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EFFECTUAL GRACE: The Force of Desire

EFFECTUAL GRACE: The Force of Desire

By Roger Salter
Special to Virtueonline
April 15, 2019

The sovereignty of divine grace is made explicit in Holy Scripture and it is a standard doctrine within the Anglican Communion (Article 17). It is a cherished component of our Augustinian and Cranmerian heritage warmly endorsed by so many of our greatest exponents of Reformed Catholicism (Bradford, Jewel, Hooker, Whitgift, Donne, Ussher, Preston, Whitefield, Ryle, and a vast cluster of so many others from the past five centuries and this) which we so affectionately embrace. Honesty in commitment to our doctrinal manifesto, The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, is a true and essential mark of loyalty to the Scriptural legacy left to us by our faithful and scholarly forbears. It is the fruit of closeness to God, wisdom in contemplation of his Word, suffering for the promotion of the gospel, and even martyrdom for Christ's cause.

The merit of Anglicanism in its treatment of efficient grace, in all its associated corollaries, is that it is careful to present uncompromisingly orthodox teaching in a distinctly pastoral way (as is evident in other Protestant traditions, of course, but not necessarily, perhaps, with the same tender tone in its denominational symbols and in its less severe approach to the exercise of the divine prerogative). On the whole, Anglicanism is not as speculative, at least in public declaration, as other Reformed traditions with regard to the divine decrees. The emphasis is quite definitely on distinguishing grace and electing love, clearly and carefully framed, but attended with wise and comforting counsel to the concerned soul. Anglicanism affirms that our election is made known and deeply assured in our constant and trusting gaze upon Christ, crucified and raised for our salvation:

The reverent consideration of our predestination and election in Christ is full of sweet, pleasant and unspeakable strength and comfort to godly persons, who feel the working in themselves of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh and their earthly passions and drawing their thoughts upward to high and heavenly realities. This teaching is welcome to us both because it strongly establishes and confirms our assurance of eternal salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, and also because it kindles in us a fervent love to God (Article 17).

Predestination is not a perplexity to be probed with over-confident conjecture or with dismissive, negative conclusions about others. Rather the concept of the eternal purpose of God is designed for the comfort and consolation of the believer. There need be no apprehension or personal anxiety in the recognition of the Lord's choice of those definitely marked out for eternal life. All who desire Christ with penitent and trustful hearts shall have him according to his certain promise to save all who sincerely call upon him. Those passed by and left to their own preferences would never crave him and constantly refuse him. Heaven would never be a congenial environment.

"The reprobates are faceless so far as Christians are concerned, and it is not for us to try to identify them. Rather, we should live in light of the certainty that anyone may be saved if he or she will repent and put faith in Christ. We should view all persons that we meet as possibly numbered among the elect." (J.I. Packer, Concise Theology, Tyndale, Wheaton, 1993, Page 151). Election is a blessed fact for those acquainted with their helplessness, ill-desert, their tendency to fear themselves - their remaining unholy inclinations, and likelihood at last to defect and foolishly wander from the way of Christ. Unmerited chosen-ness confirms the reality that our Savior preserves us through to the end (John 6:40, 10: 27-30). Christ's undertaking is to perfect our redemption.

!n every aspect of the order of salvation, or the method of grace (Romans 8:30), it is the Lord Jesus himself, the Good Shepherd, who is the personal donor of all the favors and mercies we receive as precious members of his specially purchased flock. Grace is not an abstract commodity assigned or dispatched in our direction from afar, but in every way an intimate endowment, gesture, generous action and influence applied by the inwardly present Lord. Grace is interiorized. The reality and sweetness of electing love is a matter for our conscious experience of the drawing power of the Triune God - the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exercise an irresistible attraction; a threefold allurement containing an inviting summons, a convincing persuasion, and an enabling response. It is the overwhelming goodness, kindness, and beauty of the Lord arrayed in his captivating splendor that successfully woos and wins us to him.

The effectual call of the elect combines the divine desire for us and our quickened desire for him, which he creates in the new heart. The meeting is of his making. He wills it and the sovereignly imparted disposition of yielding to him moves us in his direction. In the birth from above the Lord extracts the heart of stone and inserts a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36: 25-27). We are the objects of tenderest compassion graciously revealed. Philip Doddridge the hymn writer describes the event of regeneration thus:

"Why was I made to hear to hear the voice,
And enter while there's room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?"

'Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste,
And perished in our sin.

