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It is however the dynamic from the Calvinism of Geneva to the evangelical movement that concerns us here. The common thread is the doctrine of election, that is to say that 'Jesus saves.' It is something that happens to us, not something we do. It is therefore reasonable to assume that the people to whom it happens (the 'elect') have been chosen and therefore, logically speaking that the people to whom it doesn't happen (the non-elect) have not been chosen. It is also logical to assume that if God is omniscient and omnipotent and therefore knows and could, should he so wish, determine everything that ever happened or ever will happen, including the movements of the human will, then who will be saved and who will not be saved has been determined from all Eternity. That is all quite obvious and inescapable if one thinks (as I do not) that a condition of omnipotence and omniscience can be subject to logical inference. The Russian Christian philosopher, Nicolas Berdyaev, though a practising member of the Orthodox Church, insisted that since theology could not escape this logic - a logic that ultimately makes God responsible for evil and for the eternal damnation of the non-elect - he would never be a theologian. He took up the view that there was a material co-eternal with God which he used to create the Universe but which was refractory to his will, a view argued in the seventeenth century by the cobbler-philosopher Jacob Böhme, who could be described as the father of German philosophy.(14)

(14) See e.g. Nicolas Berdyaev; The Destiny of Man, London, Geoffrey Bles, 1937, notably chapter two, 'The origin of good and evil'. Böhme's notion of the ungrund as the material out of which everything (including God) emerges was also used by the English theosophist William Law and by Friedrich Schelling in his Treatise on the Essence of Human Freedom.

But I don't want to go into that discussion here. The main thing to concern us here is the doctrine that salvation is entirely an undeserved operation of God's grace. The power and strength of the Calvinist tradition running all the way from Calvin to Sister Rosetta Tharpe is the sheer delight of knowing one is saved and, we might add, the moral strength that this can give to people living in difficult circumstances.

Which poses the question: how do we know we're saved? In the case of Calvin himself, in the Institutes, it seems to be, as it might be for most ordinary church-goers, simple participation in the life of the Church. What then did Calvin add? It might be better to ask what did Calvin eliminate? T.H.L.Parker in his biography sees Calvin's doctrine in its simplicity as removing a huge burden of anxiety that, he argues, was oppressing the late mediaeval mind:

'He was writing, then, for the baptised, for those who took their religion seriously, who desired to be good Christians but were disturbed at their lack of success, who above all were distressed that their religion brought them no peace of conscience. By their baptism the guilt of their inherited sin had been forgiven. But they had sinned since their baptism, making shipwreck of their faith and thus of their standing with God. Now they clung to what old St Jerome called the second plank, the sacrament of penance. They were sorry for their sins, or rather, the more they were in earnest the more they realised that they ought to be sorry for their sins and wished that they were more sorry. They knew God to be a stern judge who would exact vengeance for their sins. They made confession, aware of the promise "whosesoever sins you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.'"But where was the peace that should follow? Had they confessed all their sins? Had they forgotten any? Only confessed sins are forgiven. They performed the enjoined satisfactions for their sins.

'They did more; they went on pilgrimages, not for a jolly Chaucerian holiday, but always seeking, always grasping after that which lay just beyond their grasp; they gave alms so far as they could afford; they practised self-denial and mortification. Meanwhile they attempted to follow their conscience and the Law of God to the best of their ability, trusting in God's grace that he would, of his free mercy, reward them for their efforts with such an inpouring of grace as would turn their will away from sin to love God with all their being. And again, instead of the looked for peace, anxiety: had they really striven to the utmost? They could not tell; it was impossible to know. But if they had not done what they could, God had not rewarded them. The Institutes were addressed to men suffering under the pastoral cruelty of the mediaeval church.' (pp.42-3)

He continues (pp.44-5) that in Calvin's teaching: 'The assurance of salvation is taken off the worthiness of the subject and his acts and is placed upon the worthiness of the object and his work' and he quotes Calvin (p.56): 'We teach the sinner to look, not at his compunction, nor at his tears, but to fix his eyes - both eyes! - on the sole mercy of the Lord.'

But Parker may be exaggerating 'the pastoral cruelty of the mediaeval church.' The continual liturgical cry of the traditional churches - Catholic and Orthodox - is 'Lord have mercy' and it is uttered with some degree of confidence that the cry will be heard. Confession does bring with it an assurance of absolution not available to the Protestant, and it is well understood that not all sins will have been remembered and confessed. And he may be underestimating the demands made of the devout Calvinist. Calvin says (Parker, p.56, quoting the Institutes, 1.ii.i): 'The way for men to be born again is to participate in Christ in whose death their perverted desires died, on whose cross their old man was crucified, in whose sepulchre was buried the body of sin ... The life of a Christian man is therefore a perpetual study and practise of mortifying the flesh.'

One could argue that Calvinism places on the shoulders of the everyday Christian (perhaps Matthew Mead's 'almost Christian'(15)) the same burden that the traditional churches place on the shoulders of the monks, nuns and hermits, those who have the calling to live the Christian life in its full, unworldly, integrity, with a duty to sustain the rest of us by their prayers. We might add that the Orthodox icon of St John Climacus - the Ladder of Divine Ascent - shows monks and hermits climbing up a ladder to the welcoming arms of Christ. But even those near the top of the ladder are prone to being pulled off by demons, in contrast to the Calvinist doctrine of the 'perseverance of the saints', according to which there is no possibility of failure on the part of the saved Christian.

(15) Matthew Mead: The Almost Christian Discovered, originally published in 1661. Republished by Soli Deo Gloria publications, Philadelphia, n.d.. The critique I am hinting at here isn't a defense of lukewarm Christianity but rather a call for a recognition of the great variety of human types and aptitudes, an argument which I may hope to develop elsewhere.