Nathaniel S. MacFetridge.

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President of Lafayette College,



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This little book is made up of six Lectures
which were delivered in the Wakefield Presby-
terian Church, Germantown, and of whose pub-
lication I had, at the time, no thought. The
Lectures were the result of my leisure reading
on the subject during several years of a busy
pastorate. On leaving the theological school at
Allegheny, I hardly knew whether I was a Cal-
vinist or an Arminian, or a nameless compound
of both, although I had had the benefit of Dr.
A. A. Hodge's matchless teaching, which I now
regard as one of the greatest blessings of my
life. In that very uncomfortable — yet very nat-
ural — state of mind I set myself to a course of
reading, doctrinal and historical, as opportunity
offered. One of the results of that reading
was these Lectures. My main object in these
discourses was to look into the workings of the
system of doctrines called " Calvinistic," and by


its effects upon those who most heartily adopted
it to form some definite estimate of its character.
Therefore it is that I have brought forward the
testimony of a large number of accepted author-
ities, many of whom are not Calvinists, and con-
sequently not prejudiced in favor of Calvinism.

One difficulty with which I constantly met in
writing these Lectures was that of getting so large
a subject within limits so narrow. And although
I have gone over the ground enthusiastically, I
have endeavored to examine the subject honestly,
my own peculiar state of mind precluding all
controversial designs. Certainly, I can say that
not one unfair statement has been intended; and
I trust that the cast of the language employed
will not lead any one to infer the opposite.

Hoping, then, that this little book, which to me

has been a labor of love, will be of some use, and

that it may speak a word in favor of a system of

doctrine which, however regarded, is based on the

truths of God's word and the facts of human

experience, I send it forth into the great world

of letters.


Germantown, Philadelphia,

Jan. 2, 1882.




Calvinism as a Political Force 7


Calvinism as a Political Force in the History of
THE United States 59


Calvinism as a Moral Force 103


Calvinism as an Evangelizing Force 132


Calvinism in History.


rriHERE is nothing which so constantly controls
-■- the mind of a man, and so intensely affects his
character, as the views which he entertains of the
Deity. These take up their abode in the inmost
sanctuary of the heart, and give tone to all its
powers and coloring to all its actions. Whatever
the forms and activities of the outward life, as a
man "thinketh in his heart, so is he." Men do,
undoubtedly, liken God, in a measure, to themselves,
and transfer to him somewhat of their own passions
and predominating moral qualities, and determine
the choice of their religion by the prevailing senti-
ments of their hearts and the habits in which they
have been trained;* but it is also true that their
conceptions of God have a controlling influence in
forming their character and regulating their con-
* See McCosh, Divine Government, p. 463.


duct. The unfaithful servant in the parable of
the Talents gave as the reason for his idleness
his conception of the master as a hard and ex-
acting man. He shaped his conduct not by what
the master was, but by what he believed him to
be. And if that divine parable have a world-
wide application, it discloses the secret spring of
a man's life in the conceptions which he has of
God. As these are true or false, so his character
and life will be. "As long as we look upon God
as an exactor, not a giver, exactors, and not givers,
shall we be.'' "All the value of service rendered,"
says Dr. Arnot, "by intellectual and moral beings
depends on the thoughts of God which they en-
tertain." Hence no sincerity of purpose and no
intensity of zeal can atone for a false creed or
save a man from the fatal consequences of wrong

There can be, therefore, no better criterion of the
character of a man's belief than the effects which
that belief produces. "Grapes do not grow on
bramble-bushes. Illustrious natures do not form
themselves on narrow and cruel theories. . . . The
practical effect of a belief is the real test of its
soundness. Where we find an heroic life appear-
ing as the uniform fruit of a particular mode of


