March 2, 2013

Herman Bavinck (1854–1921) on Irresistible Grace

The term "irresistible grace" is not really of Reformed origin but was used by Jesuits and Remonstrants to characterize the doctrine of the efficacy of grace as it was advocated by Augustine and those who believed as he did. The Reformed in fact had some objections to the term because it was absolutely not their intent to deny that grace is often and indeed always resisted by the unregenerate person and therefore could be resisted. They therefore preferred to speak of the efficacy or of the insuperability of grace, or interpreted the term "irresistible" in the sense that grace is ultimately irresistible. The point of the disagreement, accordingly, was not whether humans continually resisted and could resist God's grace, but whether they could ultimately--at the specific moment in which God wanted to regenerate them and work with his efficacious grace in their heart--still reject that grace. The answer to this question, as is clearly evident from the five articles of the Remonstrants, is most intimately tied in with the doctrine of the corruption of human nature; with election (based or not based on foreseen faith); the universality and particularity of Christ's atonement; the identification of, or the distinction between, the sufficient call (external) and the efficacious call (internal); and the correctness of the distinction between the will of God's good pleasure and the revealed will in the divine being. Whereas the Remonstrants appealed to Isa. 5:1-8; 65:2-3; Ezek. 12:2; Matt. 11:21-23; 23:37; Luke 7:30; John 5:34; and Acts 7:51, and to all the exhortations to faith and repentance occurring in Scripture, the Reformed theologians took their cue from the picture Scripture offers fallen humanity as blind, powerless, natural, dead in sins and trespasses (Jer. 13:23; Matt. 6:23; 7:18; John 8:34; Rom. 6:17; 8:7; 1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 3:5; Eph. 2:1; etc.), and from all the forceful words and images with which the work of grace in the human soul is described (Deut. 30:6; Jer. 31:31; Ezek. 36:26; John 3:3, 5; 6:44; Eph. 2:1, 6; Phil. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:3; etc.). So they spoke of the efficacy and invincibility of God's grace in regeneration and articulated this truth in a confession at the Synod of Dort.114
114. Canons of Dort, III–IV; cf. Acta Synodi nationalis: In nomine Domini nostri Jesu Christi (Dortrechti: Isaaci Joannidis Canini, 1620), 218–24, and the judgements on the third and fourth article of the Remonstrants (pp. 53-219). In addition, see, F. Gomarus, "De gratia conversionis," Op., I, 85-126; J. Trigland, Antapologia, c. 27ff., 365ff.; F. Spanheim, Dubi evangelica (Geneva: Petri Chover, 1655-58), III, 1182ff.; P. van Mastricht, Theologia, VI, 3, 20; F. Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, XV, qu. 4–6; B. de Moor, Comm. theol., IV, 496–534; C. Vitringa, Doctr. christ., III, 171–217.
Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 4:82–83.

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