Daniel Whitby, “Refuting Arguments for Irresistible Grace (Part 1): Grace

, posted by Godismyjudge

By Daniel Whitby – part of Discourses on the 5 Points

Editor Note: Archaic spellings and words have been updated, sentences broken down into shorter sentences and links to scripture references inserted. – Godismyjudge


The State of the Question

  1. For the right stating of this question it will be require to show:
    what is the scriptural import of the word Grace and
  2. what is the manner of the operation of this Grace upon the soul, to convert, or to dispose it to what is spiritually good and
  3. what renders it efficacious in some, and not in others to produce faith, repentance and conversion of the soul to God, and what is the account the scripture, and our blessed Savior gives of this matter.

SECTION I. — To begin with the first particular, Grace in the scripture, when it is styled the grace of God imports his favor, and his kind affection to us, as has been largely proven in the note on 2 Corinthians 6:1. Accordingly, first, the gospel preached to Jew and Gentile, is styled (Titus 2:11) the grace of God which brings salvation; (Acts 20:32) the word of his grace which is able to build us up, kai donai, and to give us an inheritance among them that are sanctified. This also must be the import of the word when it is said (John 1:17) that the law came by Moses; but grace and truth by Jesus Christ; when the apostles exhort their converts to (Acts 13:43, 14:3) continue in the grace of God; when they say that God confirmed the word of his grace by doing signs and wonders; when the gospel is styled (Acts 20:32, Acts 20:24) the word of grace, and the gospel of grace. And this is probably the import of the word in many other places cited by Dr. Hammond, note on Hebrews 13:9 where, he said, they that believed through grace, Acts 18:27 are they that believed through the preaching of the gospel ; and in this sense the grace of God is absolute; there being nothing either in Jew or Gentile which made them worthy of this revelation, nor any condition required on their part that it might be preached to them.

Secondly, this grace which thus appeared to all men, being he charis he soterios, i.e. in its design, and in its influence (where it was not obstructed by men’s infidelity, and love of darkness more than light) saving grace, the calling of men by the preaching of it to the faith, is sometimes said to be the calling them by grace; and when they embrace that call, the saving them by grace, as when it is said, (Acts 15:11) we are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ; by grace ye are saved, not of works. For seeing this is spoken to men still alive, and so obliged, (Ephesians 2:8-9, Philippians 2:12) to work out their salvation with fear and trembling; it cannot mean that they were actually saved, but only that they were called to a state of salvation, enjoyed the means and were put in the way of salvation by grace (of which import of the word saved, see the note on Ephesians 2:8.) Hence the apostle says, (2 Timothy 1:9) he hath saved us, and (or that is) called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but the grace given us in Christ Jesus; and to be thus saved by grace, is to be saved by the mercy and favor of God to us, according to these words of the same apostle, (Titus 3:4-5) when the kindness and love of God our Savior to man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done (before faith) but by his mercy he saved us; and this grace is again absolute, it being purely of the mercy, and the free grace of God that any nation is, by the preaching of the gospel to them, called to the knowledge of salvation by Christ.

Third, when men thus called embrace the gospel, and believe in Christ, and so obtain the pardon of their past sins, this also is said to be done by grace, we being justified (Acts 15:17, Romans 3:24) by the grace of God through the redemption that is in Jesus, and obtaining the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of his grace; and though this grace be not absolute but conditional, we being justified by faith, yet since that faith is not of ourselves, but is the gift of God, and it is of mere grace that this act of faith, which deserves nothing, is imputed to us for righteousness; it is certain that we are justified by the grace of God.

