One assertion made by Arminians is that God gives every person, without exception, enough grace to believe. They then claim that He leaves it to our free will whether to accept the offer of salvation.
Calvinists, in contrast, hold that every person, without exception, is a sinner (Romans 3:23), spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1), and, therefore, incapable of any spiritual good (Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:10-12). It is only when God gives a man a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26) that he becomes able to believe. And, in that person, God's grace is effectual. That is, we believe that Jesus does not merely make salvation available, but that He actually saves those for whom He died (Matthew 1:21, Ephesians 5:25).
It is that idea of effectual grace that I want to address.
Consider first Isaiah 53:11: "Out of the anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied; by His
knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted
righteous, and He shall bear their iniquities." This verse is part of the well-known Suffering Servant chapter of Isaiah. It points to the then-future redemptive work of Christ, the "anguish of His soul." The prophet tells us that He would be satisfied, not by offering salvation, but by "mak[ing] many to be accounted righteous." To be accounted righteous is a straightforward definition of justification. This verse tells us that Jesus was satisfied with His sufferings because they would be effectual in the justification of many. Could He have been satisfied with a mere offer of justification which fails in many?
Next, look at Job 42:2: "[Job said,] I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted." This is Job speaking to God, acknowledging his subordination, on the grounds that God is omnipotent, able to achieve all that He intends. In fact, since Job is the far older book, it is his principle which is the basis for Isaiah's prophecy above.
Lastly, look at Psalm 135:6: "Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps." Like Job, the Psalmist acknowledges his subordination, because God is not restrained by anything outside Himself.
There is a sense in which Calvinists believe in "free will," that the will is free from coercion. However, we deny that it is free in the sense that a person can will anything contrary to his own nature. All men have a sinful nature, so our wills can only will sin, but freely, without external compulsion. In those whom he intends to save, God changes the will (Philippians 2:13), and effectually enables that person to believe. There is no other way.
39 Articles—Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude (4)
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