Irresistible Grace

by Frank B. Beck

(Read John 10:1-30.)


"Now of the things which we have spoken (thus far) this is the sum" (Heb. 8:1):

First, all mankind is totally depraved and therefore deprived of all good in God's sight (Rom. 3:10-12). Helpless and hopeless (Psa. 49:7). Men have no desire for the true God (Job 21:14).

Secondly, had God left them in this terrible state to go to "everlasting punishment" (Matt. 25:46) it would have been altogether just and right. This, however, God did not do. Out of His great grace He has elected some of the fallen race of men to "everlasting salvation" (Isa. 45:17), "to the praise of the glory of His grace" (Eph. 1:4-6). The rest He leaves in their sins to the praise of the glory of His justice.

Thirdly, for these elect ones Jesus Christ came into the world and died (Rom. 5:8), for their sins (1 Cor. 15:3), as their Substitute (1 Pet. 2:24). Christ took all of their sins and gives them His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).

Thus everything up to this point is ordained in orderly fashion by an all-wise, all-powerful God, who does as He pleases (Psa. 115:3). Now shall we stop here and say from here on everything is left to the will and whims of fickle man? The remainder, then, is uncertain. Accordingly, if sinful man will have this salvation so determinately and delicately wrought by God, he may; if not, God is denied and defeated! God's hands are tied. He has failed. We will not say such blasphemy!

God has not begun to build a tower, so that after He has carefully laid the foundation He "is not able to finish it" (Luke 14:28-29). God has not gone charging against the proud citadel of rebellious man with election and foreknowledge and predestination and the blood-soaked cross of Calvary with its bruises and blood and pains and perdition, only to discover that man refuses to be regenerated and will not be converted (Luke 14:31-33). God has not built a bridge half way across to salvation and has now done His part, and the rest is up to sinners "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1) to do their part. The God who decreed salvation to His elect ones, and died in their place, will also "save his people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). "He will save" (Zech. 3:17). The fact that He will save, we here call irresistible grace.


The Meaning of Irresistible Grace

The word resist comes from the Latin language through the French, resisto, re meaning back, and sisto meaning set; to set back. The prefix ir means not. Thus we have, not to set back. Irresistible, then, would mean not to oppose, strive against, or obstruct (either an act or its agent) whether by inertness or active force, physically or mentally (Desk Standard Dictionary, Funk and Wagnalls).

The word grace is from the Latin meaning favor (Ibid.). In theology it means the love and favor of God in Christ which is irresistible in the elect when it pleases God to reveal His Son in them (Gal. 1:15-16). "It will of course be admitted that, if efficacious grace is the exercise of almighty power it is irresistible" (Chas. Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. II, p. 687). "The power of grace is the power of God. This makes it fitting to speak of irresistible grace. Surely we can speak of an irresistible God!" (C. D. Cole, Definitions of Doctrines, p. 84). "Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy and whom he will he hardeneth" (Rom. 9:18).


The Ministry of Irresistible Grace

We are living in a day of superficial evangelism when the "glorious gospel of the blessed God" (1 Tim. 1:11) is simmered down and "simplified" to be only (in its primary or initial use) a Divine anticipation of salvation and not the powerful salvation that it is (Rom. 1:16), the power of God unto Salvation; note it is the Gospel, not the faith of the believer, that brings salvation to the elect believer (Jas. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23). I repeat, the Gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation! Nothing can stop it. If a man preach any other Gospel let him be accursed (Gal. 1:6-9). If God's grace can be successfully resisted then God can be overcome, and your god is no greater than the fictitious, failing, faltering, fainting, feeble god of Prof. Vergilius Ferm, when he writes: "It is even possible for God to experience Hell. God is in Hell each time His frustrations stand over against His purposes ; God can no more save a man from evil than He can save Himself from it" (Ernest Gordon, An Ecclesiastical Octopus, pp. 152-153, quoting from the Crozier Quarterly, Jan. 1946).

To the opposite, our risen Redeemer declares: "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth" (Matt. 28:18). Evil men, demons, and the Devil himself have no power except as God in His sovereign purpose gives it to them, which they misuse to their own evil end. "Thou couldest have no power at all against me," our Savior said to Pilate, "except it were given thee from above" (John 19:11). I once heard Arvis Fields say that the Devil could not blink his eye unless God gave him the power to do so.

