What Type of Man, This Calvinist?

Men are animated to action by one of two great motivators. The first is sentiment which is the compulsion of feeling. Men’s wills are often quickened to action by their feelings being plucked. The second great motivator of the will of men being catapulted into action is firm conviction as arrived at by ideological persuasion. As either of these control a man or woman, over the course of time their moral character will be shaped.

When we consider the man who is animated by sentiment and feeling we can know that we are dealing with a person who is unstable in all his ways. He is blown about by whoever or whatever can stir the shallows waters of emotion. A song on the radio. A wistful look from a maiden fair. A poetic turn of a phrase. An image brought before his eyes. In all these things the man of feeling is animated.

To the contrary the man who is animated by thought and conviction is the man who tends towards stability in all he does. He does not enter into flights of fancy merely by the tweaking of his emotions. Instead, he is the man who examines all that comes into his orbit of consideration. He can not be changed until his mind has changed and his mind, constantly turning matters over as it does, does not change easily or quickly.

As applied to the area of Christianity we have already, perhaps quite without realizing it, drawn a line distinguishing Calvinism from Arminianism. These two longstanding expressions of the Protestant faith have ever stood contrary to one another in their systematic approaches to the Scripture. However, we see here that there is more than just systematic theologies that separated these expressions of the faith. What also separates them is that central pivot upon which the respective men of these competing Protestant expressions are animated by unto action.

Consider, that the appeal of Arminianism has always chiefly been to the sentiments of their adherents. It is the emotive part of man that the Arminian evangelists is typically going after. This explains the revivalism of Arminianism. It explains the early anxious seat. It explains the long drawn out hymns during the altar call. It explains the dimming of the lights. The whole environment is organized so as to play to man’s emotions. This was evident first with the early Methodists who were known as “Holy Rollers.” It was then ratcheted up by the Pentecostals (who are likewise Arminian when they are anything) who discovered that more emotion led to greater attendance.

All of this is keeping with the appeal of the Arminian system with its doctrine of libertarian free will. In the Arminian doctrine man has complete free moral control of himself. He is the Captain of his own fate as he responds or doesn’t respond to prevenient grace. In the Arminian system man is in free moral control of himself, and is able to, at any moment, determine his own eternal state. As this is true it only stands to reason given this anthropological conviction of Libertarian free-will in the Arminian system that what needs done in appealing to fallen Arminian man is to arouse, stimulate, and manipulate man’s emotions. If winning a lost soul for the Kingdom of God can be accomplished by the simple arousing of the emotions then why take the long laborious route of feeding a man’s mind with the truth? Whatever can lawfully awaken the feelings is considered expedient for the purpose of winning souls. As such Arminian evangelism, theology, and continued sanctification works on men’s senses. The typical Arminian then (and remember we are talking about the lion’s share of the Protestant world) is religiously speaking, a man of feeling, emotion and sentiment and consequently is, by way of disposition, given to that which catches the eye and tickles the ear. Further, we expect to find in Arminians (Methodists, Pentecostals, Wesleyans, Nazarenes, Free-Methodist, Church of God, Many varieties of Baptists, etc.) a tendency to sporadic fluctuations in action depending at any given moment on the wave of sensation that is currently breaking upon their emotions.

Before, turning to the opposite side of this sentiment / conviction coin, we should offer that it really is the case that most Americans, regardless of their official denominational or theological affiliations are, personality wise, functional Arminians. In its macro-culture Americans have, from birth, been animated by sentiment and feeling. The advertising industry, the film industry, and the K-12 education industry combined with the sensuous nature of our culture overall has propelled modern Western man for decades towards being animated by sentiment and emotion. The latest Wuhan scare as proven that in spades. Using the emotion of fear, modern Western man has been stampeded into action. Very few were those who approached the plannedemic from a position of thinking the matter through. Instead, feelings were manipulated and to this day a large segment of our population is living according to the emotion of fear.

