CALVINISM AND RACISM: A South African Perspective
Dr. P.J. (Flip) Buys
The major part of this essay was published in 1985 under the title: Calvinism does not teach Apartheid.
Perhaps it contributed in some small way to influence the hearts and minds of some to participate and accept the transition from the political dispensation of racial suppression and injustice to a democratically elected government in 1994.
Looking back over a period of 25 years of South African history I have become more convinced than ever that the more you understand and the more you cherish the biblical vision of God as absolutely free and gracious and sovereign over all things, the more you will love and live and labor for racial diversity and racial harmony.
These basic doctrines of the sovereignty of God as it has been understood and taught in the Calvinistic tradition crushes thoughts and practices of racial and tribal discrimination. The transforming grace of God as it is taught in true Calvinism is also the best facilitator of holistic racial reconciliation, healing and community development. Therefore I became convinced that I should update the original document and add new applications on how the basic doctrines of grace as it is taught in the Five Points of Calvinism are also relevant in our present day South Africa to heal the hurts of the past, and deal with remaining legacies of apartheid. I believe we need to refresh our biblical thinking about the relationship between racial harmony and the biblical vision of God in the Reformed Faith. It relates to all ethnic groups and the tensions that sometimes rise between them. Thinking simplistically in terms of black and white is still ever present - if not explicitly, then just beneath the surface.
The way a person thinks in his heart about God and about salvation, will influence everything else in his life. When we read in Proverbs 4:23 "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.", it clearly implies, according to most good commentaries, that the way we think, deep down in our inner being concerning God and his revelation about man's salvation and the restoration of our fallen creation, will be revealed in our practice of life in every area of life. That is why the true Christian is called upon, according to Romans 12:2 not to adapt himself to the pattern of this world, but let his mind be remade and thus his whole nature be transformed.
I am convinced that the Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth century received the grace to get a brilliant and cogent grasp on the truths of the Word of God concerning the attributes of God and the character of man’s salvation. The doctrines of the sovereign grace of God as they explained it have been summed up in the well-known five points of Calvinism.
Calvinism is much broader than five points. In the first Catechism which Calvin drew up (1537), predestination is only briefly mentioned. In the Confession of Faith, drawn up in the same year, there is no mention of it at all.
Basically the Reformed Faith is the biblical vision of God and his ways recovered in the Reformation under leaders like Martin Luther, John Calvin and others. Being biblical is more important than being Reformed. But at the center, being Reformed is being biblical.
At the heart of the Reformed Faith are what we call the doctrines of grace. Through the centuries these are summed up in the acronym TULIP: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, perseverance of the saints.
Exposition of the Doctrine
The Bible teaches that, since the original sin of Adam, all humans are spiritually dead and morally incapable of submitting to God in faith and obedience. We have a mindset that "cannot submit to God." Romans 8:7-8 "For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." The reason for this moral inability is given in Ephesians 2:1 "You were dead through your trespasses and sins." The natural person - the way we are by nature - apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, does not see the truth as true and desirable, but considers it foolishness. So he cannot embrace it as true and precious.
The reason that sometimes brilliant minds do not accept Christ and Christianity, is that all minds are blind, unless they are regenerated. For as Paul asserts, "the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14). In other words, because the natural unregenerate man does not nave the Holy Spirit in his life, he is not able to understand the things of God's kingdom.
The pit of total depravity, however, is that the unregenerate man is unable even to desire the good. He could not care less. Or rather he does care: he hates the good and its source, namely God. This lack of desire for God is both the pit and epitome of man's natural total depravity. It is expressed in all the cannot statements of Jesus (Matt. 7:18; John. 3:3; 6:44; 6:65; 8:43 and 15:4-5).
According to all these statements the depravity is universal. Time and again Jesus says "No one". Not just some cannot, but none can come. That is universal, total inability. That is why the Bible always illustrates the initial work of the Holy Spirit with illustrations that clearly demonstrate man's total inability: His heart of stone (hard and without life in it, illustrating total inability) must become a heart of flesh (illustrating life and ability to follow God) (Ezek. 11:19). Furthermore the unregenerate man is like an unborn baby. He is completely passive and unable to control his birth. He must be generated by the Spirit. Paul uses the illustration of the new birth as someone who has become a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15). Non-being — nothingness — can never produce itself. Then Paul also uses the illustration of resurrection (Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:13) to demonstrate what needs to happen with an unregenerate person before he will be able to love God and his neighbour.
