Calvinism and Arminianism 
Defined, Considered, and Compared

Dr. W. Noble King
All Rights Reserved


1. Augustine (354-430 A.D.) held that original sin carried with it personal guilt that merited damnation.  From that belief he laid down the proposition that God in His absolute sovereignty decreed the election of a certain number to salvation, and a certain number to damnation.
2. Pelagius (a British monk of the fifth century who went to Rome), and later Pelagianism reacted against this extreme position in one direction, with an equally extreme position in the opposite direction.  They denied natural depravity altogether and held that, as a result, the child is born with no natural demerit and with no personal guilt, but with the possibility of personal holiness when he adds personal ethical acts to his created state.
3. Arminianism endeavored to strike a middle ground between Augustinianism, later called Calvinism, and Pelagianism.  In so doing Arminians believed and believe that they hold a sound biblical position. Arminianism held to depravity, and now holds that that depravity is responsible for no personal demerit.  It also holds to the sovereignty of God; but that that sovereignty is within the divine sovereignty.  Within that limited sovereignty of man, manís own destiny is determined by his own free and undetermined acts.

 We are now to drop Pelagianism and consider (I) Calvinism and Arminianism in definition and content; (II) Calvinism and Arminianism in biblical comparison; and (III) Calvinism and Arminianism experientially related.

I.  Calvinism and Arminianism in Definition and Content.

1. Augustine thus held that man was totally fallen, and that every individual faculty of his nature was totally depraved so that man was utterly unable either to know what was good or right, or to do what was good or right.  God was also absolutely sovereign to the extent that no moral sovereign act could be committed by any human person or other intelligence, other than God Himself.  Gottschalk was the chief representative of those ideas between Augustine and John Calvin.  John Calvin took those two equally biblical positions, and flawlessly, from the viewpoint of logic, came to an equally unbiblical conclusion.  Anyone embracing the original propositions must also embrace the same ultimate conclusions.

  (1)  The Calvinists themselves are not fully united as to how and when this election and reprobation are, or were, effected by God.  There are three views among them with regard to the matter.  They are:

   (a)  Supralapsarianism-- "According to this view, the decree of election takes precedence of the decree of creation.  Out of the mass of creatable men God elects some and reprobates others for his own glory" (Patton, pp. 79f).  Thus, as creatables, men are decreed to salvation or to damnation.  Neither the fall, not original sin, nor their own transgressions has anything to do with their reprobation. The cross of Christ, or the blood of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world has nothing to do with the salvation of the elect.  God, for his own glory and good pleasure, elects or reprobates men as creatables.  Modern Calvinists do not like this view; yet it is the view to which they can be forced from their own original premises.  It is the view of John Calvin himself.

   (b)  Sublapsarianism-- "The advocates of this view maintain that the decree of election contemplates man as fallen.  Out of the mass of fallen humanity God has predestined some, eternal life" (Ibid.), and the others to eternal damnation.  Original sin, transgressions, the cross and the blood of Christ could all be contemplated as decreed factors in Godís decreed end. This view is possibly subscribed to by the majority of present-day Calvinists.

   (c)  Infralapsarianism-- "Its advocates say that God decreed to create man; to permit the fall; to provide a salvation for all men through Jesus Christ on condition of faith and repentance; but, foreseeing that none would accept Christ, he decreed to give faith and repentance to some" (Ibid.) and not to others.  This view contemplates man as created, fallen, and the sheep redeemed; but it has God permitting the fall, and Christ dying for all.  These two views are incompatible with the Calvinistic view of the absolute sovereignty of God.  Modern Calvinists do not like this view as it would destroy the very foundation of Calvinism.

  Thus, the first view deals with creatable-man and the second and third views deal with contemplated-man.  However, there is no difference in any one of the three views as far as man himself is concerned.  He would be elected or reprobated, as the case may be, in any one of the three views and know no difference.

(2)  Further, Calvinism, as a doctrine, is set forth in what is called the five points of Calvinism.  They are:

    (a)  Unconditional election--God, for his own glory elects some to salvation without any consideration of the character of the person elected.  He is prompted only by His own sovereign will.  This leads to antinomianism as oneís conduct does not enter into the matter.

    (b)  Limited atonement--The death of Christ was only for an elect few--the sheep--and the mercy of God is extended only to those few.  This led to Unitarianism; for, argued the Unitarians:  If those for whom Christ died are to be saved, we can prove that the Bible teaches that Christ died for all, and that the mercy of God is promised to all.

    (c)  Natural inability--Man, in his totally depraved state, is utterly unable in any measure to respond to God; hence God unconditionally elects those who are to be saved.

    (d)  Irresistible grace--The grace of God comes upon those decreed to be elected in an irresistible manner; hence they yield.

