googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Predestination: A Series on Election, Part 5 – Irresistible Grace

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Predestination: A Series on Election, Part 5 – Irresistible Grace

Intrinsic to the idea of predestination is the belief in Irresistible Grace. Obviously, the term suggests that if God has chosen us, we cannot turn away from His election. However, irresistible grace runs a little deeper than that. We've already talked about the fact that carnal man does not want to come to God. We are totally depraved – not only are we not able to come to God, we completely lack the desire. However, if God has elected us, we come willingly to Him. So He gives us not only the ability to call upon His name but an irresistible desire to do so.

Consider these two verses:

Ephesians 2:8-9, For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

John 1:12-13, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

According to Ephesians, not only are we saved by faith, one understanding of the verse is that even the faith is not your own – it is the gift of God. So even the ability to call on Him comes from Him.

The verse from John suggests something similar. Note that it says those who believe in His name were not born of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man. Instead, it says rather clearly that God Himself gave them the right to become His children. In other words, we believe in Him not because of our will but because of His will.

I would not describe myself as a Calvinist but certainly I'm sympathetic to Calvinism. It's a doctrine that is not completely without merit and there are many verses that have caused me to seriously consider the issue. However, there is one verse especially that gives me pause. I find it completely incompatible with Calvinism in general and the point of irresistible grace in particular.

Matthew 23:37, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.”

Jesus uttered those words before making His triumphant entry into Jerusalem. He knew that the crowds who flocked to see Him and hail Him as their Messiah would soon be shouting for His death. It says very plainly that Jesus longed for those Jews to embrace Him and that it was they who rejected Him.

Yet men wiser than me have read this same verse and still view is as compatible with Calvinism. While commenting on this verse, Charles Spurgeon wrote:

The great destroyer of man is the will of man. I do not believe that man’s free will has ever saved a soul; but man’s free will has been the ruin of multitudes. “Ye would not,” is still the solemn accusation of Christ against guilty men. Did he not say, at another time, “Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life?” The human will is desperately set against God, and is the great devourer and destroyer of thousands of good intentions and emotions, which never come to anything permanent because the will is acting in opposition to that which is right and true.

I agree with his comments to a point and I can see how this verse could be used in defense of Calvin's first point, the total depravity of man. Yet I still can't see how this verse can be reconciled with the idea of irresistible grace. Matthew still says that Jesus desired them to come and they, by their own will, would not.


Steven J. said...

Jerry Coyne (you referenced his blog a few weeks ago) once posted a querulous note to the effect of why philosophers who acknowledged (correctly, in his view) that all our decisions follow necessarily from a chain of cause and effect tracing back to the Big Bang bother to twist themselves into knots arguing that this is compatible with free will. He apparently did not consider that this decision (for a "compatibilist" concept of free will) was, on his own principles, the inevitable outcome of a chain of cause and effect tracing back to the Big Bang.

This is a central paradox of free will (or rather, the denial of it): if I don't have free will, why do you think I chose to believe I do? If the criminal is not responsible for his actions, why should you blame me for my (presumably equally unfree) desire to punish him?

This seems to me to be Spurgeon's problem. If he'arguing with non-Calvinist Christians, and acknowledging that they are Christians, then obviously, you can be saved without accepting Calvinism. If he holds that all True Christians will realize that Calvinism is the truth, then he's arguing with people who, on his own principles, cannot be brought to agree with him unless God reaches down and changes their minds. And God, even if He chooses to work through preaching, is presumably not constrained by whether that preaching is Calvinist in content (after all, it's not as though, on Calvinist grounds, mere preaching can change our comprehensively depraved minds).

So if Spurgeon was right, there's no point to his utterance; of course, if he's wrong, then he ought not have said such things and misled people.

In any case, another perennial problem in discussions of free will is that you can't really tell whether people could have chosen differently. All you know is that they didn't choose differently, which no more means that they never could have then the fact that a truck has been driving east all day proves it is incapable of driving west. Spurgeon's argument thus doesn't support his conclusion.

RKBentley said...


As I said in my replies to your previous comments, the idea of free will seems incompatible with the sovereignty of God. I can only repeat the same examples I've used already: Judas betrayed Jesus of his own free will. However, it had already been foretold that Jesus would give His life as a ransom for many so Judas' betrayal still accomplished God's will.

You ask how we can be held accountable for our sins if all of our actions are subject to God's will? I only know that I KNOW I've done wrong when I sin and it is right for God to demand justice. If I could understand everything about God, He would be a very simple God. Instead, I acknowledge there are things I can't understand and I trust that He who is perfect is simultaneously all loving and completely just. I know that He will do what is right.

Thanks for your comments. God bless!!


Steven J. said...

Actually, I wasn't asking how we can be accountable for our sins if all our choices are subject to God's will; I was simply asking why a mere fallible fellow human would [a] say that we don't have free will or moral accountability, yet [b] act as though treating other people (whether we treat ourselves that way is a separate question) as morally accountable is something we can be blamed for.

On the other hand, the underlying problem, as I see it, is that God is said to want certain outcomes (that we all love and obey Him), and yet governs the world (e.g. causing/allowing all humans to be born with a sin nature that compels them to reject Him) that work against that presumed goal. God seems to be His own worst enemy (of course, when you're the only omnipotent, omniscient Being in the universe, good enemies are hard to find). And your subjective impression that you are morally responsible for your sins, on the assumption of absolute divine sovreignity, cannot be more reliable than your subjective sense that you actually have free will to choose some things and reject others.