Another Terrible Misrepresentation

The fourth point of Calvinism is irresistible grace. By irresistible grace, John Calvin meant that God simply forces people to be saved.

It is not true that Irresistible Grace means a person is “forced” to be saved. This is an unworthy mischaracterization of the effectual work of grace God is pleased to work in the heart of an unbeliever. Saul of Tarsus was not “forced” to be saved on the road to Damascus, but the grace of God which came to him in power was effectual. 

Nathan W. Bingham notes that the Doctrine of Irresistible Grace “is the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit, who convicts, calls, draws, and regenerates elect sinners. This work unfailingly results in the faith of all those chosen. All whom the Father chose in eternity past, and all those for whom the Son died, are those whom the Spirit brings to faith in Jesus Christ. None whom the Father elected and for whom Christ died, fail to believe. The Holy Spirit grants repentance and faith to these elect sinners and ensures their conversion.

This irresistible call is distinct from the general call of the gospel. The former is extended only to the elect, and cannot be resisted. The latter is extended to all who hear the gospel, and is resisted apart from the Spirit’s effectual call.

Charles Spurgeon explained:

“The general call of the gospel is like the common ‘cluck’ of the hen which she is always giving when her chickens are around her. But if there is any danger impending, then she gives a very peculiar call, quite different from the ordinary one, and the little chicks come running as fast as they can, and hide for safety under her wings. That is the call we want, God’s peculiar and effectual call to his own.”

This effectual call always secures its desired effect—the salvation of God’s own.

Does any conservative Christian really believe that when God moves to save a soul, that individual can wrestle with God and prevail in resisting the Almighty? Can the wicked do what Jacob could not do and that is throw God to the ground?  Do not the Scripture say to the soul that will be saved, “ “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6). The preacher of the gospel can have confidence in the ability of the Lord to prevail against any resisting sinner in the day of their salvation.

An Improper Usage of an Emotional Word

God elected some to be saved, and he let Jesus Christ die for that elect group. And now by irresistible grace, He forces those He elected, and those Jesus Christ died for to be saved.

The story is told of a preacher who wrote in his sermon notes, “Shout here! – Weak point!” Mr. Hudson is given to much emotionalism in his hostility to the doctrines of grace. He uses an unbiblical here, and assigns an unworthy concept to an opposing argument. The word is “forced”. It is as if the Creator does not know how to woe, persuade, and change the heart and mind of His own creature.

In contrast to Arminianism, the Psalmist rejoiced in the glory and power of Almighty God and notes, ““Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth” Psalms 110:3.

Now unbeliever, hear the good news. Christ redeems sinful men, even you with all your sin. Now pray and ask that God will GRANT unto you the GIFT of repentance so that you are able to be willing in the day of His visitation.

The truth of the matter is, there is no such thing as irresistible grace. Nowhere in the Bible does the word “irresistible” appear before the word “grace”. That terminology is simply not in the Bible.

It is the philosophy of John Calvin, not a Bible doctrine. The word “irresistible” doesn’t even sound right in front of the word “grace.”

A Dubious Accusation Refuted

Grace means “God’s unmerited favour.” Somebody said G-R-A-C-E- God’s riches at Christ’s expense. Grace is an attitude, not a power. If Calvin had talked about the irresistible drawing power of God, it would have made more sense. But instead, he represents grace as the irresistible act of God compelling a man to be saved who does not want to be saved, so that a man has no choice in the matter at all, except as God forcibly puts a choice in his mind.

It is uncertain where Mr. Hudson gleaned his information about what John Calvin taught, but the reality is that Calvin did write about “grace as the irresistible drawing power of God”.  Calvin found the doctrine of effectual grace in several texts of Scripture. One of the clearest of these references is John 6. Commenting on verse 44, Calvin explains how God draws sinners to Himself.

            The statement amounts to this, that we ought not to wonder if many refuse to embrace the Gospel; because no man will ever of himself be able to come to Christ, but God must first approach him by his Spirit; and hence it follows that all are not drawn, but that God bestows this grace on those whom he has elected. True, indeed, as to the kind of drawing, it is not violent, so as to compel men by external force; but still it is a powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit, which makes men willing who formerly were unwilling and reluctant.

Jesus had said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44a). As Calvin explains, this verse clearly expresses the truth that God is sovereign in man’s salvation. Man does not initiate the process, for he cannot come to Christ unless God acts first. This is the case because man is dead in sin, and a dead man can do nothing for himself.

Calvin’s most extended systematic treatment of the doctrine of irresistible grace is found in his 1559 edition of the Institutes. Here Calvin explains that God must begin the good work of salvation in us because our wills are evil and set against Him. Man’s will cannot turn to the good in its own power, but must be changed by God. As Calvin explains, this divine change is efficacious: “He does not move the will in such a manner as has been taught and believed for many ages—that it is afterward in our choice either to obey or resist the motion—but by disposing it efficaciously.”

Because salvation is God’s work, from beginning to end, perseverance ultimately depends on Him. It is a free gift of God, not a reward based on man’s merit.

*This excerpt is adapted from Keith Mathison’s contribution to John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, & Doxology. Posted on Ligonier Ministries website.

A Synergistic Salvation

Calvinism teaches that man has no part in salvation, and cannot possibly co-operate with God in the matter.  In no sense of the word and at no stage of the work does salvation depend upon the will or work of man or wait for the determination of his will.

