BY JEFF PATON
This article is the result of a paper that was presented to the METHODISM IN THE 21st CENTURY conference held at St. Stephen Methodist Church in Columbus Georgia on October12-15th of 2000.
It is a doctrinal presentation which was designed to restate and emphasize primitive Methodist teaching and its relevance for today.
A). General comments and introduction
B). How this subject fits into the theme of this conference
C). Intended scope and design of this article
1). Enabling, transforming, and perfecting
PREVENIENT GRACE - THE WESLEYAN NECESSITY
A). The fall of man and free grace
1). Wesleyís emphasis on the total depravity of man
A). Manís inability
B). The necessity of a Divine initiative
C). Wesley, Calvin, and total depravity
A). Limited grace or free grace?
THE PROBLEM OF PREVENIENCE
A). Light on Biblical terminology and example
B). More than mere theological necessity and invention
1). The experiential argument
2). The historical argument
3). The logical argument
THE PROCESS OF PREVENIENT GRACE
A). Wesleyan teaching on the subject
4). Later developments
DIDACHE AND KERYGMA
A). Teaching and preaching in the 20th century
B). Teaching and preaching in the 21st century
C). The vital question - Do we renew this doctrine or abandon it?
1). The cost
2). The rewards
"To reform our religion we must be driven, not only to its center but into its center."1 "The prime need of religion today is a theology. No religion can survive which does not know where it is." Methodism has no doubt come to this predicament at the end of the 20th century. In an era of Mega-Churches and church growth seminars we have seen a shift from a passion for truth to an obsession for popularity.
The subject in which I am going to expound upon seems to be delegated to the annals of the past. The present misguided emphasis upon free-will has derailed the purity of our doctrine and has appropriately labeled much of what is taught in the name of Wesleyan-Arminianism as unadulterated Pelagianism. It is time for us to reclaim the proud heritage of our past by renewing it at the threshold of the 21st century. In an age of postmodernism where there are no bounds to what is absolute, people are finding that they cannot be sure about anything any more. Life without any absolute truth leads to a feeling of insignificance and existence without purpose. The flesh of this generation yearns for a sense of belonging and thinks that inclusiveness is the answer. Unfortunately, what they seek does not satisfy what they really need, spiritual truth.
We are beginning to see a change within our society. Many who have become disenchanted with the entertainment based churches are quitting altogether and saying that "Christianity" does not work. They are flocking to Islam and other cults that offer them the absolutes that fulfill the deep-seated need of mankind for structure and meaning. We need to provide a foundation that not only leads our people to truth, but keeps them there. By being firm in our expression of doctrine we will be letting the world know that we have the truth that they are looking for! If people perceive that we are embarrassed about what we believe, they will look for answers elsewhere.
The subject of prevenient grace is only one jewel in the array of Wesleyan truth. But surprisingly, it is almost completely ignored in most teaching and preaching. You may be astonished hear that I had been a Christian for 15 years before I even heard of such a doctrine! I am a prolific reader of theology, and still, it took that long to come across a full and adequate explanation of it. I wonder today why we tend to keep this gem a secret.
The vital subject of the day is what this doctrine is, why is it vital to us, and whether we should renew it in the 21st century. I am presenting the reader with information that will hopefully allow them to answer these questions. The purpose of this paper is not to exhaust all the information and directions that this doctrine can take us, but hopefully, I will give you enough information to give you an accurate view of the Wesleyan position. I have freely used endnotes which should give you a general bibliographical listing to pursue further study.
Defining grace and expounding upon the subject is much more difficult than it sounds. With the enormous stress that is put upon this central theme of theology in this day, you would be shocked to see how little you can find on the subject in standard reference works and theologies! For an example, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible devotes three pages to the issue of grace (which is more than most,) and 16 pages to the subject of Eschatology.
Grace! Grace! Grace! Is the constant harp of the age. One would think that the Gospel and any Biblical writing would have nothing else to talk about. In summary form, the Christian message is "the gospel of the grace of God."2
Grace is usually defined as unmerited favor. Another way to express this is to contrast it with mercy. Mercy is God withholding what we deserve; Grace is God giving us what we donít deserve. Grace is the free favor of God by which He has in Christ provided a way of salvation, and enabled man in Christ to embrace that way...It is a supernatural gift of God to man, given for supernatural purposes, and bestowed freely for the sake of Christís merits.3
The difficulty in our day and age is that grace is being used in a way that makes it a commodity. Many have used the term to justify sin in man by boasting grace, grace, grace! Its all of grace! While I cannot deny that it is all of grace, I do take exception to the abuse of the term in a way that man dictates to God when and where he will be gracious! Grace is Godís goodwill toward us. His goodwill is not a commodity that we can possess or demand its application anymore than we can demand the goodwill of our fellow man. The atonement does not force God to do anything! He remains free in the distribution of His grace in as far as His attributes of love and holiness allow Him.
Salvation by grace requires the absence of merit for salvation. Within our Wesleyan heritage this has remained true. While it is a fact that many fall into the trappings of legalism, this can be said of individuals in any denominational background. As a whole, our theological moorings have always been rooted in the fact that salvation is all of grace.
Where we have become inconsistent however, is in the area of the process of this grace. There has been a shift from the Wesleyan doctrine of free grace towards free will. This I will explain in further detail as we progress through this subject.
To break this matter of grace down a little further, we come to the subject of how God saves us by His grace. This leads us to the discussion of the type of grace which is the subject of this paper, prevenient grace. What is prevenient grace? How does it apply to us? Why should I be concerned with it? These questions and more will hopefully be answered in a way that allows us to see the work of this grace in our lives each moment of every day.
What exactly is meant by prevenient grace? To use more modern terminology, it is a preventing grace. The word prevent means, literally, come before (L. prae, before+venire, vent-, come). If a kindly person arrives before you, he gets things in pleasant readiness; hence the Common Prayer Book beseeches: "Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings."4 It is the grace that comes before. Before what? Before every thing we do. Many other terms can be used to describe this work of God such as, Divine initiative, preceding grace, and preparatory grace. This grace does not begin at salvation and end there in a finished stroke. God is at work in everyone with the exception of the one who rejects the grace that is offered. In answer to the question, "does the grace of God work in the elect or with them? Does it require a concurrent action of mans will?" Bluntís Doctrinal and Historical Theology says, "Our present wording of the Tenth Article of Religion...is based on those Scriptures which, while they speak of Godís working in us, require at the same time the work of man, thus, "preventing us that we may have a good will, working with us when we have that good will." Work, for God works with you, and both the will and the work are Godís (2 Pet. 1:10; Heb. 12:15; 1 Jn. 3:24). And all the varied precepts of Scripture given to those who have received the grace of God show the same, that we are to work because God worketh in us."5
This moves the concept of Godís application of grace beyond a mere external influence. Grace is a power, an internal power, an internal force; it comes from the life of God; it pierces the soul of man,6 it is the work of the Holy Spirit who is charged with the work of reproving the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment. Jn. 16:8.
As we continue in this study it will be revealed that how we interpret this matter effects how we view the doctrines of depravity, free-will and the responsibility of the individual.
