By James W. Adams
The general subject of this “Special Issue” is “Total Hereditary Depravity.” This doctrine constitutes one of the “five points” of Calvinistic theology which have long been identified by the T-U-L-I-P acrostic: T = total hereditary depravity; U = unconditional election and reprobation; L = limited atonement; I = irresistible grace; and P = perseverance (final and unconditional) of the saints. These doctrines may correctly be styled: “Theological Siamese Quintuplets.” They defy separation. They are logically interdependent and cumulative in thrust. Total hereditary depravity demands unconditional election and reprobation. They in turn make limited atonement inescapable. The three then combine to make irresistible grace inevitable. By irresistible grace, Calvinists mean that the totally depraved individual, unconditionally elected to eternal salvation, for whom alone Christ died, must of necessity have a miraculous, irresistible, direct operation of the Holy Spirit upon his totally depraved heart to provide for him a new, heaven-born, spiritual nature which cannot sin. In this operation, they believe man to be wholly passive and utterly incapable of resisting its power or purpose. These four concepts unite to make unavoidable the conclusion that a totally depraved individual thus elected by Divine decree, atoned for by the blood of Jesus, and miraculously regenerated can never so sin as to be eternally lost in hell – he must persevere, in spite of anything he may say or do, unto eternal salvation.
The subject assigned me in this series is designed to deal with one of the difficulties associated with the doctrine of “irresistible grace’ I and its corollary, the theory of the direct operation of the Holy Spirit in the conviction and conversion of the sinner and the perfection and unconditional preservation of the “once saved” to eternal life in heaven. Our brethren in Christ have uniformly contended that, in the conviction and conversion of the sinner and the perfection and preservation of the baptized believer, the saving power of God is brought to bear upon the human heart through the instrumentality of the revealed word of God. The great debaters among us since the early days of the “Restoration Movement” have stood firmly upon this ground and routed the Goliaths of the theological Philistines who have opposed them.
We have regarded it as axiomatic that “the gospel as God gave it is adapted to man as God made him. ” This axiom grows out of two basic propositions: (1) God made man; (2) God gave the gospel. We shall in this article simply assume the truth of both because the material of this “Special Issue” is of no interest or concern to any person who does not at least profess to believe both. Since God made man, we can assume that He has perfect knowledge of man’s nature, capacity, and needs. Since God also gave the gospel, being perfect in knowledge and limitless in power, we can also assume that the gospel which He conceived and gave to man is completely adequate for the accomplishment of whatever His purpose was in so doing. We have not erred, therefore, in regarding the statement, “The Gospel as God gave it is adapted to man as God made him,” as axiomatic.
The question of our title has been answered, but it is not enough simply to establish the truth of the basic assumption of our reasoning in reaching our conclusion relative to “irresistible grace” and the work of the Holy Spirit in the conviction and conversion of the sinner and the perfection and eternal preservation of the baptized believer. We must demonstrate its validity and thus validate our conclusion. We acknowledge this responsibility, and in the remaining portion of this article, we shall engage to discharge it.
With the term, “grace,” in Calvinism’s fourth point, I find no fault. I heartily endorse the concept that every step in the salvation of the sinner rests squarely upon and emanates from the all-sufficient grace of God and not the merit of the sinner. Furthermore, I find no fault with the view that the conviction and conversion of the sinner and the sanctification of the believer are begun, carried on, and consummated as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit upon the human heart. With the view that the Holy Spirit’s operation is a work of Divine grace, I heartily concur.
I part company with Calvinists and with any Bible student (even if he is a brother in Christ) whose teaching logically falls within the implications of the doctrine of irresistible grace. No influence upon the human heart which directly and essentially affects the salvation of the soul either in time or eternity is irresistible. It is forever true: “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17). Man was made by God a free, moral being, a creature of volition and will. The sin of Adam did not change man’s essential nature as created by God. It changed his relationship to God along with his environmental circumstances in which he lived and served God – mortality set in with its consequences of sickness, pain, and death; labor was intensified; and the sins of men and their corrupting effects J multiplied. These things, together with the “weakness of the flesh” (Rom. 8:14) which led the parents of the race to sin and which we inherit from and share with them, account for the observable proneness of human beings to sin. Bible students do greatly err when they erroneously infer from this propensity on the part of man to sin the possession by him of an inherently “sinful nature.” I am amazed and chagrined to note that some involved in current argumentation over so-called “continuous cleansing vs. perfectionism” are taking the position that man has an inherently sinful nature; i.e., that he “must sin.” To say with Paul men will and do sin (Rom. 3:23) is not the same as to say that men must sin. Some equate the two statements affecting to see no difference. If I should accept the view that men and women are sinful by reason of the irresistible power of inherited nature, I would be forced to accept the validity of the concept of “irresistible grace” – that in my regeneration, the Holy Spirit, as an act of pure grace, “takes away my heart of flesh and creates within me, by the direct exercise of Divine power upon my -heart, a new, spiritual heart.” If not, please tell me why not! To aver otherwise would be to impugn Divine justice.
