The Alabama Baptist and Dortian Calvinism: Response 4

Tim Brister —  August 9, 2007 — 4 Comments

My fourth response entails the second part in the discussion of faith and repentance as divine gifts as well as responsible acts. I hope to follow up this section with a brief discussion on instrumentality and God-ordained means. In this post, I particular want highlight the response of two prominent Baptist theologians-James P. Boyce and Charles H. Spurgeon-and conclude with some Baptist confessions.

In his article, “Does Dortian Calvinism have weight of Scripture in its favor?” Dr. Garrett argues,

“Those not committed to Dortian Calvinism do not have to prove that repentance and faith are in no sense the gift of God. They only have to prove that repentance and faith are also duties or obligations resting on human beings.”

This quote by Dr. Garrett has three negations:

(-) “Those not committed to Dortian Calvinism”

(-) “do not have to prove that faith and repentance”

(-) “are in no sense the gift of God”

This is true. Clearly throughout Scripture, sinners are commanded to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (e.g. Acts 16:31) and repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matt. 4:17). However, this phrase can be tweaked to place a different emphasis:

(-) “those not committed to Dortian Calvinism”

(+) “do have to prove that faith and repentance”

(-) “are not gifts of God”

While some would consider this to be contradictory (how can someone be commanded to do something when it is also understood as a divine gift), this is a perfectly legitimate assertion. Are faith and repentance gifts from God or not? Are they “duties or obligations resting on human beings” or are they duties and obligations resting on divine endowment upon human beings? The answer to these questions reveal whether faith and repentance are derivative of divine provision or intrinsic human ability. As Spurgeon has said,

“Many men refuse to see more than one side of a doctrine, and persistently fight against anything which is not on its very surface consistent with their own idea. In the present case I do not find it difficult to believe faith to be at the same time the duty of man and the gift of God; and if others cannot accept the two truths, I am not responsible for their rejection of them; my duty is performed when I have honestly borne witness to them.”[1]

More elaboration on that later.

James P. Boyce: Union with Christ, Regeneration, and Faith

Secondly, in his article, “How prominent Baptists stack up” Dr. Garrett argues that James P. Boyce

“held to double predestination, limited atonement and assured perseverance while inclining to repentance and faith as duties and sidestepping irresistible grace.”

I was intrigued by Dr. Garrett’s iteration that Boyce considered repentance and faith as duties while not mentioning that Boyce held to the belief that faith “must be the act of a regenerated heart which alone is inclined to such belief as constitutes trust. And it is attained by this heart through the illuminating influences of the Spirit of God.”[2] Clearly we see here that Boyce believed that faith was conceived through the sovereign work of the Spirit in regeneration. Indeed, “[Conversion] is the result of regeneration. The new heart is prepared to turn to God and does actually so turn. Without regeneration, the sinfulness of man keeps him away from God, causes him to set his affections upon self and his own pleasure, and to find gratification in things which are opposed to God and holiness. The regenerated heart has new affections and desires and is, therefore, fitted to seek after God and holiness.”[3] Boyce carefully articulated the doctrine of saving faith to preclude faith as a meritorious work while affirming the human response of faith as the instrumental cause in bringing one into vital union with Christ. He writes, “It is, however, not a meritorious ground, nor a procuring cause of such union, but simply the mere act of clinging to him and trusting in him which becomes the instrumental cause of such union.”[4] Elsewhere, Boyce adds, “It is evidently so reckoned, because by faith the sinner appropriates to himself the work of Christ, and becomes vitally united with him. Faith may, therefore, be regarded as the condition upon which justification is bestowed upon those to whom Christ is presented as Saviour, to be received and rested upon for salvation.”[5] From these brief excerpts, one can see that Boyce affirms that God, through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, creates faith and repentance thus enabling the sinner to repent and believe-duties divinely commanded, divinely supplied, and individually appropriated through responsible human beings.

