"What Is a True Calvinist?" Part Three: Grateful Heart and Submitted Will
I am currently posting a six-part series called “What Is a True Calvinist?” based on the booklet written by Phillip Ryken which can also be found in the book, Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel (chapter eight) by James Montgomery Boice and Ryken (Crossway, 2002). The purpose of these posts are not to give detailed expositions of the five points of Calvinism but to express in summary form the heart of a true Calvinist and the impact the biblical truths of Calvinism on the Christian life. For previous posts, see Part One and Part Two.
Ryken continues his answer to the question, “What is a true Calvinist?” by expounding upon a grateful heart and submissive will. He shares that “the only proper response to such amazing grace is profound gratitude. If God has touched us with his mercy, thereby infallibly securing our salvation, then we must thank him with grateful hearts” (15). If such a salvation provided and accomplished by God so that no man can boast, if our election is not based on anything foreseen or meritorious within us so that God is “the source of our life in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:30), what else could one have but a heart of gratitude that never ceases to be amazed by grace nor gets over “so great a salvation” of which they have become partakers?
Abraham Kuyper shares that the true Calvinist is someone “who in his own soul, personally, has been struck by the Majesty of the Almighty, and yielding to the overpowering might of his eternal Love, has dared to proclaim this majestic love over against Satan and the world, and the worldliness of his own heart, in the personal conviction of being chosen by God Himself, and therefore of having to thank Him and Him alone, for every grace everlasting” (15). Is this not the testimony of the apostles and the early church? At their very best, when all duty, sacrifice, and service has been fulfilled, the only reply from comes forth, saying, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke ).
Both Peter and Paul began their writings with pronouncements of blessings upon God. Peter said, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Paul adds, saying, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:3-4). The depth of Paul’s gratitude to God for his sovereign mercy and electing grace was remarkably profound. He who confessed that he was the chief of sinners (1 Tim. ) and exclaimed that “by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. ) recognized that one should “give thanks in everything” (1 Thess. ), for he knew that in everything God has shown Himself good, gracious, and glorious.
Following through the example of Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 6:1-8), Ryken shares that the response of a grateful heart to as a recipient of marvelous mercy is a submissive spirit that cries out, “Here am I. Send me!”
Al Martin explains how God makes a Calvinist:
“In one way or another he gives him such a sight of his own majesty and sovereignty and holiness as the high and the lofty One, that it brings with it a deep, experimental acquaintance with human sinfulness personally and in terms of our own generation. It brings experimental acquaintance with the grace of God, and intimate acquaintance with the voice of God, an utter resignation to the will and the ways of God” (17). Emphasis mine.
I particularly like the assertions of “experimental and intimate acquaintance” with the grace, voice, will, and ways of God, for it is possible to know God theoretically as some abstract construct in our minds which can easily lead to cold, barren, and lifeless souls. To have such an acquaintance with God, our wills must be made live, changed, and empowered. As Ryken reveals, “The doctrines of grace teach us that, in salvation, God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. This is true every step of the way. Long before we could ever choose for God, the Father chose us in Christ (unconditional election). When we were unable to remove our guilt (radical depravity), the Son died for our sins (particular redemption). When we would not come to God in faith, the Spirit drew us by his efficacious grace and he will keep us in the way of salvation to the very end (perseverance). The doctrines of grace thus require the sinner to accept the sovereignty of God in salvation” (17-18). The umbrella of these truths is the conviction that God monergistically works salvation in a Trinitarian fashion where God the Father chooses the sinner, Jesus dies for the sinner, and the Holy Spirit brings the sinner to new life (regeneration). The opposing position is called synergism where salvation is both the work of God and the work of an autonomous agent whose free will exists outside the realm of God’s sovereignty. That will does not have to be submitted to the sovereignty of God according to this position, for were it to do so, according to the proponents of synergism, then the human agent would not be truly free. When asked, “What is a true Calvinist?,” B.B. Warfield responded by saying that they are “humble souls, who, in the quiet of retired lives, have caught a vision of God in His glory and are cherishing in their hearts that vital flame of complete dependence on Him which is the very essence of Calvinism” (19). Throughout the pamphlet, Ryken iterates the importance of having an attitude of dependence and casting oneself entirely upon God’s mercy as the disposition of a submitted will to a sovereign God. This dependence occurs particularly within two practical areas where a submitted will manifests its change—namely the prayer life and evangelistic fervor. Regarding prayer, J.I. Packer observed, “The Calvinist is the Christian who confesses before men in his theology just what he believes in his heart before God when he prays” (19). In the same vane, Warfield adds, “The Calvinist is the man who is determined to preserve the attitude he takes in prayer in all his thinking, in all his feeling, in all his doing. . . . Other men are Calvinists on their knees; the Calvinist is the man who is determined that his intellect, and heart, and will shall remain on their knees continually, and only from this attitude think, feel, and act” (19-20).
Ryken adds that such an attitude of dependence should “characterize the Christian’s entire approach to evangelism. True evangelism is entirely dependent on God for its success: the regeneration of the sinner’s mind and heart is the work of God’s Spirit” (20). It is precisely at this point that many Calvinists have suffered through the mischaracterizations that holding to a high view of God’s sovereignty diminishes evangelistic fervor and a robust commitment to the Great Commission. Anyone who knows church history can give a laundry list to disprove that notion, but two most recent works profitable for that discussion would be J.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God and Will Metzger’s Tell the Truth: The Whole Gospel to the Whole Person by Whole People. So why does a Calvinist surrender to God’s will in sharing the gospel? Ryken answers and says, “ . . . because God’s sovereignty in grace gives the only hope of success” (20).
Put together, Ryken concludes with the following statement:
“Prayer is the heart’s surrender to the will of God. Those who believe most strongly in the sovereignty of grace ought to be more persistent in asking God to do what only he can do, and that is to save sinners” (21). There is a whole host of rich and deep theological discussion here, including God’s providence, the relationship between sovereignty and free will, primary and secondary causation, determinism and indeterminism, and God’s purposes in prayer and witnesses to include us in bringing him glory. I hope to share more about that last point in a later post, but suffice it to say, one cannot be a true Calvinist without having a grateful heart and submissive will.