These illustrations reveal the most central issue between the Arminian and the Calvinist, what Martin Luther (1957:319) even said was the hinge on which the whole reformation turned.
The Arminian believes that Christ died for sin and that no man can pay his own debts. But then he goes on to say that the unsaved is able in his own strength, with mere assistance of the Holy Spirit, to ask Jesus to save him. And once he asked, then he will be born again.
The Biblical Calvinist, however, says man is dead in trespasses and sin, not just sick or injured but nevertheless alive. He is unable to ask for help unless God changes his heart of stone into a heart of flesh, and makes him alive spiritually. Only after he has been born again he can turn to Jesus in faith and ask for forgiveness and salvation.
The question is: Is God the author of redemption alone or also of faith? Is faith also a gift of God (Eph. 2:8)? Does salvation depend partly on God (the giving of Christ on the cross) or wholly on God (the giving of Christ to die for us plus the giving of our faith)?
Does man keep a little bit of glory for himself - the ability to believe? Or does all the glory go to God? The teaching of total depravity is that God gets all the glory, and man none.
Practical implications for race relations
The implications of this doctrine for racial harmony are huge.
Because the depravity of man is universal, all men, irrespective of the colour of their skins, the languages they speak or the length and shape of their bodies, are equal. No one has in himself a higher standing before God or is of more importance because he belongs to a certain nation or race.
Yet many white people of South Africa who call themselves Calvinists often still talk and act as if they think that black people are more depraved than whites. Let me give some examples: There are still so-called scientific ethnological arguments raised that people belonging to the black race actually belong to an inferior race because they do not have the possibility of abstract thinking and three-dimensional sight. It amazes me, how people who call themselves Calvinists turn to blatant atheistic evolutionistic arguments when they formulate their opinions about race relations.
What is desperately needed is another conviction - shattering to pride - namely, the conviction that all human beings, including me, are corrupt, depraved, guilty, condemned, and under the just sentence of hell where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth: red and yellow, black and white. The human race - and every ethnic group in it - are united in this great reality: we are all depraved and condemned. We are all lost in the woods together, sinking on the same boat, dying of the same disease. Genuine belief in the universal total depravity of man will kill all thoughts of racial superiority of any group above another group.
Many of the advocates of black theology and liberation theology say that God is always on the side of the oppressed. Being oppressed then becomes a sort of human good work with which the favour of God is earned. Yet when you truly believe in total depravity you will know that many of the so called oppressed will die in their sins if they die unregenerate.
If we believe in the inability of man to do good and to love God and his neighbour without a regenerate relation to Jesus Christ we shall be tempered in our hopes of an utopia – the new heaven on earth - being brought about by some kind of political system. Of course Christians should do anything they can to bring about social justice in society, but if we really believe in the total depravity of man we’ll become realistic and expect to see corruption among all cultural groups and realize that truth and lies are mixed in all cultures and inherited cultural traditions.
Genuine acceptance of the doctrine of total depravity will fill the true Christian with unknown zeal for evangelism, because the proclamation of the Gospel is the main instrument that the Holy Spirit uses to change hearts.
I have never seen a white racist or a Rastafarier follower who was brokenhearted for his sin, humble, and desperate for a Savior.
I have seen many black and white people - after coming to a clear understanding of the grace of God and being converted - who have radically changed their attitudes towards other races.
If we realy believe with all our hearts in the total depravity of man, we shall learn to have perspective, discernment and patience. One of the greatest problems of racial issues is the unbiblical generalisation to which people jump so easily. When a black person commits some kind of crime many white people usually says: "Yes, how can you expect anything else of one of the bad blacks?" But Christians will then know that crime comes from a black heart and not from a black skin. When a white commits some crime the black Christians will know that it is not all the whites who are bad, but that there are unregenerate and sinful whites as well as blacks.
If we saw how united we are in sin, the sins of others would look like the outworkings of our own hearts, and we would be slow to judge and quick to show mercy.
Exposition of the Doctrine
The five points of Calvinism all tie together. He who accepts one of the points will usually also accept the others. Unconditional election necessarily follows from total depravity.
