Irresistible Grace, also known as Effectual Calling. This is the teaching that God’s calling of His people unto salvation is effectual and certainly results in them repenting of their sins, and in their coming to (that is, believing on) Jesus Christ. This does not mean that people (both elect and non-elect alike) do not resist the Spirit of God. Monergism asserts that resisting God is all that sinners will ever do of their own accord. What irresistible grace does mean is that God effectually calls His people out of darkness into His marvelous light by regenerating them, or quickening them from spiritual death; overcoming their sin-loving, God-rejecting will by giving them a new heart with godly desires which is grieved over and hates sin. This calling is God’s effectual drawing of Christ’s sheep unto salvation:
Psalm 65:4; 110:3; Ezekiel 37; John 3:8; 6:37-44; 10:26-28; Acts 13:48; 16:14; 2 Corinthians 4:6; Ephesians 1:19-20; 2:1,5-10; Philippians 1:29; 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5; 2:13; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 12:2; 1 Peter 2:9; 2 Peter 1:1.
Perhaps no less crucial than the doctrine of total depravity is the doctrine of irresistible grace. This doctrine is indispensably important because the consequences and implications of believing otherwise are so severe. It was at the Synod of Dort that Calvinism was first condensed into the five concise points of doctrine by which it is known today. In the Canons of Dort (the written conclusions and rulings of the Synod), irresistible grace and total depravity were considered together, though rightly regarded as two distinct points or heads of doctrine. This heading of the synod reads:
THIRD AND FOURTH HEADS OF DOCTRINE: Of the corruption of man, his conversion to God, and the manner thereof
The reason why they were considered together is perhaps that, because of our radical corruption resulting from the fall, we will never come to Christ of our own accord. We can choose absolutely anything that we want. But coming to Christ in humble penitence and faith is not something that any sinner would ever want to do. We all inherently love darkness, and hate the light such that we will not come to Him, as John 3:19-20 says. We will never choose to be converted if left to our own wills. Therefore, we must be drawn with a grace that cannot be defeated; that is, irresistible grace, also known as the effectual calling. Irresistible grace and total depravity are two sides of the same coin. Though distinct, they are also inseparable. As with other of the five points of Calvinism, irresistible grace is a name which can be misleading. We do not teach that man cannot or will not resist the Spirit of grace. This is actually the opposite of what we teach. In fact, we teach that in and of himself, rejecting God and continuing to live in sin is all that a sinful man will ever do, because that is the nature of the desires of his heart; see Genesis 6:5, 8:21; Jeremiah 17:9. This is not to say that all men are as wicked as they can possibly be; nor that they never do moral things. Mankind is restricted to one degree or other by conscience, however, he is not bound by conscience, in the fullest sense. For how often is conscience ignored by sinners when an unrighteous desire grows stronger than any compulsion to do as we know we should? But insofar as even the noblest of our deeds fall short of the infinite glory and moral perfection of God, we are, in His perfect sight, evil; see Isaiah 64:6, cf. Matthew 7:11. We cannot help but judge things from our perspective, but God says this concerning His vantage point: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9). We may not be as much given to plunging the depths of depravity as some men are; but in and of ourselves, we are still too committed to being the god of our own lives, and will not come to Christ; and that because we prefer darkness and hate the light; again, see John 3:19-20. And so, the effectual calling is most necessary for overcoming the unrelenting nature of the carnal mind which is “enmity against God” (Romans 8:7). Effectual calling is the application of grace by the Holy Spirit by which God sovereignly and definitely draws sinners to repentance and faith in Christ, and this grace simply cannot be defeated by any creature. God’s will and power to draw the sinner to Himself is greater than the sinner’s will and power to remain in darkness. In creation, He did not request in an uncertain hope that light might shine out of darkness; He commanded it. Even so is God’s work in the soul of the one whom He wills to save:
“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)
Unless God’s grace is effectual to the salvation of whomsoever He wills, then is the Apostle Paul’s paralleling of God’s sovereignty in creation with the salvation of sinners misleading and simply inaccurate. He is a greater savior than any of us are sinners. In Romans 9:15-16,18, we read that God has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens:
“For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy… Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.”
