Here is an excerpt from John Piper’s sermon, “The Free Will of the Wind”
“This is what we mean when we use terms like sovereign grace or irresistible grace. We mean that the Holy Spirit is God’s Spirit, and therefore he is omnipotent and sovereign. And therefore, he is irresistible and infallibly effective in his regenerating work. Which doesn’t mean that we don’t resist him. We do. The Bible is plain about that (Acts 7:51). What the sovereignty of grace and the sovereignty of the Spirit mean is that when God chooses, he can overcome the rebellion and resistance of our wills. He can make Christ look so compelling that our resistance is broken and we freely come to him and receive him and believe him.”
Let’s examine Piper’s statement in the light of Scripture on the subject of God’s Call to Salvation.
Are we called to salvation like little Samuel in 1 Samuel 3 or Saul of Tarsus in Acts 9? Does the sinner hear an audible invitation from God? If not, then how does God call sinners to salvation? This subject is usually discussed by theologians in the two categories of Common and Effective Grace.
“Common grace is the unmerited favor of God toward all men displayed in His general care for them. Common grace is displayed in three circles of activity” (Charles Ryrie, The Holy Spirit, Chicago: Moody Press, 1965, 55)
The first circle of common grace, according to Ryrie, is The General Providential Work of God in the World.
Louis Berkhof traces the development of this doctrine. It was indirectly addressed by Augustine, further expanded upon in the middle ages by the R.C.C. and finally developed into a doctrine by John Calvin to answer questions like how can rebellious sinners possess extraordinary talents and how the cursed earth produce such bountiful products?
Yet let us not forget that these are most excellent gifts of the Divine Spirit, which for the common benefit of mankind he dispenses to whomsoever he pleases . . . Now, if it has pleased the Lord that we should be assisted in physics, logic, mathematics, and other arts and science, by the labour and ministry of the impious, let us make use of them; lest, if we neglect to use the blessings therein freely offered to us by God, we suffer the just punishment of our negligence” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication,1936, Book II,XVI, p. 297).
How can rebellious sinners possess amazing talents, like in the area of technology, and make important discoveries, as in the area of science. Because “The Lord is good to all” (Psalms 145:9) and “He is kind unto the unthankful” (Luke. 6:34), i.e., common grace.
How can the earth that is cursed because of Adam’s sin, produce so abundantly the staples necessary for life? Because God “makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44, 45). This is another description of God’s common grace.
God in his common grace also provided a Savior for the world of sinners (1 Timothy 4:10). God’s purpose in the general blessings of common grace is to lead sinners to repentance (Romans 2:4).
The next circle of common grace, according to Ryrie, is The Narrower Circle of The Restraint of Sin.
According to 2 Thessalonians 2:6, 7, the Holy Spirit is the restrainer of sin until the coming of Christ and then this one aspect of the ministry of the Holy Spirit will be removed and the Man of Sin will come on the world scene. The neuter participle with the neuter article in verse six indicate that this restraining influence is the power of God and the masculine participle with the masculine article in verse seven prove that this influence is the person of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit also uses preaching (Isaiah 63:10 11), the government (Romans 13:1-4) and believers who are salt and light. An example of God removing his restraining influence in sinners’ lives is recorded in Romans 1:24, 26, and 28. Here God gives the sinner over to the consequences of his desired sin.
The narrowest circle of common grace, according to Ryrie, is The Conviction of Sinners.
This circle of common grace would include the general call of the gospel and the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
The external or general call of the gospel.
The gospel is to be shared with all. The biblical support of the doctrine is based on the use of the word “call:” In only a very few instances does the word convey a general invitation to elect and nonelect alike (cf. Matthew 22:14 and probably Matthew. 9:13). The vast majority of occurrences concern the effectual call which leads to salvation (Ryrie, The Holy Spirit, page 61).
When Jesus said in Matthew 22:14 that many are called, but few are chosen, he was saying that many are invited to respond to the gospel, but few are actually saved. According to 2 Corinthians 5:14, 19, 20, because Christ died for all (v.14), Christ should be offered to all (vv.19, 20). However, this universal offer of the gospel is a problem for those who believe in limited atonement as represented by Louis Berkhof.
There would be a real contradiction between the Reformed doctrines of predestination and limited atonement on the one hand, and the universal offer of salvation on the other, if this offer included the declaration that God purposed to save every individual hearer of the gospel, and that Christ really atoned for the sins of each one of them. But the gospel invitation involves no such declaration (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1941, p. 462).
Thus Scriptures, contrary to this statement, command us to give the gospel to every person (Matthew 28:19, 20) and that Christ died for the world (John 3:16) and that God has commanded all people to repent (Acts 17:30).
The conviction of the unsaved by the Holy Spirit (John 16:7, 8) of sin, righteousness, and judgment.
Ryrie comments about putting the conviction of sin under common grace rather than effective grace:
“To be sure, this might be classed under efficacious grace, but it probably belongs here since His work of conviction is not always efficacious . . . When this proving work of the Holy Spirit accompanies the preaching of the gospel, all who hear the message will be enlightened to the point of understanding that the message is true. Whether each individual who hears will go on to accept the truth is not guaranteed by this ministry of the Spirit. Acceptance would involve the work of regeneration; enlightenment involves only the giving of demonstrable proof of the truth of the message. But even that proving is a supernatural work (Ryrie, The Holy Spirit, p. 58).
My next two posts will examine the Effective Call.