In passing, I wish to mention the other forms of grace that many see as a branch of the preventing grace of God. These are, enabling, transforming, and perfecting grace. Grace is at work enabling us before the attainment of any spiritual progress. Transforming and perfecting grace are at work in the believer now. Salvation is not the beginning or the end of grace. Godís work in us and for us is continual from the moment of our birth, to the moment of our death. These different aspects of grace will not be discussed in detail, but will be touched upon under the general subject of prevenient grace.
How we apply all these things to our understanding of the work of grace will become evident as we see the development of the doctrine throughout Scripture and history.
PREVENIENT GRACE - THE WESLEYAN NECESSITY
We now come the issue of prevenient grace from the Wesleyan perspective. Before we elaborate on prevenient grace, we must understand the foundation in which it is based. The necessity of grace is tied to mans great need. Adam, being created with a nature that was holy and in line with his Creator, lost this nature in response to the fall. Mankind thereafter not only was born with this fallen nature, but every person has by their own volition followed Adam in this sin.
All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Because of this spiritual corruption, we are told in Scripture that there is none that is righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. Rom. 3:10-11. Because of manís fallen state, there is no spiritual life or desire within him that he would ever desire a relationship with God. When Wesley considers humanity in the present, he makes it clear that he is concerned with its "natural state," that is, its condition unassisted by the grace of God. In this state, humanity is blind to the things of God, and is not sensible of its spiritual needs. Before God opens their eyes, men and women are atheists in the world, having no knowledge and consequently no love of God, for they cannot love the God they do not know. "We have by nature," Wesley continues, "not only no love, but no fear of God." Without the grace of God, therefore, all people are rank idolaters, filled with pride, self-will, and love of the world...Wesley writes: "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores. The same account is given by all the apostles, yea, by the whole tenor of the oracles of God. From all these we learn concerning man in his natural state, unassisted by the grace of God, that "all the imaginations of the thoughts of his heart" are still "evil, only evil," and that continually."7 This condition is sometimes called Original Sin, or Total Depravity. It is common in modern day religion to hear much about our responsibility to "decide" for Christ, or other appeals to our "free-will" for salvation. But Scripture is clear on this issue that in our "natural state," we are not free to respond in any way on our own. Jesus seems to put the final nail in the coffin of free-will by saying that "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him." Jn. 6:44.
Fallen man has no desire to seek salvation, and cannot unless God calls him! It seems like we must accept the fatalism of Calvinism which leaves the majority in hopeless depravity while blessing a select few with a divine call which goes against the Scriptural truths that Jesus died for all men, and that the gospel invitation is for all men without exception. The other option is to go against the Scriptures just quoted about the nature of man and the call of God and deny the truth of total depravity. " To escape this consequence, certain divines have invented what they are pleased to call "natural ability." Under the old system, man has no ability whatever to repent and obey God, until he is converted. He cannot repent, even with "common grace." But the new system teaches us that he can do so of his own natural strength, without grace, and deserves to perish if he neglects it. It is assumed that he can convert himself, wake himself up, and love God with a pure heart fervently. This error plunges from one extreme to another in quick succession."8 It seems like our choices put us on one horn of the dilemma or the other.
Wesley however, chose a middle way between the two. Holding to Scripture on all accounts, he held to the total depravity of man and the universal call of salvation. While Wesley rejected the doctrine of a limited atonement, he did not go to the far left on the issue of free-will. It appears that he stressed free grace to avoid a gospel of pulling oneís self up by their own bootstraps. The issue of depravity and free-will seem to cancel each other out, but Wesley followed others who saw that this does not have to be a contradiction. He believed that this was accomplished through a doctrine of prevenient grace.
Was Wesleyís doctrine nothing more than a theological expedient? What is the Biblical basis of this doctrine? Does it have a history, and does the data match the experience of believers?
These questions will be considered in our next chapter.
THE PROBLEM OF PREVENIENCE
The issue of prevenience may be new to you. I was unaware of it for the first 15 years as a Christian! The doctrine answered many problematic questions that had plagued me for many years. Upon first hearing the doctrine explained, I thought that this made sense! My second question was whether it was Biblical! Theories are a dime a dozen but truth is an irreplaceable jewel. The value of this doctrine is not that John Wesley and others adhered to it, but whether it adheres to the Bible and common sense.
The Bible shows us an example of Divine initiative that is contained in the record of the conversion of Cornelius. Before his conversion to Christianity he was called by God, "A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house." Now, Cornelius was a centurion and not a Jew. (see Acts 10:45.) He would be considered by many as outside the household of faith. There is nothing in the story that tells us that he "willed" himself into being a devout man. What we see within the record is that God considered him devout based upon his reaction to the limited light he had. Then we see a direct reference to the prevenient grace of God in that "He saw a vision, about the ninth hour of the day, an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him.....Thy prayers and thy alms are come up for a memorial before God....send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter."( Acts 10:2-8.) God was about to offer Cornelius even more light. God was working in him before his conversion, and like all of us, would continually, by grace, work within him thereafter. Rev. D. L. Hartman cites other examples from Scripture for our consideration. On the day of Pentecost thousands of people were gathered in Jerusalem. The Spirit descended upon the disciples and they began to preach....the Bible says, "they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Acts 2:37.9 We might add to this growing list of people whose lives were greatly affected by prevenient grace a woman by the name of Lydia. As Paul prayed by the river he spoke to some women who gathered there. A woman, Lydia by name, heard that he was there and went to meet him. The Bible says that she "worshiped God, heard us, whose heart the Lord opened, that she attend unto the things which were spoken of Paul." Acts 16:14 The Spirit of grace, prevenient grace, went before and when Paul arrived she came to a complete knowledge in Him and was saved. Not just her, but her whole household too.
Rev. Hartman also sites the story of the Philippian jailer, saying, " He too was moved by the praying and singing of Paul and Silas. When the earthquake came and found all the prisoners safe in their cells, he knelt at the feet of Paul and Silas and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Acts 16:30.10 In all of these examples we see that all grace is not saving grace. Those who argue for a Calvinistic irresistible grace must contend with the fact that these people, convicted and given grace to respond, recognize that they had a further need of salvation. Also, notice that not in one instance, is there ever a declaration that nothing more is needed to be done because they were already regenerate. Repentance and faith precede regeneration, and grace precedes repentance and faith. In light of these examples from the Bible, we can see why prevenient grace, for Wesley, is a Scriptural teaching. The term itself, to be sure, is not found in the Bible, but the notion that the grace of God is given freely to all men at the time of their coming into the world is, according to Wesley, clearly manifest in the Scriptures. In his 1740 sermon "Free Grace," Wesley declares that according to Paul God, for the sake of Christ, freely gives "all things" to all men (Romans 8:32), and that this includes the gift of a universal prevenient grace. Or again, Wesley views the Johannine statement concerning the "light" which "lighteth" every man that cometh into the world" as referring to the gift of the prevenient grace of Christ. The notion of unregenerate manís partial knowledge of good and evil, apart from the revelation of the law in Scripture, as expressed in Romans 2:12-14, is considered by Wesley to be the consequence of the operation of prevenient grace in man. Accordingly, he interprets Micah 6:8, "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good," as a benefit to all mankind of the prevenient grace of Christ through the Spirit. The concept of an initial and preceding grace given by God to man as the basis for certain kinds of knowledge and action is, for Wesley, firmly based in the testimony of Scripture.11
Dr. William Burt Pope gives us perhaps the most thorough and complete presentation of the Scriptural basis for prevenient grace. He says of prevenient grace, "It is the sole, efficient cause of all spiritual good in man: of the beginning, continuance, and consummation of religion in the human soul. The manifestation of Divine influence which precedes the full regenerate life receives no special name in Scripture; but it is so described as to warrant the designation usually given it of Prevenient Grace.12 He proceeds with his thoughts on different passages establishing the doctrine as one would derive the Trinity. From the overwhelming evidence of Scripture we can see the undeniable truth.
