Irresistible grace

Irresistible grace

Irresistible Grace (or efficacious grace) is a doctrine in Christian theology particularly associated with Calvinism, which teaches that the saving grace of God is effectually applied to those whom He has determined to save (the elect) and, in God's timing, overcomes their resistance to obeying the call of the gospel, bringing them to a saving faith in Christ.

The doctrine

According to Calvinism, those who obtain salvation do so, not by their own "free" will, but because of the sovereign discriminating grace of God. That is, men yield to grace, not finally because their consciences were more tender or their faith more tenacious than that of other men. Rather, the willingness and ability to do God's will, are evidence of God's own faithfulness to save men from the power and the penalty of sin, and since man is so corrupt that he will not decide and cannot be wooed to follow after God, God must powerfully intervene. In short, Calvinism argues that regeneration must precede faith.

Calvin says of this intervention that "it is not violent, so as to compel men by external force; but still it is a powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit, which makes men willing who formerly were unwilling and reluctant," [] and John Gill says that "this act of drawing is an act of power, yet not of force; God in drawing of unwilling, makes willing in the day of His power: He enlightens the understanding, bends the will, gives an heart of flesh, sweetly allures by the power of His grace, and engages the soul to come to Christ, and give up itself to Him; he draws with the bands of love. Drawing, though it supposes power and influence, yet not always coaction and force: music draws the ear, love the heart, and pleasure the mind." []

Jonathan Edwards has sometimes been quoted—notably by R. C. Sproul—as referring to the irresistible call of God as the "holy rape of the soul," but the phrase does not appear in Edwards' "Works". Instead, the phrase seems to have been coined by Puritan scholar Perry Miller, and many Calvinists distance themselves from it.

Objections to the doctrine

Christians associated with Arminianism, notably followers of John Wesley and part of the Methodist movement, reject the Calvinist doctrine. Instead, they believe that God's prevenient grace is equally provided to all human beings alike, drawing them toward His love and salvation. In this view, (1) after God's universal dispensation of grace to mankind, the will of man, which was formerly adverse to God and unable to obey, can now choose to obey; and (2) although God's grace is a strong initial move to effect salvation, it can ultimately be resisted and rejected.

Both sides agree that the resistibility of grace is inexorably bound up with the theological system's view of humanity's inability to respond to God and of the extent of God's grace. As Calvinist Charles Hodge says, "The (Arminian) and (Roman Catholic) doctrine is true, if the other parts of their doctrinal system are true; and it is false if that system be erroneous. If the (Calvinistic) doctrine concerning the natural state of man since the fall, and the sovereignty of God in election, be Scriptural, then it is certain that sufficient grace does not become efficacious from the cooperation of the human will." [] Thus the passages discussing those doctrines are also relevant here.

Biblical passages related to the doctrine

The statement of St. Paul is said to confirm that those whom God effectually calls necessarily come to full salvation: "(T)hose whom (God) predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified" (Romans 8:28,30), but it is especially several verses from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, which contains a record of Jesus' teaching on humanity's abilities and God's activities in salvation, that serves as the central proof text for the Calvinist doctrine (all quotes from the ESV):
* 6:37,39: "All that the Father gives me will come to me.... And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given me, but raise it up on the last day."
* 6:44–45: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.... Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me."
* 6:65: "(N)o one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father."

Proponents of Arminianism argue that the word "draw" (Greek: _gr. ἕλκω, "helkô" [] ) as used in John 6:44 does not require the sense of "drag", though they admit this is the word's usual meaning (as in [,21:6,21:11;Acts+16:19,21:30;James+2:6 Jn. 18:10; 21:6; 21:11; Acts 16:19; 21:30; Jas. 2:6] ). They point to John 12:32 as an example: "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." Arminians interpret this to mean that Jesus draws all people to Himself but some are able resist this drawing since, if the call is truly irresistible, then all must come to Christ and be saved.

Calvinists argue that (1) the word "draw" should be understood according to its usual semantics in both John 6:44 and 12:32; (2) the word "all" (translated "all people" in v. 12:32) should be taken in the sense of "all kinds of people" rather than "every individual"; and thus (3) the former verse refers to an irresistible internal call to salvation and the latter to the opening of the Kingdom of God to the Gentiles, not a universal, resistible internal call. Some have asserted on this basis that the text of John 6:44 can logically yield either universalism or Calvinism, but not Arminianism. []

Arminian William Barclay argues that "man's resistance can defeat the pull of God" mentioned in John 6:44, but commentator Leon Morris contends that "(n)ot one of (Barclay's) examples of the verb ('draw') shows the resistance as successful. Indeed we can go further. There is not one example in the New Testament of the use of this verb where the resistance is successful. Always the drawing power is triumphant, as here" ("The Gospel According to John", revised edition, 1995, p. 328, n. 116).

History of the doctrine

In the Catholic Church, debates concerning the respective role of efficacious grace and free will led to the establishment of the Congregatio de Auxiliis at the end of the 16th century by the Pope Clement VIII. The Dominicans insisted on the role of the efficacious grace, but the Jesuits embraced Molinism, which postulated greater liberty in the will. These debates also led to the famous formulary controversy in France which pitted the Jansenists against the Jesuits.

The doctrine is one of the so-called Five points of Calvinism that were defined at the Synod of Dordrecht during the Quinquarticular Controversy with the Arminian Remonstrants, who objected to the general predestinarian scheme of Calvinism. In Calvinist churches, the doctrine is most often mentioned in comparisons with other salvific schemes and their respective doctrines about the state of mankind after the Fall, and it is not a common topic for sermons or studies otherwise.


ee also

*Prevenient grace
*Total depravity

External links


* [ "Of Effectual Calling"] from John Gill's "Body of Doctrinal Divinity"
* [ "Concerning Efficacious Grace"] by Jonathan Edwards
* [ "Efficacious Grace"] , section 3.14.4 from Charles Hodge's "Systematic Theology"
* [ "On Regeneration"] , a sermon by Charles Spurgeon
* [ "Irresistible Grace"] by John Murray
* [ "Efficacious Grace"] , chapter 13 from Loraine Boettner's "The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination"
* [ "Regeneration Precedes Faith"] by R. C. Sproul
* [ "Irresistible Grace"] by John Piper
* [ Many articles] on irresistible grace by various authors


* [ Sermon #58: "On Predestination"] by John Wesley
* [ Sermon #128: "Free Grace"] by John Wesley
* [ Irresistible Grace]
* [ Prevenient Grace] by Gregory Neal
* [ Calvinism and John 6: An Exegetical Response] by Steve Witzki
* [ Free Grace or Forced Grace?] by Steve Witski

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