Charles H. Spurgeon: Why God Chose Faith

Perhaps the most influential Baptist in church history is none other than the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Spurgeon was not without his own share of controversies, not the least of which was battling Hyper-Calvinism on the one hand (who denied duty faith) and Arminianism on the other (who denied faith and repentance as gifts from God). I thought it would be helpful for the sake of this discussion to share an excerpt from Spurgeon on why God chose faith. He gives us six reasons for our contemplation:

1. Faith has been selected as the channel of grace because faith is naturally adapted to be used as the receiver.

“Faith is chosen by God to be the receiver of salvation because it does not pretend to create salvation nor to help in it, but it is content to receive it humbly. ‘Faith is the tongue that begs pardon, the hand which receives it, and the eye which sees it; but it is not the price which buys it.'”

2. Faith is again selected because it gives all the glory to God. It is of faith that is might be by grace, and it is of grace that there might be no boasting, for God cannot endure pride.

“God has selected faith to receive the unspeakable gift of His grace. It cannot take any credit to itself but must adore the gracious God who is the giver of all good.”

3. God selects faith as the channel of salvation because it is a sure method of linking man with God. When man confides in God, there is a point of union between them, and that union guarantees blessing. Faith saves us because it makes us cling to God and therefore connects us with Him.

4. Faith is chosen because it touches the springs of action.

“God gives salvation to faith, because by creating faith in us He touches the real mainspring of our emotions and actions.”

5. Faith, again, has the power of working by love. It influences the affections toward God and draws the heart after the best things. He who believes in God will beyond all question love God. Faith is an act of understanding, but it also proceeds from the heart.

6. Faith creates peace and joy. He who has it rests, is tranquil, glad, and joyous, and this is preparation for heaven.[6]

Baptist Confessions on Faith and Repentance

A final anecdotal insertion for this response are select articles from various Baptist confessions which address regeneration, faith, and repentance.

1644 London Baptist Confession Article XXII.

That faith is the gift of God wrought in the hearts of the elect by the Spirit of God, whereby they come to see, know, and believe the truth of the Scriptures, and not only so, but the excellency of them above all other writing and things in the world, as they hold forth the glory of God in His attributes, the excellency of Christ in His nature and offices, and the power of the fullness of the Spirit in His workings and operations; and thereupon are enabled to cast the weight of their souls upon this truth thus believed.

John Gill’s Confession of Faith Article VIII.

We believe, that the work of regeneration, conversion, sanctification, and faith, is not an act of (John 1:13; Rom. 9:16 and 8:7) man’s free will and power, but of the mighty, efficacious, and irresistible grace (Phil. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:9; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3; Eph. 1:19; Isa. 43:13) of God.

1689 London Baptist Confession (and 1742 Philadelphia Confession)

Chapter 14: Of Saving Faith

1. The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word; by which also, and by the administration of baptism and the Lord’s supper, prayer, and other means appointed of God, it is increased and strengthened. (2 Corinthians 4:13; Ephesians 2:8; Romans 10:14, 17; Luke 17:5; 1 Peter 2:2; Acts 20:32)

2. By this faith a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word for the authority of God himself, and also apprehendeth an excellency therein above all other writings and all things in the world, as it bears forth the glory of God in his attributes, the excellency of Christ in his nature and offices, and the power and fullness of the Holy Spirit in his workings and operations: and so is enabled to cast his soul upon the truth thus believed; and also acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life and that which is to come; but the principal acts of saving faith have immediate relation to Christ, accepting, receiving, and resting upon him alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace. (Acts 24:14; Psalms 27:7-10; Psalms 119:72; 2 Timothy 1:12; John 14:14; Isaiah 66:2; Hebrews 11:13; John 1:12; Acts 16:31; Galatians 2:20; Acts 15:11)

Chapter 15: Of Repentance Unto Life and Salvation

1. Such of the elect as are converted at riper years, having sometime lived in the state of nature, and therein served divers lusts and pleasures, God in their effectual calling giveth them repentance unto life. (Titus 3:2-5)

2. Whereas there is none that doth good and sinneth not, and the best of men may, through the power and deceitfulness of their corruption dwelling in them, with the prevalency of temptation, fall into great sins and provocations; God hath, in the covenant of grace, mercifully provided that believers so sinning and falling be renewed through repentance unto salvation. (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Luke 22:31,32)