Since the Son of God has all power, see how His saving grace to all of His chosen ones is triumphant. Christ will bring His sheep into His fold (John 10:16). Not try to bring them, but bring them! He suffered for sins that "He might bring us to God" (1 Pet. 3:18). He said: "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto me" (John 12:32). Christ will do it! Not attempt to do it, but accomplish it. Since not all men without exception are drawn to the Savior, the inference is to all men without distinction of race, class, condition or color; or to all of the elect (the word men is not in the Greek). The sheep shall hear Christ's voice (John 10:16, 27). All that the Father giveth to Christ shall come to Him (John 6:37). Every one of them. No one, nothing, can stop them. "The nature of the Divine goodness is not only to open to those that knock, but also to cause them to knock and ask" (Augustine).

"Blessed is the man whom thou choosest (election) and causest to approach unto thee" (irresistible grace, Psalm 65:4).

As many as were ordained to eternal life believe (or shall believe, Acts 13:48); "this ordination is an act of God. The Greek has the passive voice and not the middle. It cannot, therefore, refer to an act of those who believed. And the act is an effectual one, since all that were ordained believe ; Thayer says the passage refers to as many as were appointed to obtain eternal life, or to whom God had decreed eternal life" (Thomas Paul Simmons, The Bible Doctrine of Election, p. 18).

God calls everyone whom He has predestinated, and every one of them He justifies (Rom. 8:29-30), which also means that Christ shed His blood for them, for they are "justified by his blood" (Rom. 5:9), and that they (every one without fail) will believe in Christ, for otherwise they would not be justified (Rom. 5:1).

This irresistible grace of God is illustrated even in Christ calling His disciples to apostleship. "He calleth whom he would (election) ; and they came unto him" (irresistible grace, Mark 3:13). Whom God calls He empowers.

But, does not the sinner receive Christ by his own will? In his own natural will? No. Not "of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man" (John 1:12-13). That is all the sinner is flesh! (Rom. 8:7-8). Until he is born again by the will of the Holy Spirit (John 3:6-8), he has only one nature. Until that time he is but flesh, willing this or that. According to John 1:13 he cannot will his birth of God or will to receive Christ as his Savior, seeing he is nothing but flesh until born of God. When Christ called Zacchaeus down from the tree, "he made haste and came down and received him joyfully" (Luke 19:5-6). Christ gives eternal life to as many as the Father gave Him (John 17:2). He does not merely "offer" it to dead sinners (Eph. 2:1), for that would be senseless and useless. Rather, the Redeemer quickens them, or makes them alive, according to His will (John 5:21). Christ does not stand outside their sinful hearts, baffled, beaten, begging. The Lord opens their hearts (as with Lydia, Acts 16:14). Revelation 3:20 is addressed, not to sinners, but to churches (verse 22). Christ does it and does it all! Soli Deo Gloria! To God alone be the glory (1 Cor. 10:31).


The Misunderstanding or Misrepresentation of Irresistible Grace

The correct view. "Irresistible grace takes not away that natural liberty which the will hath by creation, but the depravity of it only, knocking off its fetters, but not destroying its nature" (Christopher Ness, An Antidote Against Arminianism, p. 85). No fatalism here. "According to the Augustinian scheme, the non-elect have all the advantages and opportunities of securing their salvation, which, according to any other scheme, are granted to mankind indiscriminately" (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. 2, p. 643).

It is objected that the grace of God can be resisted. This we admit, for Scripture itself teaches it. We have never said otherwise. Stephen was not mistaken when he said to the Christ-rejecting Jews: "Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did ;" (Acts 7:51). But we maintain that the Holy Ghost cannot be resisted successfully. "God's saving grace and effectual calling are irresistible, not in the sense that they are never resisted, but in the sense that they are never successfully resisted" (A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 793).