opinion, it is childish to argue in the face of fact
that the result ought to have been different/'*
"A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither
can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit/' It is
by this test that I would now subject Calvinism
to a brief historical criticism. Let its works wit-
ness to it, and be its justification or condemnation.
What, then, do we mean by Calvinism ? It is
foreign to my purpose to enter into any minute
detail of the distinctive doctrines of Calvinism or
to give in any w^ay a controversial cast to these
Lectures; for while I believe Calvinism to be the
system of doctrine set forth in the word and works
of God, and therefore most favorable to all godli-
ness, I am free cordially to allow to all who differ
from us the right of private judgment, and sin-
cerely to rejoice in all that they are able to accom-
plish for the well-being of men and the glory of
God. It is the right and privilege of every man
and of every body of men to give a reason for the
hope that is in them, and to maintain by all lawful
means what they conceive to be the truth. Intol-
erance is no part of our creed, unless it be the in-
tolerance of all shams and lies and hypocrisies.
Of such things we all are, I trust, intolerant.
* Froude, Calvinism, p. 8.


But as regards the sacred rights and privileges
of men, Calvinism is one of the most tolerant and
liberal of all systems of belief. Its adherents are
ever found ready to recognize the brotherhood and
equality of all evangelical churches, and to unite
with them in all liberal ideas and Christian en-

What, then, do we mean by Calvinism? I will
let one answer who has gained the right to answer,
and than whom no one is better qualified to answer
— the Rev. Dr. Archibald Alexander Hodge.

He says : " * Calvinism ' is a term used to desig-
nate, not the opinions of an individual, but a mode
of religious thought or a system of religious doc-
trines of which the person whose name it bears
was an eminent expounder. There have been from
the beginning only three generically di6tinct sys-
tems of doctrine, or modes of conceiving and ad-
justing the facts and principles understood to be
revealed in the Scriptures : the Pelagian, which
denies the guilt, corruption and moral impotence
of man, and makes him independent of the super-
natural assistance of God. At the opposite pole is
the Calvinistic, which emphasizes the guilt and
moral impotence of man, exalts the justice and
sovereignty of God, and refers salvation absolutely


to the undeserved favor and new creative energy
of God. Between these comes the manifold and
elastic system of compromise once known as Semi-
Pelagianism, and in modern times as Arminianism,
which admits man^s original corruption, but denies
his guilt ; regards redemption as a compensation
for innate, and consequently irresponsible, disabil-
ities; and refers the moral restoration of the indi-
vidual to the co-operation of the human with the
divine energy, the determining factor being the
human will/^*

We have here, in succinct form, an accurate def-
inition of the two systems of theology which are
in active operation to-day, and which. Dr. Pusey
says, " are now, and probably for the last time, in
conflict" t — Calvinism and Arminianism, the former
taking its name from John Calvin, a Frenchman,
, born in 1519, and the latter taking its name from
James Herman or (in Latin dress) Arminius, a
Dutchman, born in 1560. These men did not
originate the systems of doctrine which bear their
names, but only expounded them more fully and
developed them into a more perfect form. The
same views were maintained at least as early as

* Johnson's Cyclopcedia, art. " Calvinism."
+ His Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury


the fourth century, when Augustine and Pelagius
stood in much the same attitude to each other as
Calvin and Arminius in the sixteenth century.
Hence Calvinism is frequently and correctly called
Augustinianism ; and Arminianism, Semi- Pelagian-
ism. These are the two systems which are now
most extensively held, and with the one or the
other of them all other Christian theological sys-
tems have organic sympathies.

Out of Arianism grew Socinianism, and out of
that modern Unitarianism, which makes Christ
neither a man nor God, but a created being some-
where above angels and between humanity and
Deity.* And while Arminianism is neither Arian
nor Socinian nor Unitarian, these all are Armin-
ian. As the writer of the article "Arminianism"
in the American Cydopcedia says, "Every new
phase of Arianism, to this day, is infallibly Ar-
minian, though the organic connection of the two
is not so manifest from the distinctively Arminian
side, at least in modern times."