Acts 13:48 puts it like this after Paul’s sermon in Antioch of Pisidia: "When the Gentiles heard this they were glad and glorified the word of God. And as many as were for ordained to eternal life believed." First comes God’s sovereign "purpose according to election" as Paul says in Romans 9:11, then comes faith. So the "purpose that accords with election" is not conditional on faith or any other human decision or feeling or behavior or distinctive. It is unconditional.
God chooses his people before the foundation of the world apart from any conditions in them. This means: those who believes in Christ and is saved, and those who rebels and is not saved, is ultimately decided by God. It implies that God, before the foundation of the world, has chosen out of lost mankind certain people, according to his own good pleasure, to save, sanctify and glorify, and has passed the others by who are lying in the sin which they have brought upon themselves.
This election is unconditional. A conditional election is an election that is conditioned on something in the person being elected. For example, all political elections are conditional elections. The voters choice is conditioned by something that the candidate is or has promised. Some candidates promise the sky if they are elected. Others appeal to the fact that they are black or Afrikaners or Anglo-Saxons. Thus human elections are always conditional elections, the choice of the voter being based on the promises or character of the one to be elected.
But divine election to salvation is always an unconditional election. God never bases his choice on what man thinks, says does or is. If God's election were based on a single good thing that is to be found in us, then no one would be elected.
Arminians also believe in election, but they believe in conditional election. They think that God foresees who will believe in Christ, and then on the basis of that foreknowledge decides to elect the believers to be saved. They believe that at times the natural, nonregenerate man has enough goodness in him so that if the Holy Spirit assists him, he will choose Jesus. Thus God's choice is conditioned upon man's choice.
Yet Jesus said: "You did not choose me, but I chose you" (John. 15:16).
Of course the Christian chooses Christ. He believes in Him. It was his decision, but the truth is that ultimately it is God who loved us while we were yet sinners and chose us to become believers. It is God who is working in us both to will and to do according to his good pleasure (Phil. 2:12, 13).
Many may be familiar with the hymn that expresses it so beautifully:
I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me;
It was not I that found, O Saviour true;
No, I was found of thee ...
'Twas not so much that I on Thee took hold,
As Thou dear Lord, on me.
I find, I walk, I love; but O the whole
Of love is but my answer, Lord, to Thee!
For Thou wert long beforehand with my soul;
Always, Thou lovedst me.
This hymn expresses precisely what John wrote in his first letter, "We love, because He first loved us." God's love is prior to man's. This is God's sovereign electing love.
'Tis not that I did choose Thee, For, Lord, that could not be;
This heart would still refuse thee, Hadst Thou not chosen me.
That is why Paul stated, "But we have to always thank God for you brothers, loved by the Lord, because in the beginning God chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth" (2 Thess. 2:13).
Practical implications for race relations
Faith in our unconditional election will always humble us and prevent us from thinking that our racial background in any way makes us more acceptable to God.
There have been people who say they believe in election but then come to the conclusion that only the members of the white race, as natural descendants of Israel, belong to the elect and are the only objects of mission. In a pamphlet with the title Die wonder van die Uitverkiesing by a certain Rev. G.J. Steenkamp previously of the N.G. Kerk, he defends the point of a view that the words of 1 Peter 2:9, "You are a chosen race" apply to the natural blood descendants of Israel alone and because only the whites belong to this bloodline, only they are the elect.
At the basis of this theology lies the Arminian thinking that man is acceptable to God on the merits of something natural in himself (i.e. his bloodline) with which he was born.
A more subtle kind of this thinking lies behind the arguments of many Afrikaners who identify the struggle of the Voortrekkers against the blacks in the last century with the struggle of the people of Israel in the Old Testament. Their whole hermeneutical basis of interpreting Scriptures has been obscured by a kind of Arminian political theology. Especially in sermons delivered at meetings conducted on the Day of the Covenant, this kind of White Political Theology was under the surface. Many times they directly applied texts referring to the election of Israel to the Afrikaners as if the Afrikaners were in the same way a nation chosen by God.