Fourth, the gift of the Spirit, is in the scripture styled the grace of God, especially his extraordinary gifts, as when St. Paul said. (Romans 12:6) having gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us: whether prophecy, let us prophecy according to the proportion of faith, &.c. To the Corinthians he says this, (1 Corinthians 1:4-6) I thank my God for the grace which is given to you, so that you come behind the other churches in no gift. And again, (2 Corinthians 1:12) not in fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God we have had our conversation in the world, and more especially towards you. To the Ephesians thus, (Ephesians 4:7-8) to every one of us is given grace according to the nature of the gift of Christ. And St. Peter says this, (1 Peter 4:10) as every one hath received the gift, to minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. On which account they who fell off from the faith, after they had tasted of these gifts and were made (Hebrews 6:4, 10:29) partakers of the Holy Ghost, are said to have despised the Spirit of grace. Now this grace being peculiar to the first ages of the church can have nothing to do with this controversy, unless by way of proportion and analogy, in which the ordinary gifts and assistances of the Holy Spirit derived from the fame God, may also be called the grace of God.

Now this being all the senses in which the word grace, or the grace of God is used in the holy scripture, we may hence discern how in the schools, and in our common language, the word grace hath been abused and wrested from its proper sense; for, whereas, both in the Old and the New Testament, it signifies the favor, goodness and mercy of God to us in giving us such and such blessings, they say made it commonly to signify some supernatural and infused habits, or Christian virtues, which in scripture are never styled grace, but the fruits of the Spirit; as Galatians 5:22, Ephesians 5:9.


I add that besides this calling of men to the profession of the Christian faith, and this vouchsafement of the gospel to them as a rule of life; it seems necessary to assert that God vouchsafes some inward operations or assistances to incline them to what is good, and work conversion in them. For were it otherwise, first, why is this Spirit styled a quickening, or (Romans 8:2) life giving Spirit? Why is he said to (Genesis 6:3) strive with man? Why are wicked men said to (Acts 7:51) resist the Holy Ghost? And why are they who are converted said to (John 3:5,6,8) be born of the Spirit, and to be enabled (Romans 8:13) through the Spirit to mortify the deeds of the body? For how can he be said to strive with men, or they to refill his motions, if he makes no impressions on our spirits? How can he quicken, work in us the new birth, or enable us to mortify the deeds of the flesh without some vital energy, some renewing operations or powerful assistances to subdue those motions of the flesh which (Galatians 5:17) lust against the spirit? Second, why else is it expressly said that (Philippians 2:13) God works in us both to will and to do of his own good pleasure, and (Hebrews 13:21) does within us what is acceptable in his sight. For sure he cannot properly be said, energein kai poiein en emin , to act and work within us, who does, and works nothing in us? How doth the word itself when heard or read work on us, but by making impressions on our minds? And shall that be denied to God himself, which we allow to his word? Or shall he not be believed when he says, he works in us both to will and do, he does within us what is acceptable in his sight? And, third, doth it not seem unreasonable to deny that influence to God and his good Spirit to incline men to goodness, which generally is, and must, according to the Scripture, be allowed to the evil Spirit tempting men to wickedness? Now though this evil spirit cannot lay us under a necessity of doing evil, yet is he represented in the Scripture as the great tempter to sin, which he can only be immediately by raising some ideas in our brain which do excite, dispose and move us as our own thoughts or inward sentiments at other times are wont to do, to what is evil ; he also is styled (Ephesians 2:2) that spirit which, energei, works inwardly in the children of disobedience; which words seem plainly to import some inward energy of Satan to excite them to this disobedience; seeing then (1 John 4:4) stronger is he that is in us, than he that is in the world, that good Spirit who dwells in pious men, is more powerful in them than Satan is in wicked men, we must allow this good Spirit energein, to work inwardly in the children of obedience, as Satan is allowed to work in his own children. Moreover the evil spirit is represented as (1 Kings 22:21) a. lying spirit in mouth of Ahab’s prophets; (1 Chronicles 21:1) he moved David to number the people; (Luke 22:3) he entered into Judas; (Acts 5:3) he filled the heart of Ananias to lie to the Holy Ghost; all which things cannot be accounted for without allowing him some power to work upon the minds of those persons, so as to raise within them some such ideas as would excite and stir them up to the performance of those actions.