He follows the logical pattern of Wesley on the subject by substantiating the depravity of man. "The powerlessness of man is everywhere assumed in Scripture, though not stated in positive terms."13 Ephesians 2:1 says "He quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins." And "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts." Zechariah 4:6. "Without Me ye can do nothing." John 15:5. This, in addition to the passages already quoted, confirm the fact that we are all far gone from original righteousness, and that this corruption has gone so far within us that we are incapable of seeking or desiring God apart from some Divine initiative intervening in our lives.
"Hence it is declared that the salvation of man is altogether of grace. By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God."14 There is no doubt in the mind of Pope that man is incapable of self-generating faith unto salvation. Adam Clarke states, "Is not faith the gift of God? Yes, as to the grace by which it is produced; but the grace or power to believe, and the act of believing, are two different things. Without the grace or power to believe no man ever did or can believe; but with that power the act of faith is a manís own. God never believes for any man, no more than he repents for him; the penitent, through this grace enabling him, believes for himself: nor does he believe necessarily or impulsively when he has that power."15
The application of this grace is worked within us through the Holy Spirit. Dr. Pope remarks that "This grace as the influence of the Spirit on the minds of men generally and of individual men before their personal acceptance is described in various ways. These may be classed as, first, referring to the Divine operation, when it is a striving and drawing; secondly, in relation to the means used, when it is a demonstration of the truth; thirdly, as influencing man, when it is the working in him to will, by piercing or opening his heart. These three are distinct, but one; and, when compared, yield a doctrine which is simple in its mystery though mysterious in its simplicity."16
Of this drawing of the Spirit he quotes Genesis 6:3 where God declares "My Spirit shall not always strive with man." And John 6:39 and 44. "No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent Me draw him, and we may add, this spake He of the Spirit."17 The clear emphasis of this drawing grace within Scripture denies any concept of merit on behalf of the believer himself. Commenting on an exploded doctrine of manís freedom, Dr. John Miley says that there is no "doctrine of instantaneous self-regeneration, nor of self-regeneration in any sense...the power is a gracious endowment."18 Any restoration of free-will is initiated by the Holy Spirit. We cannot claim any merit for any good toward our salvation since apart from the enabling of the Spirit of God. Without grace we are impotent, this is why there can be no merit in faith and repentance. Some have charged Wesleyan-Arminians with synergistic pride since we believe that the condition of faith must be freely exercised by the will of man that has been enabled by the prevenient grace of God.19 The accusation of this so-called pride and self-saving is unfounded. Robert Shank argues that the work of faith as a condition for salvation is not the earning of salvation, he responds, "conceit and self-esteem for what?...For totally renouncing all claim to self-righteousness? For completely repudiating all dependence on good works? For renouncing all claim to personal merit? For abjectly humbling oneself before God as a broken sinner, deserving death, helpless, unable to save himself? For casting oneself on the mercies of God and hoping only in the merits and grace of Jesus Christ? These are the elements that are of the essence of saving faith, and where true faith exists, there can be no pride or self-esteem."20 Whoís enabling work is this anyway? It is the work of the Spirit.
Those that see this synergism as antithetical towards salvation by grace contend that man is not free to respond to the Gospel until after regeneration and salvation. They argue that because of this, the will of man is not a factor in salvation. Thus, any drawing of the Spirit is irresistible. In a sense, they are saying grace is coercive. Calvinists vehemently deny that fallen man is violated in this process since man is made willing by this application of grace. The problem here is that this is in complete opposition to Scripture. The Holy Spirit is said to "strive" with man. If He strives, then how can His influences be irresistible? How come man is not willing?
Paul wrote to the Galatians, "I do not frustrate the grace of God." (2:21) In Hebrews 10:29, we are warned not to do "despite the Spirit of grace." If man is unable to resist the grace and operation of the Spirit, then why do would we have these passages? It is clear from Scripture and experience that we can go against our conscience, which is quickened by the prevenient grace of God. "Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life." John 5:40. What would be the purpose of this statement if the offer to come did not exist for the hearers? It would be nothing less than cold, calloused taunting to the eternally damned, and that from the very Son of God himself! Why did He not say clearly "Ye cannot come to me" if this was the truth?
Is it true that we cannot believe and have faith until after we are regenerated? "There are genuine antecedents to regeneration. There is such a thing as preparation by the Spirit. Some maintain, indeed, that the first touch of the Spirit upon a sinful soul is the touch that regenerates, all that seems like preparation being due to some other source than the Spirit; but that is not so....Before the new and holy life is actually begun, God is leading the soul up to readiness for entertaining it."21 "It is very common with Calvinistic writers to insist on faith as preceding repentance, (and salvation preceding faith). We believe that in the order of time repentance is exercised first. "There is, indeed, a faith which precedes and induces repentance - a belief of the testimony of God concerning the evil and demerit of sin, and concerning His willingness to receive such as to renounce sin and turn to Him. The former must be believed, or the sinner will see no need for repentance. The latter must be in some degree apprehended, or he will have no sufficient encouragement to repentance. But the belief which thus produces penitence is not the faith which justifies and saves him." Justifying faith has a direct and immediate reference to Christ crucified, and is consequent upon that penitential sorrow which mourns for guilt and cries for mercy. The jailor at Philippi was a real penitent when he was directed to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. John the Baptist observed the same order in the exhortation, Repent ye and believe the Gospel" (Mark 1:15); and so did St. Paul in his preaching, whether to Jews or Greeks (Acts 20:21), "testifying repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ."...repentance is distinctly stated to be the gift of God (Acts 5:31, 11:18, and 2 Timothy 2:25); and yet is commanded as the duty and act of man (Mark 6:12, Luke 13:3, Acts 8:22 and 17:30.)22 The Gospel is also clear that salvation follows belief or faith, and does not precede it. (John 3:16, 36. Romans 10:9-10.)
Another fact which shows the prevenient grace at work in the unconverted is that even though they are totally depraved, they are not as bad as they can get. To be "totally" depraved implies that unregenerate individuals cannot be any worse off. But the Bible declares that evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse.(2 Timothy 3:13). This shows that through the preventing work of the Spirit, even the unregenerate are allotted some freedom through grace. The fact that the world is not operating at the lowest levels of human depravity is an exhibition of the profound mercy of God. Imagine, what kind of world we would have (and justly so due to our sin and rebellion) if God did not take the initiative to intervene. This is prevenient grace indeed.
