“I am aware it seems unaccountable to some how faith is attributed to the reprobate, seeing that it is declared by Paul to be one of the fruits of election; and yet the difficulty is easily solved: for though NONE ARE ENLIGHTENED UNTO FAITH, and truly feel the efficacy of the Gospel, with the exception of those who are foreordained to salvation, yet EXPERIENCE SHOWS THAT THE REPROBATE ARE SOMETIMES AFFECTED IN A WAY SO SIMILAR TO THE ELECT, that even in their own judgment there is no difference between them. Hence it is not strange, that by the apostle A TASTE OF HEAVENLY GIFTS, and BY CHRIST HIMSELF A TEMPORARY FAITH, is ascribed to them. Not that they truly perceive the power of spiritual grace and the sure light of faith; but the Lord, the better to convict them, and leave them without excuse, instills into their minds such a sense of his goodness as can be felt without the Spirit of adoption. Should it be objected, that believers have no strong testimony to assure them of their adoption. I answer, that though THERE IS A GREAT RESEMBLANCE AND AFFINITY BETWEEN THE ELECT OF GOD AND THOSE WHO ARE IMPRESSED FOR A TIME WITH A FADING FAITH, yet the elect alone have that full assurance which is extolled by Paul, and by which they are enabled to cry, ‘Abba,’ “Father.” Therefore, as God regenerates the elect only forever by incorruptible seed, as the seed of life once sown in their hearts never perishes, so he effectually seals in them the grace of his adoption, that it may be sure and steadfast. But in this THERE IS NOTHING TO PREVENT AN INFERIOR OPERATION OF THE SPIRIT FROM TAKING ITS COURSE IN THE REPROBATE...nor do I even deny that God illumines their minds to this extent, that they recognize his grace; but that conviction he distinguishes from the peculiar testimony which he gives to his elect in this respect, that the reprobate never attain to the full result or to fruition. When he shows himself propitious to them, it is not as if he had truly rescued them from death, and taken them under his protection. HE ONLY GIVES THEM A MANIFESTATION OF HIS PRESENT MERCY. In the elect alone he implants the living root of faith, so that they persevere even to the end. Thus we dispose of the objection, that if God truly displays his grace, it must endure forever. There is nothing inconsistent in this with the fact of his enlightening some with a present sense of grace, which afterward proves evanescent” (John Calvin, “Institutes of the Christian Religion, “ Book 3, Chap. 2, Sec. 11. Pg. 362).
I learned as a child that I should aim for honesty in all things. And that is no different with the Center for Theological Studies. I pray that I have been honest in my presentations of theologies with which I disagree, as much as I am honest with my own theology.
As a result, I believe in bringing out the truth, even if it is cold, hard, and ugly. So today, my readers will get to see a side of Calvinism that few people, if any, are aware of. Today, we will be exploring Calvin’s “Doctrine of Temporary Faith.”
Regarding this doctrine, Keith Stanglin writes:
“The doctrine of temporary faith explains the fact that some people who seem to possess saving faith and presently demonstrate the signs of being a faithful person, occasionally end up demonstrating that they were really reprobate all along” (“Arminius on the Assurance of Salvation: The Context, Roots, and Shape of the Leiden Debate, 1603-1609” by Keith D. Stanglin, PhD. Leiden & Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2007, page 183.)
In other words, some are given faith for a while...but this was never intended to be forever (hence, “temporary faith”).
Going back to Calvin’s quote, let’s first note his statement regarding experience:
“...for though NONE ARE ENLIGHTENED UNTO FAITH, and truly feel the efficacy of the Gospel, with the exception of those who are foreordained to salvation, yet EXPERIENCE SHOWS THAT THE REPROBATE ARE SOMETIMES AFFECTED IN A WAY SO SIMILAR TO THE ELECT...”
So the reprobate actually feel an assurance of faith for a time! Now, even the reprobate can have some sort of assurance of faith. But of course, the assurance the reprobate has is not the same as the assurance of the elect. Calvin makes it clear here that our experiences can deceive us into thinking that some are elect---when in reality, they are more reprobate than we can imagine. In fact, the experiences can be so similar at times that humans cannot tell the difference between the elect and the reprobate.