The historic faith of the church is that man does not co-operate with God in the matter of salvation. Salvation is ALL of grace. If it true that man must co-operate with God in the matter of salvation, then the question has to be asked, “What must man do in order to be saved?” “What is his part, and what is God’s part?” This is the thinking of the Catholic Church: man’s faith and good works mingled with God’s grace will result in salvation. Salvation is synergistic. Martin Luther and the Reformers cried, “NO!” “The just shall live by faith!” (Rom. 1:17). This faith is an imputed faith. It does not originate in the dark soul of Fallen man.

“If you will tell me how much you had to do with your FIRST BIRTH, I will tell you how much you had to do with your SECOND BIRTH” (SEM).

Does the Bible say anything about irresistible grace? Absolutely not! The Scriptures show that men do resist and reject God.

Proverbs 29:1 state, “He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.” Notice the word “often” in this verse. If God only gave one opportunity to be saved, then man could not complain. But here the Bible says, “He, that being often reproved… ” This means the man was reproved over and over again. Not only was he reproved many times, but he was reproved often. But the Bible says he “hardeneth his neck” and “shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.” That certainly doesn’t sound like irresistible grace. The Bible teaches that a man can be reproved over and over again, and that he can harden his neck against God, and as a result will be destroyed without remedy.

Again Proverbs 1:24-26 says, “Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh.” Here the Bible plainly says, “I have called, and ye have refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof.” That doesn’t sound like irresistible grace. God calls, and men refuse. Is that irresistible? God stretches out his hand and no man regards it? Is that irresistible grace? No. The Bible makes it plain that some men do reject Christ, that they refuse His call.  John 5:40 says, “Ye will not come to me, that ye may have life.” That verse plainly teaches that men can and do resist God and refuse to come to Him.

Resisting the Holy Spirit

In Acts chapter 7, we find Stephen preaching. He says in verse 51, “Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.” To these Jewish leaders, Stephen said, “Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost.” So here were people; some of whom had seen Jesus and heard Him preach; others who had heard Peter at Pentecost; others who had heard Stephen and other Spirit filled men preaching with great power. And what had they done? They were stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears. That is, they were stubborn and rebellious against God. The Bible plainly says, “They resisted the Holy Ghost.”

Notice the words of Stephen in verse 51, “Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.” Here the Bible teaches that not only were these Jewish leaders resisting the Holy Ghost, but that their fathers before them had also resisted the Holy Spirit. Stephen says that all the way from Abraham, through the history of the Jewish nation, down to the time of Christ, unconverted Jews had resisted the Holy Spirit. There is absolutely no such thing as a “can’t-help-it-religion.” God doesn’t just force men to be saved with His so-called irresistible grace.

Concerning Acts 7:51, Calvinism agrees that the Holy Ghost can be resisted. Indeed, the work of God in the heart will be resisted for the Natural Man can do nothing but resist God. The Natural Man does not have the moral power to respond to God’s grace in and of himself. The natural man needs to be “quickened”, or “made alive.” Only God can make a person dead in tresspasses and sin live again, and He effectually does this in sovereign grace. As an object of God’s irresistible grace in the hour of salvation, Paul wrote to the Ephesians explaining how he, and they, were “he quickened [made alive], who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1).

A Gracious Offer

God offers salvation to all men. Titus 2:11 says, “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men.” But man must make his own choice. He must either receive or reject Christ.

Calvinismmaintains that, initially, individuals can, and will, resist the grace of God. They can do no less than to act in a way that is consist with their nature. The nature of the unregenerate is hostile to God and rejects His mercy, love, and grace which is why Jesus wept over Jerusalem. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, ho often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matt. 23:37). Nevertheless, where sin abounds, grace does much more abound (Rom. 5:20). God’s grace is so powerful, it has the ability to overcome the natural resistance of the fallen human heart. The Effectual Grace of almighty God effects what He intends to effect by it, and that is to save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21).

The Calvinist does note the word ‘for’ in verse 11, points to the grace of God which becomes the motivating power to enable believers to live out the ethical demands of the gospel. This grace of God is universal for when “God calls upon men universally to believe, He does not call upon them to believe that they are elected, or that Christ died for them in particular. He calls upon them to believe that Christ died for sin, for sinners, for the world…The atonement is not offered to an individual either as an elect man, or as a non-elect man; but as a man, and a sinner, simply” (W.G.T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology). Therefore, no one who comes under the sound of the gospel despair. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved! (Acts 16:31)

Only God Can Give Power to Men to be Saved

John 1:12 says. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.”

Calvinismembraces the Doctrine of Irresistible, or Efficacious Grace, which teaches that God will bring to faith those individuals He has selected to salvation. The Holy Spirit will never fail to bring the elect whom He calls to Christ. As one person knows how to woo and win influence over the will of another, to a much higher degree does the Spirit. While Arminians resent the idea of God dragging individuals to salvation, Calvinist are grateful that He does exactly that, for Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw [Gk. helkuo; to drag (literally or figuratively)] him: and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44).

When Jesus wept over Jerusalem, he said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, ho often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” Here again the Bible clearly indicates that God would have gathered them together as a hen gathers her chickens, but they would not. That certainly shows that they could reject and resist Christ. “I would, but ye would not” does not fit the teaching of irresistible grace.

So, people do resist the Holy Ghost. They do refuse to come to Christ. They do harden their

necks. They do refuse when God calls. That means that those who are not saved could have been saved. Those who have rejected Christ could have accepted Him. God offers salvation to those who will have it, but does not enforce it upon anyone who doesn’t want it.

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