Efficacious grace is one of the fundamental truths of Scripture preserved for us by the Reformation and maintained by the Calvinists. Calvinism confesses:
Sovereign predestination, by which is meant that the God of all grace eternally decrees to lead His chosen people to heavenly perfection in Christ, where they shall show forth His glorious praises forever; and that also the wicked who are destined to perish in their sins must serve toward the salvation of the elect.
Total Depravity, which means that, apart from the saving grace of God, man is dead in trespasses, and sins, incapable of any good, also of accepting the gospel, and is prone to all evil.
Particular atonement, which signifies that God reveals His grace to His elect in the cross of Christ, where justice and mercy meet together. God spared not His Son, but gave Him as a ransom to redeem unto Himself a people that can enjoy and show forth His praises forever.
Efficacious grace, by which we mean that God’s grace is the power whereby God bestows upon His people the merited gifts of grace, to make them like unto Himself, beautiful and attractive before Him, that they may live to His praise eternally.
Preservation of saints, which means that God preserves His people in a living faith in the midst of trails and temptations, so that they grow in grace and are prepared for heavenly perfection.
Now the Arminians have never openly denied this doctrine of salvation by grace. That is simply impossible, since Scripture so emphatically teaches it on every page, and the apostle Paul so confidently declares to the church, “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Eph. 2:8, 9).
On the contrary, Arminians have always taken this as their maxim, even to the extent that it has virtually become a slogan with them. They proclaim it from pulpit and in leaflet, they spread it in large letters across billboards, or they blazon it in bright lights over their tent or auditorium: Saved by grace! But in spite of all their emphasis on salvation by grace, they still deny this fundamental doctrine by applying their own interpretation to the word ‘grace’.
Grace, according to Arminians of every sort, is the willingness of God to make salvation available to all men; God’s offer of salvation to all, which remains contingent upon man’s acceptance. Grace is effectual only if man, on his part, shows a willingness to accept the proffered salvation.
This was taught many years ago already in the Five Articles of the Remonstrants, which were so strongly condemned by our fathers in the Canons of Dordt, 1618-19. The fourth article declares:
“That this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of all good, even to this extent, that the regenerate man himself without prevenient or assisting, awakening, following and cooperative grace, can neither think, will, nor do good, nor withstand any temptation to evil; so that all good deeds or movements, that can be conceived, must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ. But as respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible, inasmuch as it is written concerning many, that they have resisted the Holy Ghost,
and elsewhere in many places.”
Our first impression upon reading this article is that it teaches emphatically that salvation is the work of God’s sovereign grace with nothing of man in it. The unwary may be deeply impressed by the fact that it speaks of the grace of God as “the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of all good.” Natural man can, according to the article, certainly do nothing toward his salvation. Even the regenerate man can “neither think, will, nor do good!” He cannot as much as withstand evil without this grace of God. This grace must be first, must continue to operate in man, and must follow up any good action that he can perform. The article speaks of a “prevenient or assisting, awakening, following and cooperative grace.” Now all that sounds like a strong emphasis on salvation by grace. What more could anyone ask?
And yet this article is thoroughly Arminian and was condemned as such by the fathers of Dordt who brand it as “altogether Pelagian and contrary to the whole Scripture.” (See our Canons, III and IV Head of Doctrine, Rejection of errors, article 7).
That also becomes evident from the last part of the article. It is true that even there the free-will heresy is camouflaged as much as possible, but it still shows through. After stressing that salvation is indeed of grace, the Arminians did not hesitate to add, “But as respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible.” True enough, this is a negative statement; they did not say that grace is resistible. But that is certainly what they meant! Nor did they say that man must accept the proffered salvation, must be willing to be saved, and must also take an active part in the work of salvation, or God can do nothing. But that was indeed the intent. Read the first part of the article once more in the light of that last statement that grace is not irresistible. You see at once that the Arminians insisted on a free will in man. They spoke of prevenient (going before, preceding) grace; but they hastened to add that what they meant was assisting grace. They spoke of an “awakening and following grace,” but they again added that they meant a “cooperative grace.” God is willing to assist and cooperate with those who are willing to be helped. Do you wonder that our fathers so strongly condemned this error?