Let’s go further:
“Hence it is not strange, that by the apostle A TASTE OF HEAVENLY GIFTS, and BY CHRIST HIMSELF A TEMPORARY FAITH, is ascribed to them.”
Here is the doctrine of temporary faith in its fullness. The reprobate receive two things: first, “a taste of the heavenly gifts”; and, secondly, “a temporary faith BY CHRIST HIMSELF.” Notice that Christ is the one who gives the temporary faith.
And this is what is quite troubling to me: the idea that Calvin does not blame the person for their lapse in spiritual things, but Christ. Christ gives it to them, according to Calvin, “for a limited time only.” Christ gives faith to them, knowing that He never elected them to salvation, but let’s them enjoy the “crumbs” of salvation for a time. And, need I remind you that in Calvin’s doctrine, CHRIST is the one responsible!!! This does not sound like today's Calvinism, where Calvinists claim that man is responsible. If they desire to be consistent, like Calvin, they too must say "Christ gave them temporary faith"...and I don't think they can morally commit to that idea.
Not only does Christ give them a “temporary” faith (a defective faith), but He also gives them “a taste of heavenly gifts.” Calvin’s reference here shows us that, unlike most Calvinists today, he believed in incorporating Hebrews 6:4-6 into his theology. The question is, what happens to those who “fall away”? Do they fall away because Christ only gives them a “temporary faith”? Or do they fall away because they choose to walk away from Christ? Calvin chose the former; but I choose the latter.
Finally, the last shocking comment of Calvin in the above quote is thus:
“But in this THERE IS NOTHING TO PREVENT AN INFERIOR OPERATION OF THE SPIRIT FROM TAKING ITS COURSE IN THE REPROBATE...nor do I even deny that God illumines their minds to this extent, that they recognize his grace; but that conviction he distinguishes from the peculiar testimony which he gives to his elect in this respect, that the reprobate never attain to the full result or to fruition. When he shows himself propitious to them, it is not as if he had truly rescued them from death, and taken them under his protection. HE ONLY GIVES THEM A MANIFESTATION OF HIS PRESENT MERCY.”
The last sentence of Calvin’s quote here is the most striking: “He [God] only gives them a manifestation of His PRESENT MERCY.” To John Calvin, God showed mercy to these reprobate---but it was never meant to be “eternal.” It was always meant to be “an inferior operation of the Spirit”...and yet, I could never blaspheme the Spirit and accuse Him of doing “an inferior operation” within the hearts of individuals...
What does all of this have to do with “moderate” Calvinism, as the title of the post suggests? Well, I’ve said what I’ve said regarding the doctrine of temporary faith because most Calvinists today would not agree with Calvin’s take on Hebrews 6; instead, they would just say, “Well, those persons were never saved to begin with,” and leave it at that. The only problem with the modern Calvinist response is that, if a person intends to identify themselves with John Calvin’s theology, then that person must assent to all that Calvin said about the elect and the reprobate---which INCLUDES the doctrine of temporary faith. So, when a modern Calvinist says, “That person was never saved to begin with,” they are disagreeing with Calvin’s theology; what they should say is, “Well, God only gave them a temporary faith,” if they desire to be theologically consistent.
Most Calvinists today label themselves as “moderate” Calvinists; but, in reality, they are really “MODIFIED” Calvinists---for, while holding to many tenets of Calvin’s own theology, they differ from him in some areas (one of them being the doctrine of temporary faith, as shown above). And what “modified” Calvinism shows us is that Calvinism, as John Calvin designed it, has major moral and theological problems. What today’s infralapsarians, Amyraldians, Molinists (and even hyper-Calvinists) have shown us is that Calvinism needs some major revisions. But, for those who choose to remain in the tradition...well, they’ll just have to continue to agree and disagree with John Calvin, all at the same time.