In Black Theology and the so called Liberation Theology you get exactly the same kind of thinking. Only now the chosen people are not the Afrikaners, but the blacks or the oppressed. It can be shown clearly in some of the sermons of dr. Allen Boesak that his whole theology was based on this wrong hermeneutical starting point and to my mind it stems from a subtle kind of Arminian thinking.
Regarding God's work among nations it is essential that we carefully take note of the heresy - rejected in the Canons of Dordt (1, par 9) - that God chooses certain nations because they have something in and of themselves that make them acceptable to God. The full statement of the error reads as follows: "The reason that God sends the Gospel to one people rather to another is not merely and solely the good pleasure of God, but rather the fact that one people is better and worthier than another to which the Gospel is not communicated."
This error is rejected - state the Canons - "For Moses denies, addressing the People of Israel as follows: 'Behold unto Jehova thy God belongeth heaven and heaven of heavens, the earth, with all that is therein. Only Jehovah had a delight in thy fathers to love them, and he chose them, and their seed after them, even you above all peoples, as this day' (Deut. 10:14, 15). And Christ said: 'Woe unto thee, Chorasin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon which were done in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes' (Matt. 11:21)."
In this regard we could also refer to Deut. 7:7-9, The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.
The principle we must see clearly is that in the same way a Christian may never boast of something in and of himself that has made him a Christian, no nation may ever boast of something in and of their nationhood or traditional culture because at this stage in the execution of God's plan for the coming of his kingdom they have received more grace.
Individuals are chosen to become vehicles of God's grace to the unsaved as is stated in 1 Peter 2:9 "that we are a chosen generation to show forth the praises of him who hath called us out of darkness into his marvelous light". In the same way a nation that receives the Gospel has nothing to brag about but only a calling to fulfil. As a nation they should proclaim the sovereign grace of God to others. Thus crosscultural evangelism is part and parcel of God's plan for the coming of his kingdom.
Exposition of the Doctrine
All Christians limit the atonement: the Calvinist limits the scope and the Arminian limits the effectiveness.
Calvinists believe that Christ did not intend to die for salvation of each and every person, but only for the salvation of the elect, only for those who will actually be saved and be effectively reconciled to God. When the Calvinist uses the term limited, he does not mean that the atonement is limited in its power to save, but that it is limited to a definite, particular number of people, namely, the believers. I believe it would be a better explanation of the Calvinist doctrine of atonement, to speak of effective atonement, rather than limited atonement.
It affirms that Christ dies for his bride in a way that is different from the way he dies for all people. Ephesians 5:25 says, "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." In other words, Christ died for the church, his bride, with the sovereign purpose that he would accomplish her salvation in the cross.
This doctrine affirms that Christ dies for his bride in a way that is different from the way he dies for all people. Ephesians 5:25 says, "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." In other words, Christ died for the church, his bride, with the sovereign purpose that he would accomplish her salvation in the cross. He would purify her and purchase her. He was dying not just to create an opportunity for her to believe, but to purchase the belief itself. His death was not just sufficient for the salvation of the church. It was efficient, effective, and decisive for the salvation of the church. Jesus says, "I lay down my life for the sheep" (John 10:15). "I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you [Father] have given me, for they are yours" (John 17:9). "And for their sake I consecrate myself [to die], that they also may be sanctified in truth" (John 17:19).
Of course Calvinists have always believed that there are also universal aspects attached to atonement. In his brilliant exposition of the divine design of the atonement with the title For whom did Christ die? R.B. Kuiper has clearly shown that the Reformed faith has always insisted that atonement is universal in some important aspects. Certain benefits of the atonement, other than the salvation of individuals are universal. Kuiper even says: "Therefore the statement, so often heard from reformed pulpits, that Christ died only for the elect must be rated a careless one. To be sure, if by 'for' be meant 'in the place of', the statement is accurate enough, for those in whose stead Christ suffered the penalty of sin will not themselves have to suffer that penalty, and therefore salvation of that penalty is assured. If, however, by 'for' is meant 'on behalf of' it is inaccurate, to say the least. Certain benefits of the atonement accrue to men generally, including the non-elect. Like all things that are, this is so by divine design.
Charles Hodge is right when he says: "There is a sense, therefore, in which He died for all, and there is a sense in which He died for the elect only'" (Kuiper 1959:78).
