What is irresistible grace? | Voice
The doctrine of irresistible grace says that the Holy Spirit never fails to bring His people to faith. A clear understanding of this doctrine is badly needed today.
The contemporary Church is in the midst of a crisis of confidence concerning biblical preaching and the diligent use of the means of grace by which the Holy Spirit works irresistibly in the lives of sinners.
The Church must reaffirm its faith in the invincible power of the Word of truth applied by the Spirit.
Grace teaches us that the salvation of sinners deserving of hell is the work of the triune God alone. When Calvinists say grace is irresistible, they mean that the Holy Spirit never fails to call, to regenerate, and to save those whom the Father has chosen and Christ has redeemed.
The effectiveness of this grace is defined in the Canons of Dort (Head III-IV, Art. 11):
When God works his good pleasure in the elect or works a true conversion in them, not only does he cause the gospel to be preached outwardly to them, but he powerfully illumines their minds by his Holy Spirit, so that they may correctly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God; but by the effectiveness of the same regenerating Spirit, permeates the most intimate recesses of man; He opens the closed, and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises the uncircumcised, infuses new qualities into the will, which though hitherto dead, He quickens; from bad, disobedient and refractory, he makes him good, obedient and flexible; animates and strengthens it, so that, like a good tree, it produces the fruits of good deeds.
The Westminster Confession (10.1) reminds us that God’s irresistible grace does not save people against their will, but by “renewing their will…so that they may come most freely, being made disposed by his grace”. Unfortunately, the term irresistible can suggest capricious force or violence to a sinner’s will. If you are a believer, you know that when grace took hold of you, it willingly and lovingly led you to what God had planned for you.
God must work inside the sinner to make him eager to come to Christ. John 6:44 says that unless the Father “draws” him, a sinner will not believe the gospel. The original word for draw implies effective power (John 21:11; Acts 16:19; James 2:6). We can oppose the gospel before we are willing to receive it, but not after our will has changed.
Another term for irresistible grace is effectual appeal. Two calls must be distinguished. With the outward call, the gospel is preached and a call for salvation is made to all who hear the message (Is a. 45:22). But this call from outside will be resisted (Acts 7:51). He will not bring sinners to Christ because men are by nature dead in sin and enslaved by the devil (Eph. 2:1–3).
To bring sinners to salvation, the Triune God must address them with a special, interior and irresistible call, in addition to the exterior call contained in the Gospel message. The Father who elects is the great Inviter who makes this call. Romans 8:30 tells us, “Those whom he predestined he also called” (KJV). But the effective call is also the living voice of God in Jesus Christ. Jesus said in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” And the Spirit is involved in drawing men to Christ through the Word (John 16:13–14). The Scriptures describe this change by the Spirit as a new birth by the Spirit (John 3:5), a passage from death to life (John 5:24), an opening of the heart (Acts 16:14), a spiritual resurrection from the dead (Eph. 2:4–5; Collar. 2:13), and regeneration by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).
Two implications follow from irresistible grace and effectual appeal. First, God’s gracious call is monergic, or one-sided. It is not synergistic, or bilateral, involving God and us (Daughter. 1:15). Second, grace comes to us at a tremendous cost. The good news of the gospel is that the price for our sin was paid by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, not by us. It is given at the expense of the incarnation of the Son of God in Mary’s womb and his obedience in undergoing the just condemnation of the law on the cross. When God shows us grace, he is faithful and right to do so because of the saving work of Jesus Christ alone.
Salvation is due to the spontaneous and extravagant love of God. If you are to be saved, it must be by the operation of the irresistible grace of God in your life. Pray that God saves you from your sins. Then, as he answers your prayer and you believe in Christ as he commanded (Acts 16:31), you will recognize that your belief was due to the fact that he operated in you both to will and to do as he pleased (Phil. 2:13). Be encouraged, for “salvation comes from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9, KJV). And give all the glory to God.
(For more on irresistible grace, see Joel R. Beeke, Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism, Chapter 8, of which this article is a digest.)
Dr. Joel R. Beeke is president and professor of systematic theology and homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and pastor at Heritage Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is also editor-in-chief of Sovereign Grace Truth Bannereditorial director of Reformation Heritage Books, president of Inheritance Publishers and vice-president of the Dutch Reformed Translation Society. He has written, co-written or edited eighty books, including A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life.
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