Irresistible grace (or efficacious grace) is a doctrine in Christian
theology particularly associated with Calvinism, which teaches that
the saving grace of
God is effectually applied to those whom he has
determined to save (the elect) and, in God's timing, overcomes their
resistance to obeying the call of the gospel, bringing them to faith
in Christ. It is to be distinguished from prevenient grace
particularly associated with
Arminianism which teaches that the offer
of salvation through grace does not act irresistibly in a purely
cause-effect, deterministic method, but rather in an
influence-and-response fashion that can be both freely accepted and
1 The doctrine
1.1 Objections to the doctrine
1.2 Biblical passages related to the doctrine
2 History of the doctrine
3 See also
5 External links
Augustine of Hippo
Augustine of Hippo taught that
those whom he chooses for salvation the gift of persevering grace, and
that they could not conceivably fall away. This
doctrine gave rise to the doctrine of irresistible grace (gratia
irresistibilis), though the term was not used during Augustine's
According to Calvinism, those who obtain salvation do so, not by their
own "free" will, but because of the sovereign grace of God. That is,
men yield to grace, not finally because their consciences were more
tender or their faith more tenacious than that of other men. Rather,
the willingness and ability to do God's will are evidence of God's own
faithfulness to save men from the power and the penalty of sin, and
since man is so corrupt that he will not decide and cannot be wooed to
follow after God,
God must powerfully intervene by drawing the sinner
to himself. In short,
Calvinism argues that regeneration must precede
Calvin says of this intervention that "it is not violent, so as to
compel men by external force; but still it is a powerful impulse of
the Holy Spirit, which makes men willing who formerly were unwilling
and reluctant,". Despite the denial within Calvin and within the
Calvinist confessions of violence or coercion being done to the
Perry Miller characterized Calvin's view of
regeneration as being "a forcible seizure, a holy rape of the
surprised will." John Gill says that "this act of drawing is an act
of power, yet not of force;
God in drawing of unwilling, makes willing
in the day of His power: He enlightens the understanding, bends the
will, gives an heart of flesh, sweetly allures by the power of His
grace, and engages the soul to come to Christ, and give up itself to
Him; he draws with the bands of love. Drawing, though it supposes
power and influence, yet not always coaction and force: music draws
the ear, love the heart, and pleasure the mind."
Objections to the doctrine
Christians associated with Arminianism, such as
John Wesley and part
of the Methodist movement, reject this Calvinist doctrine. They
believe that as Adam and Eve were free to choose between right and
wrong, humanity is able, as a result of the prevenient grace of God
Jesus Christ, to choose to turn from sin to righteousness and
Jesus Christ who draws all of humanity to Himself. And I,
if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. John
12:32. In this view, (1) after God's universal dispensation of grace
to mankind, the will of man, which was formerly adverse to
unable to obey, can now choose to obey through the work of Christ; and
(2) although God's grace is a strong initial catalyst to effect
salvation, it is not irresistible but may be ultimately resisted and
rejected by a human being.
Arminianism agree that the question of the
resistibility of grace is inexorably bound up with the theological
system's view of the sovereignty of God. The fundamental question is
God allow individuals to accept or reject His grace and
yet remain sovereign. If so, then grace can be resistible. If not,
then grace must be irresistible. This different understanding of
sovereignty is often attributed to an improper understanding of total
depravity. However, both Calvin and Arminius taught total depravity.
Total depravity is expressly affirmed in Article III of the Five
articles of Remonstrance. Nevertheless, Calvinist
Charles Hodge says,
"The (Arminian) and (Roman Catholic) doctrine is true, if the other
parts of their doctrinal system are true; and it is false if that
system be erroneous. If the (Calvinistic) doctrine concerning the
natural state of man since the fall, and the sovereignty of
election, be Scriptural, then it is certain that sufficient grace does
not become efficacious from the cooperation of the human will.".