    (e)  Final perseverance--Those who are thus elected and effectually called shall "never fall either totally or finally" from the state of grace to which they have been elected.

   (3)  Further, Calvinism subscribes to the Penal, or Judicial Theory of the Atonement.  This theory was originated by Anselm, but changed slightly when it was taken over by Calvinism.  In Calvinism it is understood to mean that Christ paid the full just penalty of the guilty sinner.  Thus Christís death was a punishment in substitution for the elected sinner.  Those for whom the substitution was made must be the elect as sin cannot be punished twice.  On the other hand, those for whom the substitution was not made must be reprobated as sin has to be punished fully and justly once (Hodge, Syst. Theology, p. 472; Miley, Systematic Theology, pp. 1461).

    (a)  In Calvinism, therefore, the end is always determined.  But every individual event leading up to that inevitable end is also determined.  We quote from a Calvinist:  "The decree embraces every event.  God foreordains the means as well as the end" (Patton, op. cit., p. 92). Indeed, in the Calvinistic system the foreknowledge of God calls for foreordination.  In other words an event must be foreordained before it can be foreknown.  We again quote from the same Calvinistic writer:  "If God has foreknown every event, then every event has been fixed and determined from all eternity" (Ibid.).

    (b)  Thus, they say, man is free; but he is only free to do what he is determined to do from all eternity.  "God controls the free acts of men."  He grants repentance and gives faith to the elect after they have been elected.  Thus repentance and faith follow the experience of salvation.  The free acts of wicked men are also controlled and determined:  "The wicked acts of (wicked) men are (also) foreordained" (Ibid.).  Thus the free acts of the elected and the reprobated are alike determined for them by God.  Judasí act of betrayal, and Johnís act of pillowing his head on the bosom of Jesus were both equally foreordained by God.  Neither Judas nor John was free to do other than he did.

    (c)  Hence, there are no choices in menís actions, and no moral content in their ethical conduct (indeed, there would be no ethical conduct at all).  God, and God alone, would be responsible for every noble human action and high resolve; and also for every vile, vicious, and dastardly wicked deed perpetrated by man at his worst.  Thus, the Arminian, John Wesley, said to the Calvinist, George Whitefield:  "Your God is my Devil."

  2.  James Arminius, and Grotius, and later other Arminians reacted against the iron-clad predetermined beliefs of Calvinism, and challenged the system at its fountain-head.  God was absolutely sovereign; but the very fact that he was infinite and unlimited in every faculty of his being made possible a limited sovereignty for man in the moral field.  What is called foreknowledge in God makes it possible for him to relate his plans with the free acts of man so that in the end he had his way.  He can thus make the wrath of man to praise him.

   (1)  Godís foreknowledge, however, in no sense determines.  God is imminent in Space-Time, but he himself is transcendentally out of Space-Time.  Thus all time is as present with him.  He can, and does, behold all at a glance.  Jesus said, "Before Abraham was I am."  He could just as accurately have said "Before Noah was; before Adam was; before angels were, I am."  This is true of Deity.  A parent, from a secret place, watches his child steal an apple.  The fact that the parent saw the child do so, did not determine the action of the child.  The term foreknowledge, however, when applied to God is an accommodative term for our benefit.  There is no such with God as he sees and knows all as present.

   (2)  Furthermore, man is not totally depraved in the Calvinistic sense.  He is totally depraved in every faculty of his being, but no one faculty is totally ruined.  This state is due to the operation of prevenient grace.  Man knows right from wrong (in the moral field for him), and good from bad.  He has the will power, when moral choices arise, to choose in either direction. In this field of freedom and choices the destiny of his soul is settled.  Thus the destiny of the souls of men is not determined in eternity before time, and before men have factual existence, but on earth, in time, while they are in the moral probationary period.  Thus repentance and saving faith must precede regeneration in Arminianism, and are not given to the elect after they are elected as the Calvinists say.

   (3)  Sin, in the human family, thus originated in the field of moral freedom.  God gave man freedom of will to serve and to obey him.  In this sense man is a finite being, made in the image of God his Creator, for God is moral and free.  Man misused that freedom and acted against the known will of God.  Thus sin was generate by his own free action, within his own soul.  Man, and man alone, is responsible for sin.

   (4)  The five points, as expressed by Arminianism, are as follows:

    (a)  "God elected to salvation, or to reprobation those whose faith or whose final unbelief He foresaw."

    (b)  "Jesus Christ died for all, but only believers receive benefit."

    (c)  "Repentance and renewal are of the Spiritís operation."

    (d)  "The grace which effects this may be finally resisted."