Their organic connection might be easily traced,
and their natural affinity easily shown, did it come
within our present j)urpose. But there are other

* See Channing's Works, and Joseph Cook's exposition of
them in The Independent, March, 1880.


connections and affinities of these doctrines which
demand our present consideration. Each of these
two systems, Calvinism and Arminianism, has an
organic connection and a natural affinity with a
distinct form of church government — the Calvin-
istic with the presbyterial or independent form,
and the Arminian with the prelatical or episcopal
form. As a matter of fact, this has always been
so. The Roman Episcopal Church has always
been, as a Church, Arminian in doctrine; the
Protestant Episcopal Church soon became, as a
Church, Arminian in doctrine, although her Thir-
ty-nine Articles of Faith are Calvinistic. I once
asked a learned Episcopal rector how it came that
while his Confession of Faith is Calvinistic his
Church is Arminian. Smiling, he replied, "The
Calvinism in the Articles is so weak that you
could drive a horse and cart through it at some
points.^' That, I presume, accounts for it. It is
not strong enough to hold the Church up to it
or to resist the powerful tendency of Episcopacy
to Arminian doctrines. The Methodist Episcopal
Church also is, as a Church, Arminian. The fact,
then, is that Arminianism and Episcopacy do nat-
urally sympathize and affiliate. There is that in
the Arminian doctrines of emotions and works


which leads directly to the external forms and
ceremonies of Prelacy or Episcopacy.

On the other hand, the Reformed churches
which took the Presbyterian form of government
have always been Calvinistic. As the Rev. Albert
Barnes says, "There are no permanent Arminian,
Pelagian, Socinian presbyteries, synods, general as-
semblies on earth. There are no permanent in-
stances where these forms of belief or unbelief
take on the presbyterial form. There are no
Presbyterian forms of ecclesiastical administration
where they would be long retained."*

This connection between the doctrine and the
fo7in of worship is not superficial or accidental,
but inherent. A system of doctrine, as Pelagian-
ism, which teaches salvation by our own good
works, or, as Arminianism, which teaches salvation
partly by works and partly by grace, of necessity
sympathizes and affiliates with rites and ceremonies,
and lays, in the very spirit of it, the foundation for
a ritualistic service. Romanism, which is rigid
Arminianism, and Presbyterianism, which is strict
Calvinism, are the very antipodes of each other,
and have always been in the most uncompromis-

■^ As quoted by Breed, PreshyterMnism Three Hundred Years
Ago, p. 11.


ing hostility. Hence the historical fact that the
higher the "Churchman" the more intensely Ar-
minian he is. "It is a conspicuous fact of Eng-
lish history," says Dr. Hodge, " that high views as
to the prerogatives of the ministry have always
antagonized Calvinistic doctrines."* Hence also
the simple republican form of worship in the
Calvinistic churches.

Buckle, who, himself a fatalist, cannot be charged
with partiality toward any Church, says : " It is an
interesting fact that the doctrines which in England
are called Calvinistic have always been connected
with a democratic spirit, while those of Arminian-
ism have found most favor among the aristocratic,
or protective, party. In the republics of Switzer-
land, of North America and of Holland, Calvinism
was always the popular creed. On the other hand,
in those evil days immediately after the death of
Elizabeth, when our liberties were in imminent
peril, when the Church of England, aided by the
Crown, attempted to subjugate the consciences of
men, and when the monstrous claim of the divine
right of Episcopacy was first put forward, — then it
was that Arminianism became the cherished doctrine
of the ablest and most ambitious of the ecclesiastic-
* Johnson's Cydopcedia, art. " Calvinism."


al party. And in that sharp retribution which
followed, the Puritans and Independents, by whom
the punishment was inflicted, were, with scarcely an
exception, Calvinists ; nor sliould we forget that the
first open movement against Charles proceeded from
Scotland, where the principles of Calvin had long
been in the ascendant." *

Thus we see how Arminianism, taking to an aris-
tocratic form of church government, tends toward
a monarchy in civil affairs, while Calvinism, taking
to a republican form of church government, tends
toward a democracy in civil aifairs.

