Book: The Five Points of Calvinism

Chapter 4 - Irresistible Grace


I have in my possession several exhibits. First, I have a check, rather widely distributed, and sent out evidently in order to encourage others to be saved. It is dated: "Anytime, anywhere." It is written out on the "Bank of the Riches of Jesus --Resources Unlimited." It is written out to be paid to the order of the bearer on demand "his need according to the riches in glory by Christ Jesus." Among other things, the explanation on the back states this: "Will you take Him today as your Savior? Friend, don't turn Him away. He's waiting to receive you. He is longing to bless and to save you. He wants to give you eternal life. And if you accept Him, he will fill your soul with a joy such as you have never known in all your life and make you a child of God, an heir of God, and a joint-heir with Jesus Christ." Now I ask you, what kind of God is this Who must await the endorsement of the sinner before He can confer upon him this salvation?

Here is a second exhibit. I have a ballot, an opportunity to vote for your salvation. This "ballot" has also been widely distributed to promote "acceptances" of Christ. There are three who vote on this ballot, and each can vote in one of two ways. First, God votes - and He votes "yes" for your salvation. Secondly, the devil votes - and he votes "no." Then there is your vote - and two possibilities are presented: "yes" or "no." Your vote becomes the deciding vote. The idea is that man's final salvation is determined by himself. And I ask again, what kind of God is this Who, though He votes, must await your vote before your salvation is finally determined?

Another exhibit I have from The World Aflame by Billy Graham. He writes this, "There is also volitional resolution. The will is necessarily involved in conversion. People can pass through mental conflicts and emotional crises without being converted. Not until they exercise the prerogative of a free moral agent and will to be converted are they actually converted. This act of will is an act of acceptance and commitment. They willingly accept God's mercy and receive God's Son and then commit themselves to do God's will. In every true conversion the will of man comes into line with the will of God. Almost the last word of the Bible is this invitation: 'And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely' (Rev. 22:17). It is up to you. You must will to be saved. It is God's will, but it must become your will, too." (Pg. 134, pocket-book edition). I ask you again, what kind of God is this Who wills your salvation, but now is eagerly awaiting your will to be made conformable to His?

These examples set before us the Arminianism of our day which would deny those important Scriptural truths concerning our salvation. We do indeed today have the threat of another evil: modernism. This denies the cross of Christ itself and denies the glory which is promised us for Jesus' sake. Yet it is implied far too often that the alternative to modernism is Arminianism. It is suggested, even among those within Reformed circles, that because these do speak of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, we should cooperate with them and encourage them. You understand, do you not, that these exhibits which I have presented above do mention the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ - nevertheless these deny the power of God and the power of the cross of His Son. No, Arminianism does not deny all of God's power, nor all of the power of the cross, but it denies much of it. Arminianism would place such power in your hands whereby you finally must determine your own salvation. Is it really a matter worthy of debate - this subject of Arminianism? Two things one must remember. In the first place, our subject is not simply that which is interesting, but basically unimportant; rather we deal with God as He has been pleased to reveal Himself in His infallible Word. Neither you nor I may just say anything we please about God. We must, on the contrary, maintain Him and confess His Name as He has revealed Himself in His Word. And we must confess His work as He has set it forth in this Word--which work we have experienced within our own hearts. We are treating the subject of the salvation of God's church, and it makes a world of difference how we believe this salvation takes place.

In this chapter, your attention is called to that fourth point of the five points of Calvinism: Irresistible Grace. Notice, first of all, what this grace of God is; secondly, notice its irresistibility; finally, notice its comfort.



Questions do arise in the study of the truths related to our salvation. Questions there are with respect to the three points of Calvinism which have already been presented in preceding chapters. The question arises when one speaks of the wonderful truths of unconditional election and limited atonement, "How am I ever to be a partaker of that? Am I, who am no better nor different than anyone else, a beneficiary of that limited atonement of Christ? How does this come to be? Is it because God nevertheless has seen in me something that He has not seen in others? Is it because in me there is found some willingness and desire to follow after Him, that is not found in others?" But that can not be; for with all those born of Adam, I am totally depraved.

