Recently I wrote a paper on John Calvin’s view of the extent of the atonement in 1 John 2:2. Perhaps, I will share some of that at some point (I’d like to get a grade first to see how much of a heretic I am). While doing research on this topic I came across an interesting thread on the Baptist Board. A guy named Plain Old Bill posed this question:
I'm not trying to be mean but you guys got me started reading all kinds of Calvin's writings and I can't find anything with his testimony of how he came to know Christ as his personal Lord and Savior. Does anybody have anything to help out here I guess that would also beg the question , was Calvin saved?
My response here is not meant to be directed towards Plain Old Bill. In fact I doubt he will ever see this post, as the question was posted almost four years ago.
First, I’ll just answer the question directly. You will not find much of a testimony from John Calvin. What you will find is this, “God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame.” And you will also find a great amount of Christ-centeredness and trust in Calvin’s writing. Even upon his deathbed Calvin spoke of trusting in Christ alone.
What I really want to interact with is this idea that you have to have a “testimony” to be saved.
Around the time of the Puritans there was a particular teaching going around similar to our SPOT (Specific Place or Time). Iain Murray points refers to this in his book The Old Evangelicalism. There he mentions Richard Baxter who:
…[spoke] of a meeting of eminent Christians and ministers where it was asked that everyone should give an account of the time and manner of his conversion, ‘and there was but one of them that could do it’. To which Baxter added, ‘I aver from my heart that I neither know the day, nor the year, when I began to be sincere’.” (Murray, The Old Evangelicalism, p20)
Now certainly there are those, like the Apostle Paul, that had an arresting conversion experience. But there is a serious danger in forcing many true believers to fit this mold. Furthermore, it is a potentially grave error to make “ a testimony” the mark of whether or not a person is saved.
This is one reason why those like Spurgeon did not hop on board the “altar call” movement. They had a great fear that people would eventually conflate things like a “testimony” and “going forward” with trusting in Christ. If my personal experience is worth anything I would have to agree with them. I have often heard people use “going forward” or “having a testimony” as synonyms for trusting in Christ.
Granted this is often just a nuance of our Christianese. But there is a real danger when the evidence of someone’s salvation is marked by something they did in the past rather than if they are trusting in Christ at the present. There are numerous people that have testimonies, that went forward, and are still living in sin and not trusting Christ. There are also numerous stories of people, like Calvin and Baxter, that evidently trust in Christ yet do not know the particular time or place when they were first converted.
So, I ask. What are you trusting in? Are you trusting in an experience or are you trusting in Christ? Your experience or “past decision” is a shaky foundation. Only when your foundation is Christ will it be firm.