Charles Spurgeon is even more emphatic in his quotation from Doddridge's hymn:

"But suppose there should be one of God's chosen who has become so bad that there is no hope for him? He never attends a place of worship; never listens to the gospel; the voice of the preacher never reaches him; he has grown hardened in his sin, like steel that has been seven times annealed in the fire; what then?" That man shall be arrested by God's grace, and that obdurate, hard hearted one shall be made to see the mercy of God; the tears shall stream down his cheeks, and he shall be made willing to receive Jesus as his Savior. I think that, as God could bend my will, and bring me to Christ, he can bring anybody. 'Twas the same love that spread the feast, that sweetly forced me in; else I had still refused to taste,/ and perish'd in my sin. Yes, 'sweetly forced me in' - there is no other word that can so accurately describe my case."

Grace "forces us". The expression is not too strong. Grace excites the desire for Christ. The force of desire, the needfulness of necessity, often drive our will in many decisions and actions over which we never quibble. A bee is always forced to where pollen or honey happens to be but it would never complain that it was not a "freebee"! If temporal considerations can bend our will how much more the beneficial inner influences and motions of the Holy Spirit who kindles a yearning, advises a turning, a change of inclination by his superior magnetism and reason agitating the inclination of the soul toward Christ, just as the glistening of a gem draws us to closer inspection, and the aromas of the kitchen whet our appetite. Life is full of magnets, sights, aromas that draw us to them but we never suspect that our freedom is compromised or quashed. God knows how to "entice" us, adjust our direction, dispose our preferences, just as fellow human beings can bring influence to bear upon our reluctant wills. Why should the term "irresistible grace " offend? It is grace that resets and renews the will, that liberates it from evil leanings and attracts it to the loveliness of Jesus which was never recognized before, and to the holiness of salvation that was never sought.

Spurgeon urges us to note carefully and confidently the "wills and shalls of God". In the ultimate sense he is never frustrated. It is Jesus who instructs explicitly, "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away", meaning that no comers will ever be expelled from his presence ever (John 6:37). Jesus teaches our spiritual and volitional impotence caused by our unregenerate nature, "The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing" (John 6 : 63). Jesus avers, "Stop grumbling among yourselves, No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: They will all be taught by God. Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me." (John 6:43-45) - true saints are chosen, called, glorified.

So-called synergism is not allowable according to Holy Scripture (God and man working together in the initial stage of the conferring of grace). G.C. Berkouwer in his volume Divine Election (pages47-9) states the following, "Scripture makes perfectly clear where the origin and preservation of our salvation lies. How can the solution of synergism - also in its interest in the anthropological freedom of the will - maintain itself over against the unequivocal words of Christ spoken in moment of crisis for his people: "No man can come to me, except the Father that sent me draw him?" The word draw which Christ uses here has always attracted much attention. Kittel says that when it refers to man it has the meaning of to compel, of irresistible superiority, as in (James 2:6) where the rich drag the poor before the judge, and as Paul and Silas are dragged into the market place in Acts 16:19."

Berkouwer continues to observe, "Criticism of synergism has often - and not incorrectly - proceeded from the radical, the unequivocal nature of this word draw. And indeed, the word touches the core of the doctrine of election. The history of the doctrine shows that the danger of a deterministic interpretation of the word was often feared. But this fear led to a tempering of the altogether merciful and sovereign superiority of the divine act of election, and to the establishing of the 'counterpoise' - man's freedom to decide - which was to be a component factor in bringing about man's salvation . . . But he who would draw the conclusion here of synergism and the concept of co-operation forgets how much that 'coming' rests upon and finds its cause in the being drawn and 'being given.' This is indeed the marvelous and inscrutable work of the Holy Spirit that in and through this superiority man really comes, is placed, in this realm of possibility, in this freedom. . . . There is a superiority which is not of a mechanical causality or a coercion that obstructs man's activity; it is the personal superiority of love and grace, which in man's experience is making room for him to act by not destroying his freedom. . . . It is good to observe that Christ employs the word draw when human resistance against his gospel seems at its strongest. In that situation Christ knew that 'everyone that has heard from the Father, and hath learned, cometh unto me'. To hear, to learn, to be given, and then to come is the evangelical incursion of all synergism. It is the reference to God's electing grace (cf. John 3:27), which in faith and experience is understood, not as a coercion, and an annihilating superiority which takes away man's very breath, but as divine liberation."

In effectual calling man is transferred from cramped quarters, morally speaking - servitude to Satan (John 8:34) -to a wide place, the fundamental meaning of salvation. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me (Psalm 18:19).

Effective grace does not inhibit human volition it sets the human will free to move in to alignment with God (John 6:65). Hence Bernard of Clairvaux can say, "There can be no doubt, therefore, that the beginning of our salvation rests with God, and is enacted neither through us nor with us. The consent and the work, however, though not originating from us, nevertheless are not without us" (On Grace and Free Choice, Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, 1988, pages 105-6).