Another question arises: "If it is true, and I believe it is, that I am a beneficiary of that atonement of the cross, how is this applied to me? How do I enjoy those benefits of that salvation merited for me by my Lord Jesus Christ? Do I receive His benefits because I am willing to come to Him? Do I receive these benefits because I am ready to endorse the "check" He offers to me?" But that also can not be.



The answer of all Scripture is: I am partaker of Christ's atonement (even as God has eternally chosen me before the foundation of the earth) by the free, sovereign, unmerited, grace of God. Read it in Ephesians 2:8, "For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God." We are "saved by grace through faith" - and that is the only possible way. "FOR ye are saved by grace," says that Word of God. That is the basis and foundation of the salvation of God's church. By grace, and by grace alone, He has chosen unto Himself a people from before the foundations of the earth in Christ. By grace alone He sends forth His Word and Spirit and calls forth that new life of regeneration, which the Spirit instills in our hearts, drawing His people from darkness into His marvelous light. By grace, and by grace alone, we are preserved daily until finally we are brought to eternal glory. Indeed: "by grace are ye saved through faith."



What is that grace which saves? I can not begin to present the many texts of Scripture that speak of grace. Nor is it possible in this short essay to treat in detail the various elements of the grace of God. Yet there are several truths which we ought to know of grace. Concerning the idea of grace, there are especially two elements which require emphasis. In the first place, the root idea of grace is beauty. One who is gracious is one who is lovely in appearance. Secondly, the term grace suggests favor which is shown to another. Oftentimes in Scripture the term grace is so used. We read of those which find grace or favor in the eyes of another.

Now grace, despite some who deny this, is an attribute of God. Grace is that attribute of God which emphasizes the fact of His infinitely glorious perfection. All righteousness, truth, holiness, and love are found without measure in the living God. These infinite perfections are His beauty or grace. The Psalmist David saw that in Psalm 27:4, "One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple." That "beauty" is the grace of God.

One must say more of this grace of God. The grace of God within Himself is the attribute in which He as the triune God beholds His own perfections, and finds favor in His own eyes with respect to Himself. The triune God, beholding Himself, rejoices eternally that He is the God of all perfections.

The same grace of God He has been pleased to reveal outside of Himself. This attribute of God is reflected towards and in His people for His own Name's sake. We read in Romans 5:15, "But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many." God has been pleased to reveal His own perfections outside of Himself to that people whom He has eternally chosen by grace. This grace of God to His people is unmerited favor. Do we not usually use that term in this way? Scripture, and we, speak of the contrast between grace and works. Scripture declares in Romans 4:4, "Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt." Notice the contrast between works and grace in this passage? Grace is here the undeserved, unmerited favor which God is pleased to work in us for Jesus' sake. It is unmerited because we deserve nothing of that given. I am dead in sins. I deserve nothing. I can earn nothing. That which God bestows upon me is not earned by me, but is given solely by His free grace.

In the third place, this grace of God is grace that works. This favor of God that He reflects to and in His people is a beauty that is power. It fashions and forms His people according to God's own design. Remember what the apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 15:10? "But by the grace of God I am what I am...." What a brief statement - but what a wealth of meaning! Paul had persecuted the church in the past; he had pursued them even to Damascus; he had imprisoned them and participated in killing them. This same Paul was taken by that marvelous, completely unmerited grace of God, and was turned so that the persecutor now himself became the persecuted as a result of his union to Christ. Now Paul was imprisoned and mocked and whipped. "By grace," he says, "I am what I am." The power of God's grace fashions His people. He forms them that they may show forth His praise. That is the grace of our God.

But what is the significance of such a grace? Do not forget, first of all, the power of this grace. It is not simply an influence, but the very power of God that accomplishes what He determined to do. Secondly, this power of grace is revealed only in and through His only begotten Son Jesus Christ. He has been pleased to show His favor in no other way than through Jesus. It is shown to no other people than to those who have been united to His Son. Finally, this too we must remember: there is only one grace of God. That grace which exists within God Himself is the grace which He reveals outside of Himself. And that grace outside of Himself is revealed only to His people and to none other.



The grace of God is irresistible. You understand what the term "irresistible'' emphasizes. Do not think that irresistible grace is some sort of blind force which simply drags the struggling, rebellious sinner into heaven against his will -- as a policeman might drag a rebellious prisoner to jail. The grace of God is not such a power that compels to enter into heaven those who would not.

