Prevenient Grace For All Men

, posted by QuantumGreg

When I tell a Calvinist that I believe in a prevenient grace (the grace of God that comes before regeneration or conversion) they are usually shocked simply because most of them are grossly unaware of what classical Arminians believe. The assumption is usually made that all Arminians are outright Pelagians or at the very least, semi-Pelagians. But Jacob Arminius (b:1560, d:1609) refuted that assertion clearly in his writing called Works, showing the free-will of fallen man is completely broken:

“In this [fallen] state, the Free Will of man towards the True Good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost: And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no power whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace.”

Once the shock has worn off that Arminians believe in prevenient grace, Calvinists usually try to argue against it by oversimplifying the issue and saying something like, “Prevenient grace is not taught anywhere in the Bible.” Ironically, Calvinists themselves believe in prevenient grace with the difference being they believe God’s grace is irresistible, whereas Arminians do not. But, of course, other vital and orthodox doctrines are not explicitly represented in Scripture (e.g. the word, “Trinity” is not in the Bible) but it can be logically, reasonably and rationally derived from many passages and no Calvinist (or Arminian) would deny its veracity or orthodoxy.

So saying prevenient grace is not “in the Bible” is really not a good argument against it. Neither are other ad hoc doctrines Calvinists teach “in the Bible” (e.g. limited atonement, evanescent grace, reprobation, etc.). But when any of us attempt to systematize our theology and give Scripture its proper and highest place of authority in our doctrine, we are inevitably going to have to extrapolate to ideas like these that are not expressly in the Scriptures in order to even have a hope of explaining what we believe to others.
Thus, I’m OK with a doctrine not being explicitly “in the Bible” as long as it can be logically, reasonably and rationally derived from the Bible and not hold it in contradiction.

I offer the following as a short list showing how God is always at work drawing all men to repentance and faith in Christ. It is by no means a complete list; merely exemplary of the Arminian doctrine of prevenient grace. Notice that the things stated in these passages of Scripture are applied universally to mankind and not just to believers (the elect).

  1. THE IMAGE OF GOD IN EVERY MAN

    “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image” (Genesis 9:6)

  2. GOD HAS WRITTEN HIS LAW ON THE HEART OF MAN

    For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:14-16)

  3. CREATION GIVES WITNESS OF GOD’S EXISTENCE & CHARACTER

    For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20)

  4. JESUS HAS BEEN LIFTED UP

    “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)

  5. THE HOLY SPIRIT HAS BEEN GIVEN TO CONVICT THE WORLD

    “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you. And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:7-11)

  6. THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL DRAWS MEN TO REPENTANCE

    Or do you presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)

    How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:14-17)