“Calvinism is not the Gospel.” I must admit that it is rather bold of me to contradict the quote of so great a man as Charles Spurgeon, especially granting that I myself unabashedly hold to what are known as the “Five Points of Calvinism.” I do profess to believe that each of those points are biblical, even that one from which many who call themselves “four-pointers” shy, viz. limited atonement–a doctrine upon which I have written quite extensively (see On Particular Redemption).
However, the reason that I am making such a statement is not so much based upon a disagreement with Spurgeon and his sympathizers, but is more of a reaction to an attitude of many that seems to have come about from it. For it is one thing to say, “Calvinism is the Gospel,” and mean by it that Calvinism is the proper understanding of what God has accomplished for men through his Son Jesus Christ, and it is another to say, “Calvinism is the Gospel,” and by that declaration attack every Christian that does not hold to Calvinism as defined by Dordt. For the former is a humble and mature assent to God’s revelation of himself in Scripture, and the latter is a proud and immature conquest to quell every non-Calvinist dissenter. The former comes from a heart-felt realization of unmerited grace received and creates in a person a heart of mercy and love, and the latter comes solely from an intellectual understanding of God’s revelation and creates in a person a heart of arrogance and disunity. The former understands the Gospel; the latter, despite theological precision, misunderstands the Gospel.
For what is the Gospel? It is the Good News that God has taken those who were once his enemies and has reconciled them to himself through the work of his Son by faith in him. In the believer, it is the recognition wrought by the Holy Spirit that he has fallen short of the glory of God and needs a Righteousness that is not his own. It is the Good News that God has loved us and has brought us to himself in order that we might bear the fruit of loving him and loving others in return. Therefore, the Gospel from beginning to end is the love of God for sinners, having its foundation in the foreknowledge of Eternity Past and its fulfillment in the adoption of Eternity Future. Hence, “God is love,” for he has so enveloped all things so that the greatest expression of himself to his people is love.
Therefore, when anyone claims anything to be the Gospel, that person who claims such must be saturated with love. And since the Gospel flows from the love of God, it must be a love that is likened to God’s love–a love that is compassionate, merciful, patient, and self-sacrificing. Thus if anyone claims to understand the Gospel who is not compassionate, merciful, patient, and self-sacrificing, he lies and does not practice the truth.
In the case of the statement, “Calvinism is the Gospel,” the Calvinist must be one who is a lover of men’s souls. He must be one who is compassionate, understanding that he once was misinformed and bore the burden of his own wicked philosophies. He must be one who is merciful, understanding the great mercy that he has received from God without merit. He must be patient, understanding that God has endured him with great patience in his own sins and heterodoxy. And he must be one who is self-sacrificing, understanding that God sacrificed himself, coming to serve others and to die for them.
Therefore when a person claims that “Calvinism is the Gospel,” and he himself is not compassionate, merciful, patient, and self-sacrificial, that person’s Calvinism is not the Gospel. For while he might understand the Ordo Salutis and might have read Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, he, like the Pharisees of old, has neglected the weightier matters of the Law–justice, mercy, and faithfulness (cf. Mt. 23:23), and by his neglect has distorted the Gospel. For a gospel without love is no gospel at all, and a gospel that does not transform a man’s heart is a powerless gospel.
Therefore, my question to you who call yourself a Calvinist is not, “How many points do you adhere to?” but it is, “How is your heart?” Do you by your doctrinal understanding love God and people, or do you by your doctrinal understanding flaunt your supposed superior knowledge and seek to destroy all who disagree with you? Do you endure with much patience and love those who disagree with you as God has endured and loved you, or do you loathe and despise those whom God has called you to love? For if you do not love and are not gracious and merciful, you have misunderstood the doctrines to which you so fiercely hold, and, ironically, you are not a Calvinist.