Nick, responding to my earlier post on assurance of salvation, brought up a very good point:
John Calvin clearly taught something called *evanescent grace* in which God gives a ‘fake grace’ to the Reprobate to make them *think* and act as if they were Saved, and this only so that He could damn them with greater punishment for such deceptive behavior (other Reformed teachers will reluctantly admit God does this too).
What Nick’s referring to is Calvin’s teaching in Book III, Chapter II, Section 11 of Institutes of the Christian Religion (skip down to where it begins, ” I am aware it seems unaccountable”). And it’s exactly as he describes. Calvin taught that the gift of faith was the fruit of God’s unconditional election. If you believed, it was because you were already saved: instead of the Biblical teaching that salvation comes through faith, Calvin taught that faith comes through salvation.
But there’s an enormous flaw in Calvin’s entire religious schema: countless people seem to believe (and believe they believe), and then fall away from the faith. These people, in an earlier day, counted themselves as believers, and were considered believers by their peers. I’ve addressed this issue elsewhere, including particular cases like Simon the Magi, who Acts 8:13 says “believed and was baptized,” yet fell away and was in peril of damnation by Acts 8:20-24. But if that’s so, then by definition, it’s possible to have faith without it being the fruit of God’s unconditional election. According to Calvin, if Simon had the true gift of faith, it was because he was already unconditionally saved: nothing he did would change his status as elect, including his attempt to buy the Holy Spirit. So this leaves two Calvin with two options: either St. Luke is wrong in Acts 8:13 (and Simon didn’t really believe), or St. Peter is wrong in Acts 8:20-24, and Simon has nothing to worry about. Calvin’s answer, in effect, says that Luke is wrong. He creates, out of whole cloth and without even attempting to tie his argument into the Bible or the teachings of the Early Church Fathers, a doctrine that says that God sometimes gives the damned a false sense of assurance of salvation, called evanescent grace.
This false sense of security is so strong that it’s indistinguishable even to the believer (or non-believer who thinks he’s a believer). Or, as Calvin put it: “though none are enlightened into faith, and truly feel the efficacy of the Gospel, with the exception of those who are fore-ordained 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. “
But this raises a second question: if the damned have a false sense of assurance, how can an individual tell if they’re saved or damned? Calvin’s already answered this — you can’t (“even in their own judgment…”). The damned “know” they’re saved, but aren’t, while the saved know they’re saved, and are. In fact, Calvin argues that the damned, afflicted with this deceiving grace, experience all of the internal and external manifestations of salvation.
So God reveals to these damned a sense of His Mercy, and of His Goodness, and reveals His Grace to them. They accept His Grace, although confusedly. They think they’re saved (“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.“), and others think they’re saved, since “under a covering of hypocrisy, they seem to have a principle of faith in common” with the saved. Yet, Calvin argues that when God “shows himself propitious to them, it is not as if he had truly rescued them from death, and taken them under his protection.” So according to Calvin, God pretends to save them, gives them fake assurances of salvation, and then damns them.
Calvin does distinguish between the graces experienced by the saved v. the confused damned. The saved get the real thing, while the damned lay hold “of the shadow rather than the substance.” In other words, if the saved are drinking Coke, the damned are drinking Diet Coke. But since neither the saved nor the damned have ever had the other kind, and all of the external characteristics are the same, there’s no way of knowing which you’re drinking. Read over Calvin’s teachings in the link above, and I think you’ll see that the following is a pretty accurate chart depicting how you can figure out which one you are:
|Saved, With Saving Grace||Damned, With Evanescent Grace|
|Sense of Grace?||yes||yes|
|Internal working of the Spirit?||yes||yes|
|Appear to be Saved?||yes||yes|
|Believe They Have Faith?||yes||yes|
|Believe They’re Saved?||yes||yes|
Calvin sees this problem and proposes two equally unhelpful solutions:
- “Meanwhile, believers are taught to examine themselves carefully and humbly, lest carnal security creep in and take the place of assurance of faith.“
- “Should it be objected, that believers have no stronger 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.”
The first “solution” is unhelpful for obvious reasons. This self-examination is doomed to failure from the start, since the damned are being duped. Calvin’s already conceeded that even in the damned’s self-judgment, they’re saved, so more self-examination isn’t really a solution. And the second “solution” is that the elect have full assurance.
Does this mean that if you question your salvation, you’re unsaved, since you don’t have “full assurance”? Or does it mean that you’re simply examining yourself to ensure that what seemed like assurance wasn’t just “carnal security”? And if the saved, by fruit of their unconditional election, have received full assurance of faith, how is it even possible for carnal security to “creep in and take the place of assurance of faith,” if this assurance is the special gift, and unique identifier, of the elect?
Calvin’s assurance of his own brilliance and intellect lead him to choose his own philosophical conclusions over some pretty clear Biblical passages which show people believing and falling away. The result was ugly: his creation of a system in which God purposely tricks people into believing they’re saved by Jesus Christ, shows them His mercy, and then sends them to hell for eternity. It’s not remotely Biblical, nor does he pretend that it is. And it fails to provide any of the assurance of salvation that Calvin claimed it would, as even he came close to conceeding. Under the Calvinist schema, there’s just no way of knowing if you’re saved or not.