Richard Coords, “Evanescent Grace”

, posted by Martin Glynn

Evanescent Grace

John Calvin taught a doctrine known as Evanescent Grace which Calvinists nearly universally denounce, though without providing an alternative explanation. The basis for the doctrine was to explain why the non-elect sometimes take root in appearance as being one of the elect and how the non-elect are able to overcome their Total Depravity so as to look, act and talk like every other Calvinist. Recall that in Calvinism, fallen man suffers from Total Inability, insomuch that apart from regeneration, he cannot take even one step towards God, and so the doctrine of Evanescent Grace attempts to provide a solution for how to interpret such texts as Luke 8:13 which shows the unregenerate believing and even taking joy in the gospel: “‘Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away.’”

The solution offered by John Calvin is a temporary grace so that it would bridge the gap from Total Inability to Temporary Ability:

John Calvin: “Let no one think that those [who] fall away…were of the predestined, called according to the purpose and truly sons of the promise. For those who appear to live piously may be called sons of God; but since they will eventually live impiously and die in that impiety, God does not call them sons in His foreknowledge. There are sons of God who do not yet appear so to us, but now do so to God; and there are those who, on account of some arrogated or temporal grace, are called so by us, but are not so to God.”112

John Calvin: “Sometimes, however, he communicates it also to those whom he enlightens only for a time, and whom afterwards, in just punishment for their ingratitude, he abandons and smites with greater blindness.”113

Therefore, by “some arrogated or temporal grace,” God “illumines only for a time” the alleged non-elect in order to overcome their inability and thus temporarily provide the illusion of being one “of the predestined.”

John Calvin: “Still it is correctly said, that the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment; not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God; but because, under a covering of hypocrisy, they seem to have a principle of faith in common with them. Nor do I even deny that God illumines their minds to this extent, that they recognize his grace; but that conviction he distinguishes from the peculiar testimony which he gives to his elect in this respect, that the reprobate never attain to the full result or to fruition. When he shows himself propitious to them, it is not as if he had truly rescued them from death, and taken them under his protection. He only gives them a manifestation of his present mercy. In the elect alone he implants the living root of faith, so that they persevere even to the end. Thus we dispose of the objection, that if God truly displays his grace, it must endure forever. There is nothing inconsistent in this with the fact of his enlightening some with a present sense of grace, which afterwards proves evanescent.”114

According to John Calvin, God “shows himself propitious” to the non-elect, in which He “illumines their minds” so that they “recognize his grace” in a “present sense of grace, which afterwards proves evanescent” in which He “only gives them a manifestation of his present mercy,” though “the reprobate never attain to the full result.” Although it seems harsh for God to provide people who are born non-elect with an illusion of salvation, if Calvinists also believe that mankind is nothing more than clay vessels for God to do with however He pleases, even to provide them with a false salvation through temporary grace, then Calvinists would have to accept the internal consistency of their own theology.

John Calvin: “Whoever has sinned, I shall delete him from the book of life. … But the meaning is simple: those are deleted from the book of life who, considered for a time to be children of God, afterwards depart to their own place, as Peter truly says about Judas (Acts 1:16). But John testifies that these never were of us (1 Jn 2:19), for if they had been, they would not have gone out from us. What John expresses briefly is set forth in more detail by Ezekiel (13:9): They will not be in the secret of My people, nor written in the catalogue of Israel. The same solution applies to Moses and Paul, desiring to be deleted from the book of life (Ex 32:32; Rom 9:3): carried away with the vehemence of their grief, they prefer to perish, if possible, rather than that the Church of God, numerous as it then was, should perish. When Christ bids His disciples rejoice because their names are written in heaven (Lk 10:20), He signifies a perpetual blessing of which they will never be deprived. In a word, Christ clearly and briefly reconciles both meanings, when He says: Every tree which My Father has not planted will be rooted up (Mt 15:13). For even the reprobate take root in appearance, and yet they are not planted by the hand of God.”115

John Calvin comments on Hebrews 6:4-6: “…God certainly bestows His Spirit of regeneration only on the elect, and that they are distinguished from the reprobate in the fact that they are remade in His image, and they receive the earnest of the Spirit in the hope of an inheritance to come, and by the same Spirit the Gospel is sealed in their hearts. But I do not see that this is any reason why He should not touch the reprobate with a taste of His grace, or illumine their minds with some glimmerings of His light, or affect them with some sense of His goodness, or to some extent engrave His Word in their hearts. Otherwise where would be that passing faith which Marks mentions (4.17)? Therefore there is some knowledge in the reprobate, which later vanishes away either because it drives its roots less deep than it ought to, or because it is choked and withers away.”116

In this way, “the reprobate take root in appearance” as one of the elect, in which God, according to John Calvin, will “illumine their minds with some glimmerings of His light” by receiving “a taste of His grace” until such temporary grace “later vanishes away.”

Scorecard for Calvinism’s special class of the “non-elect”:

  • They accept the gift of reconciliation? Yes.
  • They are enlightened and illumed by God? Yes.
  • They recognize God’s grace? Yes.
  • They live piously for a while? Yes.
  • They have a principle of faith in common with other Christians? Yes.
  • Are they actually saved? No.

So, basically this could be any Calvinist. The difference with non[1]Calvinism is that God is sincere—not giving mere fake grace. If man is sincere toward God, God is sincere toward them. God doesn’t play games with people by giving them only a half-measure of grace and then later abandoning them for some sick pleasure. John Calvin, however, seemed to revel in such sick pleasures, totally justifying it.

What do Calvinists believe?

Mark Talbot: “Now of course, nothing, that I, nor anyone else, can say can guarantee that anyone will continue to believe. Faith is a gift of God that we cannot produce.”117

Our reply:

In other words, the fact that you believe today is no guarantee that you will still believe tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after. You can only hope for the best that monergistic salvation works out in your favor and that your ordained fate is better than others, hoping that your grace is not a temporary one that is here today and gone tomorrow. The true horror of this statement is that if there really was such a thing as Evanescent Grace or Temporal Grace, then how would Calvinists know whether this will someday apply to them since faith is supposedly a gift that they cannot produce of themselves or of their own will and ability to maintain? The good news is that there is no such thing as the non-elect, and which means that God does not deal with anyone in such a frightful manner. If Jesus died for all, and if I’m part of the all that He died for, then I don’t need to guess whether God wishes to save me, or falsely suppose that the God of Truth may be secretly out to get me with illusions to deceive me in some twisted view of divine glorification.

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112 Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 66, emphasis mine.

113 The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 24, Section 8 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, translated by Henry Beveridge, 1845), 811, emphasis mine, https://ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.

114 Ibid., Book 3, Chapter 2, Section 11, 467, emphasis mine.

115 Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 151-152.

116 Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Hebrews and I and II Peter, translated by W.B. Johnston (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963), 76.

117 Mark Talbot, Sin and Suffering in Calvin’s World.