Church Education Trust

Christian Belief



The Effectual Call

This is a peculiarly Calvinistic phrase and refers to the means whereby one of the elect is regenerated and brought into the family of God. This call is the work of the Holy Spirit on the heart of the elect whereby he is brought to repentance and salvation. It is irresistible and brings the person with absolute certainty into the family of God and keeps them there unconditionally to the end.

b. Prevenient Grace

Prevenient grace is, of course, only a specific working of the grace of God which is at work generally throughout the world, and it will be as well to consider the meaning of the grace of God in a general way first.

(b1) Grace

Grace is a fundamental conception of the Scriptures in connection with the relationship of God with man. All that we receive from the hands of God is due to the undeserved, unmerited mercy and favour of God. This is grace. A brief summary of the use of the original word (charis) will help somewhat to understand its meaning. It had a variety of meanings:-

  1. Objectively - sweetness, attractiveness - Ps.45:2; Luke 4:22.
  2. Subjectively - favour, kindly feeling, goodwill e.g. find grace or favour. Frequent in Old Testament especially for finding favour in sight of God. Thus it comes to mean,
  3. Favour or Goodwill of God. Generally. Luke 2:40; John 1:14-16. More particularly in Pauline and New Testament sense in connection with justification; it is used thus in opposition to "debt" and "works" and refers to Gods free, unearned favour bestowed on sinners.
  4. Thus, through taking cause for effect, it comes to mean the state of grace or favour which the Christian enjoys.
  5. It can also mean a particular gift. (1 Cor.16:3; 2 Cor.8:4.)
  6. It is finally the normal word for thanks because kindly feeling evokes gratitude (1 Cor.10:30; Rom.7:25; 2 Cor.9:15.) 

Thus it is seen that the grace of God is not limited to His redemptive work but stretches over all His wondrous workings in the world and mankind which are the expression of His love. One definition says that grace is "love in God regarded as free and unpurchased, coming out of its own accord to bless the undeserving".  

Scripture references concerning the grace of God, though not necessarily using the word, are as follows:- Zech.4:6; John 6:44; 15:5; Rom.5:6,8,10; 2 Cor.3:5; Eph.2:8; Phil.2:13; Titus. 2:11,12.

(b2) Prevenient Grace

"Prevenient" means "going before" and "prevenient grace" therefore, refers to the working of the grace of God prior to salvation and which prepares him for and leads hire to salvation. Here again there is a great difference of viewpoint between Calvinism and Arminianism.

Calvin maintained that the fall had so completely bereft man of all capacity for good that salvation had to be solely and absolutely of grace without any measure whatever of human co-operation, man being passive and inert. This meant, as we shall see later, that man had to be born again before he could turn to God. The grace of God which brought this about was irresistible.

This was called efficacious grace and is applied to the elect. Being irresistible, they turned to God. Persevering grace is granted for the remainder of their life. This idea is called "Monergism" (from two greek words meaning the work of one person only) and means that the work of salvation within a man is of God alone without any co-operation at all from man himself.

Calvinists account for conscience and the amount of good that man obviously does do by dividing grace into two classes, common grace which all have to some extent, and efficacious grace for the salvation of the elect.

The Arminians remonstrated against these ideas. They maintained that all came under the working of the grace of God and that those who were saved, were so because by obedience and faith they co-operated with the grace of God.

The Arminian belief can be set out as follows:-

  1. Arminians agree with the Calvinists in the fact of the depravity of human nature and the inability of man to save himself. They do not, however, admit two types of grace but maintain that all are under the same gracious influences of God seeking to lead them to salvation. Even man's natural state is in some sense a state of grace. "Allowing that all the souls of men are dead in sin by nature, this excuses none, seeing there is no man that is in a mere state of nature; there is no man, unless he has quenched the Spirit, that is wholly devoid of the grace of God. No man living is destitute of what is vulgarly called natural conscience; it is more properly termed preventing grace". (Wesley, Sermon - Working out your own Salvation).
  2. This includes a belief in the continuity of grace. This means that all desires after God, all drawings of the Father, all conviction of sin are part of prevenient grace. As man yields to them so they increase.
  3. This, in other words, is the co-operation between divine grace and human will. This is called "Synergism" as against "Monergism" mentioned above. (The word again comes from two greek words meaning this time "working together with"). This means that, while salvation is all of grace in the sense that the basis of salvation is all of God, and also the initiative and the power to act, yet salvation can never become ours unless we by faith and obedience co-operate with that initiative and that power. Divine grace works within a man but never interferes with free will.

Pelagianism and Augustinianism (and also Calvinism) are at the two extremes. Pelagianism regards grace as acting only upon the understanding, Augustinianism as only on the will (thus the need for efficacious grace making the will change), Arminianism regards grace as working on the whole being.

The fall did not destroy the natural image of man. He still has powers of thought, affection and will, and, though these are weakened and spoilt by sin, they are not destroyed. Also though man is enslaved to sin, the slavery is not an absolute one in that man is conscious of his slavery and there are times when he rebels against it. Grace, prevenient grace, works in all these realms.

It works on the thought, on the affections and on the will, seeking to awaken man, bring him to a sense of his desperate need and to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. As the human will and desire co-operates with this prevenient grace of God and goes along with it, it finally merges into saving grace without the necessity of making any distinction between "common grace" and "efficacious grace".

It is maintained by the Calvinists that this view denies and denudes the Sovereignty of God, but this is not really the case. God is sovereign, the initiative lies all the time with Him and salvation is all of Him and His grace. He has chosen, however, to make man with free will and He will always respect this.

Therefore, while the initiative lies with Him and salvation can only come from Him, man must co-operate by repentance and faith, in other words he must fulfil the conditions which God has laid down. It is akin to a gift which may be entirely the result of the goodness and power of the giver, but the beneficiary receives no good there from, unless he accept and take it.

  1. God, therefore, is still sovereign in that,
  2. He has decreed that all who believe will be saved and all who refuse will be lost, and He will adhere to this decree.
  3. The final course of the world and the final setting up of His kingdom are entirely and absolutely in His hands.

It is objected that this way of viewing matters is dishonouring to God. It is difficult, though, to see why. It coincides with the very strong emphasis found in the Scriptures on the free will of man and only states that God, by His sovereign will, has chosen to limit Himself in creating man with a free will and not as a mere automaton.

It would seem to be far more dishonouring to God to say that out of all mankind, He would decide, quite apart from any opportunity of man to change it, that some (or even most) would be lost and damned forever in hell. This view seems completely out of harmony with Scripture in that:-

  1. Scripture clearly declares that God is love and is no respecter of persons.
  2. Scripture likewise declares that God is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance's (2 Pet,3:9) and God also says, "Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?" (Ezek.18:23).
  3. It completely denies free will to man in the one area of his existence which is all important. It is in effect nothing but fatalism.

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