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Is Grace Resistible? (2)

 Is Grace Resistible? (2)


In the last News, I began an answer to a question that arose in a debate the questioner had with an Arminian who denied that the grace of God in salvation was irresistible. Grace, he said, was resistible: it could be resisted and frequently is resisted. The Arminian referred to two texts.
The one reads, “And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live” (Deut. 30:6).

The other text is found in John 12:47: “And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.”

The argument of the Arminian in connection with John 12:47 is: “Grace is not irresistible, because otherwise the whole world would be saved ... This text is good [i.e., proves his point, he thinks] because it gives no chance to the Calvinist to say that the word ‘world’ means ‘world of the elect ...’ The text cannot be talking about the internal or external call. The text says that Jesus came to save the world.”

I turn first to Deuteronomy 30:6. I have some trouble understanding how this text overthrows the truth of irresistible grace. It seems to me that it teaches exactly the opposite. If the sovereign Lord God circumcises one’s heart, and gives physical circumcision as a sign and seal of the circumcision of the heart, then circumcision is a sign and seal of what God does, not what we do. If God circumcises our hearts, we are saved.

It is possible that the Arminian means that the rite of circumcision itself gives grace to everyone circumcised and that, because all who are circumcised are not saved, those who are not saved have successfully resisted the grace of God. 

But the text does not say that all who are physically circumcised receive grace. It does emphatically assert that the reality of which circumcision is a sign and seal, that is, the circumcision of the hearts, results in salvation. The point is that circumcision itself does not save; nor does the text say anything like that. Circumcision is but a sign and a seal. The grace given that saves, of which circumcision is only a sign, is not resistible. It is God’s grace and God’s grace saves.

The fact is that the rite of circumcision, which was replaced by baptism in the new covenant (Col. 2:11-13), was performed on all male members of Israel because they all belonged to the old testament church. Circumcision was an outward sign of the inward working of grace. It accompanied the gospel preached to Israel. And just as the gospel was heard by all, the sign accompanying the gospel was performed on all. But just as the preaching of the gospel did not give grace to all who heard it, so also circumcision did not give grace to all who were circumcised. Nor does water baptism give grace to all who are baptized.

We must never forget what Paul says in Romans 9:6: “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” God Himself makes the difference between Israel as a nation and the true Israel of God. He makes that distinction by sovereign election and reprobation. And so, Paul writes, “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16). God’s Israel are the elect, not everybody in the nation. Paul explains in detail what he meant in Romans 9:6 in Galatians 3. Arminians wish that Romans 9 and Galatians 3 were not in the Bible.

In John 12:47, the Arminian seems to me to hang his argument on the word “world,” as if that word referred to all men who have ever lived, are living now and will live in the future.

I feel a little embarrassed even discussing this point, for hundreds of biblical theologians and saints, beginning with Augustine who died in AD 430, have proved beyond a shadow of doubt that the word “world” in connection with Christ’s work, never means every man who ever lived or will live. The literature is so extensive that the books would fill shelf upon shelf in any library. Why does the truth have to be repeated time and time again, without number? It is obvious that if one wants to make the word “world” refer to all men head for head, not even the angel Gabriel could change his mind.

I think it was the Baptist, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who said that not once in all of Scripture does the word “world” mean every man, head for head.

I recall a noted theologian in the Presbyterian tradition who was speaking on the truth that Christ died only for the elect. He took his seat while people were preparing questions. As was to be expected, one young man, newly out of graduate school, said, “Yes, but doctor, what about John 3:16?” The theologian all but exploded out of his chair and ran to the lectern. In an a palpably disgusted voice, he said, “Every man? The world is constituted, as the text says, of believers! Read it, young man. Believers constitute the world!” With that, he turned and sat down.

If grace is resistible, then Christ died in vain. Christ’s death on the cross paid for all the sins of those for whom He died. Christ’s perfect sacrifice earned full salvation for those for whom He died. Does anyone dare to say that Christ died for someone who goes to hell? It seems to me that that comes very close to blasphemy.

Christ died for the true world of the elect. The elect are, according to such passages as Ephesians 2:20-22, the temple of God built upon Christ the Cornerstone. The reprobate are the scaffolding that is necessary for the erection of the building but which is torn down when the building is complete.

The elect are the corn kernels and not the root, the stalk, the tassel, the husks or the cob. All are necessary for the corn to grow and ripen, but are useless when the corn is picked and eaten. 

The church is God’s true world redeemed in Christ. They are surely saved by God’s irresistible grace.  Prof. Herman Hanko, Emeritus, Protestant Reformed Seminary


Last modified on 01 September 2014
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Additional Info

  • Volume: 15
  • Issue: 4
Hanko, Herman

Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)

Ordained: October 1955

Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965

Emeritus: 2001


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