There is one thing that I can’t get over, it’s been about 4 years since The LORD opened my eyes up to the truth of His sovereign grace, and that is the beauty and wonder of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Over the short while I have come to see, and ever increasingly understand, these truths God has brought me into many conversation with those who do not hold to sovereign grace.
I’ve been thinking on the doctrine that the non-Calvinist (yet non-Pelagian) holds to – prevenient grace. This is the notion that God gives grace to all men equally which they are able to improve on in order to be saved. This prevenient grace doesn’t save them, but somehow nullifies the effects of sin without giving any certain inclination to righteousness either. It, in essence, is thought to put the will in neutral so that it is absolutely free to choose good or evil. There are a multiplicity of issues with this view: 1.) it’s not taught in Scripture anywhere, 2.) it must divorce the actions and choices of man from the seat of action – the heart – which is completely against the clear teachings of Scripture, 3.) it cannot account for the difference between two people who hear the gospel and have two different responses, apart from claiming there was something within the individual that made the difference; 4.) It negates the work of Christ on the cross, bleeding it of all it’s power, making it nothing more than the work of a mortal as it was merely done to aid us in our getting ourselves out of hell. Thus prevenient grace still is a system of works, or merit based, salvation. It adds grace into the equation in an attempt to be more faithful to the Scripture than the pelagian system, yet still falls short of Scriptural. Rejecting God’s sovereign choice to save whichever condemned sinners He will, they wish to make the playing field completely equal. Thus they say that what God has done, He has done equally for every individual male/female, inevitably placing their destination in their own hands. They make man the master of his fate and the captain of his soul, ultimately denying God’s control over His creation, and effectively placing man at the position satan promised him he would hold – “you will be as gods”.
Let’s examine an instance of how this prevenient grace is said to work. Greg is lost in his sin, but one day “happens” to go to church (he was actually itch’n for a hitch’n and was hoping to find a good girl at the local baptist church; so he had a reason, but to others it appeared to be chance). While he is sitting there, scoping out the girls, the preacher is giving a clear presentation of the gospel. He hears it with his ears, he can’t help but hear it as the man is literally screaming, Jack Hyles style, from the top of his lungs. The invitation is given as they sing 32 stanzas of “Just as I am”. Now here is what those who espouse prevenient grace believe is going on inside the man:
As the gospel is being preached, the man is hearing it, and God is trying to convince the man that he needs Jesus and to place faith in The Christ. God doesn’t change the man, for the man has to ask God to do that first. Instead, God is thought to somehow nullify the fallen state that Adam’s sin has placed the man without giving him any desire for righteousness. This man is thought to be morally neutral. Having been given this grace that doesn’t really save the man, he is left with his salvation in his own hands. If he meets the condition to merit salvation, namely making the right choice at that moment, then God will grant him saving grace. If not, then the man will be placed back into his sin bound state from which he was momentarily freed.
How does this line up with Scripture? Jesus clearly taught that we must have a definite change in our constitution before we will believe. Jesus said, “unless a man is born again he cannot see the kingdom of heaven.” He also said, “men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil” and “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” directly tying the actions we do as the result of the wickedness of our hearts. Christ clearly stated this relationship when He said, “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.” Prevenient grace not only violates the clear teaching of Jesus by assuming that a man can make a choice for good without actually having had his heart changed to desire good over evil, but it also violates the law of non-contradiction as well. Those who ascribe to prevenient grace declare (by the very nature of it being necessary from the start) that a man cannot choose contrary to his desires; yet after the assumed prevenient grace is given, they say that man can choose contrary to his desires. They say that he has somehow been freed form his bondage to evil, yet not bound to righteousness. Thus being neutral, per what Scripture teaches, no decision would be made; yet they claim that he can now decide for a thing he has no like or dislike for. Trying to take away all influences upon the will of man so as to make it sovereign in itself they have negated effectiveness of the work of Christ. Prevenient grace essentially claims that the death of Christ didn’t save anyone, but merely made man savable if we provide our part with it. Per prevenient grace, Jesus’ death only accomplishes the task of placing us back in some sort of pre-Adamic state to where we can decide our own fate for ourselves. This makes the work of the Trinity ineffectual unless we work with it. For although, as they claim, Jesus has done the same work for every man, and the Holy Spirit has given prevenient grace to every man (or at least every man who hears the gospel), the only difference between the man in heaven and the man in hell is the man himself – the work that he has done.
Standing or falling on his own merit, the man is taught to say alongside William Earnest Henley:
“I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”