"The question of the relation of the divine to human agency in this field is the question of the relation of divine grace to free will. Augustine denied the second, Pelagius denied the first. Arminianism tries, while avoiding the two extremes, to maintain the truth in both. Not that it puts the two factors on a level. On the contrary, it puts grace first, and makes it supreme. The Spirit is given to all men as the fruit of atonement, and grace works in all, works toward salvation. This holds good of all without exception, has held good since the beginning. It holds good of the unconverted before conversion, of those who never are converted, of the heathen who have never heard of Christ. Anticipating human desire and effort (hence called prevenient grace), it checks and counteracts sin, inspires and fosters good inclination, and allures to the search for more grace. This universal divine working is the source of moral good and beauty in the irreligious. When welcomed and followed up, it passes into saving grace. Nothing but neglect or resistance prevents its having this issue in any case. It is here that Arminianism and Predestinarianism part company. The latter holds what it calls "common grace," which it credits with all the effects just mentioned, but which never becomes or can become effectual saving grace. Common grace belongs to all, effectual grace only to the elect individuals. Such a distinction can never be reconciled with Scripture, with the divine justice, or with human responsibility. If we are asked whether the power by which man accepts Godís proffered grace is from God or from man, we answer, From God. "The power by which man cooperates with grace is itself of grace" (Pope). But every man has it by divine gift. According to Augustine, there is no power to cooperate with God until after regeneration, and if so, no responsibility. We hold that such power and responsibility exist from the first dawn of moral life. Arminianism is often charged with the error of Semi-Pelagianism, which gives to man the power to originate good in himself, and only makes divine help necessary to its completion. The above statement shows that the charge is without foundation."23
When we compare the available data on this subject, the only way we can reconcile all the data is to accept a doctrine of prevenient grace. It admits the inability of man without violating the freedom and responsibility that comes with it. If God does not restore a level of freedom to mankind while they remain unregenerate, then "man cannot be responsible or accountable for his volitions or acts- cannot be subject of praise or blame. God himself is the only responsible being in the universe, as all causation- agency proper - terminates in Him."24 Both the Calvinistic and Pelagian theories leave us wanting. Insurmountable obstacles rise up from the Scriptures which lead us to the rejection of both of these theories.
What does experience teach us about this? We all know that our actions are free and that we are responsible for them. The prevenient grace of God has been working in us all of our lives, but why then, do the unregenerate attribute it to conscience? I would answer that it is because they do not know God. I can look back through my past and see where God was working on me and in me, even though I did not attribute this to the power of God at that time. It is interesting to note that Socrates used to speak of his "demon," an inner and spiritual monitor which in the clear light of consciousness was heard by him as a voice of warning or exhortation directing his feet in the path of duty and truth."25 "This wide range of possible influences is accounted for by a fact that it is often overlooked,- the fact that the Spirit leads into the new life less by the way of thinking than by the way of feeling. ...it is in the heart, not in the head, that regeneration is wrought, and the way of feeling, the heart, the emotional or affectional life, is the Spiritís way of approach to it."26 Many of us had resisted the tugging of the Holy Spirit upon our hearts, sometimes for years, before we surrendered to its influence.
THE PROCESS OF PREVENIENT GRACE
How does God save us through His grace? What follows is a presentation of prevenient grace in the words of select individuals who have had a profound influence on the doctrine.
In this section we will examine some of the statements that are from those of the Wesleyan heritage. I have included the views of Arminius since most of those reading this are from the "Wesleyan-Arminian" tradition. One thing of interest to note is that there is no record that Wesley ever read the writings of Arminius. Being the voracious reader that he was it is hard to believe that he would not have read the writings of Arminius if they were available to him. If one were to charge you with the term "Arminian" and say this was heresy, then wouldnít you think that you would check out what Arminius taught and believed before you proudly wore the label of Arminian?
Wesley was brought up in a family that adhered to Arminian beliefs. The Church of England had clergy that were divided on either side of the issue. They seemed to divide along the lines of five-point Calvinism and Arminianism. So, in the available writings of that day and recent history, the theology of Arminius could have been propagated accurately and consistently enough that there was not a divided consensus on his teaching. That may have been good enough for Wesley.
Many of the misguided opinions and accusations against Arminius today, are the same as they were in his day. Arminius openly defended his positions within his writings to the point that there is little debate over what he believed. For modern "scholars" to continue teaching that he was a free-will Pelagian, is either blatant misrepresentation and dishonestly, or evidence of their disgraceful and sloppy scholarship.
The one main point that divides an Arminian from a Pelagian is the whether man has the ability to initiate reconciliation with God apart from grace. Pelagius said, "Man is able , without the grace of Christ, and instructed solely by the teaching of the law, to perform the good which he wills, through his free will, and to omit the evil which he does not will."27 This was deemed heresy by Arminius and should be by all true Arminians.
Today, he is still accused of teaching free-will Pelagianism. We can understand more fully why this is, because as we look at his position and statements it is shocking to see how many modern teachers and preachers are much closer to Pelagius in their doctrine than they are to Arminius or Wesley.
Arminius wrote about the fall of man, he says, "By this foul deed, he precipitated himself from that noble and elevated condition into a state of the deepest infelicity, which is under the dominion of sin. For "to whom any one yields himself a servant to obey," (Rom. 6:16,) and "of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage," and is his regularly assigned slave. (2 Pet. 2:19.) In this state, the Free Will of man towards the True Good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost: And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they are assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace: For Christ has said, "Without me ye can do nothing."28 "Though we always and on all occasions make this grace to precede, to accompany and follow; and without which, we constantly assert, no good action whatever can be produced by man. Nay, we carry this principle so far as not to dare to attribute the power here described even to the nature of Adam himself, without the help of Divine Grace both infused and assisting. It has become evident, that the fabricated opinion (that they taught Pelagian free-will,) is imposed on us through calumny.29 "Concerning Grace and Free Will, this is what I teach according to the Scriptures and orthodox consent: Free Will is unable to begin or to perfect any true spiritual good, without Grace."30
After the death of Arminius, persecution ensued against those who accepted his teaching. At the Synod of Dort, (1618-1619) the Remonstrants were required to lay their five points in front of the Synod. Point three says, "Man has not saving grace of himself, nor the energy of his free will, inasmuch as he, in the state of apostasy and sin, can of and by himself neither think, will, nor do anything that is truly good (such as saving faith eminently is)."31 We see from this that those who followed the teachings of Arminius did not immediately deviate from the truth after his death.
All this is not to say that prevenient grace first appeared with Arminius. We have the record of the New Testament which establishes the doctrine, and church history which confirms it.
From the writings of Wesley we can gather that he was in agreement with the opinion of Arminius. Wesley dwelt much more on the depravity of man than he did on prevenient grace. The former was essential to see the need for grace. Wesley thought that the denial of the doctrine of Original Sin would lead to inevitable consequences. I will briefly summarize some of his arguments:
1. If original Sin is not, either death is not " the wages of sin," or there is punishment without guilt; God punishes innocent, guiltless creatures. To suppose which is to impute iniquity to the Most Holy.
