counted among the redeemed in heaven? Answer: Simply because the Calvinist God, in his sovereignty, wanted it this way. It was his "good pleasure" and "sovereign will" to forever withhold his electing love and saving grace from this girl, and from all who will share her fate.
My hope is that what you just read makes your blood run cold, and that you find the "God" depicted above - the "God" believed in and worshiped by Calvinists and "Reformed" Christians - as horrible and appalling, and as unworthy of our faith and love, as I now do (by the grace of God). For those whose consciences have not been seared by years of indoctrination, the disturbing scenario described above will, I trust, be a sufficient refutation of the God-dishonoring system of Christian theology known as "Calvinism."
And Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?" But Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."