3. This saving repentance is an evangelical grace, whereby a person, being by the Holy Spirit made sensible of the manifold evils of his sin, doth, by faith in Christ, humble himself for it with godly sorrow, detestation of it, and self-abhorrency, praying for pardon and strength of grace, with a purpose and endeavour, by supplies of the Spirit, to walk before God unto all well-pleasing in all things. (Zechariah 12:10; Acts 11:18; Ezekiel 36:31; 2 Corinthians 7:11; Psalms 119:6; Psalms 119:128)

1833 New Hampshire Confession Articles 7 & 8

7. Of Grace in Regeneration. We believe that, in order to be saved, sinners must be regenerated, or born again; that regeneration consists in giving a holy disposition to the mind; that it is effected in a manner above our comprehension by the power of the Holy Spirit, in connection with divine truth, so as to secure our voluntary obedience to the gospel; and that its proper evidence appears in the holy fruits of repentance, and faith, and newness of life.

8. Of Repentance and Faith We believe that Repentance and Faith are sacred duties, and also inseparable graces, wrought in our souls by the regenerating Spirit of God; whereby being deeply convinced of our guilt, danger, and helplessness, and of the way of salvation by Christ, we turn to God with unfeigned contrition, confession, and supplication for mercy; at the same time heartily receiving the Lord Jesus Christ as our Prophet, Priest, and King, and relying on him alone as the only and all-sufficient Saviour.

1858 Abstract of Principles Articles 8, 9, & 10


Regeneration is a change of heart, wrought by the Holy Spirit, who quickeneth the dead in trespasses and sins enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the Word of God, and renewing their whole nature, so that they love and practice holiness. It is a work of God’s free and special grace alone.


Repentance is an evangelical grace, wherein a person being, by the Holy Spirit, made sensible of the manifold evil of his sin, humbleth himself for it, with godly sorrow, detestation of it, and self-abhorrence, with a purpose and endeavor to walk before God so as to please Him in all things.


Saving faith is the belief, on God’s authority of whatsoever is revealed in His Word concerning Christ; accepting and resting upon Him alone for justification and eternal life. It is wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit, and is accompanied by all other saving graces, and leads to a life of holiness.

2000 Baptist Faith & Message Article 4

A. Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.

Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Saviour.


[1]Charles H. Spurgeon, “Faith and Regeneration” in Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit vol. 17, 1871.[2]James P. Boyce, Abstract of Systematic Theology (Hanford, CA: den Dulk Christian Foundation, 1887), 386.

[3]Ibid., 379.

[4]Ibid., 392.

[5]Ibid., 401.

[6]Charles H. Spurgeon, All of Grace (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1981), 62-67.

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  • I’d also add that the Synod of Dort does not deny that faith and repentance are not duties resting on all human beings, as I pointed out down in the comments here earlier.

    The difference is that the HyperCalvinist and libertarian rest duty on endowment. The Calvinist rests duty on the command to repent itself. The warrant to repent/covert; the duty to do so, rests on the command, for the command reveals sin, and where sin is revealed, repentance is automatically demanded – and this includes those under the Law’s commands and those under the law of conscience, so the duty is universal.

    As Thomas Boston says – our duty to repent of sin and covert to Christ does not rest on our ability (whether natural or by way of prevenient grace); it is what God says it is at any given time.

  • Gene,

    Thanks for bringing that up (the duty faith and repentance). A cursory look at 17th century Puritan literature would evidence the free offer of the gospel and the call for sinners to repent and believe among Dortian Calvinists.

    If you have time, could you elaborate some more on duty resting on the command versus endowment? Do you know if Spurgeon speak to this? I am familiar with his sermon “The Warrant of Faith” and Murray’s book Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism, but I cannot recall what Spurgeon said. Just curious.

  • Ah, I found some of what Spurgeon said from my notes:

    “The warrant for a sinner to believe in Christ is not in himself in any sense or in any manner, but in the fact that he is commanded there and then to believe on Jesus Christ.”

    “I believe that the tendency of that preaching which puts the warrant for faith anywhere but in the gospel command, is to vex the true penitent, and to console the hypocrite.”

    “The gospel command is sufficient warrant for a sinner to believe in Jesus Christ.”