2. If we were not ruined by the first Adam, neither are we recovered by the Second.
3. If we do not derive a corrupt nature from Adam, we do not derive a new nature from Christ.
4. A denial of original sin represents the greater part of mankind as having no need of Christ, or the grace of the new covenant.
5. A denial of original sin contradicts the main design of the Gospel, which is to humble vain man, and to ascribe to Godís free grace, not mans free will, the whole of his salvation.32
In a sermon on Original Sin, Wesley states, " Is man filled with all manner of evil? Is he void of all good? Is he wholly fallen? Is his soul totally corrupted? Or, to come back to the text, is "every imagination of the thoughts of his heart only evil continually?" Allow this, and you are so far a Christian. Deny it, and you are but a heathen still."33
It seems that from the emphasis on human inability, that man, according to Wesley, is totally corrupt and powerless. To keep others from accusing God of judging people for doing nothing more than what He has enabled them to do, Wesley then introduces prevenient grace. "Yet this is no excuse for those who continue in sin, and lay the blame upon their Maker, by saying, "It is God only that must quicken us; for we cannot quicken our own souls." For allowing that all the souls of men are dead in sin by nature, this excuses none, seeing there is no man that is in a state of mere nature; there is no man, unless he has quenched the Spirit, that is wholly void of the grace of God. No man living is entirely destitute of what is vulgarly called natural conscience. But this is not natural; It is more properly termed, preventing grace."34 He continues saying, "Every one has some measure of that light, some faint glimmering ray, which, sooner or later, more or less, enlightens every man that cometh into the world. And every one, unless he be one of the small number whose conscience is seared as with a hot iron, feels more or less uneasy when he acts contrary to the light of his own conscience. So that no man sins because he has not grace, but because he does not use the grace which he hath. Therefore, inasmuch as God works in you, you are now able to work out your own salvation."35 "God worketh in you; therefore, you can work: Otherwise it would be impossible. If He did not work, it would be impossible for you to work out your own salvation." "First, God works; therefore you can work: Secondly, God works, therefore you must work."36 Charles Wesley, the brother and contemporary of John, write the lyrics of a song that say:
Do we not all from Thee receive
The dreadful power to seek, or leave?
The dreadful power through grace I use,
And chose of God, my God I choose
"Thus those who fail to find the grace of God and perish do so because of their unwillingness to apply the grace granted them. Applying the image of Matthew 25:26, Wesley compared the perishing to the slothful servant who buried the talent in a field:"
The harmless inoffensive man
Is cast before the bar of God,
Cast by his own excuses vain
For not performing what he could:
And, burying that preventing grace,
Who justly perish unforgiven,
Shall mixíd with friends in groans confess
They might have sung with saints in heaven.37
Commenting on the Ninth and Tenth Article of Religion, Wesley writes:
Of Original or Birth Sin
"Original sin - is the fault and corruption of the nature of every man, - whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth Godís wrath and damnation."
Article Ten - Of the Free-Will
" The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself by his own natural strength and good works to faith and calling upon God. Wherefore we have no power to do the good works, pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good-will, and working with us when we have that good-will."38
It is evident that Wesley had no confidence in free-will. "But I do not carry free-will so far....I only assert, that there is a measure of free-will supernaturally restored to every man, together with that supernatural light which "enlightens every man that cometh into the world."39
By holding to the totality of the fall, and restoring a measure of free-will back to man by grace, Wesley vindicates God from the charge of being responsible for sin, and being an unfair Judge. Every man has the God-given ability to do what is right, and therefore, is accountable for his actions. As for the charge of Wesley being a Pelagian, he defends himself from the accusations of Dr. Erskine, saying, "Why Dr. E. should quarrel with me concerning natural free-will, I cannot conceive, unless for quarrelling's sake. For it is certain, on this head, if no other, we are precisely of one mind. I believe that Adam, before his fall, had such freedom of will, that he might choose either good or evil; but that, since the fall, no child of man has a natural power to choose anything that is truly good. Yet I know (and who does not?) That man has still freedom of will in things of an indifferent nature."40 It is clear that John Wesley believed that the freedom of man is destroyed in the fall in as far as the ability to do any good. Whatever natural freedom man still has can be of no assistance towards salvation. The fact that any ability to believe, or desire to be reconciled to God is the work of God through grace. This being so, it can only be said that salvation is totally Godís work and grace. Any compliance of mans will is free, but is only enabled to be truly free by the prevenient grace of God.
One novelty to consider in Wesleyís view of the process of prevenient grace is whether man can resist this grace or not. "Wesleyís declaration that the precise moment of the giving of faith, when a man comes to believe and trust, is an irresistible work in him at that moment. There is no element of choice or internal act of reception of faith on manís part. "The grace that brings faith, and thereby salvation into the soul," says Wesley, "is irresistible at that moment."41 This no doubt seems foreign to what most perceive to be his theology. Wesley says, "With regard to....Irresistible Grace, I believe, that the grace which brings faith, and thereby salvation into the soul, is irresistible at that moment:
That most believers may remember some time when God did irresistibly convince them of sin: That most believers do, at some other times, find God irresistibly acting upon their souls: Yet I believe that the grace of God, both before and after those moments, may be, and hath been, resisted: And that in general, it does not act irresistibly; but we may comply therewith, or may not: And I do not deny, that, in some souls, the grace of God is so far irresistible, that they cannot but believe and be finally saved. But I cannot believe, that all those must be damned, in whom it does not thus irresistibly work."42 This he wrote in his journal on August 23rd, 1743. Rogers remarks, "But Wesleyís view of irresistibility of the instantaneous giving of faith by God means that the coming to or happening of faith does not depend upon or require manís decision."43 On June 18th, 1738, there is another instance that helps to bring clarity to our understanding on this issue. " For, by grace ye are saved through faith; and not of yourselves." Of yourselves cometh neither your faith nor your salvation. "It is the gift of God;" the free, undeserved gift; the faith through which ye are saved, as well as the salvation, which he of his own good pleasure, his mere favour, annexes thereto. That ye believe, is one instance of his grace; that, believing, ye are saved, another. "Not of works, lest any man should boast."44 "Wherein may we come to the very edge of Calvinism?" Is definitely the most pertinent question! Wesley answers," (1.) In ascribing all good to the free grace of God. (2.) In denying all natural free-will, and all power antecedent to grace. And (3.) In excluding all merit from man; even for what he has or does by the grace of God."45 In this, truly is the Wesleyan doctrine a "hairís breadth" away from Calvinism!
Kenneth J. Collins, summarizes Wesleyís thoughts on prevenient grace in his book "Wesley on Salvation." "Two further points must be noted. First, this grace as divine empowerment is rooted in the incarnation and atonement of Jesus Christ. Grace is one of the benefits of his life, work, and sacrifice; and it is, therefore, thoroughly christologically based. Second, this grace is free in all, meaning that it does not depend on any human merit or power, and it is also free for all, indicating that none are excluded from its benefits. Its reach is universal, not limited and exclusive, but inclusive.