That God's grace is irresistible emphasizes the idea that not only does grace bring His people to glory, but it prepares them for this glory and works within them the desire to enter into glory. Grace is irresistible in the sense that by it the knee is bent which otherwise would not bend; the heart is softened that otherwise is hard as stone. Nor is there anything which can prevent the accomplishment of that purpose of God to save His people by His grace.



Not all confess the truth of the irresistible grace of God. One who believes that Christ died for all sinners, can not believe the truth of irresistible grace. There are those who maintain, as we do, that one is saved by grace alone. These maintain, as we do, that the sinner apart from grace can never be saved. These maintain, as we do, that only by the power of God's grace does the sinner bow the knee; only by grace does one come to Christ; only by grace is one preserved and guided in his way. "BUT," say these, "this grace of God is a grace administered to all, head for head, so that those who otherwise could not, now can accept Christ and desire to be saved if they will." This is the old heresy of Arminianism.

You recall James Arminius, a Dutchman. Under his instigation, many in the Reformed Church of the Netherlands departed from the old truths of Scripture. At that time, in 1610, those who opposed Calvinism drew up a document called The Five Articles of the Remonstrance, or, The Five Arminian Articles. Five articles these were that opposed the five truths which we are considering in this booklet. The fourth article of that document treats the subject of the resistibility of grace. It reads as follows:

That this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of all good, even to this extent, that the regenerate man himself, without prevenient or assisting, awakening, following and co-operative grace, can neither think, will, nor do good, nor withstand any temptations to evil; so that all good deeds or movements, that can be conceived, must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ. But as respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible, inasmuch as it is written concerning many, that they have resisted the Holy Ghost. Acts 7, and elsewhere in many places.

Do you follow the argument? It is all of grace whereby one is saved. But all receive this grace. And one not saved, is unsaved because he resisted the grace given him. On the other hand, when one is saved, it is because he received that grace and accepted Christ. Thus salvation comes forth from that man who does not resist God's grace. But if a man rejects that grace, the Holy Spirit is utterly helpless with respect to him, says the Arminian.

James Arminius himself in his Complete Works (Vol. 1. pages 253-254) states it virtually the same way. Seeking to show the validity of his views, he writes:

In this manner, I ascribe to grace THE COMMENCEMENT, THE CONTINUANCE AND THE CONSUMMATION OF ALL GOOD, and to such an extent do I carry its influence, that a man, though already regenerate, can neither conceive, will, nor do any good at all, nor resist any evil temptation, without this preventing and exciting, this following and co-operating grace. From this statement it will clearly appear, that I by no means do injustice to grace, by attributing, as it is reported of me, too much to man's free-will. For the whole controversy reduces itself to the solution of this question, "is the grace of God a certain irresistible force?" That is, the controversy does not relate to those actions or operations which may be ascribed to grace, (for I acknowledge and inculcate as many of these actions or operations as any man ever did,) but it relates solely to the mode of operation, whether it be irresistible or not. With respect to which, I believe, according to the scriptures, that many persons resist the Holy Spirit and reject the grace that is offered.

It is this idea which the Reformed churches have ever opposed. We must oppose that -- this idea that the sovereign glorious unmerited grace of God is resistible.



But we must have proof that grace is irresistible. In the first place, I would remind you that this truth of irresistible grace necessarily follows out of the preceding points of Calvinism which have already been treated in previous chapters: total depravity, unconditional election, and limited atonement. One can not maintain total depravity, yet deny irresistible grace. Can you see that? If the sinner is totally depraved, dead in sin, unable to do any good, then he needs far more than mere assistance. Give a dead man a cane and try thus to assist him in walking! You know that such assistance would be of no avail. Rather, he must be made alive again or he will never walk. So it is with the totally depraved sinner. God does not give to every totally dead sinner some sort of cane (grace) and say, "Here is something to assist you; now serve me!" God does not do that. On the contrary, His grace must take the dead sinner and must make him alive again. Total depravity implies that an irresistibly powerful grace of God is the only hope for the dead sinner.

