God's Calling: Effectual or Resistible
by John Hendryx
I heard one person recently use the following logic when opposing the Reformed view of God's calling. He said:
"[My] theology of the Word is derived from such passages as Acts 7:51:
"You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit;
you are doing just as your fathers did."
He continues: "It requires, in my estimation, a tortured bit of exegesis
to somehow claim that grace is irresistible in light of this passage. I've heard
explanations ranging from "Acts is the inspired record of some oftentimes
very poor theology, hence the theology of the apostles in Acts cannot always
be regarded as inspired," to "That with which the Holy Spirit was
approaching the Pharisees was not grace."
This is how we should form a reasonable response to such a view:
There are many Scripture texts which explicitly show that we resist the Holy Spirit. Here are two additional verses where Paul speaks of grieving and quenching the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:19). But I have never heard Reformed or other Evangelical theologians claim that we cannot resist the Holy Spirit. Unbelievers do it every day. That is what unbelief is. All the Scripture says is that the Holy Spirit can and does make His grace irresistible at a time of His sovereign choosing. This is Based on many texts:
"For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself." Acts 2:39
This demonstrates that those who come to faith in Christ are only those "God calls to Himself." The words "as many" makes it clear that this isn't a call that all people receive.
Romans 8:30 also verifies this interpretation when it says, "...these whom He [God] called, He also justified". It is plain that this means "all who were called (without exception), were also justified." We all, at some point, resist the outward call of the gospel and various movements of the Spirit, but when God sovereignly determines to dispense His grace on His people, we undergo restoration, our natural hostility is melted away and we no longer desire to put up resistance. The inward call of the Spirit infallibly brings us to faith in the Redeemer.
This next verse also puts it beyond any doubt. It shows that while some didn't believe the gospel, but to those who WERE CALLED, both JEWS and Greeks, would all come to know God:
"...but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men." (1 Corinthians 1:23-25)
The fact is that the whole history of Israel in the Old Testament is one of continual resistance, to which the parable of the wicked tenants testifies (Matthew 21:33-43; cf. Romans 10:21) and the above text that you cite explicitly mentions ["...just as your fathers did" Acts 7:51]. But notice very carefully that it says they are uncircumcised in heart and ears. This means they are hardened and deaf to the gospel. Although they are fully responsible for rejecting it, since they do so willfully, yet there is only One who can circumcise their heart and ears. We cannot respond to the gospel unless we can hear it ... and that means that our ears must first be circumcised by God.
"in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ"
"No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God." Romans 2:29
But our spiritual deafness is not like a physical disability for which we would not be accountable for. Instead it is a moral inability which can be likened to a debt we cannot repay. The fact that we cannot repay the debt does not alleviate us of the responsibility to do so. In the gospel of John, Jesus uses an analogy, in like manner, that even likens our unregenerate state to that of a dead person that has the need to be raised. And as we all know, dead persons are a bit hard of hearing:
For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. John 5:21 (also see Eph 2:1, 5, 8)
The inner calling of God is effected through the outward call of the preacher as the Spirit germinates the seed of the word, so to speak, on those to whom He wills to sovereignly dispense His regenerating grace. Bishop Hopkins (1670) explained this with great clarity:
"The preaching of the word is the great means which God hath appointed for regeneration: "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom 10:17). When God first created man, it is said that "he breathed into his nostrils the breath of life", but when God creates new man, he breathes into his ears. This is the word that raised the dead, calling them out of the grave: this is that word that opens the eyes of the blind, that turns the hearts of the disobedient and rebellious. And though wicked and profane men scoff at preaching, and count all ministers' words and God's words too, but so much wind, yet they are such wind, believe it, as is able to tear rocks and rend mountains; such wind as, if ever they are save, must shake and overturn the foundations of all their carnal confidence and presumption. Be exhorted therefore more to prize and more to frequent the preaching of the word."
Some who oppose this biblical doctrine say that God gives His Spirit equally
to all which effectually saves some, but if one rejects the gospel he is resisting
the Spirit given to him and thereby refuses Him, while the others embrace it
and are thereby saved. The argument is that while it is thus true that all have
the Spirit equally, and yet salvation may be said to be by the grace of God.
The obvious biblical retort to this explanation is that the Scripture testifies
that not only is the salvation of men ascribed to grace, but to
grace alone, which means it is to the exclusion of all other possible
merit or virtue. (Gal. 2:16 & Rom 3:27 - 4:25; 9:11). But the question is,
if some resist and others do not, however much of grace there may be, there
certainly remains a degree of merit in those not resisting who have reason
to boast over those who those resisting God's work. Again, why does one natural
man resist (or believe) and not another? Except there be a continual action
of saving grace on God's part, we will always utilize our boasted freedom to
For further study on this crucial topic here are more Scriptural texts which show beyond reasonable doubt that grace is irresistible to those whom the Holy Spirit determines to save:
(John 6:37, 39, 44, 63-65; John 3:8; Matt 11:27; 1 Corinthians 1:9; Paul's conversion in Acts 9; Rom 9:11-24; 1 Cor. 1:9-26; Gal. 1:6-15; 1 Thess. 1:5, 6; 1 Thess. 2:12; 5:24; 2 Thess. 2:14; Eph. 1:18; 4:1-4, 5; 2 Tim. 1:9; Heb. 3:1; 1 Pet. 2:9; 5:10; 2 Pet. 1:3-10).
Regarding Effectual Calling The Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 10 states:
I. All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed time, effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.
II. This effectual call is of God's free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.