Calvinism's rejection of
Prevenient Grace leaves humanity in a state
of Total Depravity which requires Regeneration of an individual before
that individual is capable to believe or repent. John the Baptist
called all to his baptism for the remission of sins Mark 1:4 and
multitudes responded without regeneration Mark 1:5. The New Testament
regularly calls individuals to repent and believe with no indication
that they had been previously regenerated. The Apostle Peter called
the Jews to repent and be converted Acts 3:19.
Jesus promised that the
Holy Spirit would convict the world of sin John 16:8. Calvinism's
response is found in Limited Atonement. So as a result of the
Calvinist understanding of God's sovereignty, one must conclude that
God's election does not depend upon any human response, necessitating
a belief in (1) both Total Depravity and Unconditional Election, (2)
Irresistible Grace rather than Prevenient Grace, and (3) Limited
Atonement; if any of these beliefs are rejected, this logic fails.
Like Calvinists, Lutherans view the work of salvation as monergistic
in which an unconverted or unrepentant person always resists and
God and his ways. Even during conversion, the Formula of
Concord says, humans resist "the Word and will of God, until God
awakens him from the death of sin, enlightens and renews him."
Furthermore, they both see the preaching of the gospel as a means of
grace by which
God offers salvation.
Calvinists distinguish between a resistible, outward call to salvation
given to all who hear the free offer of the gospel, and an
efficacious, inward work by the Holy Spirit. Every person is unwilling
to follow the outward call to salvation until, as the Westminster
Confession puts it, "being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit,
he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace
offered and conveyed by it." Once inwardly renewed, every person
God and his ways as "not only the obligatory but the
preferable good," and hence that special renewing grace is always
Contrary to the Calvinist position, Lutherans hold that whenever the
Holy Spirit works outwardly through the Word and sacraments, he always
acts inwardly through them as well. Unlike Calvinists, Lutherans
believe the Holy Spirit always works efficaciously. The Word heard
by those that resist it is just as efficacious as the Word preached to
those that convert. The
Formula of Concord
Formula of Concord teaches that when
humans reject the calling of the Holy Spirit, it is not a result of
the Word being less efficacious. Instead, contempt for the means of
grace is the result of "the perverse will of man, which rejects or
perverts the means and instrument of the Holy Ghost, which
him through the call, and resists the Holy Ghost, who wishes to be
efficacious, and works through the Word..."
Lutherans are certain that the work of the Holy Spirit does not occur
merely alongside the means of grace to regenerate, but instead is an
integral part of them, always working through them wherever they are
found. Lutherans teach that the Holy Spirit limits himself to working
only through the means of grace and nowhere else, so that those
who reject the means of grace are simultaneously resisting and
rejecting the Holy Spirit and the grace he brings.
Biblical passages related to the doctrine
The Five Points
Perseverance of the saints
The statement of St. Paul is said to confirm that those whom God
effectually calls necessarily come to full salvation: "(T)hose whom
(God) predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also
justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified" (Romans
8:28,30). Of course, this confirmation depends upon the belief that
God elected certain individuals for salvation, He either did not
know or did not consider who would respond and obey, though the
Apostle Peter refers to the "Elect according to the foreknowledge of
God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience
and sprinkling of the blood of
Jesus Christ". 1 Peter 1:2
Calvinists also rely upon several verses from the sixth chapter of the
Gospel of John, which contains a record of Jesus' teaching on
humanity's abilities and God's activities in salvation, as the central
proof text for the Calvinist doctrine:
John 6:37,39: "All that the Father gives me will come to me.... And
this is the will of Him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all
that He has given me, but raise it up on the last day."[ESV]
John 6:44–45: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me
draws him.... Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes
John 6:65: "(N)o one can come to me unless it is granted him by the
- Proponents of
Arminianism argue that the word "draw" (Greek:
ἕλκω, helkô) as used in John 6:44 does not require the sense
of "drag", though they this is the word's usual meaning (as in Jn.