When therefore in like manner God is said to (Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 18:31; Ezekiel 36:27; Jeremiah 32:40; Hebrews 8:10; Deuteronomy 30:6) put a new Spirit, and to put his Spirit within us, to create in its a clean heart, and renew in us a right spirit, to put his fear, and his law in our hearts, to circumcise, and (Jeremiah 31:18) to convert the heart; if he by his good Spirit raises no good motions or ideas in us which may dispose us to his fear, and by attention to them may convert and cleanse our hearts, if he vouchsafes to us no inward illuminations by attending to which we may discern the wondrous things of his law, what can these words or metaphors import?

Seeing the heart is purified by an inward change and temper which renders it averse from sin, and sets the affections, desires and inclinations of the soul against it; seeing the deeds of the flesh are only mortified by such a renovation of the mind as makes us to discern the pernicious effects and dreadful consequences of living still according to our fleshly appetites, and so begets a dread and hatred of them, a resolution to forsake them, a vehement desire to be freed from them, a sincere endeavor to resist the motions of the flesh, and a care that we do not for the future yield obedience to it in the lullings of it; if there be no renovation worked in us by the assistance and cooperation of the Spirit, how can we possibly conceive God would put in us a Spirit, create in us a clean heart, renew in its a right Spirit, circumcise and convert the heart, or put in us fear into if His good Spirit works nothing on the mind and the affections of a man, and consequently upon his will to make to change within us?

To say that all these operations of the Holy Spirit were particular to the first ages of the church, and therefore are now ceased, is in effect to make the dispensation of the gospel cease, the difference between that and the law, being by the apostle in this, that the one is the ministration of the letter only, the other also of the Spirit; and if it were so only while the extraordinary dispensations of the Spirit lasted, then from the time that they have ceased, the gospel does not in this differ from the law, or deserve to be preferred before it upon that account.

And, fourth, the denial of this assistance seems to take off from the energy of prayer in general, and from the virtue of prayer for the Holy Spirit in particular, and so to make men slight and neglect that duty of which the scripture speaks so magnificently, and to which it so frequently exhorts us; at least, it seems not well, consistent with the tenor of these inspired prayers, or these prescriptions for it recorded in the holy scripture ; for who can reconcile it with these expressions, in which holy men of God so often beg he would incline their hearts unto him, since this he cannot do without some operation on their hearts; or that he would draw them that they might run after him, that he would open their eyes, and give them understanding to discern his law, that he would lead them in the right way, in the way everlasting; for if God by his Spirit hath no influence upon the heart and soul, how does he incline or draw it? If none upon the understanding, how does he enlighten or instruct it? If this be done only by the words read, preached and pondered in the heart, we may as well apply ourselves to that work without, as with prayer. Moreover, according to this doctrine, it seems both fruitless and absurd to pray for the assistance of the Holy Spirit, or to expect we should enjoy it, and so that passage of St. Luke, (Luke 11:9,13) Ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you; for if evil parents give good gifts to their children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him, must be of no use or virtue to us; for what do these words bid us pray for but the Holy Spirit, and what assistance can he afford us if he does not operate at all upon us? To say this promise is to be confined to the first ages of the church, seems not agreeable to reason; for why then does it run in words so general, pass gar, for every one that asks receives.

Moreover, those spiritual and ordinary effects for which the Holy Spirit was then given, those fruits of the spirit he produced in them, are as needful and good for Christians now as when our Savior spoke these words; for as the Holy Spirit was then needful to strengthen Christ’s servants (Ephesians 3:16) in the inward man to do his will, to comfort them in tribulations, and to support them in fiery trials, and to preserve them from the subtitles of Satan, and the temptations of the wicked World; so is there the same need of his assistance now for all these gracious ends, and therefore the same reason to expect him still for all these purposes.

The conditions also of this promise may be performed now by us, as well as by them then; we may be now sincerely desirous to obey the holy will of God, and with true fervency and importunity may beg the Holy Spirit to this end; and if we may acceptably perform those duties to which this promise is annexed, why may we not as confidently expect the blessing promised? For the encouragement here given to expect the assistance of the Holy Spirit is this, which we ask him, of our heavenly Father. Now this most comfortable relation God bears to all his children of what age whatsoever, and therefore there is now and ever will be the same benignity in God, the same good will and readiness in him to give his Holy Spirit to his children for all needful purposes, as in all former ages; if therefore in like manner we do ask we must have equal reason to expect we should receive him.
Proposing the arguments which seem to overthrow this assertion, of an irresistible or unfrustrable grace, necessary to the conversion of a sinner.

