A Response to a Friend About Irresistible Grace

A friend asked the following question recently on their Facebook page:

Does the raising of Lazarus in John 11 gives us a picture of the irresistible call of God? I hear so many preach this as a type of salvation. What do you think?

For some reason I was irresistibly drawn to answer the question (pun intended).  Since I wrote at such length and since I have struggled to write posts for this blog lately, I decided to post my response here in the hope that it might be helpful to my readers (if any of you still exist).  FYI, there was some misinformation in the comment thread about John Calvin which I address below briefly in my response.

Yes, it does picture irresistible grace (the belief that if God has purposed to save someone, He will by His gracious love overcome all of fallen human’s natural resistance to Him), but that is not the primary purpose of the miracle as it was included by John to produce faith in Jesus as the Son of God that men and women might have life through Him (John 20:30-31).

We shouldn’t teach that the resurrection of Lazarus is a picture of God’s irresistible call of his people, unless other Scriptures clearly teach it. Here are some reasons I think it does picture irresistible grace:

1. In Ephesians 2:1-5, Paul uses the language of being made alive from the dead for what has happened to all Christians who have been saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).

2. In John 6:37 Jesus said, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” and in John 6:44 Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” These verses clearly teach that all whom have been given to Christ by His Father will come to Him and that all who come to Him MUST be drawn by Him. I don’t know how else you can interpret those verses.

We must not force texts to fit our theology, but allow our theology to be shaped by texts. There are some things associated with Calvinism that are unclear in Scripture (i.e., Limited or Definite Atonement), but this is not one of them.

I might add that John Calvin did not teach baptismal regeneration, he wrongly retained the practice of infant baptism but did not believe it was regenerational.

In the end, of course, we should not accept or reject a belief because Calvin may or may not have held it. Scriptures are our ultimate authority. And in this case the Scriptures are clear.

Finally, I would like to distinguish Calvinism (belief in the five points, T.U.L.I.P) and Hyper-Calvinism (belief that since God is sovereign, we should not use means like mission societies and make free offers of the gospel to unbelievers). Hyper-Calvinism is heresy, but Hyper-Calvinism and Calvinism are not the same thing. Those who refuse to obey Christ by calling all men and women everywhere to believe and repent are in sin, plain and simple. But to characterize someone who believes the five points as a Hyper-Calvinist is inaccurate. By this definition Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, William Carey, Adoniram Judson, etc. were all Hyper-Calvinists. This is obviously absurd as they were the greatest evangelists and missionaries of their day.

I’m sorry this comment was so long. I hope it is helpful and received in the spirit in which it is given.

7 comments

  1. I am still a reader! :)

    I think you can also say that the gospel writers had more in mind than just the recording of history when they complied their gospel accounts. There is theological significance with not just the story itself but where it is put in the context.

    And what you pointed out, the idea of being given new life in Christ is prevalent as a description of salvation (just think of “eternal life” used by John himself). It is hard to not see the connection being made here.

    1. Well I wrote a master thesis as well as a PhD Dissertation on Irresistible grace in Calvin (in French):

      Titre:, « La notion de grâce irrésistible dans la Response aux calomnies d’Albert Pighius de Jean Calvin », thèse doctorale, Université Laval, 2006, xxv 465 p.
      CAn be downloaded or consulted at:
      http://en.scientificcommons.org/30179138

      Some related articles:
      « Le débat sur la grâce et le libre arbitre : La Response aux calomnies d’Albert Pighius – contexte et synthèse théologique », dans Revue Farel, 2009, p. 37-67;

      « “Coup de grâce” augustinien dans la Response aux calomnies d’Albert Pighius par Jean Calvin – Racines augustiniennes de la notion de grâce irrésistible chez Jean Calvin », dans Théologie évangélique, vol. 8, no 3, 2009, p. 161-179.

      Regards
      André Pinard
      Lecturer Faculte de théologie evangelique, Montreal (Acadia University)

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