18:10; 21:6; 21:11; Acts 16:19; 21:30; Jas. 2:6). They point to John
12:32 as an example: "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will
draw all people to myself." Many Arminians interpret this to mean that
Jesus draws all people to Himself but some are able to resist this
drawing since, if the call is truly irresistible, then all must come
to Christ and be saved. They may also note that in the Septuagint
version of Jeremiah 38:13, when Jeremiah is lifted out of the pit
where he was left to die, this Greek verb is used for the action which
his rescuers performed after he voluntarily secured the ropes under
his armpits, and that this rescue was certainly performed in
cooperation with Jeremiah's wishes and would have failed if he did not
cooperate. Therefore, they may argue, even if the semantics of "draw"
are understood in the usual sense, this should only be taken to
indicate the source of the power, not the question of whether the
person being drawn independently desires the drawing, or to indicate
that the drawing is done irrespective of their wishes.
Calvinists argue that (1) the word "draw" should be understood
according to its usual semantics in both John 6:44 and 12:32; (2) the
word "all" (translated "all people" in v. 12:32) should be taken in
the sense of "all kinds of people" rather than "every individual"; and
thus (3) the former verse refers to an irresistible internal call to
salvation and the latter to the opening of the Kingdom of
God to the
Gentiles, not a universal, resistible internal call. Of course, that
argument requires acceptance of either the doctrine of Limited
Atonement or universalism, since John 12:32 clearly states that "Jesus
will draw all". Some have asserted on this basis that the text of John
6:44 can entail either universalism or
Calvinism (inclusive of Limited
Atonement), but not Arminianism.
Arminian William Barclay argues that "man's resistance can defeat the
pull of God" mentioned in John 6:44, but commentator Leon Morris
contends that "(n)ot one of (Barclay's) examples of the verb ('draw')
shows the resistance as successful. Indeed we can go further. There is
not one example in the
New Testament of the use of this verb where the
resistance is successful. Always the drawing power is triumphant, as
here." Such arguments invite the criticism that Calvinists teach
salvation by decree of
God rather than justification by faith alone,
that they "so zealously sought to guard the free grace of
salvation that they denied faith any involvement at all in the actual
justification of sinners." But even if the drawing power is always
triumphant, the ability to resist does not depend upon the meaning of
the word "draw" in John 12:32, but on the question what the "draw" is
intended to accomplish.
Calvinism assumes that persons who Jesus
"draws" will be regenerated.
Arminianism states that all are drawn to
Jesus to be given an enabling grace. "
Jesus does not define what 'His
drawing' will accomplish in John 12, only that He will do it."
Even if the semantics of "draw" are understood in the manner
Calvinist's urge, this should only be taken to indicate the
sufficiency of the power to draw (they were "not able to draw" as in
John 21:6, or they were able to do so as in John 21:11), rather than
to define what
God does to those He draws. Arminians reject the
Calvinist teaching that
God draws for the purpose of forced
regeneration irrespective of their wishes. Rather Arminians believe
God draws all persons to provide all with an ability or enabling to
believe, as prevenient grace teaches.
History of the doctrine
Main article: History of Calvinist–
In the Catholic Church, debates concerning the respective role of
efficacious grace and free will led to the establishment of the
Congregatio de Auxiliis at the end of the 16th century by the Pope
Clement VIII. The Dominicans insisted on the role of the efficacious
grace, but the Jesuits embraced Molinism, which postulated greater
liberty in the will. These debates also led to the famous formulary
controversy in France which pitted the Jansenists against the Jesuits.
The doctrine is one of the so-called Five points of
were defined at the
Synod of Dort
Synod of Dort during the Quinquarticular
Controversy with the
Arminian Remonstrants, who objected to the
general predestinarian scheme of Calvinism, rejecting its denial of
free will and its condemnation of the "majority of humanity for the
sole purpose of torturing them in hell for all of eternity, and that
they never had a choice". In Calvinist churches, the doctrine is
most often mentioned in comparisons with other salvific schemes and
their respective doctrines about the state of mankind after the Fall,
and it is not a common topic for sermons or studies otherwise.