Firstly, notice that synergistic salvation is absolutely “of him that willeth.” This is one of the exact responses given when the doctrines of grace are discussed; that God will not violate man’s will, and man’s will is that which makes the saint to differ, seeing as how his eternal destiny is dependent upon whatsoever he wills. Secondly, strong as these statements from Romans 9 are in our English translations, yet in the Greek, they are even stronger. Mercy and compassion, just like harden, are verbs in the Greek text, though we do not have verb forms of mercy and compassion in English. So the inspired original text is not saying that He has mercy towards someone, as if it is merely some option He presents to them, to which they might or might not assent. No! God mercys and compassions whom He will. Translated literally, this passage would read:
“For he says to Moses, I will mercy whom I will mercy, and I will compassion whom I will compassion. So then it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that mercys… Therefore he mercys whom he will mercy, and whom he will he hardens.”
This truth (like the rest of the truths of monergism), is offensive to carnal reasoning. God mercys whom He wills, and not one iota of this is contingent upon the slightest merit or righteous inclination that is in the sinner, and that includes the meekness of will which is necessary in order for one to repent; and the humility and wisdom which is necessary in order to choose to depend solely upon Jesus Christ. If it were otherwise, then we would have whereof we might glory. But this question must solemnly be considered:
“For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)
Any synergist (Arminian, Pelagian, Roman Catholic, etc.) who reads 1 Corinthians 4:7, to remain consistent with his soteriology, would have to answer that mouth-shutting rhetorical question by saying:
What do I have that I did not receive? I have both faith and the disposition of will to exercise it. I also have the meekness of will necessary to repent of my sins. I did not receive these things from the hand of God, except insofar as He gives them to every man through His prevenient grace; and this He gives to every man equally. And so I, at the very least, in and of myself, had both the will and the good sense to improve upon the grace that was given to us all, and this resulted in my turning to Christ, and surely it is what makes me to differ from those who reject the Gospel. I did not receive from God the qualities by which I improved upon the grace that was given to me, but these qualities are native to my soul. They are by my virtue, and I worked them in myself, by my own will. For if I did receive from God the qualities by which I chose to improve upon my portion of prevenient grace, and if this is what resulted in my salvation, then salvation is monergistic and Calvinism is true.
Why is this topic important?
One reason why it was so important for the Synod of Dort to answer the five remonstrants (points of protest) of the Arminians is magnified in the truth that a “little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (Galatians 5:9). But we are dealing with no small amount of leaven when we speak of any doctrine that would divide the smallest portion of glory between God and sinners. The saint ought always to hold Soli Deo Gloria to its fullest and most far-reaching applications. Not one iota of glory is due unto man, but synergism logically demands at least so much. Another reason why it is important to refute false doctrines is that any departure from orthodoxy (correct doctrine) will certainly result in a departure from orthopraxy (correct practice). In the article about total depravity, I spoke of the down-grading and forsaking of the great commission by the modern Church, and how what they have put in the place of the preaching of the Gospel is nothing more than an impotent travesty, and a mockery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I lay the blame for this chiefly at the feet of free-will theology; for if a man has simply to make a fairly easy choice with his (supposedly) free will, then man’s will, being the ultimate determiner of his destiny, ought to be appealed to; and that people simply do not like being spoken to about their sin is too obvious to ignore. The Gospel (as Scripture defines it) ought to be preached by everyone who names Christ as their savior, and yet so many are abandoning the proclamation of the Gospel for a mockery of it. They reject “the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16) in favor the practice of enticing men by what they naturally desire. They conform themselves to the image of fallen man, rather than the image of Christ, in order to entice sinners who are still in love with their sin into Christendom. What folly! They do this because they do not believe that God has the right to effectually draw men, for this (they say) would violate man’s free will, and make God unrighteous and unfair. But God effectually drawing unwilling sinners unto salvation is exactly what Scripture teaches. The doctrine which we are now considering is also crucial to this very issue because the modern Church, by and large, does not believe that God mercys whomsoever He wills (Romans 9:15-18); regenerating people at will (Ezekiel 37; John 3:8; Titus 3:4-7); commanding light to shine in their darkened hearts (2 Corinthians 4:6; see also Acts 9:1-7; 13:48; 16:14); quickening them from the dead (Ephesians 2:1,5). The modern Church needs to understand that He does not knock on the doors of the hearts of sinners, needing their permission for Him to enter. That is not what is taught in Revelation 3:20. In that passage, we read of Christ addressing a congregation of those who already profess faith in Christ, but their hearts and their devotion had grown cold. It is not addressing an