Kuiper then goes on further to show that the atonement has an universal suitableness and sufficiency, that the blessings of common grace in this dispensation are also indirectly a product of the atonement, and that reformed people have always believed in an universal and sincere offer of salvation to all. Also Herman Bavinck (1967:4) says that no matter how strongly reformed people believe in the doctrine of election and limited atonement, they nevertheless have always emphasised the legitimacy of a general offer of salvation.
The atonement is also universal in the sense that a whole new creation will be the end-result of the death of Jesus Christ. True Biblical Calvinism has always acknowledged the "cosmic significance" of Jesus Christ. Jesus is in this sense the Saviour of the world. The church, as witnessing community of Christ, is God’s instrument for the proclamation of his supremacy over all people, and all of creation by doing justice and preaching grace. Reformed Christians believes in integral mission or holistic transformation. Our proclamation has social consequences as we call people to love and repentance in all areas of life. And our social involvement has evangelistic consequences as we bear witness to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ. If we ignore the brokenness and suffering in the world around us, we betray the word of God which sends us out to serve the world. If we ignore the word of God we have nothing to bring to the world.
The elect are not only so many individuals, but collectively, they constitute a universal church existing of people from every tongue and tribe and nation.
The Arminian believes that Christ died to gain the right for everyone to be saved, but that the actual salvation of a person then depends on his faith. They make a disjunction between what Christ did (He died for all) and what Christ accomplished (all are not saved).
The implications of the Arminian doctrine of atonement are that Christ is an impersonal Saviour, because He did not die for particular persons, but for a cold non-existent abstraction, called "mankind". The Reformed doctrine of atonement on the contrary is a wonderful, warm biblical doctrine of a personal Saviour who died for particular persons, for whose personal sins he suffered and rendered complete satisfaction to God by bearing their punishment. Every believer may truly say, "He died for my sins."
Practical implications for race relations
The reformed doctrine of limited atonement and the doctrine of unconditional election - that God saves whom He wants to save - throw such a brilliant light on the sovereignty of God that the true reformed believer is always humbled to the dust when he realises: "I had nothing in and of myself that made me a deserver of God's grace. If I were to receive that which I earned or deserved, I should have been damned as a hell bound sinner." When he comes across unbelievers of any race, his attitude towards them should convey something of the confession: "There, but for the grace of God go I."
O brothers and sisters, tell me: Wouldn't a lot of the racial problems of our world be solved more easily if only our people - especially many of the extreme right and the left wing leaders - had more of this genuine Christian humility in their attitude towards their adversaries?
Some white people in the Afrikaans-speaking churches still convey in their attitude towards evangelism to non-whites the thought that non-whites have something in and of themselves that make them less open to the Gospel. I have heard many Afrikaans-speaking members of Reformed churches saying: "Missions to the blacks are a hopeless waste of time and money. Look at the barbaric acts of the blacks. Although we have spent our money to send missionaries to them they keep on stealing and drinking and fighting. They burn the churches we have built for them. They even sometimes kill the missionaries we send to them. We should rather spend more money and time on our own people. They are at least more open to the Gospel."
But a genuine Reformed believer will always say with Paul in 1 Cor. 4:7: "What makes you, my friend, so important? What do you possess that was not given to you? If then you received it all as a gift, why take the credit to yourself?"
The negative attitude towards cross-cultural missions is entirely against the Reformed doctrine of the universal and sincere offer of salvation. In this regard it is necessary to listen to the Canons of Dordt (2:5) again: "Moreover the promise of the Gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the Gospel".
This means that no person, no matter what ethnic group, ever made any contribution to the ransom that frees him from the slavery of sin.
Exposition of the doctrine
Just as the cross is effective in purchasing the elect, so that grace of God is effective in drawing the elect to believe and be saved. Irresistible grace means that God sends His Holy Spirit to work in the lives of people so that they will definitely and certainly embrace Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Lord and be changed from evil to good people. Irresistible grace simply means that, since no human being can submit to God because of our hardness of heart and rebellion and spiritual deadness, the only way any of us is saved is by sovereign grace. Jesus said, "No one comes to me unless the Father draws him" (John 6:44). "No one can come to me unless it is granted to him by my Father" (John 6:65). We are saved by grace through faith, Paul said, and that is not of ourselves it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9). Our faith is a gift from God. And so is repentance: 2 Timothy 2:25, "God may perhaps grant them repentance."
