NAU Romans 8:28-30 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
In this lesson, we continue with our study of the order of salvation as iterated by the apostle Paul in Romans 8:28-30. This lesson will discuss the topic of the special, effectual calling of God unto salvation.
A. Thus far we have seen from Scripture that every man is totally depraved and unwilling of himself to believe and be saved. We have also seen that God has sovereignly chosen some to be saved and if He had not done so they would never have been saved. However, we seem to be faced with a unique dilemma. If men must believe to be saved but are unable to do so, how is it that some of them do in fact come to believe? The answer is that if a man by nature always resists the grace of God, then in order for that grace to be effectual it must in some sense be irresistible; for if the grace of God were ineffectual none would be saved, and this we know is not the case.
B. The answer to the dilemma, then, is the biblical doctrine of irresistible grace; also known as effectual calling. This is the fourth point of Calvinism. It builds upon the foundation of the first two Points (Total Depravity and Unconditional Election), and like all the points of Calvinism, it presupposes the absolute sovereignty of God.
C. Now the term itself does not occur in Scripture, but the truth of the doctrine is found frequently in Scripture. Let us define some of the basic terms we shall be using. “Grace” is the unmerited favor of God, specifically in regards to salvation. It is sovereignly given only to the elect; those whom God has eternally chosen to set His love upon. “Irresistible” means that no man can successfully resist it when it is bestowed on him. Some Calvinists prefer the term “invincible”, meaning that it always conquers the will of man.
Others like the word “efficacious” or “effectual”, meaning that it always effects what God intends. This grace is “particular”; it is for the elect alone and not for all men. The 1689 London Baptist Confession gives this explanation of what we mean:
“Those whom God hath predestinated unto life, 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 a 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.” (X:l).
II. Special Calling
A. One of the first stages of the application of Irresistible Grace is that of Special Calling, also termed Particular Vocation. The Scripture speaks of two kinds of “calls”. The first is known as the universal or general call. It is the Gospel, mentioned in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:16; Acts 1:8, etc). God commands all men who hear the Gospel to believe (Mark 16:16) and repent (Acts 17:30). Christ invites all men who hear the Gospel to come to Him (Matt. 11:28; Rev. 22:17). This is the universal free offer/proclamation of the Gospel.
B. But there is another calling which is given only to the elect: “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14). Obviously, not all who hear the Gospel are elect. The free offer of the Gospel is external; the special call is internal. This special calling is an integral part of the Golden Chain of Redemption/The Order of Salvation/Ordo Salutis (Rom. 8:30. Cf. 2 Pet. 1:10).
C. Galatians 1:15 says that Paul was “called through His grace”. Irresistible Grace is inseparable from Special Calling. By this unique application of grace, elect sinners are called out of darkness into salvation (I Pet. 2:9). All previous links in the Golden Chain were totally outside of the sinner and were antecedent to salvation. Now salvation is applied and given: “he saved us and called us with a holy calling” (2 Tim. 1:9).
D. This Special Calling is referred to many times in Scripture, always applicable to believers alone (e.g. Rom. 1:7, 9:24; I Cor. 1:9, 26; Gal. 5:l3; Eph. 4:4; Col. 3:15; I Thess. 2:12, 4:7; I Tim. 6:12; I Pet. 2:21, etc.). But there are three passages in particular which illustrate its teaching.
E. The first is Acts 16:14, “and the Lord opened her heart to respond the things spoken by Paul”.
F. Second, in John 10:16 and 27, Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice.” Obviously all men heard the external words of Christ. But the wolves and goats would not follow Him. So He gives a special call to those whom He has chosen to be His sheep. When they hear, they automatically and willingly follow Him. But they alone hear this call.
G. Third, there is the parable in Luke 14:16-24. In the parable, a man gives a banquet and sends servants to invite people in. Those who hear the invitation make all sorts of excuses to absent themselves from coming. Then the man sends the messengers out again in a different way: “Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled” (vs. 23). Medieval Roman Catholicism misunderstood this text to mean that special inquisitors could compel men to believe in Catholicism, through the use of torture. But that is all wrong. No man can save another person. The text means something different. The first group of messengers are Christians. We give the universal invitation to all men to come to the salvation banquet, which Christ has furnished. But of themselves, no one will ever come. They will all make excuses. The free offer is resistible and usually is resisted by men. But then God sends out another call, one that is irresistible. When the Holy Spirit gives this call, He “compels” sinners to come in. But He does not do this with all men; else all men would be saved. He goes where He pleases (John 3:8). He “compels” only the elect. When He calls in this way, they always come.
A. Another key text is John 6:44, “No man can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” The Father draws men to Christ by means of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 14-16). In previous teachings we noted that this text proves the doctrine of Total Depravity, specifically Total Inability. Fallen man always fights against God; he never seeks for God (Rom. 3:11); he never wants to come to Christ. Indeed, he is unable to want to come.