It is interesting to note, however, that if Wesley truly held a notion of total depravity - and the Standard Sermons offer no reason to doubt this - it logically follows that "irresistible grace" had to find some place in the Wesleyan order of salvation since humans in the natural state do not even have the freedom or ability to accept or reject any offered grace. Therefore, it is prevenient grace which must be irresistibly given in order to restore humanityís very ability to respond to the further grace of God. In other words, to deny that prevenient grace is irresistible is to deny that Wesley held a doctrine of total depravity. One of the Chief differences then, between Calvinism and Wesleyanism is at the point in the ordo salutis where irresistible grace occurs. For Calvin, it is sanctifying grace which is irresistible; for Wesley, it is prevenient grace which "waiteth not for the call of man." The difference is important."46
John Fletcher was a remarkable man. He was a contemporary of John Wesley, in fact, he was chosen by Wesley to be his successor, but preceded Wesley in his death. Of his character, John Wesley considered him as the living model of Christian perfection and perfect love.
Fletcher was the most able and eloquent defender of Wesley and his doctrines. This does not mean he was not his own man. There are some subtle differences in some minor areas, which shows the love that he had for truth as he saw it. There was no buckling to the status quo, or forced agreement for denominational reasons. As one reads the spirit in which his polemics are written, we can do nothing but stand in awe as he truly could present the truth in love.
In regard to the view of Fletcher concerning prevenient grace we will see it is the same opinion as Wesley, but we will see a different approach. Seeing that most of Fletchers writings are polemical in nature, he differs from Wesleyís matter-of-fact style.
Fletcher emphasizes the relation of prevenient grace in the light of the universal offer of salvation. "We do not believe that Divine grace is indiscriminately given to all men. For although we assert that God gives to all at least one talent of true grace to profit with; yet we acknowledge that he makes as real a difference between man and man, as between an angel and an archangel, giving to some men one talent, to others two talents, and to others five, according to the election of distinguishing grace,....But the least talent of grace is saving, if free will do not bury it to the last."47 Later he writes in agreement with Wesley as to the irresistibility of prevenient grace. "Since the fall, our penitential grace comes immediately and irresistibly from God our Redeemer; - I say irresistibly, because God does not leave to our option whether we shall receive a talent of redeeming grace or not, any more than he left it to Adamís choice whether Adam should receive five talents of creative grace or not: although afterward he gives us leave to bury or improve our talent of redeeming grace, as he gave leave to Adam to bury or improve his five talents of creative grace. Our doctrine of the general redemption and free agency of mankind stands therefore upon the same Scriptural and rational ground, which bears up Mr. Hillís system (Calvinism) of manís creation and moral agency in paradise."48 "You may speak against irresistible grace, but we are persuaded that nothing short of it is sufficient to make us believe."49
Arguing against Calvinistic presuppositions, Fletcher says, "You suppose, that free preventing grace does not visit all men; and that all those in whom it has not prevailed, are as totally dead to the things of God, as a dead body is to the things of life: that we can no more turn to God than corpses can turn themselves in their graves."50 The Calvinists were conveying that grace was limited to the elect. This was a profound error in the mind of Fletcher. If grace was not given to all, then how do we explain the Scriptures?
"Upon the preceding Scriptures I raise the following doctrine of free grace; - If Christ tasted death for every man, there is undoubtedly a Gospel for every man, even for those who perish by rejecting it.
St. Paul says, that "God shall judge the secrets of men, according to his Gospel." St. Peter asks, "What shall be the end of those who obey not the Gospel of God?" and the apostle answers, "Christ, revealed in flaming fire, will take vengeance on them who obey not the Gospel," that is, all the ungodly who "receive the grace of God in vain, or turn it into lasciviousness." They do not perish because the Gospel is a lie in respect to them, but " Because they receive not the love of the truth, that they might be saved." God, to punish their rejecting the truth, permits that they should believe a lie; "that they all might be damned, who, to the last hour of their day of grace, believe not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness."51
"This is the condemnation," says he himself, "that light came into the world, but men" shut their eyes against it. "They loved darkness rather than light, because their works were evil." They would go on in the sins which the light reproved, and therefore they opposed it till it was quenched, that is, till it totally withdrew from their hearts. To the same purpose our Lord says, "The heart of this people is waxed gross, their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed" against the light, "lest they should see with their eyes, and understand with their hearts, and should be converted, and I should heal them." The same unerring Teacher informs us, that "the devil cometh" to the way-side hearers, and "taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved." And "if our Gospel be hid," says St. Paul, " it is hid to them that believe not, and are lost, whose mind the god of this world hath blinded, lest the glorious Gospel of Christ should shine unto them." From these Scriptures it is evident that Calvin was mistaken, or that the devil is a fool. For if a man is now totally blind, why should the devil bestir himself to blind him? And why should he fear "lest the Gospel should shine to them that are lost," if there be absolutely no Gospel for them, or they have no eyes to see, no capacity to receive it?"52 Many Scriptures state the offer of God to all men. If all men are not ultimately saved, then we must conclude that God is genuine in His offer through grace and that man is free to reject this grace to his own demise.
God says " I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose this day whom you will serve" Joshua 24:15. According to Calvinism, is God disingenuous? Or do we believe that God cannot lie? Our precious Lord said to the Jews " How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not." Matt. 18:37. But under Geneva logic, how would it be possible to resist the will of God? Jesus states "Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.: John 5:40. He does not state "Ye cannot come to me, since life is not offered." Proverbs 1:23-25 "Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit to you, I will make known to you my words. Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; But ye have set at naught all my counsel, and rejected my reproof:" Jesus said "If any man will do his will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God, or whether I speak from myself." John 7:17. What? Man can CHOOSE not to do God's will? And only by doing the will of God will they know the doctrine! By this very statement, it cannot be the doctrine of Calvinism!
God now commandeth all men every where to repent; because he will judge the world in righteousness. Acts 17:30-31. Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.
Isa. 45:22. Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. Rev.22:17. The Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. 2 Pet. 3:9. How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? And the scorners delight in scorning? And fools hate knowledge? Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will poor my Spirit unto you. Prov.1:22, 23. But my people would not harken to my voice, and Israel would none of me. Psa. 81:10, 11. See also Isa. 1:19, 20. Mic. 6:8. Matt 7:21, 24. Rev. 3:10-12.
This I hope would be sufficient proof to show the conditionality of the free choice in man. Once again, it is the free grace of God that enables us to respond. Any free-will to respond is a gift from God.