The same can be said of unconditional election: this truth implies necessarily an irresistible grace of God. God has chosen unto Himself a people from before the foundations of the earth. The execution of the decree of God can not rest now upon the fickle will of man, but rests upon the irresistible grace of God which will surely bring to realization His eternal purpose.

Limited atonement is also inseparably related to God's grace. In the atonement, we confess, Christ dies only for His people on the cross, redeeming them fully from their sins. Now, how does this work of Christ become ours? Does it rest upon your will whether or not you shall receive that atonement? And could God allow the death of His Son to come to naught in that some for whom He died would not be saved? God forbid! When His Son pays for the sins of His people, it is the power of God's grace whereby the life of Christ is given to His own and they are brought unto eternal life.



But you want proof from Scripture. And Scriptural proof you shall have. What does God teach of this in His Word? The Arminian would have us consider Acts 7.Acts 7,says he, teaches a resistible grace of God. Let us examine that passage. Verse 51 states: "Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye." Stephen addresses the Jews who were about to stone him. "Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost," he says. Does it not from this appear that God's grace is after all resistible? Other passages of Scripture apparently speak in this same vein. But remember: in Acts 7 Stephen is speaking to the Jews concerning the words of the prophets which came to the Jews in the past. In resisting the words of these prophets, the Jews had resisted the Holy Ghost. How did they do that? The Holy Ghost reveals God's Word to holy men: prophets and apostles. The Holy Ghost uses ministers of the Word to proclaim the Word of God throughout all ages: to the Jew of the Old Dispensation, and to every tribe and tongue and language in the New. And what do these who hate the Word do? They resist; they rebel; they show scorn. They take those whom the Holy Ghost uses to proclaim the Word, and kill them. Of all this Stephen is speaking. He is not telling them that the Spirit of God was given to all to lead all to repentance - but many resisted. Certainly not. But the Spirit is resisted when these resist the holy men whom the Spirit sends.

Now consider some other pertinent passages of Scripture. Read John 3:3 and 5 particularly, "Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he can not see the Kingdom of God.... Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he can not enter into the kingdom of God." What does this passage teach? There is presented, first, the picture of a birth - a new birth. What does that mean? In physical birth, does the one that is born exercise his own will in order to come forth? Is it according to his will that he is either conceived or brought forth? Impossible! One is born into this sinful world, and he must live here his allotted life span. Therefore Scripture uses the term "new birth." That phrase "born again" serves to emphasize what happens in the realm of the spiritual. God is not waiting to see if any will desire to be born again, but God forms a people unto Himself by giving unto them the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. He causes also that life to grow and develop. "Except ye be born of water and of the Spirit, ye can not enter into the kingdom of God." Ah, yes; it is this irresistible grace that brings to the birth the elect of God. Besides, the term "born again" can also be translated "born from above." Again, that same passage states: "Except a man be born again he can not SEE the kingdom of God." One who can not see this kingdom, can not even believe that it exists. That is the meaning of this passage which states that no man can see the kingdom of heaven except he is born again. Surely this emphasizes that there is not in the dead sinner a will which he can exercise in order to see. It is by the irresistible grace of God that one is born again. Only then can he see.

Turn now to Ephesians 2:10, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." Whose is this work of salvation? We are Hisworkmanship. An artist forms his work as he will. The artist does not ask the clay which he forms, "In what form would you desire to be made?" But he fashions the clay according to his own will. So also we are God's workmanship. God Himself forms His people to be what they now are. The prophet states this too in Isaiah 43:21, "This people have I formed for myself; they shall show forth my praise." That is irresistible grace. This power of God does not wait for those poor miserable sinners to accept Christ - but it forms them to be His people. They therefore show forth His praise.

Now read John 6:37, "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." Verse 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." Verse 65, "And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come to me, except it were given unto him of my Father."

Notice: no man can come unto Christ except it were given unto him of the Father. All that the Father giveth shall come. How? These come because, "My Father," says Jesus, "shall draw him and I will raise him up again in the last day." That is the irresistible grace of God which takes the dead sinner and brings him to Christ.