^ Forlines, Leroy F.; Pinson, Matthew J.; Ashby, Stephen M. (2001).
The Quest for Truth: Answering Life's Inescapable Questions.
Nashville: Randall House Publications. pp. 313–321.
^ Hägglund, Bengt (2007) . Teologins historia [History of
Theology] (in German). Translated by Gene J. Lund (4th rev. ed.). St.
Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. pp. 139–140.
^ John Calvin. "John 6:41-45". Commentary on John. 1.
Westminster Confession of Faith, X.1
^ Canons of Dort, Third and Fourth Main Points of Doctrine, Article 16
^ Miller, Perry (June 1943), ""Preparation for Salvation" in
Seventeenth-Century New England", Journal of the History of Ideas,
University of Pennsylvania Press, 4 (3): 261, JSTOR 2707254
^ John Gill. "John 6:44". John Gill's Exposition of the Bible.
^ Charles Hodge. "Efficacious Grace". Systematic Theology. 2.
^ Calvin, John. Institutes of Christian Religion. Book 3, Chapter 3,
Section 1. p. 509.
^ Formula of Concord: Solid Declaration, art. ii, par. 71; par. 18
^ Solid Declaration, art. ii, par. 59
Westminster Confession of Faith, X.1,2.
^ Loraine Boettner. "Efficacious Grace". The Reformed
^ a b "
Lutheranism compared". Wisconsin Evangelical
Lutheran Synod. Archived from the original on 2009-09-27. Retrieved
^ Henry Eyster Jacobs: A Summary of the Christian Faith. Philadelphia:
General Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America,
1905, pp. 216-17, Engelder, Theodore E.W. (1934). Popular Symbolics:
The Doctrines of the Churches of Christendom and Of Other Religious
Bodies Examined in the Light of Scripture. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia
Publishing House. p. 58.
^ Solid Declaration, article xi, "Election", par. 41
^ Smalcald Articles, part 8, "Of Confession": "[I]n those things which
concern the spoken, outward Word, we must firmly hold that
His Spirit or grace to no one, except through or with the preceding
^ Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott. "helkô". A Greek-English
Lexicon. Retrieved 2009-03-26.
^ Brian Bosse (2005-10-11). "A Logical Analysis - John 6:44" (PDF).
Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-12-02. Retrieved
Leon Morris (1995). The
Gospel According to John (revised ed.).
p. 328, n. 116.
^ McKelvey, Robert J. (2011). That Error and Pillar of
Antinomianism’: Eternal Justification. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck &
Ruprecht. p. 239-40.
^ Yuriy, Stasyuk. The Reluctant Skeptic
Retrieved 29 May 2017. Missing or empty title= (help)
^ Corey, Benjamin. "Why
Calvinism Makes Me Want to Gouge My Eyes Out".
Patheos. Retrieved 16 April 2017.
"Of Effectual Calling" from John Gill's Body of Doctrinal Divinity
"Concerning Efficacious Grace" by Jonathan Edwards
"Efficacious Grace", section 3.14.4 from Charles Hodge's Systematic
"On Regeneration", a sermon by Charles Spurgeon
"Irresistible Grace" by John Murray
"Efficacious Grace", chapter 13 from Loraine Boettner's The Reformed
Doctrine of Predestination
"Regeneration Precedes Faith" by R. C. Sproul
"Irresistible Grace" by John Piper
Many articles on irresistible grace by various authors
Irresistible grace, WELS Topical Q&A (Confessional Lutheran
Sermon #58: "On Predestination" by John Wesley
Sermon #128: "Free Grace" by John Wesley
Prevenient Grace by Gregory Neal
Calvinism and John 6: An Exegetical Response by Steve Witzki
Free Grace or Forced Grace? by Steve Witski
Means of grace
Union with Christ