Arminian Today

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H. Orton Wiley on Prevenient Grace

PREVENIENT GRACE

Before taking up the discussion of prevenient grace, it may be well to call attention to the fact that the grace of God is in itself infinite, and therefore cannot be limit­ed to His redemptive work, unspeakably great as this may be. (1) Grace is an eternal fact in the inner rela­tions of the Trinity. (2) It existed in the form of sacri­ficial love before the foundation of the world. (3) Itex­tended order and beauty to the process and product of creation. (4) It devised the plan for the restoration of sinful man. (5) It is manifested specifically through re­vealed religion as the content of Christian theology; and, (6) it will find its consummation in the regeneration of all things, of which our Lord testified. The absolute holi­ness of the Creator determines the nature of divine grace. Its laws ever operate under this standard. Once grasp and hold this conception of the infinity of divine grace, and the regal and judicial acts of God in justifi­cation and adoption can never be questioned.

Prevenient grace, as the term implies, is that grace which “goes before” or prepares the soul for entrance into the initial state of salvation. It is the preparatory

Augustine and the theologians of his period distinguished five kinds of grace, as follows: (1) Prevenient grace which removed natural incapacity and invited to repentance; (2) Preparing grace which re­strained natural resistance and disposed the will to accept salvation by faith; (3) Operating grace which conferred the power of believing and kindled justifying faith; (4) Co-operating grace which followed justifica­tion, and served to promote sanctification and good works; and (5) Conserving grace, by which faith and holiness were conserved and con­firmed.

At a later period in the history of Christian thought, the theologians regarded faith as constituting a fourfold office as follows: (1) Elench­tical, or the ‘awakening to a knowledge of sin; (2) Didactic, or instruc­tion in the way of salvation; (3) Pedagogical, or the conversion of the sinner; and (4) Paracletic, or the consoling and strengthening of the converted.

The Holy Ghost is here the Author of preliminary grace; that is, of the kind of preparatory influence which is imparted outside of the temple of Christ’s mystical body, or rather in the outer court of that temple. When He bestows the full blessings of personal salvation, as they are the result of a union with Christ, He is simply and solely the Administrator and Giver: the object of this grace in the nature of things can only receive. Forgiveness, adoption, sanctification are necessarily divine acts: nothing can be more absolute than the prerogative of God in conferring these blessings. This does not imply that the influences which prepare the soul for these acts of perfect grace are not from a divine Source alone. It must be remembered that it is “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” flowing from and revealing the “love of God” that is dispensed even to the outer world in the communion of the Holy Ghost. But it must also be remembered that this prevenient influence is literally bound up with the human use of it being without meaning apart from that use; and, moreover, that of itself it is not saving, though it is unto salvation. The present department of theology is beset with peculiar difficulties, and has been the arena of some of the keenest con­troversies.—Pope, Compend. Chr. Th. II, pp. 358, 359.

The grace of the Holy Spirit exercised toward man helpless in sin. As it respects the guilty, it may be considered mercy; as it respects the impotent, it is enabling power. It may be defined, therefore, as that manifestation of the divine influence which precedes the full regenerate life. The subject is beset with peculiar difficulties and should be given careful study. We shall consider, (1) the His­torical Approach to the Subject, and (2) the Nature of Prevenient Grace. following this we shall analyze the subject more carefully by considering (3) Prevenient Grace and Human Agency-

The Historical Approach to the Subject. The idea of grace or charis is fundamental in both the Old and the New Testaments. In the Old Testament it is found in such texts as “My spirit shall not always strive with man” (Gen. 6:3), and “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6). In the New Testament, the texts are numerous. Our Lord said, No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him (John 6:44), and again, Without me ye can do nothing (John 15:5). St. Paul uses the term frequently. For when we were yet without strength [helpless], in due time Christ died for the un­godly that no part is free from sin and, therefore, whatever proceeds from him is accounted sin.” The true Arminian as fully as the Calvinist, admits the depravity of human nature, and thereby magnifies the grace of God in salvation. He is in fact able to carry through his system of grace with greater consistency than the Calvinist him­self. For while the latter is obliged, in order to account for certain good dispositions and occasional religious inclinations in those who never give evidence of actual conversion, to refer them to nature or “common grace,” the former refers them to grace alone.

The state of nature is in some sense a state of grace, according to Arminian theology. Thus Mr. Wesley says, “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 mere state of nature; there is no man, unless he has quenched the Spirit, that is wholly devoid 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. Ev­ery man has a greater or less measure of this, which waiteth not for the call of man” (WESLEY, Sermon: Working Out Our Own Salvation).

Arminianism holds to a belief in the continuity of grace. This is another point to which Mr. Wesley at­taches peculiar emphasis. In his sermon on Scriptural ­Arminianism he holds “that there is a state of nature, as distinguished from the state of grace and the state of glory, that state of nature, how. ever, being itself a state of grace, preliminary grace, which is diffused throughout the world, and visits all the children of men: not merely the remains of good untouched by the faIl, but the remains as the effect and gift of redemption. The special grace of enlightenment and conversion, repentance and faith, it holds to be prevenient only, as resting short of regeneration; but as flowing into the regenerate life. It therefore as­serts, in a certain sense, the principle of a continuity of grace in the case of those who are saved. But in its doctrine all grace is not the same grace in its issues, though all is the same in its divine purpose. It dis­tinguishes measures and degrees of the Spirit’s influence, from the most universal and common benefit of the atonement in life and its advan­tages up to the consummation of the energy of the Holy Ghost which fits for the vision of God. It rejects the figment of a common grace not x4’~ oiur4ptos; and refuses to believe that any influence of the Divine Spirit procured by the atonement is imparted without reference to final salvation. The doctrine of a continuity of grace, flowing in some cases uninterruptedly from the grace of Christian birth, sealed in baptism, up to the fullness of sanctification, is alone consistent with Scripture.”— Pope, Compend. Chr. Th. 11, p. 390.