Now recall that wonderful Lydia of Acts 16, "And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul." Lydia's heart is opened by the Lord. This has an entirely different sound than that class of religious songs which is heard today proclaiming, "Open your heart and let Him come in." You have heard such. And the evangelist of this day declares, "Christ stands waiting at your heart's door; won't you let Him in before it is too late?" I quoted that from the "gospel check" too: "Open up your heart and let Him in." But Scripture never says that. It is true that in Revelation 3:20 Jesus is presented as knocking at the door. But this is not the door of anyone's heart. He knocks at the door of that corrupt church of Laodicea and He calls unto separation those who yet love the Word of God. But Christ does not knock at any man's heart. The Lord opened Lydia's heart - then she listened and believed. That is the irresistible power of the grace of our God. He breaks open the closed heart; and the child of God believes.

We read in Acts 13:48, "...and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed." This too emphasizes the idea I stated earlier: those whom God has chosen, He also will surely save. The ones He has ordained to eternal life, believe. What is the explanation for that? Is there a willingness within them? Oh, no. Only the irresistible grace of God accomplishes that which He has eternally determined to do.



Our confessions teach the same thing. The Canons of Dort especially state this truth more beautifully than I ever could. I quote from the third and fourth head of doctrine, Article 10:

But that others who are called by the gospel, obey the call, and are converted, is not to be ascribed to the proper exercise of free will, whereby one distinguishes himself above others, equally furnished with grace sufficient for faith and conversions, as the proud heresy of Pelagius maintains; but it must be wholly ascribed to God, who as he has chosen his own from eternity in Christ, so he confers upon them faith and repentance, rescues them from the power of darkness, and translates them into the kingdom of his own Son, that they may show forth the praises of him, who hath called them out of darkness into his marvelous light; and may glory not in themselves, but in the Lord according to the testimony of the apostles in various places.

That is the confession of all those truly Reformed. Article 11 of the same confession states:

But when God accomplishes his good pleasure in the elect, or works in them true conversion, he not only causes the gospel to be externally preached to them, and powerfully illuminates their minds by his Holy Spirit, that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God; but by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit, pervades the inmost recesses of the man; he opens the closed, and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised, infuses new qualities into the will, which though heretofore dead, he quickens; from being evil, disobedient, and refractory, he renders it good, obedient, and pliable; actuates and strengthens it, that like a good tree, it may bring forth the fruits of good actions.

The other articles are also pertinent. Read them. This is the confession of Reformed churches in which they express what they believe the Word of God plainly teaches.

Other confessions of the church teach this same truth. The Westminster Confession, Article 10 of Chapter 1 states:

All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in His appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds, spiritually and savingly, to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by His almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.

Is the picture clear? Both the confession of Scripture and the Confessions of the church based upon Scripture express that the grace of God is His irresistible power whereby He saves His people in Christ.



But does it mean anything to you? What does this irresistible grace of God mean to you? It must mean something. It is the basis of comfort for the Christian. Imagine once that we were to deny this irresistible grace of God. That would mean first of all, of course, that we would be denying what Scripture itself teaches concerning the power of God's grace. That is a serious thing in itself -- to trifle with the revelation which God gave concerning Himself. But also, were His grace resistible, it would mean that all assurance would be gone concerning my salvation. I have a will which is no different from that of any other man. If God's grace were merely an influence which could be resisted, then I would be lost - for I would never will my salvation. If I can resist, I will resist. If that grace of God were resistible, no Christian could endure in this evil age. I can stand only by a grace which not only saves me, but holds me daily to the end.

That is our comfort, and the comfort of our children: the irresistible grace of God not only draws me, but preserves and glorifies me for Jesus' sake. I am saved to the uttermost by the power of God's grace. The devil can never change that -- nor can evil men of this age. These will try, but they can never take us from the Father's hand. The old nature which loves the world and seeks the things of darkness can not oppose successfully that irresistible grace of God. For His grace comes and breaks me down. It softens my hard heart. It bows my stiff knee. It takes my arm which would by nature raise itself in rebellion against God, and causes it to beat upon my breast so that I cry out, "O God, be merciful to me the sinner." That is the irresistibility of the grace of our God. It makes me His child. It leads me in paths of righteousness. And it finally glorifies me according to His promise for His Name's sake through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Then we can sing with that poet of old who also must have experienced the wonder of that irresistible grace of God, for he cried out:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Last modified on 29 March 2013

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