The contrary to being animated by sentiment, feeling and emotion is being animated by idea, thought, and conviction. The older Calvinists called it “conscience.” In this older Calvinistic conception God has marked out the way in which man is to walk. Sentiment or emotions have very little to do with how the Calvinist is animated. It is a matter of thought out duty. This is not to say that there will not be emotions present – there may or may not be – but the engine of action is the conscience informing the sense of duty. For the Calvinist, man walks in this assigned path by God with as much or as little sentiment as man pleases. As such the Calvinist is not, religiously speaking, a man whose character is defined by emotional demonstrations, but rather typically is a man of ideas. This disposition towards thoughtfulness and rationality has the consequence of building a character that is associated with stability and strength which can sometimes bleed over into stubbornness and a certain jaggedness.

The Calvinist’s theology teaches him to view all things as operating under the great and prefect system of God’s laws – both decretal and by way of precept. These laws operate in defiance of man’s emotions or sentiments and must be obeyed lest corrective punishment be visited upon the disobedient. The Calvinist’s theology, unlike the Arminians, instructs him that the sinner is dead in his trespasses and sins and so is unable, even by the most heated emotion, to find faith leading to salvation. His Calvinist theology teaches him that feelings cannot adjudicate truth. That theology instructs the Calvinist evangelist to turn away from techniques and human efforts for “soul-winning” to the God who holds all men’s hearts in His hands. Calvin considered it almost criminal to appeal to men’s feelings simply in order to have them act. Calvin desired rather to bring the thought life, as based on Scripture, into the practical life and so make the voice of God as speaking in Scripture and mediated by the Spirit that standard by which the life of the mind would measure all conduct.

This is all consistent with the great idea of the Calvinist; The contemplation of the universe made by God for His glory and revealed in Christ. This great idea is not one of sentiment but one of thought that can and will go on for eternity. To be sure that great idea will affect the sentiment but it is in that order… thought unto affections.

The life of the mind; this is the Calvinist byword. It is the life of the mind, as dwelling on Scripture, and illumined by the Holy Spirit that animated the Calvinist and that still animates that odd Calvinist you can find laying around. This life of the mind then gave way to a sense of duty in the moral life of the Calvinist. Duty, not in the sense of bothersome drudgery, but duty in the sense of the great privilege in serving the King. Emotion need not apply.

“He (the Calvinist) is troubled,” offered the French Historian Hippolyte Taine, “not only about what he must believe, but about what he ought to do; he craves an answer to his doubts, but especially a rule for his conduct ; he is tormented by the notion of his ignorance, but also by the horror of his vices ; he seeks God, but duty also. In his eyes the two are but one.” “We have” Taine continues, “considered these Puritans as gloomy madmen, shallow brains and full of scruples. Let us quit our French and modern ideas, and enter into these souls : we shall find there something else than hypochondria—namely, a grand sentiment – Am I a just man ? And if God, who is perfect justice, were to judge me at this moment, what sentence would he pass upon me?’ Such is the original idea of the Puritans. . . . The feeling of the difference there is between good and evil had filled for them all time and space, and had become incarnate. . . . They were struck by the idea of duty. They examined themselves by this light, without pity or shrinking; they conceived the sublime model of infallible and complete virtue; they were imbued therewith; they drowned in this absorbing thought that lit all worldly prejudices and all inclinations of the senses. . . . They entered into life with a fixed resolve to suffer and to do all, rather than deviate one step.”

And while Taine, doubtless is in error regarding the Puritan’s self understanding regarding the basis of God’s judgment of said Puritan, Taine has captured the mindset of the Calvinist. Historically, at least he has not been a man that was guided, manipulated, or animated by emotion. He is the man of thought and so stability in an otherwise unstable church and world.

And in our 21st century context, the Calvinist (should you ever come across one) is a strange breed.

God give us more Calvinists.

Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Familialist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture. Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

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