Friday, September 25, 2009

Irresistible Grace

My friend Brenden Camp wrote this article and posted it to facebook. He makes some really good points and has supported the Reformed position with a good collection of Scriptures. He has allowed me to repost his article along with my response to this blog.

Irresistible Grace? by Brenden Camp

What does the doctrine of "Irresistible Grace" mean to you? Generally when one states the doctrine by this name, a common charge is brought against it which states that "people often DO resist God and His grace", in which case this doctrine is incorrect. On the contrary, it is understood that people do resist God, to the extent that ALL people in their lives have done so at one point, even if we were unaware of it, or maybe not so boldly outspoken. However, on the other hand we must realize that there WAS a defining cause as it were, that brought us to the salvation we have in Christ Jesus. In other words, there must be a reason why - if you are a born again believer - you can say from the depths of your heart that you believe, while another will deny Jesus straight to the grave. This is what I hope to show within the doctrine I will rather refer to as "Effectual Calling" [as "irresistible grace" may be too misleading for some].

In order for this to prosper, we must remember that the only way it can be true is if God's word reveals it as truth, where a mere human theory without Scripture should be done away with. With this in mind, we'll begin in everyone's favorite book of the Bible; Romans. Romans 8:30 tells us exactly this; that "whom He called, He also justified." Now right off the bat I want you to understand that Paul's words state the indefinite justification of those who are called. If you are called, you are justified. So is this call resistible? I have heard the view that this particular call Paul mentions is a call of service or duty. For example, God calling one to be a preacher, another to be a missionary, etc. There are a actually a few problems I hold with that view. It doesn't fit the entire context of Romans 8:29-30, which teaches the building up to our glorification from before the beginning of time. Also, Paul mentions this call several more times, even once in the exact same context, one chapter later. In Romans 9:23-24 Paul tells us "He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles." Compare this verse with Romans 8:30: "...and these whom He predestined, He also called..." My point? The entire context of Romans 9 is based on physical Israel [the Jews] being replaced as God's chosen people by the remnant, which is as Paul explains, made up of who God calls from among both Jews and Gentiles alike. This is a call from God that, rather than one of service, is one that must bring about the salvation of the called, which results in the remnant that is now God's chosen people [or Israel].

Possibly my favorite passage of all on God's effectual call [irresistible grace] comes from Jesus Himself in John 6:44-45. "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws Him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught of God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me." The word 'unless' generally shows us one thing in particular. That is, there are two options present. In this passage the options would be, either you are drawn by the Father and can come to Jesus, or you are not drawn and cannot come to Jesus. But if that's not enough, Jesus goes on to explain Himself further. He quotes a prophecy from Isaiah, in which the prophet claims of Zion, "all your sons will be taught of the Lord" [Is. 54:13 / entire chapter for context]. The fact that Jesus uses this statement signifies two things for us. It shows us that the Zion prophesied by Isaiah was God's kingdom. And it also shows us that all of the sons of God's kingdom would be taught of God. [The phrase 'taught of God' is equal to 'taught by God' as is apparent in several other translations including KJV & NKJV.] But again, we see that Jesus doesn't just stop there. He uses Isaiah's words to expand His own teaching of God's drawing; "Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me." I want you to catch that first Jesus said that "no one CAN" come to Him, unless the Father draws him; now Jesus states that all who the Father teaches DOES come to Him. Jesus never lied and never misspoke, so we can understand that Jesus didn't mean to say that those who the Father teaches CAN, but rather that they DO [indefinitely] come. Can we say then that those who do not come to Jesus, were never taught by God? I believe we safely can. And who decides to be taught by God, if God's teaching brings you to your very belief?