There is absolutely no evidence in the Bible that God at any time or place or in reference to any person ever exercised direct Divine power upon his heart to effect a change in his character. There are numerous examples of God exercising direct power upon individuals, but in no case did it effect a change in the character of the person thus influenced. Furthermore, in every case, the power thus exercised was irresistible. Therefore, we conclude that direct, Divine power is irresistible. In addition, logic tells us, as it were intuitively, that if man could successfully resist direct, Divine power, he would be more powerful than God. Pertinent Bible examples which sustain our contention are: Pharaoh (Gen. 41); the enemies of Israel (Ex. 34:24); Baalam (Num. 22-24); King Saul (1 Sam. 19:18-24); Caiaphas (John 11:47-53). See: Sound Doctrine, C. R. Nichol and R.L. Whiteside, Vol. IV, pp. 102-104.
Man is a moral and spiritual being, a creature of intellect, emotions, and will. He is not a robot, nor is he like the lower animals, a slave to the !aw of his Creator with which he is instinctively endowed. He is a creature of choice, hence a responsible and accountable being. Sin is a deliberate act which emanates from his own intellect and emotions and is determined by the free and willing choice of his own will. On this basis only can he be justly regarded as responsible for his conduct and accountable to his Maker at the judgment of the last day. It is on this basis, as a sinner, that he is condemned to eternal death. The following Scriptures support this conclusion: “Sin is a transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4); “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:20); “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23); “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23); “Everyone of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12); “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10; et.al.).
Man, lost by reason of his own sins voluntarily committed, hence under just condemnation to eternal death, cannot save himself by a mere reformation of life. Such reformation might take care of the future, provided he sins no more, but it cannot undo the past nor set aside the just mandate of Heaven’s court. Hence it was that Paul averred salvation to be “not of works lest any man should boast,” and “not by works of righteousness which we have done” (Eph. 2:8-10; Tit. 3:4-10). God’s answer to man’s sin problem, born of Divine grace, mercy, and love, was what is commonly styled by Bible students, “The Scheme of Human Redemption.”
God eternally purposed to save man through the avenue of pardon. This is why all apostolic preaching held forth “the remission, or forgivenesss of sins” as the ultimate object of man’s response. It was necessary for the Son of God to be manifested and to die that God might justly pardon the sinner (note: Mt. 26:28; 1 John 3:5; Heb. 2:9; 9:11-28; Rom. 3:25, 26). God did not propose thus to pardon a race of sinners unconditionally (note: Heb. 5:8,9; Rom. 8:1618; John 3:16; Mk. 16:15,16). Therefore, involved in God’s plan for the forgiveness of the sinner, are three essential elements: (1) the grace, mercy, and love of God who devised the plan; (2) the sacrificial death of Christ who executed the plan; and-(3) the human conditions of the acceptance and enjoyment of its design.
The term, “gospel,” in our text is a translation of a word which means in the abstract simply “good news.” Any sort of good news would be gospel in this sense. The character of the good news in any usage is ascertained from the context. In the New Testament, the term generally refers to the totality of the scheme of human redmeption, both as to Divine provision and human responsibilities, revealed in the form of propositional truth by the Spirit-filled apostles of Jesus the Christ. Concerning the gospel in this sense, Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written: The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:16,17). This text declares unquestionably, to any unbiased mind, that the saving power of God is brought to bear upon the heart of the sinner through the instrumentality of the Spirit-given word of God. That this is completely harmonious with the nature of man as God made him and as sin has corrupted him, we shall engage to show.
Man being a moral and spiritual being – a creature of intellect, emotions, and free will, and being a sinner by the free exercise of his God-given nature in violating the will of God, his character before God and his relationship to God can be changed through the instruction of his intellect, the proper stimulation of his emotions, and the moving of his will to the acceptance of the provisions of Divine grace for his salvation by complying with Divinely stipulated conditions. All of which comes under the heading of moral persuasion, and can be and is accomplished through the instrumentality of the revealed word of God – the gospel. If God regenerates man through an immediate, irresistible operation of Divine grace and power, he subverts the nature of man as He made him. Furthermore, such a concept of regeneration repudiates the sufficiency of the gospel to save. This is tantamount to indicting the wisdom, power, and/or goodness of God. If God designed it to save, as Paul said, and it cannot save, God (1) was not wise enough to devise such an instrument; or (2) being wise enough, He did not possess the power to do so; or (3) being wise and powerful enough, He was not good enough to do so. Surely, seeing the consequences of the concept of irresistible grace, no Godfearing person would embrace it.
Another consideration which renders unacceptable the doctrine of irresistible grace and supports the truth that the gospel is the power of God to save is the means employed by Satan in seducing the first pair. Genesis 3 clearly indicates that he presented spoken propositions to their intellect, stirred their emotions with spoken half-truths, and moved their will by spoken assurances of future good. He thus led them to violate the law of their maker and to fall into a state of sin. If God cannot invest his Spirit-given word with the power to turn men from sin back to righteousness by spoken truth, Satan
is more powerful than God. Surely, the gospel as given by God to save (Rom. 1:16) is completely adequate to accomplish the salvation of man as He made him and as sin has corrupted him, therefore, is “adapted” to him!
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 1, pp. 6-7, 13
January 1, 1987