Calvin and the Protestant Reformation

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The glory of God has implications for the entire person. For instance, a mind focused upon the Lord will be enlightened by the truth of his Word, the Holy Bible. The glory of God should be the highest thought for every Christian. All life and experience should be saturated with the profound apprehension of the majesty of God.

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A God-centered mind is enlightened by the truth of God’s Word. What should be most on every Christian’s mind is the glory of God. All of our life and experience should be saturated with the profound apprehension of the majesty of God. Having seen God in all His glory is to leave us with a realization of our own unworthiness to approach the presence of God as a creature, and much more as a sinner, and still with adoring wonder know that it is also God who receives sinners. To believe in God without reserve is to be determined that God shall be God in all our feeling, thinking, and willing; indeed, the entirety of our social and spiritual life (intellectually, morally, and spiritually). The mark of a Christian is one who has received God’s grace and now seeks to live for God’s glory.

Thus a true vision of God’s sovereign majesty always includes a painful awareness of our own radical depravity. The more we see of God’s glory, the more we recognize our need for His grace. God never makes disciples by displaying them His glory and His majesty without bringing with it this commensurate exposure of sin in the light of His sovereignty and His holiness. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin wrote, “man is never sufficiently touched and affected by the awareness of his lowly state until he has compared himself with God’s majesty.”

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 choose for God, the Father chose us unconditionally in Christ. When we were unable to remove our guilt (total, radical depravity), the Son died particularly for our sins. 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 God’s sovereignty in salvation.

Swiss evangelist and hymn writer César Malan always enjoyed sharing his faith in God with others. Malan asked a young woman, who was seated at his table, whether she was a Christian. The woman, Charlotte Elliott, became rigid with irritation, responding that she would rather not answer that question. Malan apologized if he had given offense. Nevertheless, the witness of Malan became a decisive moment in her life for Charlotte could not remove the inquiry from her mind. Three weeks later, she met Malan and told him that ever since he had spoken to her, she was wrestling with the thought of receiving God’s acceptance.

She wondered how she could gain God’s favor. Malan replied, “You have nothing of merit to bring to God. You must come just as you are.” Charlotte rejoiced at those words, and placed her faith in Christ. Although feeble and weak in body, Charlotte possessed a wonderful imagination, in addition to being cultured and thoughtful. She loved music and poetry, which is evident in her writing approximately 150 hymns. One of the finest and most commonly known of her hymns recalls the Christian witness of Malan; the hymn is entitled, “Just As I Am.”

The classic hymn says, “just as I am, without one plea” which means the new believer has years of sinful habits and patterns to overcome. The subheading for the hymn was “him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). How wonderful to know that God receives all those who come to Him by grace through faith, and thereafter “He always lives to make intercession” for his people (Heb 7:25). The one who trusts in God has the promise of God’s favor and peace, and with those blessings is God’s enablement to live by his grace and for his glory. Calvinism, of course, has historically emphasized the doctrines of God’s grace in salvation, and how those divine decrees manifest the glory of God.

Although the Protestant Reformation began officially on 31 October 1517 with Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses on the church door at Wittenberg, Calvin was the systematic theologian of the Reformation. As a theological system of thought, Calvinism developed from the work of John Calvin. If one is to rightly understand dispensationalism systematically, it is only logical within the doctrines of grace and the sovereignty of God that is characteristic of Calvinism. The reforms of Protestantism eventually culminated in the development of dispensationalism. Dispensationalism was systematized as a consequence of the Protestant Reformation. Certainly there are dispensationalists who are Arminian, yet the truth is that the large majority of early North American dispensationalists were Calvinists, emerging from Anglican, Calvinist Baptist, Congregationalist, and Presbyterian denominations. They remained for some time in traditional denominations such as Baptist churches, Congregationalism, and Presbyterianism. The present work demonstrates how dispensationalism emerged from those who were almost exclusively Calvinistic in their doctrine.

One thing is evident when reading the majority of dispensational critics and that is they ignore dispensational scholars, and focus instead upon those who are sensational in their approach to Scripture, especially with regard to Bible prophecy. One could rightly question if those sensationalists could even be rightly called dispensationalists, as they are inconsistent in their hermeneutic, particularly in employing a historicist perspective in regards to Bible prophecy. False accusations are plentiful among those who disagree with what they understand to be dispensationalism, which is one reason for Dr. Keith A. Sherlin’s work.

If you find yourself unable to respond effectively to unsubstantiated claims that dispensationalism in inherently Arminian (or even worse, semi-Pelagian), then Sherlin’s work is going to benefit you by first explaining antithetical worldviews, divided theologies, and their connection to cultural consequences. The criticism of unorthodoxy from covenant Calvinists toward dispensationalism hinders a coalescent union, which should not be in terms of the doctrines of grace and the sovereignty of God. Sherlin next provides a summary of twenty-two dispensationalists who affirmed a Calvinist soteriology, and then explains why diversity exists among covenant theologians and dispensationalists concerning the atonement of Christ, whether limited or unlimited (thought this author believes a focus upon particular redemption would be more effective in resolving this issue, and demonstrating that belief in a “limited atonement” is not antithetical to dispensationalism).

A common untruth against dispensationalism is that it teaches a works based salvation in the Old Testament. Sherlin demonstrates that salvation is by grace through faith alone in every dispensation. God’s foreknowledge means #, which is contrary to the perspective of open theism and the teaching of prescience in Arminianism. Sherlin’s work concludes with a final plea as to the evidence overwhelmingly proving that dispensationalism offers a Calvinistic and practical soteriology. The “soul” of Sherlin’s research is correct misunderstandings regarding dispensationalism that have given false accusations against it. Sherlin has given a positive representation of the Calvinism of dispensationalism. One would hope that dispensationalists would find this work helpful in clarifying their own thinking. Christians are going to disagree with each other concerning all aspects of theology, yet respect and truthfulness should be characteristic of all believers, even toward those brothers and sisters with whom there is disagreement. 

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Calvin and the Protestant Reformation. (2020, Mar 23). Retrieved January 31, 2023 , from

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