The contrary view. That "saving grace is universal grace" (F. Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol. II, p. 21). Then it is not saving grace, for it does not save all, and if it is not saving grace it is no grace. Then call it offered grace, or potential grace, but not saving grace! This Pieper admits (Ibid., p. 32): "Scripture, however, teaches that grace not only makes it possible for man to believe, giving him the power to believe, but that it creates the very act of faith (Phil. 1:29: 'Unto you it is given ; to believe on him')." If grace does this, and it is universal (and not only to the elect) then why does it not create saving faith in all men?

But, it is argued, "When God works through means, He can be resisted ; When God deals with men through His Word and says to them: 'Come unto me' (Matt. 11:28), resistance is possible; so Christ reports: 'Ye would not' (Matt. 23:37). But when Christ will appear on Judgment Day in His uncovered majesty ('in His glory'), all resistance is excluded, for 'before him shall be gathered all nations,' etc. (Matt. 25:31-32)." (Pieper, Ibid., p. 30). See where this lands you? When Christ calls, "Come unto me," in salvation, He can be resisted, for He is using the means of His Word; but when Christ calls, "Stand before me and be judged," in the last day, He cannot be resisted, for He is using the means of His Word! Suppose it can be said of the wicked then, "Ye would not"? Is Christ's call to judgment any greater and intense than His call to salvation? Shall we exalt the power of His justice over and above His power to save? If Christ's call to salvation can be resisted, why not His call to judgment?

As you can see, this theology of universal saving grace is a theology of contradictions. It is regrettable that such a good and godly man as Martin Luther did not see it, when he wrote a letter in 1528 to an unknown person saying that God Almighty "knows all things and that all actions and thoughts in all creatures must come to pass according to His will." But then he adds: "It is, nevertheless His earnest will and purpose, indeed, His command, decreed from eternity, to save all men ... (Ezek. 18:23)." (F. Pieper, Ibid., p. 43). Here is a glaring contradiction. If it is God's earnest will and purpose and command and decree from eternity to save all men, then all men shall be saved, for "all actions and thoughts in all creatures must come to pass according to His will." Yet this is not done. The fault lies in the universal grace theory of resistible grace. In order to obliterate this, Luther demands that we believe this contradiction to be only a seeming one! (Dorner, Geshichte der protestantischen Theologie, p. 206).

As you must be aware by now, the Lutheran Church embraces this universal resistible grace idea. How does the church explain it? The Lutheran Church does not explain it. "Why, then, are not all men converted and saved? ; The Lutheran Church refuses to answer the question." Indeed it casts reflection on anyone else who can or would answer the question, saying, "No mature theologian will indulge in such speculation!" (Pieper, Ibid., pp. 32-33).

The calamity of this view. It makes God say: "I will that every last sinner be saved, but not as I will, but as they will" (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 171). "I would in truth gladly help them, says God; therefore I send them my Son; but their hardened heart is opposed to my will and their salvation" (Luther, St. Luke, VII:195). This is to turn the Scripture upside down, making it declare: "So then it is not of God that sheweth mercy, for His mercy stands powerless and resistible and means very little; but it is of him that willeth and runneth" (Rom. 9:16). And since all men "oppose God's will and salvation" by nature, none of them will come to Christ and live (John 5:40). If God's grace is not irresistible, and all men by nature resist God's overtures of mercy, how are the elect saved? This view would answer (or should) by allowing the saved person to pray: "God, I thank Thee that Thou gaveth me power to will (yet Thou gavest that the Judas as well as to me), but I thank myself for the act of willingness, seeing I receive from Thee no more than Judas did" (Christopher Ness, Ibid., p. 82). We would say to all who hold to the view of universal, resistible grace, no longer pray to God: "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things of thy law" (Psalm 119:18); open your own eyes!


"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter."

Jack and Joe are alike sinners. Jack believes and Joe remains an unbeliever. The popular view of the fundamentalism of our day is, Jack willed to believe and Joe willed to reject; or, Jack commenced to strive and was helped, and Joe made no effort; or, Jack cooperated with God's grace, and Joe did not; or (as the Lutherans) both were utterly unable to cooperate, but Joe persistently resisted grace, and Jack ultimately yielded. The Calvinist says, it is because Jack was regenerated by the saving grace of God in God's sovereign will, and Joe was not (A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, pp. 447-448). Amen.