B. God, then, must do something in the sinner to make him willing. And this He does through Irresistible Grace. Note that the text says, “unless the Father draws him.” The Father sends the Spirit to “draw” the sinner to Christ in a special way. Now, non-Calvinists may agree up to a point here. The usual view is that the Spirit draws all men who hear the Gospel. Well, the Spirit does effect all who hear, but does not effect all in the same way. The general calling is always resisted and rejected. But there is another calling, which is referred to in John 6:44. It always wins.
C. The key word is “draw”. In Greek it is the word helko (e[lkw) (related to helkuo). It has a specific meaning behind it: compelling force. It is used in John 21:6 and 11 of fishermen “dragging” a net (hence the word “dragnet”). The net of itself could not successfully resist. In John 18:10, it is used of Peter “drawing” his sword. In Acts 16:19 and 21:30, it is used of Paul and Silas being “dragged” by a mob. James 2:6 uses it of rich men “dragging” poor men into court.
D. e[lkw meant to drag, compel, pull, force, overwhelm. Note the following examples of its use in ancient Greek: to drag a dead body by the foot, to drag away a prisoner, to drag a felled tree, to draw ships down to the sea, to pull a chariot to pull a plow, to drag chains, to pull a cloak behind oneself, to drink a liquid, to draw a bowstring, to hoist sails, to lift up scales, to pull a barge pole, to tow a ship, to compel another person to work for you. In every instance we find superior force being exerted on an object or person, with the necessary result that the one doing the “dragging” was successful.
E. The point is simply this: when God sets out to save one of the elect, He so works on his heart that He successfully overcomes all resistance. He irresistibly and efficaciously draws the sinner to Christ. It never fails.
IV. Power Grace.
A. But why does this always succeed? Simply put, God always succeeds in something when He uses omnipotence. General mercy to all men does not have the force of omnipotence behind it, else all men would be saved. Irresistible Grace is simply the combination of electing grace and omnipotence.
B. A few years ago, John Wimber wrote a book entitled Power Evangelism. Being an Arminian, he does not believe in the real “power” in evangelism. Believers can witness and preach all they want to, but that will never save a single soul. It takes God the Spirit, the divine evangelist, to successfully win a soul to Jesus. He wins sinners by what I term “power grace”. Note how Paul speaks of it in I Thess. 1:5, “our Gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction”. He also speaks of it in Eph. 1:19, “what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might”. The same omnipotent, invincible power that raised Christ from the dead also successfully and effectively raises elect sinners from spiritual death. That is real power.
C. Have you ever pondered the philosophical concept, “What happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object”? Even natural physics says that such is a contradiction; something must give way. The same is true in salvation. Man’s fallen will is dead and hardened against coming to Christ. Of itself it is immovable. Then God’s force comes and meets it. Which will win out? Why, God will, of course. Divine omnipotence is always greater than our sin and its power. When God is set to convert a man, even total depravity must give way. We have already shown that God is sovereign in
D. John 6:44 says again, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” Of ourselves, we are unwilling and unable to come to Christ. But what is impossible with Man is not impossible with God. God sends forth special power and overwhelms the will of
E. This is much the same as another phenomenon in the Bible. The Old Testament frequently speaks of the Holy Spirit “coming upon” such-and-such a person (e.g. Num. 11:25-29, 24:2; I Sam. 10:6, 10, 11:6, 16:13; Judges 3:10, 6:34, 11:29,13:25, 14:6; 2 Chron. 15:1, 20:14, 24:20. Cf. Rev. 1:10). This usually was related to the gift of prophecy. When the Spirit came upon such a man, he was given a message from God and could not resist the overwhelming drive to speak it. Jeremiah attempted to resist, but could not (Jer. 20:9). The same is true in salvation. When the Spirit comes upon a sinner, he too is given a message and is too weak to successfully resist. The message is faith. The Spirit gives the sinner faith in Christ (cf. I Cor. 12:3). Just as with the prophets and mighty men of old, when the Spirit comes upon a sinner, he is not only able to do what he was unable to do before; he is also compelled to do it. Irresistible Grace both enables and compels a sinner to believe in Christ and be saved.
V. The Irresistible Drawing of Irresistible Grace.
A. Though this grace is irresistible, we ought not to think of it as merely raw force. God does not save us by grabbing us by the scruff of the neck and drag us kicking and screaming to the Cross. Sure, we kick and scream before this grace is given, but not after. God does not simply use mere force. He does not “make us an offer we can’t refuse.” He couples power with grace. It is power love.
B. We find the Greek word e[lkw (helko) in two pertinent Old Testament passages in the Greek Septuagint. In Jer. 31:3, God says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love. Therefore with loving kindness have I drawn you.” And in Hosea 11:4, “I led them with cords of a man, with bonds of love.” Irresistible grace is that special love of God whereby He woos His Bride to Himself in such a way that He wins her over. She comes willingly, as when she confesses in Song of Solomon 1:4, “Draw me after you and let us run together! The king has brought me into His chambers.”
