Last time we saw that God’s grace is a sovereign power that always effectually saves those to whom it is given and that it is given to God’s own, only.
Now today, we ask the question: Do the Scriptures give us any more detail as to how this grace works in one of God’s own, saving them? The answer is that the Scriptures do. Though that is the right answer, that the Scriptures do, we do have to be cautious here. There is mystery. The Canons of Dordt wisely point that out to us, saying that the manner of the operation of this irresistible grace cannot be fully comprehended in this life. There are mysteries here, and we must leave them to be mysteries.
But there are things that we can say and say with confidence. In fact, the teaching of the Lord Christ Himself gives us great help here. First of all, the Lord teaches, and the rest of the Scriptures too, that this irresistible grace, when it comes to save one of God’s own, begins to save them by a work, a first work in them, called regeneration or new birth or being born again, a work where the Holy Spirit takes the life of the glorified Christ and plants it into a man so that he is born anew with a new life, a spiritual life within, a life that he did not have before, a life that breaks the dominion of sin over him, a life out of which will come all the rest of our Christian existence. The Holy Spirit plants this life within us without our even knowing it at first. We only know it when we see the effects of it. We do not see the work itself, we see only the effects of that work later. In that way it is kind of like the wind, as the Lord Jesus points out to Nicodemus in John 3. He begins that teaching in verse 3: “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Man is so depraved, he is so blinded and enslaved by sin that, unless he is born again with this new life, he cannot even see the kingdom of God.
How is a man born again? A few verses later the Lord explains. Verse 8: “The wind bloweth where it listeth [that is, it blows where it wants], and thou hearest the sound thereof [the effect of it], but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” Just as the wind blows where it wants, when it wants, and you cannot do anything to stop it or control it, so the Spirit goes forth into the heart of His own and brings new life. And nobody knows it. Nobody knows from whence He came and where He is going. You do not know when He is going to do it. You do not know whom He is going to do it in. But when He does it for one of God’s elect, He does it, and nothing can hold the Spirit back from doing so. He is powerful as the wind is powerful. And it is only when you hear the sound of it, it is only when you see the effects, the spiritual life coming out of that new life within, that you see that it has happened, that it is there.
In John 1:12, 13 there is an addition to the Lord’s teaching about regeneration: “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God,” that is, to those that believe on His name. So those who receive Him are those who believe on His name. And those who receive Him and believe on His name are the ones to whom He gives the power to become the sons of God.
But now how, according to the Word of God, do those receive Him? How do they believe in Him? The answer is given in the very next verse (13): “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but [which were born] of God.” So that the receiving Him, the believing in Him, is in effect. And the source of that effect is this new life, for they were previously born again of God. One does not believe first and then become born again. One must be born again first, regenerated first. Only then does a person have the spiritual life within to believe on Him. Even the being born again, we are taught here, is not something that man decides to do. He cannot. He is enslaved to sin. You notice the negatives in verse 13: “Which were [previously] born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man.” They were born again, not merely of blood, not merely because they were born in the right place physically. And they were not born again, either, because they have willed to be so, because they have decided to let the Spirit regenerate them. “Which were born not of the will of man,” but which were born again of the will of God. God decides and God does it by the Spirit irresistibly. He goes in, overcomes the natural “no” of every elect but depraved person, and grants a rebirth.
But, by regeneration, by having that seed of new life within, God’s own are not yet consciously living out of that new spiritual life within them. They are not actively, consciously, repenting of their sins and resting in Jesus Christ and walking with Him day by day. That requires a second work. There is therefore, the Scriptures teach, a second irresistibly gracious work of the Spirit that comes after the planting of that new life within, a work whereby the Spirit draws out of that new spiritual life planted in us, this life that spreads within us in our mind and consciousness, so that we actively repent and believe. That second work is called the “effectual call.” When the Spirit now, using the Word of God that comes to us, rides upon that Word and works in the heart and mind of the elect and now born-again person, and irresistibly calls him to conscious repentance and faith for the first time or the thousandth time.
