What now is the difference between the Calvinistic and the Arminian view of common grace?

William G.T. Shedd  1893

What now is the difference between the Calvinistic and the Arminian view of common grace?  This is a question of great importance…

Calvinism asserts that common grace cannot be made successful by the co-operation of the unregenerate sinner with the Holy Spirit, and thereby be converted into special or saving grace: Arminianism asserts that it can be. 

The Arminian contends that the ordinary operations of the Divine Spirit which are experienced by all men indiscriminately will succeed, if the unrenewed man will cease to resist them [by his own power] and will yield to them.  Ceasing to resist and yielding, he contends, is an agency which the natural man can and must exert of himself, and this agency co-working with that of the Holy Spirit secures the result—namely, faith and repentance.  Faith and repentance [according to Arminianism] are thus the product of a joint agency: that of God and that of the unregenerate sinner.  Neither party originates faith and repentance alone.  Neither party is independent of the other in this transaction.  If the sinner does not cease resisting and submit, God will fail, and if God does not assist him by common grace, the sinner will fail.  Each conditions the other; and consequently the Arminian, from his point of view, is consistent in asserting that the Divine election to faith and repentance is not sovereign and independent of the sinner’s action but is conditioned by it.

The Calvinist, on the contrary, holds that the unregenerate man never ceases to resist and never yields to God of his own motion, but only as he is acted upon by the Holy Spirit and is thereby ‘persuaded and enabled’ to cease resisting and to yield obedience.  Ceasing to resist God, he [the Calvinist] contends, is holy action, and so is yielding or submitting to God.  To refer this kind of action to the sinful and unregenerate will as its author [as the Arminian does], the Calvinist asserts [this] is contrary to the Scripture declaration, that ‘the carnal mind is enmity against God, and is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be,’  Rom. 8:7.  A will at enmity with God never of itself ceases resisting Him, and never of itself yields to Him.  It must be changed from enmity into love by ‘the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost’ in order to sweet and gentle submission. 

The sinner, as such, cannot, therefore, assist and co-operate with the Holy Spirit in this work of originating faith and repentance, but the whole of it must be done by that Almighty Agent who can turn the human heart as the rivers of water.  Christ, through the Spirit, is the sole ‘author of faith’ (Heb. 12:2).  When the Holy Spirit puts forth a higher degree of his energy than He exerts in his ordinary operation, He overcomes and stops the sinner’s resistance instead of the sinner’s overcoming and stopping it of himself, and [the Holy Spirit] inclines the sinner to yield to the Divine monitions [admonitions] and impulse instead of the sinner’s yielding of his own accord [as the Arminian says].  If the sinner’s resistance is ‘overcome’, it is overcome by God’s action [according to the Calvinist]; but if it ‘ceases’, it ceases by the sinner’s action [by his own power, according to the Arminian]. 

To say that common grace [in the sincere, common strivings of the Spirit in the gospel call] would [hypothetically] succeed if it were not resisted by man, is not the same as saying that common grace would succeed if it were yielded to by man[‘s independent power, as in Arminianism].  [Hypothetical] Non-resistance is different from ceasing resistance [of the Arminian].  In the former [hypothetical] instance there is no opposition by the man [and thus the common, gracious striving of the Spirit in the gospel call would result in saving grace]; in the latter there is opposition, which is put a stop to by the man[‘s independent power, on the Arminian view].

The doctrine of a co-operating and conditioning action of the unrenewed sinner [in Arminianism], by which common grace may become saving grace, so that all mankind stand in the same relation to election, and there is no preterition by God, because the difference between the elect and the non-elect is not made by the Divine decree, but by man’s action in yielding or not yielding to common grace, is clearly expressed in the following extract from the Confession of the Arminian Remonstrants [Protestors]:

‘Although there is the greatest diversity in the degrees in which grace is bestowed in accordance with the Divine will, yet the Holy Spirit confers, or at least is ready to confer, upon all and each to whom the Word is ordinarily preached, as much grace as is sufficient for generating faith and carrying forward their conversion in its successive stages.  This sufficient grace for faith and conversion is allotted not only to those who actually believe and are converted, but also to those who do not actually believe, and are not in fact converted.  So that there is no decree of absolute reprobation’ (Confession, ch. xvii.).

This view of grace is synergistic [both man and God work together].  Every man that hears the gospel receives a degree of grace that is sufficient for generating faith and repentance, provided he yields to it.  If, therefore, he does not believe and repent, it must be because of the absence of some human efficiency to co-operate with the Divine; and therefore the difference between the saved and the lost, the elect and the non-elect, is partly referable to the human will, and not wholly to the Divine decree.  So far as the Divine influence is concerned, the saved and the lost [in Arminianism] stand upon the same common position and receive the same common form and degree of grace, which is sufficient to save provided it be rightly used and assisted by the sinner.  The saved man makes the common grace effectual by an act of his own will, namely, yielding and ceasing resistance; while the lost man nullifies it by an act of his own will, namely, persisting in enmity and opposition. 

According to the monergistic [God alone working] or Calvinistic view of grace, on the contrary, no man receives a grace that is ‘sufficient for generating faith’ who does not receive such a measure of Divine influence as overcomes his hostile will; so that he does not stop his own resistance but it stopped by the mercy and power of God; so that his faith and repentance are not the result in part of his own efficiency, but solely of the Holy Spirit’s irresistible and sovereign energy in regeneration.  In a word, the dependence upon Divine grace in the Calvinistic system [in being saved] is total; in the Arminian is partial.  In the former, common grace cannot be made saving grace by the sinner’s co-action; in the latter it can be.


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