In the Scripture Way of Salvation, Wesley says, “The salvation which is here spoken of might be intended to be the entire work of God, from the first dawning of grace in the soul till it is consummated in glory. If we take this in its utmost extent it will include all that is wrought in the soul by what is frequently termed natural conscience, but, more properly, prevenient grace; all the drawings of the Fa­ther; the desires after God, which if we yield to them, increase more and more; all that is light, wherewith the Son of God ‘enlighteneth everyone that cometh into the world’; all the convictions which His Spirit, from time to time, works in every child of man; although it is true the generality of men stifle them as soon as possible, and after a while forget or at least deny, that they ever had them at all,”

Synergism, or the co-operation of divine grace and the human will, is another basic truth of the Arminian system. The Scriptures represent the Spirit as working through and with man’s concurrence. Divine grace, however, is always given the pre-eminence, and this for two reasons: (1) The capacity for religion lies deep in the nature and constitution of man. The so-called “natural. conscience” is due to the universal influence of the Spirit. It is preliminary grace in the very roots of man’s nature, to which he may yield, or which he may resist. The fact that man since the fall is a free moral-agent, is as much the effect of grace as it is a necessity of his moral nature. (2) 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. This grace moves upon the will through the affections of hope and fear, and touching the deepest recesses of his nature, disposes him to yield to the appeals of the Word, whether presented directly or indirectly. But this divine grace always works within 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.”

Finally, Arminianism holds that salvation is all of grace, in that every movement of the soul toward God is initiated by divine grace; but it recognizes also in a true sense, the co-operation of the human will, because in the last stage, it remains with the free agent, as to whether the grace thus proffered is accepted or rejected.

Prevenient Grace and Human Agency. The relation of free grace to personal agency demands a further analysis. This relation may be briefly summed up in the following propositions: (1) Prevenient grace is ex­ercised upon the natural man, or man in his condition subsequent to the fall, This grace is exercised upon his entire being, and not upon any particular element or power of his being. Pelagianism regards grace as acting solely upon the understanding, while Augustinianism falls into. the opposite error of supposing that grace deter­mines the will through effectual calling. Arminianism holds to a truer psychology. It insists that grace does not operate merely upon the intellect, the feelings or the will, but upon the person or central being which is be­neath and behind all affections and attributes. It thus preserves a belief in the unity of personality. (2) Pre­venient grace has to do with man as a free and responsible agent. The fall did not efface the natural image of God in man, nor destroy any of the powers of his being. It did not destroy the power of thought which belongs to the intellect, nor the power of affection which per­tains to the feelings. So, also, it did not destroy the power of volition which belongs to the will. (3) Prevenient grace has to do further, with the person as en­slaved by sin. Not only is the natural heart depraved, God does not compel man by a mechanical force, but draws him on and moves him by the moral power of His love. Nowhere does either Scripture or the Church teach that the sinner is entirely passive at the commencement of his repentance. The voice which cries awake! comes not to corpses, but to the spiritually dead, in whom a capacity for life remained, a receptivity, even where we cannot think of any spontaneity without the influence of the preparing grace of God. The grace of God leads the sinner to faith, but always in such wise, that the latter’s be­lieving surrender to Christ is his own personal act.—Von Oosterzee, Chr. Dogm. II, p. 682.

Never does man appear to be more powerfully determined by God, than in the summons to grace, and yet it is that very summons which calls his freedom from its latent form into actual existence. .—Lange.

But added to this is the acquired depravity which at­taches to actual transgression. This slavery is not abso­lute, for the soul is conscious of its bondage and rebels against it. There is, however, a sinful bias, commonly known as a “bent to sinning” which determines the con­duct by influencing the will. Thus grace is needed, not to restore to the will its power of volition, nor thought and feeling to the intellect and sensibility, for these were never lost; but to awaken the soul to the truth upon which religion rests, and to move upon the affections by enlisting the heart upon the side of truth. (4) The con­tinuous co-operation of the human will with the origi­nating grace of the Spirit, merges prevenient grace di­rectly into saving grace without the necessity of any ar­bitrary distinction between “common grace” and “effi­cacious grace” as is done in the Calvinistic system. Be­cause of their insistence upon the co-operation of the hu­man will, Arminian theologians have been charged with being Pelagian, and of insisting upon human merit rath­er than divine grace in salvation. But they have always held that grace is, pre-eminent, and that the power by which man accepts God’s proffered grace is from God (Banks); and “the power by which man co-operates with grace is itself grace” (Pope). In opposition to Augustinianism which holds that man has no power to co-operate with God until after regeneration, Arminian­ism maintains that through the prevenient grace of the Spirit, unconditionally bestowed upon all men, the pow­er and responsibility of free agency exist from the first dawn of the moral life.

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Written by The Seeking Disciple

09/17/2012 at 10:00 AM

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