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The Doctrines of Grace

January 11th, 2012

I recently began a new series in our Midweek Fellowship on the Doctrines of Grace, sometimes known as the Five Points of Calvinism. The purpose of this series is to make explicit some of the key doctrines in our confessional standards, the Westminster Confession of Faith and its Catechisms, and to help members of the congregation have a greater zeal for the glory of God and for the task of mission.

Knowing and understanding these doctrines of grace is also crucial for knowing and understanding the gospel. The gospel stands or falls by grace, and the gospel is not really good news unless it is a gospel of grace. So it is crucial that we have a clear understanding of God’s grace.

The great Princeton theologian, B.B. Warfield said that evangelicialism stands or falls with Calvinism. Jim Boice and Philip Ryken in their excellent book, The Doctrines of Grace, point out that Warfield made that statement at a time when Calvinism still had a major influence on evangelicalism, helping to define its theology, shape its spirituality, and clarify its mission. This is no longer the case. Most evangelicals today are suspicious of Calvinism, and the result is that the gospel of grace has been diluted or lost.

A number of years ago, a group of evangelicals in North America expressed their concern at the changes they observed within the world of evangelicalism and summarised their views in The Cambridge Declaration. Part of that declaration states,

“Unwarranted confidence in human ability is a product of fallen human nature. This false confidence now fills the evangelical world; from the self-esteem gospel, to the health and wealth gospel, from those who have transformed the gospel into a product to be sold and sinners into consumers who want to buy, to others who treat Christian faith as being true simply because it works. This silences the doctrine of justification regardless of the official commitments of our churches. God’s grace in Christ is not merely necessary but is the sole efficient cause of salvation.”

It is sometimes claimed that Calvinism reduces and restricts one’s passion and enthusiasm for evangelism. That view is mistaken both in its understanding of Calvinism and in its understanding of evangelism. In fact, properly understood, the doctrines of grace give the most solid foundation and greatest motivation for sharing the gospel. Only when we hold thoroughly biblical convictions about divine election, the atonement, and the irresistible grace of God can we have any confidence that the gospel has the power to accomplish God’s saving purposes. With their emphasis on the glory of God in salvation, the doctrines of grace can help evangelicalism grow and mature by restoring a proper view of God’s majesty, sovereignty and grace.

C.H. Spurgeon was a great evangelist and a staunch defender of the doctrines of grace.

“I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and him crucified unless we preach what is nowadays called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel …. unless we preach the sovereignty of God in his dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the Gospel unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of his elect and chosen people which Christ wrought upon the cross; nor can I comprehend the Gospel which allows saints to fall away after they are called.” (quoted by J.I.Packer in his “Introductory Essay” to John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (London, Banner of Truth, 1959), 10.)

If Warfield and Spurgeon were right, then it is crucial that evangelicals understand and affirm the doctrines of grace. Quite simply, the doctrines of grace preserve the gospel of grace. More than that, understanding these doctrines enables us to be the humble worshippers that God calls us to be. As John Piper puts it about the doctrine of election,

“Unconditional election delivers the harshest and the sweetest judgments to my soul. That it is unconditional destroys all self-exaltation; and that it is election makes me his treasured possession. This is one of the beauties of the biblical doctrines of grace: their worst devastations prepare us for their greatest delights. What prigs we would become at the words, “The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6), if this election were in any way dependent on our will. But to protect us from pride, the Lord teaches us that we are unconditionally chosen (7:7-9). “He made a wretch his treasure,” as we so gladly sing. Only the devastating freeness and unconditionality of electing grace lets us take and taste such gifts for our very own without the exaltation of self.”

If you want a fuller statement on these doctrines then one place to start is here.

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