    (e)  At first the fifth was expressed as follows:  "The question of a necessary final perseverance must be left undecided" (Pope, I, p. 20).  A little later it was given the following content:  "That they who are united to Christ by faith are thereby furnished with abundant strength and succor sufficient to enable them to triumph over the seductions of Satan, and the allurements of sin; nevertheless they may by the neglect of these succors, fall from grace, and dying in such a state, may finally perish" (Wiley, II, 351).
   (5)  Arminianism subscribes only in part to the Governmental Theory of the Atonement.  The Arminians generally agree with the theory about the moral government, but regret its neglect to give the moral Governor Himself a sufficient place.  Pope summarizes what he calls the biblical position as follows:

    (a)  The atonement in relation to mankind:  The finished work accomplished by the Redeemer Himself is His divine-human obedience to death, regarded as an expiatory sacrifice.  This is the atonement proper.

    (b)  The atonement in relation to God:  The atonement is the righteousness of God in that it is the supreme manifestation of the glory and consistency of the divine attributes.

    (c)  The atonement in relation to God and man:   It is reconciliation.  This involves two truths:  the propitiation of the divine displeasure against the world; and, the sin of the world is no longer an impassable barrier.

    (d)  The atonement in relation to man:  It is redemption.  Universal as to the race, but limited in its consummation to those who believe (II, p. 263).

  Hence there are choices in menís actions, and moral content in their ethical conduct.  God is not in any way personally responsible for those free moral actions.  Men are not elected or reprobated in eternity before time, nor by Adamís sin, but by their own response or lack of response to the overtures of divine grace.

II.  Calvinism and Arminianism in Biblical Comparison

  1.  As Calvinists emphasize the absolute sovereignty of God they therefore rest their case on texts that they believe set forth that proposition.  We shall deal with their proof texts in three groups.

   (1)  The following texts and Bible references are claimed by them to teach particular election:  "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Romans 8:29).  The text refers to those he foreknew would meet conditions of their own free choice.  We also have a similar one in Ephesians 1:4--"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."  His foreknowledge of the free decisions of men makes this possible.  Another text of a similar nature is found in II Thessalonians 2:12--"But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved in the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth."  "From the beginning" refers to the first presentation of the gospel in Thessalonica.  When they entered into the experiences of sanctification and believed the truth they were elected.  Thus it was up to the individual.  The same was also true with regard to Jacob, and Esau, and Pharaoh.  Esau was unusable, and Jacob was usable; therefore God chose Jacob.  God sent the light and Pharaoh rejected the light and thus hardened his own heart.  The mild Calvinist, Ellicott, says that Pharaohís heart hardened itself.  In I Samual 6:6a we read:  "Wherefore then do ye harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts?"  That is the real meaning throughout.

   (2)  Calvinists also claim that Christ died for the elect, for the Church, or for the sheep only.  The following texts, with regard to this matter, are used by them:  "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, therefore the world hateth you," (John 15:19).  Again:  "But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.  My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:26, 27).  However, the elect, the Church, or the sheep merely refer to those who have repented and believed.  The unsaved have also an interest in Christís death as stated in I John 2:2, where we read:  "And he is the propitiation for our sins (the sheep); and not for ours only (the sheep only), but also for the sins of the whole world (the unsaved)."

   (3)  The Calvinists also claim that the elect shall never fall "either totally or finally."  Some of the texts used by them in their contention are as follows:  "But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life: (John 4:14).  "Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have:  for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee: (Hebrews 13:5).  Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: (Phil. 1:6).  "For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38, 39).  "And this is the Fatherís will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.  And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life:  and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:39, 40).  All those texts take it for granted that God received the free cooperation of the individuals concerned.  Indeed this is so stated in John 6:39--and believeth on him.

   (4)  Calvinists make much of John 10:28, 29.  The verses read as follows:  "And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them our of my hand.  My Father which gave them me is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Fatherís hand."  These two verses say nothing about the personal freedom of the individual who may step out if he so desires.  Further, the term eternal life has no reference to duration at all.  In eternity time is no more.  It rather refers to a certain quality of existence.  A dollar-bill is a dollar-bill whether it is in my pocket or in the pocket of someone else.  Whether I own it or whether I lose it, it is still a dollar-bill.  So also with eternal life.

  2.  Arminianism fully recognizes the texts used by Calvinism setting forth the sovereignty of God, but they relate those texts to the texts setting forth freedom, or sovereignty in man.

   (1)  Jesus wept over Jerusalem and said, " often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, but ye would not: (Matthew 23:37b). Jesus also said to the people of his day:  "And ye will not come unto me that ye might have life: (John 5:40).  Paul, referring to God, wrote:  "Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth: (I Timothy 2:4).  In the Old Testament, with regard to the Jews, we have these words:  "...but if ye forsake him (God), he will forsake you" (II Chr. 15:2c).  Again:  "...because ye have forsaken the Lord, he hath also forsaken you: (II Chr. 24:20c).

