Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 11, 1982
NUMBER 23, PAGE 6-7,10a

Calvinistic Conceptions Considered --- (I)

Hoyt H. Houchen

There are three fallacious doctrines to be considered in this treatise. They are known as the theological triplets of the denominational world. They are the doctrine of hereditary total depravity, the doctrine of the direct operation of the Holy Spirit, and the impossibility of apostasy on the part of the child of God. Although these are tenets of John Calvin, who lived in the sixteenth century (1509-1564), they did not originate with him. They were first promulgated by Augustine, who lived in the fourth century (353-430), and later they were more fully developed by Calvin. The Calvinistic views of predestination and unconditional election and reprobation will not be considered in this writing but perhaps at some future time. Because the theological triplets mentioned above have a more general acceptance, we shall analyze them for the present.

Hereditary Total Depravity

This doctrine, known also as the doctrine of original sin, which was believed and advocated by Calvin, is stated as follows in Encyclopedia Britannica, 1953 edition, Vol. 4, p. 633:

"While God is the source of all good, man is guilty and corrupt. The first man was made in the image of God, which not only implies man's superiority to other creatures, but indicates his original purity, integrity and sanctity. Through Adam's fall, depravity and corruption attach to all men. On account of such corruption all are deservedly condemned before God, by whom nothing is accepted save righteousness, innocence and purity. When it is said that we through Adam's sin have become obnoxious to the divine judgment, it is not to be taken as if we being ourselves innocent and blameless bear the fault of his offence, but that we, having been brought under a curse through his transgression, he is said to have bound us. From him however, not only has punishment overtaken us, but a pestilence instilled from him resides in us, to which punishment is justly due. Thus even infants, whilst they bring their own condemnation with them from their mother's wombs, are bound not by another's but by their own fault. For though they have not yet brought forth fruits of their iniquity, they have its seed; nay, their whole nature is a sort of seed of sin, therefore it cannot but be hateful to God." (Inst. bk. 2, ch. 1, sec. 8)

The above doctrine is set forth in the Presbyterian Confession of Faith in the following manner: "By this sin (eating the forbidden fruit) they (our first parents) fell from their original righteousness and communication with God, and so became dead in sin and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to evil, do proceed all actual transgressions." In substance, the doctrine of hereditary depravity or original sin is that infants are born with a corrupt nature, wholly inclined to evil.

The dictum of the doctrine that infants are defiled, necessitates their condemnation. They must go to hell when they die In their state of infancy, or some way must be provided whereby their defilement can be removed before they are permitted to enter heaven Calvinists have attempted to eliminate their difficulty by explaining that dying infants are regenerated. The authors of the Presbyterian Confession of Faith inform us that "elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit...." (Ch. 10, sec. 3) It is obvious that these Calvinists have made provision only for elect infants. What Is the destiny of non-elect infants (the ones for whom Jesus did not die, according to Calvinists)? But errorists are not only in contradiction with truth, but they are in disagreement with each other. The Cumberland Presbyterian Confession of Faith has substituted the word all for elect. It reads: "All infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ, through the Spirit...." Neither creed offers any proof that the Spirit regenerates those infants who die in infancy; it is only an assertion.

As it naturally follows that one false doctrine leads to another, the doctrine of original sin is the foundation for the doctrine of infant baptism. In his History of Infant Baptism, William Wall of the Church of England quotes Origen (A.D. 185-254) as follows: "Besides all this let it be considered, what is the reason that, whereas the baptism of the Church is given for forgiveness of sins, infants also are, by the usage of the Church, baptized; when, if there were nothing in infants that wanted forgiveness and mercy, the grace of baptism would be needless to them...." (Vol. 1, pp. 104-105)

Wall quotes a letter written by a council of sixty-six bishops to one Fidus, about the close of the second century. He refers to one part and writes: "These bishops held that to suffer the infant to die unbaptized was to endanger its salvation." (Wall's History, Vol. 1, p. 139)

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, wrote: "If infants are guilty of original sin, then they are the proper subjects of baptism, seeing, in the ordinary way, they can not be saved unless this be washed away by baptism. It has already been proved that this original sin cleaves to every child of man, and that hereby they are the children of wrath, and liable to eternal damnation." (Doctrinal Tracts, p. 251)

Other Considerations

Inconsistencies of the original sin tenet of Calvinism are obvious. It is affirmed that Adam's posterity has inherited the corrupt nature after the fall. But if depravity is transmitted, why not purity? Since parents who are Christians are freed from past sins why do not their children inherit their purity? But the Calvinists do not believe that even regeneration removes the corrupt nature of man. "This corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated." (Presbyterian Confession of Faith, Chap. 6, sec. 5, p. 41) This is diametrically opposed to the teaching of the scriptures that our hearts are purified by faith (Acts 15:9) and that our souls are purified in obedience to the truth. (1 Pet. 1:22) If the heart is cleansed by faith, and the soul is purified in obedience, how does man remain depraved, wholly inclined to evil, unable to think a good thought or commit a good deed?