"May reason and Scripture draw your soul with equal speed from the dismal fields of Coleís (Calvinistic) sovereignty to the smiling plains of primitive Christianity!...Here nobody is damned for not doing impossibilities, or for doing what he could not possibly help....all our damnation is of ourselves, when we "neglect such great salvation," by obstinately refusing to "work it out with fear and trembling."53
"Fletcher argued that the free preventing grace of God to all fallen men made it possible for them to repent and believe, and that this combination of total depravity and prevenient grace exonerated him from Hillís charge of Pelagianism. The failure to recognize the place of prevenient grace, Fletcher thought, was the reason Calvinists feared Wesleyís emphasis on repentance and faith as a form of works righteousness. Fletcherís own position, he felt, reserved all the credit for salvation to God, while a universal offer of redemption made reprobation the responsibility of an obstinate moral agent, not out of any partiality on Godís part."54
After the death of Wesley and Fletcher we can trace the doctrine throughout the writings of those who followed in their tradition. Many of Wesleyís ideas were propagated, but in a terminology that differed. One example is the term "perfection," it has the air of controversy around it. It seems as if the term "prevenient grace" suffers from the same neglect.
What follows, is a brief chronology of thought within the Wesleyan tradition.
Joseph Benson - Around 1815 he gave us the first complete Methodist Commentary after the death of Wesley. In his comments on Philippians 2:13, "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and do of his good pleasure," he alludes to prevenient grace without the use of the terminology, saying, "By the illuminating, quickening, drawing, renewing, and strengthening influences of his Spirit, in and by the truths, precepts, promises, and threatenings of his word, enforced often by the pleasing or painful dispensations of his providence; both to will and to of his good pleasure - Not of any merit of yours."55
Richard Watson - The first systematic theologian of Methodism writes, " But, as all men are required to do those things which have a saving tendency, we contend, that grace to do them has been bestowed upon all. Equally sacred is the doctrine to be held, that no person can repent or truly believe except under the influence of the Spirit of God; and that we have no ground of boasting in ourselves, but that all the glory of our salvation, commenced and consummated, is to be given to God alone, as the result of the freeness and riches of his grace.56
Adam Clarke - Theologian and expositor, writes, "We can no more believe than we can make a world." It is readily granted that without God we can do nothing; but as he gives us the power to discern, to repent, to hope, to love, and to obey; so does he give us power to believe; and to us the use or exercise of the power belongs. He does not discern, repent, hope, love, or obey for us, no more than he believes for us."57 "God gives power to will, man wills through that power; God gives power to act, and man acts through that power. Without the power to will, man can will nothing; without the power to work, man can do nothing. God neither wills for man, nor works in manís stead, but he furnishes him with power to do both; he is therefore accountable to God for these powers."58
Luther Lee - Deviates from the tradition of Wesleyan expositors and theologians in that he stresses the free-will of man and not free grace. He is correct in as far as asserting freedom as a necessity for manís responsibility and to avoid making God the Author of all sin. He sees this as essential to the doctrine of a just God. This cause of this departure is unsure, perhaps the influence of the Oberlin Movement of Finney.59
William Burt Pope - Theologian. "The grace of God and the human will are co-operant. But not on equal terms. Grace has the pre-eminence, and that for many reasons. First, the universal influence of the Spirit is the true secret of manís capacity for religion; secondly, His influence, connected with the Word, is universal, inevitable, and irresistible, as claiming the consideration of the natural man; and lastly, He gives the power, whether used or not, to decide against sin and submit to God. These facts assure to grace its supremacy in all that belongs to salvation."60
Samuel Wakefield - Theologian. Free-will is central to his theology. No mention of the prevenient grace of God in choice. "We are free to choose good or evil, and not impelled in our moral actions by any law of absolute necessity, is a position which accords with every manís consciousness, a position which we can no more rationally doubt than we can doubt our own existence."61 He further compounds his Pelagianism by saying, "Though man is now in a fallen condition, and robbed of his primitive glory, yet he is still under moral government. God has given him a law for the rule of life. He enforces this law by promises and threatenings, thus proving most clearly that man is in a state of probation. But this implies that he is a free moral agent - that he is capable of conforming his actions to the rule of life under which God has placed him."62 There is not a single mention that this freedom to will is the direct result of God empowering and enabling the individual.
John Miley - Theologian. In his denial of the possibility of self-regeneration he says, " the power is a gracious endowment. Also the divine Spirit is ever present for our aid, and often active as a light in the moral reason and a quickening force in the conscience."63 This is only a mild affirmation of the doctrine. Too much latitude is left for interpretation. One would have wished for more clarity than this singular statement.
H. Orton Wiley - Theologian of the Church of the Nazarene. "The influence of the Spirit connected with the Word is irresistible as claiming the attention of the natural man. He may resist it, but he cannot escape it." "But this divine grace always works within a man in a manner that does not interfere with the freedom of his will. "The man determines himself," says Pope, "through divine grace to salvation; never so free as when swayed by grace."64
As we can see, there is agreement, more or less, with the doctrine that Wesley preached. Prevenient grace helps us to understand the process by which God is at work in us every day. This view of grace should not stifle our evangelistic efforts, but should encourage us to reach out because there is not a person alive that is without some measure of the grace of God, or if they have quenched it, they had at one time experienced grace working within them.
DIDACHE AND KERYGMA
The teaching and preaching of the doctrine of prevenient grace has all but disappeared in the past century. After pondering what the cause of this neglect was, I must give credit to several influences. First, I believe that the humanistic theology of Charles Finney brought in an era of free-will apart from prevenient grace. Secondly, the "altar theology" of the Keswick movement put emphasis on the free-will of man by appealing psychologically to hearers which substituted human response as evidence of conversion, replacing confession of the Witness of the Spirit as evidence. Thirdly, the modern Mega-Church where size and numbers are the gauge of spiritual success. Marketing, and programs that provoke the interest of those who want quick and easy answers for their problems.
As Wesleyan-Arminian believers, we have had a firm history and lineage that should have taught us grace. How is it that we have (on the whole) believed grace, and preached free-will? The accusations from the Calvinistic camp that we are Pelagian is nearer to the truth when we neglect to emphasize that our freedom to respond is only due to the grace of God. Free-will has resulted in masses that have a false conversion. They went forward, said the appropriate words in a prayer, and confessed their actions to others. The result? An estimated 80-90% incidence of apostasy over the period of one year. The bottom line is that once someone who believes that they have experienced "conversion" or a "born-again" experience, but in reality, they havenít, they will likely give up on Christianity since it failed to give them the peace that it promised.65 Much of the preaching today consists of less spiritual conviction, and more slick salesmanship than anything else. How many appeals are made that consist of nothing but old-fashioned guilt manipulation?
Free-will appeals to self-interest and not God interest. It pulls at our selfish interests which have no desire for God, but desires the benefits that can be gained from God. A prime example of this is the Health and Wealth Movement. People that partake fully in this movement are generally more interested in the benefits than the Benefactor. This is far from the example that the apostles and the early Church left us. The central emphasis of Christ and His glory is no longer the prevailing purpose of the modern church. The church has become a hospital for the spiritually disabled instead of the missionary center for victorious saints.
Will the church look back and see where they left their First Love? This sounds like the most prudent way to restore what we have lost. What I proposed to do when I began to write this paper is to first prove the validity of the doctrine of prevenient grace, and secondly, to convince the reader that the doctrine is vital to true evangelism and spirituality.
The final question that I leave you with will have to be answered by you. Is this doctrine vital enough that we should introduce it anew in the 21st century? I believe it should, but my believing will have little impact unless there is a major paradigm shift within the Wesleyan-Arminian churches. This change has to start somewhere and might as well start with us.