The Holy Spirit does this renewing work with his mighty regenerating power through the Word. "Irresistible" does not mean that God forces people with brutal power and drags them to heaven while they are actually hating the thought of heaven, and rather would have liked to go to hell. The Canons of Dordt say clearly in 3:16 " ... so also this grace of regeneration does not treat men as senseless stocks and blocks, nor take away their will and properties, or do violence thereto; but it spiritually quickens, heals, corrects, and at the same time sweetly and powerfully bends it, that where carnal rebellion and resistance formerly prevailed, a ready and sincere spiritual restoration and freedom of our will consists ... "
Irresistible grace means that God the Holy Spirit has the power to bring sinners from death to life (Eph. 2:5). The power of the Holy Spirit works through the Word so that the elect are born again through the Word (1 Pet. 1:23). The power to become born again does not lie in man neither fully as Pelagianism believed, nor partially as semi-pelagianism teaches. The power does not even lie in the Word in and of itself. Calvin said that the Holy Spirit works cum verbo i.e. in and through the Word only when it pleases God. That is why Calvinists speak of "effectual calling" meaning thereby that everybody who hears the Word will not a become believer, but only those whom God have chosen before the foundation of the world. The non-elect may also hear the Gospel, but he hears it without the work of the Holy Spirit being done in his heart and therefore remains an unbeliever.
Ultimately the doctrine of irresistible grace is a message of hope. It gives the assurance that through the faithful proclamation of the Word sinful people and their sinful ways can be changed, because through the working of the Holy spirit "the Word of God is alive and active. It cuts more keenly than any two-edged sword, piercing as far as the place where life and Spirit, joints and marrow, divide. It sifts the purposes and thoughts of the heart" (Heb. 4:12).
Practical implications for race relations
This doctrine means that not only did your ethnic distinctives contribute nothing to your election, and nothing to your ransom by the cross, but your ethnic distinctives also contributed nothing to the rise of your faith and the emergence of your repentance. We are all equally dependent on irresistible grace to be called and to believe and to be saved.
Irresistible grace also means that there is no scoundrel - no racist, no black or white or brown or red or yellow arrogance that God cannot overcome and subdue and bring to humble repentance and faith and everlasting holiness and joy. We are comrades in dependence on irresistible grace, and comrades in hope that none of us are too far gone in our racial sins to be saved.
I am convinced that the use of violence to solve racial problems is often the result of a lack of trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to change sinful people and their sinful ways through the proclamation of the Gospel. Especially when churches and churchmen (be they white or black, right-wing or left-wing politicians) propagate violence they reveal that they have lost hope in the power of the Holy Spirit, working through the Word to bring about changes, and therefore they see it as necessary to propagate the use of human power as the only means to force changes on society.
When a Christian truly believes in irresistible grace, his reaction to sinful people with sinful ways and sinful structures will be a revelation that he believes the Words of God in Zechariah 4:6 to be saying: "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit saith the Lord of hosts".
I have seen many people who have spontaneously and almost instantly improved their attitude in a radical way towards members of other races after they have become genuine born-again Christians, and have become amazed with the grace of God that they have received.
Violence may bring about changes, but only superficial and temporary changes. Irresistible grace changes hearts and does it properly and permanently.
PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS
Exposition of the doctrine
The simplest, shortest description of the perseverance of the saints is: Once saved, always saved. Those whom God calls, he keeps. If you are a true believer, you will persevere in faith and obedience (not perfection) to the end and be saved.
The Bible says: "My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me; and I give them eternal life and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:27-29). "I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6) It is one of the most magnificent thoughts of the Bible: Once you believe, you can never be lost, you can never go to hell. It is possible to get your eternal destiny settled once and for all so that you never have to worry about it.
It is actually the perseverance of God that makes the believers persevere in their love towards Him. That is why Edwin Palmer (1972: 69) says we should rather speak of the "Preservation of the saints". The person who sincerely puts his trust in Christ as his Saviour is safe in the arms of Jesus. He is secure. And that is for eternity. He is eternally secure.
