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Is Grace Resistible? Featured

Is Grace Resistible?

Prof. (emeritus) Herman Hanko

From a reader: “I wish, if possible, that you help me deal with the Arminian objections to the Reformed doctrine of irresistible grace. In a virtual debate I had with an Arminian, he claimed that prevenient grace (Arminian doctrine) is biblical and that we can see it in verses such as 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.’ With this verse, he concludes that grace is not irresistible, because otherwise the whole world would be saved. He claims that this text gives no chance to the Calvinist to say that the word ‘world’ means ‘world of the elect.’ For example, Jesus includes the unbelievers and the damned in the word ‘world.’ He also claims that this text cannot be talking about the internal or external call. The text says that Jesus came to save the world. How can we understand this verse in the light of Reformed doctrine?”

The answer to the question concerning John 12:47 involves the meaning of the word “world.” It is evident from the argumentation in the question that the Arminian to whom the questioner refers wants to make the word “world” mean every man, woman and child that ever lived. This is always the key question that arises in connection with the defence of the truth of God’s sovereign grace over against those who deny it. Already in the latter part of the sixteenth century and the early part of the seventeenth, the Arminians defended their position on free will by appeal to the word “world.” Countless times in the history of the church this question has been discussed and those of the Reformed faith have explained the word as it ought to be explained. One could wish that Arminians who still bring up such arguments would do their homework for once, instead of jumping to unwarranted conclusions on questions that have been answered times without number.

There are many reasons why the word “world” cannot mean everyone who has ever lived. It is true, as others have said, that “A Christ for all is a Christ for none.”

1. If the word “world” means everyone who has ever lived, then God loves everyone who has ever lived. If God loves everyone who has ever lived, Christ died for everyone who has ever lived. If Christ died for everyone who has ever lived, the love of God is without power and the cross loses it redeeming glory. God loves people who are not saved and Christ died for people who are not saved. So God’s love goes for nothing and Christ’s cross has no power to save.

2. If God’s love and Christ’s cross are ineffectual, then God is not omnipotent. He cannot do what He wants to do. Already Augustine, back in the fifth century, insisted that what God wills to do, He does. The Roman Catholic Church denied Augustine’s teaching and adopted the views of Pelagius who taught that God loves all men and Christ died for all men. Do today’s Arminians want the same Pelagian doctrine as the Roman Catholic Church? Let them read the history of the church and learn that their doctrine came from Roman Catholicism.

3. It is clear that the questioner’s opponent not only believes that God loves everyone, but he also believes that every man, woman, child and babe in arms receives the grace of God. He speaks of prevenient grace. Prevenient grace is a grace given to everyone so that he can make up his own mind whether or not he wants salvation. But some resist this grace. They are, however, resisting a mirage, for not all men have grace, not even prevenient grace. Where in the Bible does one find a prevenient grace? One who teaches this faces the question: Is the grace of the Almighty God so shamefully weak that it has no power to save? We are told in Scripture to rely in our troubles on God’s grace. God told Paul, as he struggled with the thorn in his flesh, “My grace is sufficient for thee” (II Cor. 12:9). A resistible grace is a powerless grace. In all my afflictions, I have no need at all of a powerless grace.

4. To teach the Arminian doctrine that grace is resistible is to teach that man has a free will. The teaching that man has a free will is a flat, calculated attempt to deny total depravity. To refer to Ephesians 2:1 is sufficient to prove that total depravity is a reality. The trouble is not that Scripture does not teach total depravity; the trouble is that proud man wants to help save himself. He is too proud to consider himself what he truly is: a sinner dead in trespasses and sins. A partially depraved person does not need the cross of Christ. Paul, in Ephesians 2:1-10, insists on this. If salvation is partly our work, then we can boast of what we do and all glory does not belong to God.

Many years ago, when I was teaching catechism classes, I had a girl in the class who came out of the Roman Catholic Church. Although she eagerly took hold of the truths of the Reformed faith, she still stumbled over the sovereignty of God in all His creation and in all the deeds of men. We had discussed it time and time again, and I had exhausted all the biblical arguments; so, finally, I made one attempt to persuade her by saying to her, “If you had to choose between a sovereign God or a God who waits on you and on all men, what would you choose?” She put her head in her arms and sat in her seat what seemed to me and the others in the class to be an interminable amount of time. It was utterly and completely quiet in the room. At last she lifted her head and with the light of pure joy on her face and tears streaming down her cheeks, she said, “I want a sovereign God!” She has not wavered from that for over fifty years.

The question is not abstract theology. I have no need of a god who is not sovereign. I have no need of a god who waits on me before he can act. If that were true, I could just as well worship Buddha. I am a sinner hopelessly lost and unable to do anything but hate God, defy Him in His works, blaspheme His name or coldly ignore Him. I need a God who can, by divine power, conquer me and overcome all my resistance by irresistible grace. Does that make me a helpless and abhorrent sinner who does nothing for his salvation? Yes, it does. But it is better to cry out, “God be merciful to me a sinner” and go home justified (Luke 18:13-14), than to stand with the Pharisee and loudly boast, “Lord, I thank thee that I am not as other men are, because I have accepted Christ and so saved myself.” Such boasting is not the way to the cross and to heaven.

I shall deal with John 12:47 and Deuteronomy 30:6 (to which the questioner also refers) in the next News, God willing.

Last modified on 15 July 2014
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Additional Info

  • Volume: 15
  • Issue: 3
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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