   (2)  Christ died for the whole world (John 3:16); for all men, and for every man (I Tim. 2:6; 4:10; Heb. 2:9).  In fact the atonement is coextensive with the fall itself, and potentially embraces all (Romans 5:15-18).  It is further evident that Christ died for those who are saved and even sanctified, and yet may perish (Romans 14:15; Heb. 10:29).  There is not a single passage in the Bible that says that Christ did not die for all, or that the Spirit does not strive with all.

   (3)  Solemn warnings against possible apostacy are given.  Paul himself says, "But I keep my body under, and bring it into subjection:  lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway:  (I Cor. 9:27).  Many other injunctions are also given to encourage perseverance to the end.  (Matt. 24:13; John 15:4; I Cor. 9:24; Heb. 3:14; I Peter 5:8, 9; Rev. 2:10).  All such warnings and injunctions would be quite unnecessary if there were no possibility of falling away finally.

   (4)  Thus the responsibility for manís lost estate is placed, with positive certainty, at his own door.  This is true in both the Old Testament and also in the New Testament (Ezek. 33:11; Matt. 22:8; 23:37; John 5:30; I Peter 2:1; Isaiah 55:6, 7; Ezekiel 18:31).

   (5)  Now let us bring the sovereignty of God and the sovereignty of man together in proper relation.  Peter, in II Peter 1:5--9, recites the duties of man in the exercise of his sovereignty, and then in verse ten says, "Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure; for if ye do these things (mentioned in verses 5--9), ye shall never fall."  "If ye do these things" then " man is able to pluck them out of my Fatherís hand" are definitely related on the Arminian premises. We, however, have one more matter to consider.

III.  Calvinism and Arminianism Experientially Related

  We are now to consider case-studies, of personalities, who were undoubtedly once right with God.  We shall deal with them in the eternal order, in the Old Testament, and in the New Testament.

  1.  The Satan and other fallen spirits were undoubtedly created holy beings in a holy heaven, to serve and worship a holy God.  Those angels fell totally and finally.  Grace has never been offered to them, and undoubtedly never will be offered to them (Job 4:14; II Peter 2:4; Jude 6).

  2.  Our first parents, Adam and Eve, were created holy, and placed in a sinless social order, and conversed freely with their holy Creator.  They, however, fell and would have perished spiritually forever had a satisfactory substitute not been found.  Life had to be taken and blood had to be shed before they could be brought back (gen. 1;27; Eccl. 7:29; Gen. 3:6--10; 3:15, 21).

  3.  Saul, first King of Israel, was certainly changed in heart.  We read of him as follows:  "And it was so, that when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, God gave him another heart:  ...And when they came thither to the hill, behold, a company of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them" (I Sam. 10:9, 10).  Yet, as a result of his disobedience, God left him, and answered him no more.  He ultimately died a suicide (I Sam. 15:23, 24; 16:14).

  4.  Judas was once numbered with the other apostles, and was called by Christ, and ordained by him, and sent forth to preach by him; yet he fell by transgression, and, as a result, lost his bishopric.  He fell and was never brought back (Acts 1:17; 1:16, 25, 18; Matt. 27:5; Acts 1:20).

  5.  Demus was once ranked high in the early church.  Paul, under inspiration, placed him side by side with Luke, and other all time greats (Col. 4:14).  Yet he forsook all having fallen in love with this present evil world, and went down to Thessalonica (II Tim. 4:10).

  6.  Up to a certain point it is possible for those who have fallen from grace to get back.  Beyond a certain point apparently it is not.  David, in the Old Testament, definitely broke with God, got back.  Saul, in the Old testament, definitely broke with God, and appatently did not get back. Peter definitely broke with God in the New Testament, and did get back.  Judas, in the New Testament, definitely broke with God, and apparently, did not get back.


  1.  Thus as we have observed that absolute sovereignty with regard to God in the Calvinistic sense, and particular election, with regard to man do not exist, as such, in the Old Testament.  The Jews, who thought that they were elected, were themselves set aside.

  2.  New Testament writings do not teach it, and the early Church knew nothing about it.  Later, when the idea was introduce, the Church condemned it.  The synods of Arausio and Chiercy (ninth century) both disapproved the idea of predestination to evil.  Ambrose and the ante-Nicene theology held fast to the universality of the redeeming purpose (Pope, II, pp. 98, 99).  Dr. H. Emil Brunner, himself a Calvinist, said that the Bible and the early Church knew nothing about Calvinism as a doctrine.  Indeed, Dr. Brunner says that Augustine got it from Roman Stoicism (The Divine-Human Encounter, p. 53).

  3.  Augustine did not follow his teacher, Ambrose, and originated the twin ideas, later developed into a doctrine by John Calvin. Calvinism thus misrepresented the character and nature of God, and misrepresents the moral status of man, and does not properly regard the total field of revelation, and must be discredited when tested by the criterion of human experience.


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