I ask due to a comment to this old question According to Calvinism, why does God give mercy to some and not to others?

Under the answer by a Calvinist that got 16 up-votes and the Green Tick, a person asked, “Has anyone ever encountered a Calvinist who was convinced he was one of the damned (non-elect)? Logically, such people ought to exist.”

Another commentator said, Yes, he had had considerable dealings with just such a (miserable) person, concluding, “He somehow misinterpreted the so-called 'doctrines of grace' to be doctrines of condemnation.”

I maintain this question is unique on Stack because it does not ask what God’s view, or the Bible’s view might actually be on ‘election’ unto salvation, but seeks to understand how individuals accepting that might arrive at the conclusion that they had not freely received God’s mercy.

This question is addressed to Calvinists who might understand experientially the dilemma of someone self-identifying as a Calvinist, yet who is convinced they were damned (not elected by the grace of God unto salvation, in other words).

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    Surely the belief that one is not saved, despite believing Christianity is true, is not unique to Calvinists? Nov 30, 2023 at 19:32
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    Being convinced that one is lost, does not mean that one is, necessarily, lost. Many people, who believed in election (avoiding the name 'Calvinist') have believed they were not of the elect. Such as John Bunyan, George Whitefield, William Huntington and Nigel Johnstone (myself). It required the further work of the Holy Spirit and a real, and personal, revelation of Jesus Christ to the soul, to convince them that they were, indeed, of those who could truly say 'The Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me'. The reason for initial unbelief was one's own sinfulness. Is that an answer ?
    – Nigel J
    Nov 30, 2023 at 20:45
  • Nigel J - not only an answer but deeply appreciated. Dec 1, 2023 at 6:54
  • @IsaacMiddlemiss Absolutely! But I have to scope the Q which is based on an old Q about Calvinists, and the view of one person that it is logical to find Calvinists who believe they are damned. I see the logic of someone associating with Calvinists but not yet having repented of sin having that negative view, but I would not call them Calvinists. Perhaps they would, and that strikes me as illogical. I've always thought of Calvinists as believing they are saved by grace, but I could be wrong there. The tag is reformed-theology, however, so answers are not limited to Calvinists.
    – Anne
    Dec 1, 2023 at 15:30
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    You might find suitable passages in your own copies of William Huntington @Anne I will have a look myself when I am up and about after my daytime 'resting' in between night shift duties . . . . . .. 'Kingdom of Heaven taken by Prayer' by WHSS will definitely have suitable quotations.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 1, 2023 at 16:13

2 Answers 2


It is perfectly logical that someone who accepted the truth of election might also accept that they, themselves, were not of that number.

I know from my own experience that once convicted of one's own sins, and once seeing just how dreadful those sins are, once discovering the real depravity of humanity within oneself (not self-righteously criticising others, but realising one's own terrible condition) then, yes, it is quite understandable that one should think it impossible that one could ever be saved and could ever find peace with God.

The clearest testimony to such experiences that I have ever read is in the book 'The Kingdom of Heaven Taken by Prayer' by William Huntington and I have linked to that book below.

Someone has provided an astounding service by uploading all twenty volumes of William Huntington's works for which I am most grateful. I have the entire set myself but I am very pleased to see them freely available online.

The Kingdom of Heaven Taken by Prayer


Note: I began composing this answer before noticing that it was addressed to Calvinists. I decided to post it anyway.

Calvinists are not immune to despair. In fact scholars such as S.E. Spott have noted a virtual "Puritan epidemic of suicide" in the early modern period. In Choosing Death Jeffrey R. Watt explains during this period, Calvinists saw suicide as the result of demon possession. It stands to reason that a Calvinist who contemplated suicide would therefore see himself as damned.

In a more general sense, an otherwise good Christian person who commits a serious sin such as adultery or child abuse often falls into despair and loses hope of salvation. The same may be said of alcoholics, sex addicts and others who attempt to live good lives as members of church but nevertheless end up harming others and themselves. If the person happens to be a Calvinist, this could easily result seeing themselves as one of the damned.

Finally, a very clear case: those who confessed to witchcraft. In the Salem witch trials, some of those who confessed were put to death but others, especially if they named their fellow witches, were not executed. Most of those tried for witchcraft at Salem were Puritans and therefore Calvinists. Some certainly must have confessed simply to save their lives but others apparently became convinced of their damnation and admitted their damnation sincerely. Why would they come to this conclusion? With so many of their neighbors and church members accusing them, including testimony based of spectral evidence and other compelling spiritual experiences, they eventually gave in and admitted both to the court and themselves that they were indeed witches and therefore damned.

How could individuals arrive at the conclusion that they had not freely received God’s mercy? The answer in all of these cases boils down to two words: doubt and despair.

  • One more historic example is the poet William Cowper, but that was clearly part of his mental state. Dec 1, 2023 at 14:04
  • A thoughtful answer. The tag is reformed-theology, which covers more than just Calvinists. But this Q is not about declaring one's-self to be saved by grace then plunging into a 'dark night of the soul'. Nor is it about the horrors of group influences to ferret out alleged witches, or to force (false) conversions. However, your answer makes valid points regarding all that: appreciated. But would not a person knowing the Reformed doctrine on grace, yet not repenting before God, suffer from despair until they did? Would not experiencing God's free pardon do away with pre-conversion doubt?
    – Anne
    Dec 1, 2023 at 15:52

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