AND this I shall begin with some general considerations, as God wills.

I. That which is sufficient to cause any man to distrust, if not entirely to reject, this doctrine is this, — That the defenders of it are forced, by the evidence of truth, to grant what is inconsistent with their doctrine, and to assert an universal grace, which to all, excepting the elect, is really no grace, as v. g.

First, they grant, “that preventing grace, as it is given irresistibly, so likewise is it given universally to men, and that this initial and exciting grace being once granted, is never taken away by God from any man, unless he first of his own accord rejects it;” and yet they resolve the non-conversion, or not believing of all those who are not effectually converted into the want of means sufficient for their salvation, or, which is the same thing, into God’s dereliction of them in that state of disability into which Adam’s fall had cast them. And what grace is it then, to have that initial and exciting, grace which they cannot but reject, and which can never work faith and repentance in them for want of that farther and effectual grace which God will not vouchsafe to them, or that they have a talent put into their hands which they cannot but abuse to their greater condemnation, for want of farther talents which he is resolved to withhold from them?

Secondly. They grant, ” that there are certain inward workings and effects wrought by the word and Spirit of God preceding conversion and regeneration in the hearts of persons not yet justified, which God ceases not to promote and carry on towards conversion, till he be forsaken of them by their voluntary negligence, and his grace be repelled by them; and yet that he intends to restrain his saving grace to his elect, and to afford means sufficient for salvation to them only.” And why again, then, are these inward, workings and effects wrought in them by the word and Spirit, from whom God intends to restrain his saving and converting grace, without which they cannot but neglect and repel his former grace? Or how can he properly be said to carry on this work, towards the conversion of them, whom He has decreed to leave in an utter disability of being converted, or recovered from their undone condition?

Thirdly, that God doth very seriously and in earnest invite and call all those to faith and repentance and conversion, in whom by his word and Spirit he works a knowledge of the divine will, a sense of sin, a dread of punishment, some hopes of pardon; and yet that all these men, excepting the elect, are not converted through, a effectiveness in the grace of God to do it, or for want of means sufficient for their conversion or salvation; and because God never intended by these means salvation to any, but the elect, He having passed a decree of preterition on the rest of mankind, whom therefore he hath left under a necessity of perishing, since idem est pratermitti ac dimitti, ‘ it is the same thing to be omitted out of the decree of election, and to be left to perish ;’ and who then can conceive how his word or Spirit should work in any other a hope of pardon? Or how can God be serious and in good earnest in calling them to faith and repentance, and yet serious and in good earnest in his decree to deny them that grace without which they neither can believe nor repent?

To call them seriously to faith and repentance, being to call them to salvation by faith and to repent that they may not perish ; and to pass antecedently a decree of preterition on them, is seriously to will they should inevitably perish. To think to relieve all this by saying, “God is serious and in good earnest in inviting these men to believe that they may be saved, and to repent that they may not perish, because he would save them if they would believe; he would preserve them from perishing if they would, repent,” is vain. For if faith be the gift of God,’ if He ‘gives repentance to life,’ and hath restrained both these gifts to His elect, and has left all the rest of mankind under a necessity to perish for want of an ability to believe and repent, because this ability was lost to them by the fall of Adam, then must not all these invitations made to them to believe that they might be saved, and repent that they might not perish, be only an invitation to escape perishing, and to obtain salvation upon a condition which His decree of preterition hath rendered it impossible for them to perform?

And can He then be serious, and in good earnest, who only doth invite them to use things on a condition which he himself hath decreed to leave them under an utter inability to perform?

These are such evident absurdities and contradictory propositions, that nothing but a strong and shining evidence of that which manifestly destroys their doctrine would force them to admit them.

Proceed to part 2 Arguments against Irresistible Grace