The doctrine of hereditary depravity is refuted by the very definition of sin itself. What is sin? We are told in John 3:4, "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law (doeth also lawlessness, A. S. V.)." Sin is the transgression of the law (Authorized Version); it is lawlessness (A. S. V.). This being true, what law has the infant violated? Adam and Eve as we have learned, did not inherit their sin; they became sinners when they committed sin. This is how an accountable men become sinners; they become such when they commit sin. The infant has not violated any law, he has not committed sin, therefore, he is not a sinner. The theory that an infant is born depraved (inherited guilt), originated in the first chapter of the book of man's imagination. It is without divine authority.

The Bible teaches that "God made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions." (Eccl. 7:29) It also teaches that the spirit of men came from God. "Furthermore, we had the fathers of our flesh to chasten us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection to the father of spirits and live? (Heb. 12:9) If man is born with depraved spirit, then who gave him the depraved spirit? Since God is the author of spirits, if we are born with a depraved spirit, then God is the author of depravity!

The error of hereditary is further exposed in the light of 2 Tim. 3:13. Paul wrote, "But evil and imposters shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived." In an infant is born totally depraved, according to the Baptist manual, "being by nature utterly void of that holiness required by the law of God," (Standard Manual For Baptist Churches, by Edward T. Hiscox, p. 60), how could man become any worse? He could never become any worse than he was when he was born, because he was totally depraved, "utterly void of holiness," according to Calvinism. Paul says, however, that "evil men shall wax worse and worse," therefore, men could not be born totally corrupt and wholly inclined to evil. The theory of hereditary depravity contradicts the word of God.

That infants are not born totally depraved, is made clear in Ezek. 18:20: "The soul that sinneth, it shall die: the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him."

Some Proof Texts Examined

A few passages of scripture are very commonly relied upon in efforts to sustain the doctrine of hereditary total depravity. One is David's statement in Ps. 51:5, "Behold I was brought forth in iniquity; And in sin did my mother conceive me." Subscribers to the doctrine of original sin conclude that David was born a sinner, but David does not state this at all. To be brought forth in iniquity is far different from being born a sinner David was bemoaning the fact that he was brought forth in a world of sin. The same language is used in Acts 2:8 where those people who heard the apostles said, "And how hear we every man in our own language wherein we were born?" Were they speaking the language when they were born? No more so than was David born a sinner. No, they were born where the language was spoken. David was born in a world of sin.

Jeremiah 13:23 is another passage that is relied upon by the Calvinists. "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to evil." There is nothing in this passage that is remote to the idea of inherited depravity. The verse does not read, "then may ye also do good, that were born totally depraved." People are not accustomed to do evil when they are born. The practice of sin is what brings about being accustomed to it. These were Israelites addressed, not aliens. They could not be changed because they would not be changed. They were hopelessly corrupt, but their corruption had come about by their practice of sin and not because they were born sinners Rom. 5:12 is often referred to by the Calvinists in their efforts to prove original sin. Paul wrote, "Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned" Those who believe that infants are born depraved think that Paul is teaching the transmission of guilt from parent to child in this verse. What they fail to see is that Paul does not mention the transmission of guilt of sin, but the transmission of the consequence of sin. Guilt of sin is one thing and consequence of sin is still another. The consequence of sin, death, is upon all, but this is a far cry from saying that the guilt of sin Is transmitted.

Another passage referred to by the original sin ad-vacates is Ephesians 2:1 where Paul wrote, "And you did he make alive, when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins. They were not born spiritually dead, but they had become dead by trespasses and sins.

Ephesians 2:3 is listed among scriptures referred to by Calvinists, "....and were by nature children of wrath." The word "nature" here means "naturalness in expression or conduct." This is concluded by the context of the passage, for as we have observed in the preceding paragraph, these Ephesians, before their conversion, had become spiritually dead by committing sin. They had indulged in sin until it had become their nature.

The doctrine of hereditary depravity is absurd on the very surface. A child is not born a drunkard because his father was a drunkard. A child is not born a liar because his father was a liar. A child is not born a thief because his father was a thief. In Matt. 18:3, Jesus set a little child in the midst of his disciples and said, "Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter the kingdom." A little child does not entertain any idea of selfish ambition. He is pure and innocent. This is the condition of babies at birth, contrary to the doctrine of infant damnation.

The Calvinistic concept of original sin opens the door to another Calvinistic concept and that is the direct operation of the Holy Spirit which will be reviewed in our next article.

— 2958 Grape, Abilene, Texas