individual who has never professed faith in Christ, beckoning him to open to His desperate pleadings and knockings. Have those who teach so not read of Lydia “whose heart the Lord opened” (Acts 16:14)? She did not open her own heart. God did. And God did not do so because she accepted the Gospel message, but God opened her heart so that “she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.” But because the modern church does not actually believe that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17; cf. Acts 13:48; Ephesians 1:19-20; Philippians 1:29; 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5; 2:13; Hebrews 12:2; 2 Peter 1:1), believing instead that faith comes by a mere human decision; they are increasingly opting for carnal means of attempting to convert people to Christ. After all, who in their right mind would preach the Gospel which is regarded as foolishness by all those who do not know Christ? If the Gospel itself is impotent to the quickening of a dead soul, and men regard the Gospel to be the height of foolishness, and God cannot simply quicken to life whosoever He wills without their permission, and the decision unto salvation is as easy as choosing which color of tie to wear; then of course we should change our approach from traditional and outdated means to something more appealing to the natural man! This line of reasoning has led us to the unbiblical methods of evangelism which are so common in this era which usually consist of getting sinners to verbally assent unto certain simple statements that are loosely (very loosely) based upon Scripture; which if assented unto by any person, the evangelist pronounces that person saved. Thankfully, this is not the universal practice of synergistic evangelists. There are many who regard the preaching of the Gospel to be the only means by which anyone can come to Christ, whilst also regarding true conversion to be anything but trivial. Many synergists do recognize the profound nature of true conversion. Praise be to God that it is so. But the practice of jumping sinners through little hoops, getting them to assent unto some quasi-scriptural principles, is foolishness. If we are honest with ourselves, “You hath He quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), becomes You hath he assisted, who were unwell in bad choices, (and He did so because you consented to His aid). This is truly incompatible with the biblical truth summed up by the wonderful words Soli Deo Gloria. It would be immoral for me to refuse to give the credit for good deeds done to whoever did them; but I also say with Paul, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). To whom then should I ascribe the glory for a sinner’s decision to believe on Christ? The answer is obvious! Whereas synergists, though they may say Soli Deo Gloria, yet their theology, at its heart, demands that men receive the glory for their decision to repent and believe the Gospel; and if not all of the glory, then at least some is to be ascribed to the will of man instead of God. To whatever degree that decision depends upon man, even to that same degree is man owed the glory. But if in God’s good pleasure He once again chooses to bless His people to a large extent with the understanding that the preaching of the Gospel, empowered by the Spirit, is quick and powerful, and neither needs nor receives any assistance whatsoever from the ones being saved; then all of the impotent Gospel-substituting gimmicks will fade from use rather quickly, and the Church would be purged of much leaven. Fewer goats would be drawn into the congregations of saints, and many Goats who are already among us would leave. Lost sheep would be converted, and fewer sheep would go hungry. Wolves would be removed from pulpits and banished from the flock, and true under-shepherds would have a task somewhat less frustrating and difficult. The Name of God would be feared, and the Church would speak more boldly, both against sin, and for the honor and holiness of God, both in the streets and from the pulpits; and the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ would no longer be eclipsed by or coupled with the impurities of carnal wisdom. We see in history that the greater majority of mass conversions were sent through the preaching of men who held to the great doctrines of God’s sovereign grace. If God wills, through the simple preaching the Gospel, and our reliance upon God alone to convert sinners (and not upon sinners to convert themselves), then God will greatly bless such preaching to the end that countless souls will be saved by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God will not share His glory with another. As long as the majority of God’s people remain misguided on this point, and as long as they continue to believe that the conversion of sinners rests upon either the skill of the preacher or the meekness of those hearing the Gospel, God will remain disinclined to bless the preaching efforts of those whose minds unwittingly intrude upon the glory which belongs to God alone. Regardless of whether or not God wills to work any more mass conversions, His Name is glorified through such preaching; and if such preaching becomes predominant again, then God’s name will no longer be associated with the unscriptural methods that are so common in this era; and men will feel far less comfortable to blaspheme the Name of the thrice-Holy God. I would also like to raise this immensely important question: What is the cause of mass conversion? It is either some mixture of skillful preaching and a concentrated gathering of unusually meek hearers, who are, of course, meek of their own accord and to their own credit; or else it is God’s sovereign power, converting sinners en masse at will. One is to the praise and glory of God alone, and the other is synergism. Which does the Bible affirm?
“Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.” (1 Thessalonians 1:4-5)
“For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13)
The heresy of resistible grace refuted:
I hope I have sufficiently defended the principles of irresistible grace and shown the implications of believing otherwise. Much more important than what makes sense to fallen reasoning is the testimony of the Word of God. Whatever God declares, that is law and truth. There are many who, despite seeing things in Scripture which they do not like, yet they have almost no problem denying or twisting it so as to believe whatever they want; and they should solemnly consider the judgement seat of Christ and the fear of God, because they will have to give answer for rejecting the truth when they stand before Him. With that in mind, I will now focus more on the testimony of Scripture in the hopes that God will use this article and His Word to bolster the convictions of those who already hold to this glorious doctrine; that He will powerfully persuade of His truth anyone who believes otherwise; and the He will rebuke those who deliberately and knowingly reject this doctrine. Firstly, as we have already seen, monergism asserts that God causes sinners to come to Him. That is what we mean by irresistible grace. For the proving of this doctrine, the following verse does not need any clarification to unearth any subtle inferences that we might hope to draw on. Our present doctrine is so clearly stated in the following verse that, after having read this verse, prefaced with such context, it will surely constitute deliberate intellectual dishonesty to continue believing otherwise:
“Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts: we shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, even of thy holy temple.” (Psalm 65:4)
The same is taught in John 6:44:
“No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Many synergists attempt to counter the obvious meaning of this verse by appealing to John 12:32. Therefore, I will both establish the meaning of ch.6 v.44, looking at each element of the sentence; and then I will comment on ch.12 v.32. Firstly, we see the scope. Calvinists state that the unwillingness of sinners to come to Christ is universal. The Lord Jesus said “no man can come to me”. Not one person is able to come to Him. John 3:19-20 reads:
“And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.”
According to Genesis 6:5; 8:21; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Isaiah 64:6-7; Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 7:11; and Romans 3:9-19; we are all evil. God’s law is transgressed by every one of us. Seeing that “every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light” because “men loved darkness rather than light,” every single sinner without exception is of the unchanging disposition of enmity against God (Romans 8:7; cf. John 3:6). And so, not even one of us will come to Christ:
“except the Father which hath sent me draw him.”
This is the second clause in this verse. Unless one is drawn, he will never come to Christ, nor can he, because he does not want to. But what does it mean that the Father “draws” a sinner to Christ? Is this a wooing, or an enticing, as is so often supposed? Or is it effectual? There are two evidences in this verse that this drawing certainly results in the sinner coming to Christ. Firstly, our present text says: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” If we are to be honest with the text, we must acknowledge that the one drawn is also raised up at the last day. There is nothing whatsoever in this verse to which anyone can appeal to differentiate between the “him” drawn, and the “him” raised. However, anyone who would defend synergism must make this differentiation; for if he does not, then he acknowledges that Father’s drawing of a sinner to Christ definitely results in Christ raising that sinner up at the last day. And secondly, the word “draw” itself cannot permit the interpretation that it is a mere enticement or wooing. The word in the Greek text is ἑλκύω (helkýō g1670), which according to Strong’s Concordance means:
I: to draw, drag off
II: metaph., to draw by inward power, lead, impel
The same exact word is translated “draw” again in James 2:6, where it most certainly cannot be mistaken for a mere enticement:
“But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats?”