With this Augustinian emphasis John Donne, often cited as the English Augustine, is in perfect accord. "When Donne is not thus fending off the Puritans, his differences with them on the matter of grace seem slight enough. Indeed, in the sermon just quoted, while he disallows irresistibility, he allows 'infallibility' and seems to mean nothing different by it: grace can deal definitively with the most resistant will, as in the case with the thief crucified with Christ, whose conversion illustrates the 'infallibility, and the dispatch of the grace of God upon them whom his gracious purpose hath ordained to salvation: how powerfully he works; how instantly they obey' (Sermons, 1:254). The theme belongs to Donne as much as any occupant of a 'popular pulpit,' and presumably the ears of his audience itched for it as much as any assembly of Puritans. And certainly his treatment of it does not consistently give a larger role to human initiative or expand the claim for human merit" (William H. Halewood, The Poetry of Grace, Yale university Press, New haven and London, 1970, page 62).

From Halewood we derive the following quote from Donne's Sermons,1: 293. "Without such Grace and succession of Grace, our will is so far unable to pre-dispose it self to any good. . . we have no interest in ourselves, no power to doe anything of, or with our selves, but to our destruction. Miserable man! A Toad is a bag of Poyson, and a Spider is a blister of Poison, and yet a Toad and a Spider cannot poyson themselves; man hath a dram of poyson, originall-Sin in an invisible corner, we know not where, and he cannot choose but poison himself and all his actions with that; we are so far from being able to begin without Grace, as then when we have the first Grace, we cannot proceed to the use of that without more (page 62).

Prosper of Aquitaine, the earnest defender of Augustine against the Semi-Pelagians modified his master's view on predestination under the constraint of 1 Timothy 2:4, "God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved." Without discussing the intended meaning of that phrase, or raising the issue of the of both the Lord's will of desire and his will of decree, it so happened that Prosper had eventually to accept the fact that greatly impressed Augustine from the outset of his theological position that it was God who ultimately caused men to differ in the enjoyment of the gift of grace that engendered saving faith, "For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive?" (1 Corinthians 4:7 cf Ephesians 2:8-10). As Leon Morris notes of Christians, "They realize that in themselves they are nothing. They owe everything to the grace of God." The whole tenor of Holy Scripture is that man is helpless and that salvation is solely of the Lord from commencement to completion. It is grace alone that elicits and secures our consent "to close" with Christ in saving trust.

Some, such as John Wesley, like to suggest that God restores everyone by sufficient or prevenient grace to the capacity of being able to choose Christ by their own, obviously aided, decision, which brings about the difference between the saved and the lost. But this notion contradicts the monergism of the Bible and promotes the idea of greater merit and superior virtue in the persons who respond to the gospel in a positive fashion. This is a very subtle retreat back into the zone of salvation by works. Better people win a better eternity. Unthinkable!

The Methodist Old Testament Scholar of high repute Norman Snaith seems to align himself with Reformed thought in his comments on God's Election-love (Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament, Epworth Press. London, 1955 [ten shillings and six pence], pages 173ff). Snaith speaks of Election-love remarking that, "It is a deliberate love, a selective love, a love that chooses." In looking at the character of divine grace he says, "Charis is therefore prevenient Grace. It is the basis of the first stirring in the human heart by which we are brought to God- that is, it is effectual election-love." Referring to the Holy Spirit in action within the spirit of man this splendid writer avers, "Here it is the Spirit of God who reveals the true wisdom of God to men, These things of God are received by the spiritual man and not by the 'natural' man - that is, not by the human faculties. Man as man cannot know these things. . . . By the Holy Spirit alone is a man born into the life which is eternal." The question is posed, "do we look to the transforming Power of the Holy Spirit working in man, and bringing him to God?:" and then answered, "The Bible teaches that man must be dominated by the Spirit of God, transformed, born again into new life."

From a personal point of view (our subjectivity) temperament and tone play a huge role in theological discourse. Each can nuance perception with regard to certain doctrinal averments clearly discerned within the Word of God. Individual [past] associations with various terms arouse particular emotional reactions in different minds that color the process of reception. Some preferences in language cause us to recoil and others encourage us to be receptive. We are far from being impartially rational. But when it comes to the nature of grace and the method of its distribution it is possible for the Protestant predestinarian to find common ground with the Thomist preference with the word "predilection", and to reconcile effectual grace or calling with the Catholic notion of the grace of disposition - adhered to by so many within the communion of Rome. The latter vocabulary, coined by the disciples of Aquinas, is the gentler, but equally Augustinian; the conviction is the same.

The saving grace of the Lord is effective, and it sweetly forces us into union with Christ.

The Rev. Roger Salter is an ordained Church of England minister where he had parishes in the dioceses of Bristol and Portsmouth before coming to Birmingham, Alabama to serve as Rector of St. Matthew's Anglican Church

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