C. This is that same special love of God that chose the elect in the first place. Irresistible Grace is simply the temporal application of Electing Grace, First He chooses us, then He woos us. In both, He is successful. He overcomes all obstacles. He is intent on bestowing His love upon His beloved, in such a way that guarantees her love in return. You may recall the old song, “You made me love you. I didn’t want to do it, but you made me love you.” And such a one who is effectively and inwardly drawn to Christ willingly receives and returns this love.
D. Now, what exactly is there in this grace that does the trick? Not just power, but something else. This grace is the grace of Christ. It tells us of Him, Him who is altogether lovely and suitable and perfect. To change the metaphor slightly, you may conceive of it as walking through an art gallery, strolling past painting after painting, until you are arrested by the overwhelming beauty of a certain picture. You cannot take your eyes off it. Its beauty draws you to it. Lovers know what this is like on a personal level. And Christians know what it is like on the spiritual level. When the Spirit shows us Christ for the first time as He really is, we are irresistibly drawn to Him. To make this grace resistible, therefore, is to detract from the perfect beauty that resides in Christ.
VI. Common Objections
A. “But what about Acts 7:51, ‘You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart are always resisting the Holy Spirit’?” Actually, this verse only illustrates the First Point of Calvinism. Fallen Man always fights against the Holy Spirit. He kicks against the pricks, he hardens his heart, and he stubbornly refuses to believe. This does not mean, however, that the Spirit has been frustrated. No, the Spirit has a general way of striving with sinners that can be successfully resisted. But He also has a particular, irresistible way of working on men’s hearts. He had worked irresistibly on Stephen’s heart but had not on the hearts of the Pharisees. Later in Acts we read of how He irresistibly worked on the heart of one of those Pharisees, namely, Paul of Tarsus. When He works like that, sinful man gives up.
B. “The Spirit makes all men able to believe, but He doesn’t compel them to believe.” This is not what the Bible teaches. First, there is no text, which teaches that God gives a hypothetical “potential faith” to all men (or all who hear the Gospel), steps back, and leaves it to them whether they will place this faith in Christ. It is true that the Spirit enables sinners to believe. But He does not do this with all men. Moreover, as we showed already, He not only enables us to believe, He compels us to believe.
C. “But what about free will? The human will is sacrosanct and off-limits to God. “No, Man does not have free will. His will is dead in sins (Eph. 2:1-3) and is a slave, not free. Moreover, there is not an inch in the universe that is off-limits to God. As we have already seen in our previous studies on
E. “It is unfair for God to work like that in some but not all.” The Canons of Dort anticipated this objection, and replied: “God is under no obligation to confer this grace upon any” (3/4: 15). No man, even the elect, deserves this grace or any other grace. Therefore, if God so chooses to bestow it - and that irresistibly – upon some, are we cheated? Cannot He do what He wants to with what is His?
F. The last objection is the most serious. We will quote it from the words of one of its main proponents, Norman Geisler: “Irresistible grace on the unwilling is a violation of free choice. For true love is persuasive but never coercive. There can be no shotgun weddings in heaven...God is love. True love never forces itself on anyone. Forced love is rape, and God is not a divine rapist!” This is dangerous heresy. It presumes that men have free will, which they do not. If Geisler were right that God never exerts invincible power, then no man would ever be convinced or converted. Those making this objection, including Dr Geisler, have not yet plumbed the depths of their own sinfulness. Moreover, it severely limits the sovereignty of God. Where does he get the notion that God cannot and does not force us to love Him? This is exactly what the Bible teaches, as we have shown. Moreover, Geisler greatly errs in comparing the Reformed doctrine of Irresistible Grace to rape. First off, rape is not love, but a form of hatred and lust. Second, victims of rape do not reply with love for their attackers. Third, neither victim nor rapist continues to love the other. The whole objection is dangerous. It is tantamount to high blasphemy. It only shows that Arminians have a severely limited view of God’s majesty, sovereignty, power and true grace. God loves His elect too much to leave, them in their sins. He forcibly and lovingly rescues them. Once rescued, they are eternally and lovingly grateful. It is not rape; it is true-blue electing love that leads to a dramatic and romantic rescue.
This is only an introduction to a deep subject. There is still much mystery in it. The hymn is right: “I know not how the Spirit moves, convincing men of sin; revealing Jesus through the Word, creating faith in Him.” But the point is, it happens and we praise God for it. As the Canons of Dort explain, “The manner of this operation cannot be fully comprehended by believers in this life. Notwithstanding which, they rest satisfied with knowing and experiencing, that by this grace of God they are enabled to believe with the heart and love their Savior” (3/4:13). Praise God for His Irresistible Grace!