Therefore it is certainly true that sinners universally lack the ability and will to come to Christ unless they are effectually drawn to Him, which drawing certainly results (1) in their coming to Christ; (2) in their remaining in Christ; and (3) in Christ finally raising them up at the last day. But what of John 12:32?:
“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.”
Firstly, the word “men” is not in the Greek text but is inferred by the translators. It simply says “all”. All what? This is a question seldom asked when a verse appears to support synergism. The New King James is helpful here:
“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.”
Whenever the words “all” and “world” are mentioned in verses that speak to the scope of God’s salvific workings, it is almost universal that synergists will demand that those words mean no less than every single person. But the problem with this practice is that it is simply an inconsistent hermeneutic. These words do not actually determine context, much as many believe they do. Rather, there examples in the Scriptures where the context demands that these words mean otherwise. For example, “world” does not mean every person in Luke 2:1, John 12:19, or John 17:9. Caesar Augustus did not send out a decree that every single person should be taxed. The word “world” there did not determine the context, but the context limited the meaning of that word. Caesar taxed those under the rule of the Roman empire; and no one else. In John 12:19, despite having a rather small number of disciples, and certainly a minority in Israel, “The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him.” And in John 17:9, if “world” means every person, then Christ prayed for no one before going to the cross. Demanding that “world” and “all” should mean “every single person” whenever God’s salvific intention is the context of a passage of Scripture, this is one of the underlying presuppositions of synergism, but it is circular reasoning illustrated in the following:
“World” and “all men” mean “every single person” whenever the scope of God’s plan of salvation is the context. Why? Because God so loved the “world” that He died for “all men”.
For more one John 6:44 and 12:19, see God Draws His Elect People Without Fail
If one must rely on logical fallacies to justify their beliefs, then their beliefs must be sincerely questioned. Are there better arguments in support of such beliefs? At very least, those arguments that prove to be fallacious must be abandoned, and better arguments retained. But this so often proves to be the chief cornerstone of synergistic hermeneutics; and yet, it is utterly indefensible. Among those who know better, such argumentation is intellectual dishonesty. If, then, we need more than just “all men” and “whole world” to determine the context (seeing as how those phrases have just been shown to be dependent upon the context), how many favorite synergist proof-texts must be acknowledged to be incapable of proving synergism? If we are all to be honest with ourselves, with each other, and most importantly, with God’s Word, such texts cannot be counted as proof of synergism; and if any synergist would continue attempting to defend his doctrine, other verses, and better hermeneutical principles, must be relied upon instead. One last argument I would like to address is a common means of repudiating and rejecting the doctrine of irresistible grace. I refer to the objection that irresistible grace violates man’s free will, and cannot be seen as love if it is forced upon people. However, consider the following example and question if it is unloving. Supposing you see someone about to commit suicide, and you have just enough time to either convince him not to kill himself as he wants to do, or you can physically stop him from taking his life, violating his will. Which is wiser? Which is more loving? Certainly, you would not denounce as unloving anyone who strove to prevent a suicide. There are countless souls alive today because others violated their wills, preventing them from doing as they would; and they who prevented them from doing so are to be commended, not vilified. What I find amazing about this argument against irresistible grace is that the same people who raise it also condemn as evil, the God who, despite having the ability to save everyone, does not do so. No matter what God does, His sovereignty is repudiated by carnal wisdom.
There is no sound reason, nor any Scripture, that stands against this doctrine. If the glory for the salvation of sinners belongs to God alone, then the glory for my decision belongs to God also:
“For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)
“Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:7-8)
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” (John 3:6-7)
How then can any man be saved? How can a man be born again?
“The wind bloweth where it listeth (wishes), and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)
And so it is that God saves whom He wills, in His own time, by His own power, and to His own glory.