The last point I'll make is in accordance with Jesus' words in Matthew 22:14. "Many are called but few are chosen." This is not the same calling that Paul mentions in Romans or that Jesus mentions in John. Rather, this is the call of the gospel. Paul and Jesus [especially] understood that the gospel call would not save everyone it reached. This is in fact a sad reality for us, and if it's not, it should be. Our hearts should be conformed to the image of Christ and we're told that "Jesus wept." Does this mean that we can't come to an understanding that perhaps God the Father does choose to effectually call or teach whom He pleases? Of course not! God's ways are NOT our ways. [Is. 55] In 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 Paul says "We should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." Notice that in verse 14, Paul states two important truths. First, he makes a clear distinction between the gospel call and God's call. "He called you through our gospel..." Second, he explains what the purpose of this call is. "...that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." So you see that not only is this calling separate from the gospel call, it is a calling separate from one of service as well. The purpose of this particular calling of God is for salvation [justification] unto glorification. James also uses this same kind of language in James 1:18. "In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures." Again, the clear distinction is made between the call [or drawing] of God and the call of the gospel. First James tells us why God would call us, "In the exercise of His will"; that God DID in fact call [or draw] us, "He brought us forth"; God's way of presenting His call to us, "by the word of truth"; and what the purpose of this particular calling is, "that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures." I'll leave you with a few more thoughts from Paul on why you believe and others don't, and the difference between the gospel call and God's effectual call. 1 Corinthians 1:2 Paul refers to his recipients as "saints by calling". Verse 9 "God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." Verse 18 "For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." And then what the difference is between the perishing and those being saved, in verses 22-24; "For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." Notice that those who are "the called" are the ones Paul mentions are being saved, while the others are perishing.

Your thoughts?

My response to Brenden Camp’s Irresistible Grace?

Brenden, You certainly begin from the correct approach, Sola Scriptura: “the only way it can be true is if God’s word reveals it as true.” You have a good collection of Scriptural evidence to support the doctrine of effectual calling. You distinguish between the three Scriptural usages of the word “calling” – vocation or service, gospel summons or external calling, and effectual calling. That’s very important. The church of today usually ignores or confuses those distinctions. I think you would like Thomas Watson’s A Divine Cordial. It’s an entire book on Romans 8:28. He writes of effectual calling: “It is an irresistible call. When God calls a man by His grace, he cannot but come. You may resist the minister’s call, but you cannot the Spirit’s call.” Charles Hodge in his Commentary on Romans wrote: “The word calling . . . is never, in the epistles of the New Testament, applied to those who are recipients of the mere external invitation of the gospel. It always means effectually called.” In another place Hodge wrote a similar statement but added that the effectually called are “those who are so called as to be made obedient to the call. . . . [it] is applied to Christians, since they are drawn by grace, and do not come of themselves.” That’s most certainly language of irresistibility.

On this subject I found helpful the guidance of Arthur W. Pink. In The Sovereignty of God, Pink looks at Acts 13:48, “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” Pink makes four observations: (1) “believing is a consequence and not the cause of God’s decree.” (2) “a limited number only are ordained to eternal life.” (3) “this ordination of God is not to mere external privileges but to eternal life, not to service but to salvation itself.” (4) “all . . . not one less . . . will most certainly believe.” This is consistent with our confession: “These angels and men, thus predestined, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished” (WCF 3.4) And in chapter 10: “All those whom God hath predestined unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time effectually to call . . .”

If effectual calling could be resisted then that foreordained number of men would fluctuate based on the will and faithfulness (and more often unfaithfulness) of men. Therefore, by necessity, “predestination” would be contingent not upon God’s foreordination, but upon God “foreseeing” those who would believe and choosing to save them. That idea strikes at the very heart of free grace and the nature of God’s sovereignty. Also, Christians would have absolutely no assurance that they are, in fact, saved. And that, of course, leads us into the subject of perseverance, and, I think more importantly into an examination of the nature of the atonement.

It’s important for Christians to understand that the doctrine of irresistible grace does no damage to the will of man, which is actually in bondage, but instead frees it. We are not reluctantly coerced into believing, but as the Canons of Dort explain, the Holy Spirit “revives, heals, reforms, and -- in a manner at once pleasing and powerful – bends it back . . . It is in this that the true and spiritual restoration and freedom of our will consists.” Nor does this doctrine nullify the use of means, i.e. the external gospel call. It is a sincere and universal promise. Cornelis P. Venema in But for the Grace of God wrote that there is nothing in the “description of irresistible grace that would lessen in any degree the gospel summons to faith and repentance, together with the promise of salvation and blessedness to all who heed this summons.” However, as you note in your last point, not everyone who hears the gospel will be saved – to some it will be stumbling blocks and to others foolishness. Thomas Watson wrote: “This external call is insufficient to salvation, yet sufficient to leave men without excuse.” So then the gospel call always accomplishes the purpose God intends. Likewise, effectual calling always accomplishes its design – it saves all who are ordained to eternal life. Inseparable from the unchangeable decree, effectual calling is irresistible in the sense that all who are predestined will in time be justified and will afterwards be glorified.

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