"Man has nothing to do in the way of earning any merit, but much in the way of accepting and receiving. The Holy Spirit works in us as rational, responsible beings, by loving constraint, not by mechanical impulse. We are to use the appointed means, to "buy without money and without price;" to hold out the withered hand to receive the gift; to bring the empty pitcher to the flowing river."66
1. The Cruciality of the Cross. P.T. Forsyth, M.A. D.D., Hodder and Stoughton, London, No Date, Estimated 1909
2. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, 2:799, Grace, H.D. McDonald, Regency, Grand Rapids, MI. 1976
3. Thirty Thousand Thoughts, 4:462, Rev. John Henry Blunt, M.A., Funk and Wagnalls, Publishers, New York. 1889
4. Dictionary of Word Origins, page 282, "Prevent", Dr. Joseph T. Shipley, Ph.D., Littlefield, Adams & CO., Ames IA. 1959
5. Thirty Thousand Thoughts, 4:468, Rev. John Henry Blunt, M.A., Funk and Wagnalls, Publishers, New York. 1889
6. Ibid. 4:465, Rev. W.F. Knox-Little
7. Wesley on Salvation, pages 21-22, Kenneth J. Collins, Francis Asbury Press, Grand Rapids, MI. 1989
8. A Compendium of Methodism, page 233, Rev. James Porter, D.D., Carlton and Porter, New York. 1851
9. A Brief Consideration of Prevenient Grace, Rev. D.L. Hartman, IMARC - The Independent Methodist Arminian Resource Center, http://imarc.cc/harted4ap.html , internet.
11. The Concept of Prevenient Grace in the Theology of John Wesley, pages 25-26, Charles Allen Rogers, Ph. D., University Microfilms, Inc. Ann Arbor, MI. 1968
12. A Compendium of Christian Theology, 2:359, Dr. William Burt Pope, D.D. , Philips and Hunt, Cincinnati, OH. 1880
13. Ibid. 2:360
14. Ibid. 2:361
15. Christian Theology, page 130, Adam Clarke, LL.D., F.S.A., Lane and Scott, New York, NY. 1849
16. Pope, Ibid. 2:361
17. Ibid. 2:362
18. Systematic Theology, 2:305, John Miley, D.D., LL.D., reprinted by Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody MA. 1989, from the 1893 edition
19. Elect in the Son, page 144, Robert Shank, Westcott Publishers, Springfield, MO. 1970
20. Ibid. page 144
21. An Outline of Christian Theology, pages 398-399, William Newton Clarke, D.D., Charles Scribner Sons, New York, NY. 1898
22. Handbook of Christian Theology, pages 195-196, Rev. Benjamin Field, Methodist Book Concern, Cincinnati, OH. 1897
23. A Manual of Christian Doctrine, pages 228-229, Rev. John S. Banks, Jennings and Graham, Cincinnati, OH. 1910
24. Objections to Calvinism as it is, page 233, Rev. R.S. Foster, Methodist Book Concern, Cincinnati, OH. 1849
25. The Holy Spirit in Faith and Experience, page 277, A. Lewis Humphries, M.A., Primitive Methodist Publishing House, London. 1911
26. William Newton Clarke, Ibid, page 400
27. The Works of Arminius, 2:637, Translated by James Nichols and William Nichols, reprinted by Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI. 1986
28. Ibid. page 2:192
29. Ibid. page 2:19
30. Ibid. page 2:701
31. A History of Christian Thought, Dr. J. L. Neve, Muhlenberg Press, Philadelphia, PA. 1946
32. Wesley's Works, 9:429, Original Sin, Rev. John Wesley, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., Peabody MA. Reprint from the 1872 edition, 1986
33. Ibid. page 6:63
34. Ibid. page 6:512, Working Out Our Own Salvation
35. Ibid. page 6:512, Working Out Our Own Salvation
36. Ibid. page 6:511, Working Out Our Own Salvation
37. Charles Wesley on Sanctification, page 80, John R. Tyson, Schmul Publishing Company, Salem, OH. 1992
38. Ibid. 8:52, A Farther Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion
39. Ibid. 10:229-230, Predestination Calmly Considered
40. Ibid. 10:350, Some Remarks on "A DEFENSE OF THE PREFACE TO THE EDINBURGH EDITION OF ASPIO VINDICATED."
41. The Concept of Prevenient Grace in the Theology of John Wesley, page 219, Charles Allen Rogers, Ph. D., University Microfilms, Inc. Ann Arbor, MI. 1968
42. Works, 1:427, Journal
43. Ibid. page 219
44. Ibid. page 5:13
45. Ibid. page 8:285
46. Wesley on Salvation, pages 24, Kenneth J. Collins, Francis Asbury Press, Grand Rapids, MI. 1989
47. The Works of John Fletcher, 1:406-407, Rev. John Fletcher, Schmul Publishers, Salem OH. 1974. Reprint.
48. Ibid. 1:407-408
49. Ibid. 1:153
50. Ibid. 1:137
51. Ibid. 1:138, Quoting 1 Peter 4:17; 2 Thes. 1:8; 2 Cor. 6:1; 2 Thes. 2:12.
52. Ibid. 1:143
53. Ibid. 1:149
54. John Wesley in Theological Debate, page 228, Alan Coppedge, Wesley Heritage Press, Wilmore KY. 1987
55. Benson's Commentary, 5:346, Rev. Joseph Benson, Carlton & Porter, New York 1815
56. Theological Institutes, 2:447, Richard Watson, Carlton & Porter, New York Estimated 1851
57. Christian Theology, page 131, Adam Clarke, LL.D., F.S.A., Lane & Scott, New York, NY. 1849
58. Clarke's Commentary, 3:497, Philippians 2:13, Adam Clarke, LL.D., F.S.A., Abingdon Press, Nashville TN. Reprint of 1810 edition.
59. Elements of Theology, Rev. Luther Lee, D.D., Wesleyan Methodist Publishing House, Syracuse, NY. 1888, reprint of the 1856 edition. The notes concerning the free will of man are lengthy and drifting. I did not feel that lengthy quotes to establish this fact were necessary for the reader.
60. A Compendium of Christian Theology, 2:364-365, Dr. William Burt Pope, D.D., Philips and Hunt, Cincinnati, OH. 1880
61. Wakefield's Christian Theology, 2:317, Samuel Wakefield, D.D., Schmul Publishing Co., Inc., Salem OH. 1985 reprint of the 1862 edition.
62. Ibid. 2:319
63. Systematic Theology, 2:305, John Miley, D.D., LL.D., reprinted by Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody MA. 1989, from the 1893 edition.
64. Christian Theology, 2:355, H. Orton Wiley, S.T.D., Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, Kansas City, MO. 1952
65. For more on this issue, the book "Hell's Best Kept Secret" by Ray Comfort, has some poignant observations. I cannot recommend all of the book, but would put it high on the list of "must read."
66. Thirty Thousand Thoughts, 4:467, Rev. G.S. Bowes, B.A., Funk and Wagnalls, Publishers, New York. 1889
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