A Response to Dr. John Compton’s “What is Calvinism?” : 1b. Irresistible Grace

[Introduction]

[1a.]

b. Irresistible grace

Compton explains the doctrine of Irresistible grace with the following statement:

“When God calls a person that’s predestined to be saved they cannot resist it, they will be saved: as some would even say, even if they never respond, or come to Christ, they’re still going to be saved, because God predestined it.”

The major problem with this statement is in the phrase, “as some would even say, even if they never respond, or come to Christ, they’re still going to be saved.” Is it true that some teach that Irresistible grace means that the elect will be saved “even if they never respond, or come to Christ”? Yes, it is true; a few years ago I heard a Primitive Baptist preacher teach this. But who are these “some”? Are they Calvinists? No, they are hyper-Calvinists.

Now, hyper-Calvinists are not Calvinists who have had too much coffee- a hyper-Calvinist is not a seminary student who is really excited about his Calvinism- rather, hyper-Calvinism is a distinct theological position. Hyper-Calvinism is a denial of “duty faith”: the biblical teaching that every person ever to live is under obligation to believe in Christ and that the command to believe in Christ must be proclaimed to every person. Hyper-Calvinism is also characterized by divorcing the effectual, inward call of the Holy Spirit- a call which will certainly lead to justification and glorification (Rom 8:30)- from the outward call of the proclaimed gospel. (The Apostle Paul demonstrates that the inward call only works through the outward call in Rom 10:13-14.) The above facets of hyper-Calvinism demonstrate the unbiblical and anti-evangelistic nature of this theological position.

But do some Calvinists also teach that sinners may be irresistibly granted salvation, irregardless of their response to Him? I assert (as you probably guessed) that the answer is, “No.” As proof for this assertion, I direct readers’ attention to the Canons of Dort. As Dr. Compton indicated, the “five points” of Calvinism are directly derived from these Canons, which were published in 1619 for the purpose of settling a dispute between the Reformed churches and the Arminians. As the Canons were written in contrast to Arminianism, rather than to refute hyper-Calvinism, there is no one head of doctrine devoted to proving that the gospel must be proclaimed and the sinner must respond in faith in order for salvation to occur. Yet there are several articles within the Canons that do touch upon this subject with enough clarity that a specific conclusion is inevitable.

Article 3 under the first head of doctrine states, “In order that people may be brought to faith, God mercifully sends proclaimers of this very joyful message [i.e., the gospel],” etc. For this statement, Romans 10:14-15 is quoted, “For how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” etc. The next article states, “God’s anger remains on those who do not believe this gospel,” etc. In other words, those who are not brought to faith in the gospel are not saved from God’s wrath. Article 6 (titled, The Saving Power of the Gospel”) under the third and fourth head of doctrine states that,

    What, therefore, neither the light of nature nor the law can do, God accomplishes by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the Word or the ministry of reconciliation. This is the gospel about the Messiah, through which it has pleased God to save believers, in both the Old and the New Testament.

Here we see that salvation comes to believers through “the gospel about the Messiah.”

Finally, article 17 under this same head is titled “God’s Use of Means in Regeneration.” This article affirms that “the use of the gospel” is required for regeneration to occur.

An examination of the above articles demonstrates that the Canons of Dort consistently link the inward, effectual call of the Holy Spirit to the outward call of the gospel. Salvation for individuals apart from gospel proclamation is not considered as a possibility within the Canons (with the possible exception of the case of infants dying in infancy; article 17 under the first head of doctrine). Furthermore, the response of the person hearing the gospel is seen as crucial, for those who do not come to faith in Jesus are not saved from God’s wrath.

In conclusion, when Dr. Compton said in his explanation of what Calvinists believe concerning Irresistible grace, “…as some would even say, even if they never respond, or come to Christ, they’re still going to be saved, because God predestined it,” he misrepresented Calvinism, which teaches that people must come to Christ if they are to be saved. Perhaps there is someone out there claiming to be a Calvinist who teaches otherwise, but, as demonstrated above, such a person would stand in contradiction to the historic teachings of Calvinism and would be engaging in the error of hyper-Calvinism.

-Andrew Lindsey

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