This Arminianism is so common in the preaching today that one is hardly shocked by it any more. It is not unusual to hear a minister speak of confronting every. man with Christ, making overtures of grace, offering Christ to the nations, and pleading with young and old to make a decision for Christ. And always the implication is that man must be willing to accept the gospel in order to be saved. Somehow he must show some token of willingness or in some manner assist toward his salvation. And as soon as anyone insists that this is contrary to the Scriptures the charge is made that he denies human responsibility, has no message for the unsaved, preaches a powerless and empty gospel.
Also the Christian Reformed Church in 1324 took the official position that the preaching of the Word is a “general offer of the gospel.” Prof. Dekker and others conclude from this that already there their church taught a universal love of God and a desire on God’s part to make salvation available to all men. They have stressed that it is simply impossible to speak of two kinds of grace as two different attitudes of God toward mankind, a common grace that does not intend to save, and a special grace that does have as its intent to save. They maintain, and correctly so, that grace must be saving grace or it is no grace. Only, of course, they insist that this saving grace is made .available to all men with the divine desire to save all.
What else can anyone conclude from all this reasoning but that grace is not irresistible? How can anyone maintain a general offer of the gospel and still hold the Calvinistic principle of efficacious grace?
But what is the gospel message of the Scriptures? It is high time that we seriously face that question.
In doing so let us listen to the great missionary to the Gentiles, the apostle Paul himself. He writes in Ephesians 1:3, 4a, as follows: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world.”
Some time ago I had occasion to refer to this same passage to show that the apostle did not hesitate to preach sovereign election in the mission field and to the newly organized churches. In fact, this glorious gospel of sovereign grace, rooted in eternal election, so stirred the deepest recesses of his soul that he breathes forth a paean in adoration: Blessed be God!
Now turning to this passage once more, we see that Paul ascribes the entire work of salvation solely to God in Christ. Anyone who preaches salvation by grace must preach that same glorious gospel.
Paul raises a doxology to “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And the reason for this praise is, that God has blessed Christ, that is, God has spoken His powerful, efficacious word of blessing upon Jesus Christ. That fact in itself is sufficient for the apostle to declare, “Glory be to the Father!”
God has blessed Christ! Let that be preached, for that is the very keynote of the gospel. That brings us to the cross. We are forcefully reminded that God sent Jesus into the world to seek and to save that which was lost. He became poor, that through His poverty many might be made rich. He humbled Himself, took on the form of a servant, and walked the bitter way of shame and reproach that led to the cross. In perfect obedience to the Father He bore the wrath of God against sin all His life, but particularly on the cross. He suffered torments of hell to deliver His people from the bondage of sin and death and to merit for them eternal life.
As a reward on this accomplished work of the cross, God raised up Jesus, exalted Him to heavenly perfection, and gave Him a Name above all names. God spoke His word of blessing upon Christ. He spoke that word when He raised Him from the dead. He did so again when He exalted Him to a position of authority at His right hand. And He did so by bestowing on Him the gift of the Holy Spirit. With that Holy Spirit God also bestows on Christ all the blessings of salvation which He has merited by His death.
Therefore Paul can say that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us. Since Christ is our Head, and we are the members of His body, God spoke that word of blessing upon us also when He raised Christ from the dead and exalted Him to heavenly power, by the working of the power of God’s might. When God blesses Christ with every spiritual blessing Christ becomes the reservoir, containing and pouring out all the blessings of salvation upon His church.
Christ brings His gospel of salvation to His people. He calls and sends His ambassadors to preach that gospel in His Name. And no one can preach except on the authority of Christ. But Christ also applies that preaching of the Word by His Spirit to the hearts of His people. The preaching of the Word is the means of grace used by the Holy Spirit to work and strengthen faith in the hearts of His own.
Preaching is never man’s work. The power of the gospel is never dependent upon a well-organized evangelistic campaign or any other contrivance of man. That does not mean that God does not use mere man to preach the gospel, but the power of the gospel is always the power of God, the work of grace operating by the Spirit in the hearts of men. Salvation is the working of the power of God’s might. It is that same Word of blessing that was so efficaciously spoken upon Christ when God raised Him from the dead and exalted Him to heavenly power. It is that same working of the power of God’s might that now draws His own out of death into life. See Ephesians 1:19, 20. Saved by grace, even efficacious grace, God’s grace!
Saved by grace that is rooted in love, “according as He hath chosen us in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world.”
An empty, powerless gospel? A cold, comfortless message? Paul did not think so. It is indeed devoid of all that is of man, but it is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe, both to Jew and Gentile according to sovereign mercy.
He that glories in that salvation must glory in the Lord!
Blessed be God!