Arminianism teaches that a man who is truly born again, who is saved by the death of Jesus, can lose his faith and thus go to hell. Arminianism believes: in again, out again; now saved, now lost; first a child of God, then a child of the devil; now spiritually alive, now dead. Who can then tell what his final state will be?
This does not mean that a born-again Christian will never sin again, nor that when he sins his sins do not matter and do not grieve God. Born-again Christians may sometimes fall into heinous and enormous sins by which they very highly offend God, incur a deadly guilt, grieve the Holy Spirit, interrupt the exercise of faith, very grievously wound their consciences, and sometimes for a while lose the sense of God's favour.
But perseverance of the saints means that God does not suffer them to be tempted above that they are able, but will with the temptation make also way of escape, that they may be able to endure it. Furthermore it means that God will prevent them from going to the utmost to commit the sin unto death or blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, and in his time restore them by letting them change their course by serious repentance.
The epitome of this doctrine of perseverance of the saints, is that it is never in consequence of our own merits or strength, but of God's free mercy that we proceed on the way of sanctification to eternal glory. Not only for our coming onto the way of eternal life, but also for our staying on it if we have nothing in and of ourselves to boast about. We can only bring our honour and glory to the Triune God for his saving and preserving grace to his children.
God keeps us on his way, through the omnipotent power of his providence and the guidance of his Holy Spirit through the Word. Thus the doctrine of the providence of God ties in very closely with the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. We see it clearly in Romans 8. Immediately after Paul has said " we know that all things work together for good to them that love God," he adds "to them who are called according to his purpose .. ." and then goes on to explain the doctrines of grace, starting with predestination and ending with glorification. In this way the believer who has accepted this doctrine of the perseverance of the saints whole-heartedly, from the depths of his being, will be freed from fear of the future and will have the peace of God in his heart, which is beyond the utmost understanding of man. He has an unalterable conviction that our great God is in command. He can sing whole-heartedly with the reformers - even though a dark cloud of revolution hangs over his land - "A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing".
Practical implications for race relations
What does this mean for racial harmony? This: If the pursuit of racial harmony is woven into the very fabric of God’s sovereign grace, and if therefore pursuing racial harmony is part of what it means to be a Christian, then the promise of perseverance is a promise to keep us pursuing till we die or Jesus comes.
This is utterly crucial, and crucial to believe. Because of all the issues, this one we are tempted to abandon more often because of we get wounded along the way. If you have a thin skin, or if you have a bigger sense of rights than mercies, or if you have small faith in God’s persevering grace, you will set out on the road of racial harmony and then quit. Because you are going to be criticized.
I am convinced that many of the racial conflicts and tensions today grow out of fear. Because of a lack of full assurance of God's saving and persevering grace many people have an intense fear of the future. Uncertainty, especially uncertainty of God's favour, is the most miserable thing in the world. Uncertainty usually leads to fear and fear to hatred.
A lot of the conduct of many of the whites, especially those of the radical right wing, came forth from fear. In my work as missionary, working in a black townships, I have come across many whites who are so afraid just of going into a black township, that they are not willing to get involved in missions.
The Reformers of the sixteenth century were brave people. There is evidence today that several hundreds of missionaries were sent from Geneva into France to evangelise, notwithstanding the fact that their lives were at stake. Many of them did lose their lives in their labour of preaching the Gospel of God's free and sovereign grace.
Why were they so brave? Because they had full assurance of eternal life and believed in a great and mighty God. It is said of John Knox that he feared the face of no man (or woman, as Mary Queen of Scots was to discover, although she towered above him by some six inches!) the reason was that his knowledge of the doctrines of grace had given him a filial fear of God and an absolute trust in the eternal faithful love of God.
If Christians would come to a new appreciation of the reformational doctrines of grace, it will not only humble them, but surely bring forth courage and boldness to live out justice and love in a society bleeding from many wounds and torn apart by hatred and fear.
I believe with all my heart that we should pray and work for a revival of genuine reformed faith. We should preach and teach the doctrines of grace with more zeal and clear simplicity than ever before. A revival of genuine Biblical Calvinism will change our politically explosive country and continent in the same way the Reformation did it on the European continent in the sixteenth century. Not because it will bring about an utopia of peace and prosperity, but because it honours God as the Almighty God of sovereign grace of all the nations of the world.
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