    All three quotes are from his sermon “The Warrant of Faith” in Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit vol. 9 (1863), 663-78.

  • Yep, that’s pretty straightforward.

    The logic is this:

    Paul teaches that the Law reveals sin.

    He also teaches that the Law brings condemnation as a result.

    However, he goes on to teach that the law of conscience is equally condemnatory of both Jew (who has the Law) and Gentile.

    So, both Jew and Gentile are under condemnation.

    However, if they would repent they would have their sins forgiven.

    And the OT in general (and of course the NT) is laced with commands to repent that are uttered either as commands and pleas and invitations of themselves or as parts of prophetic lawsuits. One can even find the Pslsms (81: 13 – 16) talking about what God would do if His people would do the right thing.

    And Scripture never says anything about repenting because the sacrifices/atonement/the cross is “sufficient” or “for you” or “for every man.” Rather Scripture simply issues the command/invitation, etc.

    So, the warrant to believe / repent comes from the Law and the Word of God and the conditions of the covenant, whether the explicit command of the Law – which I might add included sacrifices, which presume repentance to be acceptable (a fact spelled out in Scripture in places like 1 Sam. 15 and Hosea) – or the implicit commands of the law of conscience – for men’s religions have invariably called men to turn from evil and do good and many even to make sacrifice to God.

    This shows men already know they have a duty to repent from sin – we don’t need to provide some “warrant” based on their moral ability or their election or, yes, even the efficiency or even the sufficiency of the atonement.

    The “free offer” only tells them what the proper object of faith and repentance is; it does NOT reveal their duty, for they already know their duty. The external call, on that level, is only confirming to the pagan what he already knows and to those who are exposed to the truths of Scripture what they have been taught.

    Thus, we affirm duty faith.

    The warrant to believe is therefore not in election or atonement, but in the command – the Law itself, in whichever form it takes. Ergo we affirm what we call duty faith.

    I might add that this shows that the sacrifices rest on the covenant, not vice versa, which explains why God can say in the OT that He isn’t concerned about sacrifices as much as faith, obedience, and repentance.

    And the OT sacrifices are just pictures of Christ anyway, so God could say that knowing Christ was yet to come.

    And thus the sacrifices – and by extension the atonement – rests on the covenant, not vice versa. That’s basic covenantalism, see Vos, for example.

    Which of course, negates objections to limited atonement that would say things like “the sufficiency of the atonement must underwrite the free offer / duty faith” for the offer to be bona fide. No, for the atonement is objective and resting on the covenant. The terms and conditions of the covenant as presented and the Law as commanded and revealed are what underwrite the free offer. It may be true that the sufficiency of the cross is such that His work is fit for any sinner, but this does not, thereby mean that it directly underwrites the free offer. That would be hyper-Calvinist logic to say that, for it moves the warrant from election (old hyperism) to the atonement, which only moves the question to another element.

    To say that faith/repentance as a duty rests on ability is just a way of saying that ability limits responsibility. Put another way, iff you don’t have the ability, you aren’t responsible. That’s Arminian logic, and, to another extent hyper-Calvinist logic too, for they used that logic to teach antinomianism. In fact, finding a warrant to believe, whether in election or the atonement is simply a way of saying that ability limits responsibility.


    Ability limits responsibility, ergo, if I am unable to believe I don’t have to believe.

    This is the way the hyper-Calvinist denies duty faith and its the conclusion Arminians draw in their objections to us and the reason they use a doctrine of universal prevenient grace or outright deny men are able to do spiritual good accompanying salvation.

    This logic appears again here:

    I don’t know if I am elect, ergo, I have no warrant to believe and I don’t have to do so.

    I don’t know if Christ died for me, ergo I have no warrant to believe and I don’t have to do so.

    I don’t know if the atonement is sufficient for every sinner, ergo I have no warrant o believe and don’t have to do so and/or the “free offer” is not bona fide.

    That’s why I have serious problems with those who use the sufficient/efficient distinction to say things like “if you negate sufficiency, you negate the free offer” while calling high Calvinists in particular “Gillites” and “hyper-Calvinists.” In the end, THEY are the ones using that logic.