Allow me to quote again from this eminent Eng-
lish author. He says: " The first circumstance by
which we must be struck is, that Calvinism is a
doctrine for the poor and Arminianism for the rich.
A creed which insists upon the necessity of faith
must be less costly than one which insists upon the
necessity of works. In the former case the sinner
seeks salvation by the strength of his belief; in the
latter case he seeks it by the fullness of his con-
tributions " . . . " This is the first great practical
divero:ence of the two creeds." . . . "It is also
observable that the Church of Rome, whose wor-
ship is addressed mainly to the senses, and which
* History of Civilization, i. 611.


delights in splendid cathedrals and pompous cere-
monies, has always displayed against the Calvinists
an animosity far greater than she has done against
any other Protestant sect." Continuing in this
strain, he observes what he calls "the aristocratic
tendency of Arminianism and the democratic tend-
ency of Calvinism," and says : " The more any
society tends to equality, the more likely it is that
its theological opinions will be Calvinistic; while
the more a society tends toward inequality, the
greater the probability of those opinions beiug
Arrainian." *

These views of this writer are abundantly con-
firmed by the history bearing upon the subject.
The historical fact is that Arminianism tends to
beget and to foster classes and castes in society, and
to build up a gorgeous ritual wherever it gains a
foothold. And so it comes to be true, on the other
hand, what the historian Bancroft observes, that "a
richly-endowed Church always leads to Arminian-
ism and justification by works." f

Now let us glance at the explanation of this his-
torical fact.

The prelatical or episcopal form of church gov-

* History English Civil, i. pp. 612, 613.
t History United States, ix. p. 503.


ernment, which has always been connected with
Arminian doctrines, asserts that all church power
is vested in the clergy ; while the republican form,
which has always accompanied Calvinistic doc-
trines, asserts that all church power is vested in
the Church; that is, in the people. This is a
radical difference, and " touches the very essence
of things." If all the power be in the clergy, then
the people are practically bound to passive obedi-
ence in all matters of faith and practice ; but if all
power be in the Church, then the people have a
right to participate in all matters pertaining to
questions of faith and practice. Thus the one
system subjects the people to the autocratic orders
of a superior, the centre principle of monarchy
and despotism; while the other system elevates
the people to an equality in authority, the centre
principle of democracy.

On this point I will quote a few sentences from
the late Dr. Charles Hodge. '^The theory," he
observes, " that all church power vests in a divine-
ly-constituted hierarchy begets the theory that all
civil power vests, of divine right, in kings and
nobles. And the theory that church power vests
in the Church itself, and all church officers are
servants of the Church, of necessity begets the


theory that civil power vests in the people, and
that civil magistrates are servants of the people.
These theories God has joined together, and no
man can put them asunder. It was therefore by
an infallible instinct that the unfortunate Charles
of England said, ^ No bishop, no king ; ^ by which
he meant that if there is no despotic power in the
Church, there can be no despotic power in the State,
or if there be liberty in the Church, there will be
liberty in the State."*

We find, then, these three propositions proved
by historical fact and logical sequence : First, Ar-
minianism associates itself with an episcopal form
of church government, and Calvinism with a re-
publican form of church government ; second.
Episcopacy fosters ideas of inequality in society
and of monarchy and one-man power in civil
affairs; and, third, Arminianism is unfavorable to
civil liberty, and Calvinism is unfavorable to des-
potism. The despotic rulers of former days were
not slow to observe the correctness of these prop-
ositions, and, claiming the divine right of kings,
feared Calvinism as republicanism itself.

Now, consider, for a moment, some of the rea-
sons which lie in the system of Calvinism for its
* What is Presbyterianism f p. 11.


strong hostility to all despotism and its powerful
influence in favor of civil liberty.

One reason for this may be found in the bound-
ary-line which it draws between Church and State.
It gives to each its distinct sphere, and demands
that the one shall not assume the prerogatives of
the other. In this it differs from Lutheranism,
"which soon settled down at peace with princes,
while Calvinism was ever advancing and ever con-
tending with the rulers of this world ;" * and from
the Anglican system, which began with Henry
VIII. as its head in place of the pope. This
distinction between Church and State is, as the
eminent Yale professor, Dr. Fisher, remarks, "the
first step, the necessary condition, in the develop-
ment of religious liberty, without which civil lib-
erty is an impossibility." t

Another reason is found in the republican char-
acter of its polity. Its clergy are on a perfect
equality. No one of them stands higher in au-
thority than another. They are all alike bishops.
Its laymen share equally with its clergymen in
all official acts — in the discussion and decision of
all matters of doctrine and practice. They have

* Dr. Henry B. Smith, Faith and Philosophy.
f Hist. Reformation.


a most important part given them in the right of
choosing and calling their own pastor. By being
thus rulers in the Church they are taught to claim
and exercise the same liberty in the State. It is
this feature of the Calvinistic system which has,
from the first, exalted the layman. It constitutes,
not the clergy, but the Christian people, the in-
terpreter of the divine will. To it the voice of
the majority is the voice of God, and the issue,
therefore, is, as Bancroft observes, "popular sov-
ereignty.^' *

Another reason why Calvinism is favorable to
liberty lies in its theology. "The sense of the
exaltation of the Almighty Ruler," says Dr.
Fisher, "and of his intimate connection w^ith the
minutest incidents and obligations of human life,
which is fostered by this theology, dwarfs all
earthly potentates. An intense spirituality, a con-
sciousness that this life is but an infinitesimal frac-
tion of human existence, dissipates the feeling of
personal homage for men, however high their sta-
tion, and dulls the lustre of all earthly grandeur.''
. . . "The Calvinist, unlike the Romanist, dis-
penses with a human priesthood, which has not
only often proved a powerful direct auxiliary to
* U. S., i. pp. 44, 46L

24 cALVLxrs.u ly history.

temporal rulers, but has educated the sentiments to
a habit of subjection, which renders submission to
such rulers more facile and lees easy to shake
oif." *

Its doctrine of predestination also is calculated
to have a tremendous influence on the political
character of its adherents. This has not escaped
the notice of historians. Bancroft, who, while
adopting another religious creed, has awarded to
Calvinism the palm for its influence in favor of
religious and civil liberty, remarks that "the po-
litical character of Calvinism, which, with one
consent and with instinctive judgment, the mon-
archs of that day feared as republicanism, is ex-
pressed in a single word — predestinatioyi. Did a
proud aristocracy trace its lineage through gener-
ations of a highborn ancestry, the republican Re-
formers, with a loftier pride, invaded the invisible
world, and from the book of life brought down
the record of the noblest enfranchisement, decreed
from eternity by the King of kings. . . . They
went forth in confidence, . . . and, standing surely
amidst the crumbling fabrics of centuries of super-
stition, they had faith in one another; and the
martyrdoms of Cambray, the fires of Smithfield,
* See Fisher's Hist. Beformation.


the surrender of benefices by two thousand non-con-
forming Presbyterians, attest their perseverance." *

This doctrine " inspires a resolute, ahnost defiant,
freedom in those who deem themselves the subjects
of God's electing grace : in all things they are more
than conquerors through the confidence that nothing
shall be able to separate them from the love of God.
No doctrine of the dignity of human nature, of the
rights of man, of national liberty, of social equal-
ity, can create such a resolve for the freedom of the
soul as this personal conviction of God's favoring
and protecting sovereignty. He who has this faith
feels that he is compassed about with everlasting
love, guided with everlasting strength ; his will is
the tempered steel that no fire can melt, no force can
break. Such faith is freedom ; and this spiritual
freedom is the source and strength of all other
freedom." t

Having thus briefly traced the spirit and tendency
of Calvinism in relation to liberty, I will now indi-
cate, from the testimony of those most capable of
giving impartial judgment, what Calvinism has
done for civil liberty.

* Hist. U. S., vol. ii. p. 461.

\ The United States as a Nation, p. 30, by Kev. Joseph Thomp-
son, D. D., LL.D.


And here let it be remarked that events follow
principles ; that mind rules the world ; that thought

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Online LibraryNathaniel S. MacFetridgeCalvinism in history → online text (page 1 of 8)