The Lord Jesus teaches us about that work, too, in John 6:44: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” No one is able to come to Christ, to have faith in Christ, says Jesus, except they are irresistibly drawn, consciously drawn, by a gracious work of My Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. The word “draw” there (“No man can come to me except the Father draw him”) does not mean “woo” him. Sometimes you will hear Arminians say that, that that word means “woo.” “Except my Father woos him.” God woos people to come to Christ and some heed that woo and others do not. Not an irresistible drawing of them but something one does from the outside only—you woo them—not a power that goes inside and draws them. God ever stays outside a person, the Arminians said, and He tries to attract them, woo them (come and take this), but it is always still up to them.
But the Greek word “draw” does not mean to woo. It never does, not once in the Scriptures, and it does not here. The word means to draw irresistibly, to accomplish irresistibly, overcoming all opposition. It is “draw” like a man draws water from a well, pulling a bucket up to the surface. He does not woo the water to come up to the surface, but he draws it. The same word is used in Acts 21:30 to refer to the mob of Jews in the temple, dragging Paul out of the temple: “And all the city was moved, and the people ran together: and they took Paul and drew him out of the temple.” The mob, of course, did not stand at the edge of the temple and woo Paul to come out of the temple. They did not say, “Paul, we’re not going to force you, but we really like you, we want to advise you, we are trying to persuade you.” No, they forcibly arrested Paul, they overcame his resistance to it, and they drew him out of the temple. And there was nothing that Paul could do about it. So too, the Lord Jesus says, “No one can come to me except the Spirit, given of the Father, sovereignly, irresistibly draw him to me, powerfully, from the inside.” Except the Spirit overcomes all resistance of the old man, like that mob overcame the resistance of the apostle.
The Spirit does not do that work, of course, dragging people to Christ kicking and screaming who do not want to come to Christ. He does it by drawing them irresistibly in the sense of changing their resistance. He makes them want to come. He powerfully works in them a desire to come to Him. He uses the Word of God preached, the Word of God that teaches things about who this God is, about who they are, and about what sin is, about what faith is, and who Christ is. He calls through that Word, and the Spirit rides that Word and call into the heart and draws new life out of that seed of regeneration that is within. And He draws that new life into the mind so that it mixes with the Word into the mind so that it is consciously affected by that Word. New qualities are infused into the will by that Spirit drawing that life out of that seed so that now a man wants to, he cannot but. He is thrown down within, consciously repents of his sins, and rests in Christ. So has the grace of God brought him to Himself.
But that is not the end of irresistible grace. It is not only in regeneration and then, second, an effectual calling that the Spirit works salvation in us by an irresistible grace. In every aspect of salvation after that too, it is all a work of irresistible grace. Justification. Sanctification throughout our lives. Preservation. Glorification. All is the work of sovereign, irresistible grace. There is a wonderful phrase in John 1 that speaks about this, verse 16: “And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.” Of His fullness, Christ’s fullness. Of everything that He earned for us upon His cross. He is full of all the blessings of salvation now. And out of that fullness have all we received, and grace for grace, waves of grace that keep going the one after the other, one replacing the other. Grace comes to the child of God like tsunami waves—irresistible in power and force and also one wave after another. One wave crashes and, shortly behind it, there is another wave that comes and takes its place, and another and another, so that the fullness of what that tsunami has comes in wave after wave. Grace for grace, the text is saying, irresistible grace in one wave, and regeneration and effectual calling in another, and wave upon wave of grace after that, one replacing the other in our lives that the fullness of salvation comes into us. Waves upon waves of irresistible grace to sanctify us, slowly but surely overcoming our old man of sin, so that we grow in holiness at the exact pace that God has determined. Wave upon wave of irresistible grace preserving us when our old man would walk away, like a dog off its leash, trying to get away from our master, but waves of grace come along and will attach that leash again and draw us back.
Even when we die, irresistible grace is not finished. It is irresistible grace that purifies our souls at the moment of death as the soul rises to heaven, overcoming, once and for all, all the sin that is in our souls so that we may be fit in our soul for heavenly glory with God. Even when Christ comes back at the end and raises our bodies to join our souls, it is an irresistible grace that will transform that body and make it like to the glorious, heavenly body of Christ. Nothing, not even the decay, will be able to stop the power of that irresistible grace on our bodies. Even after that, when we are in heaven in glorified bodies and souls together, it will still be irresistible grace that preserves us in that state for ever and ever and ever, time unending. From beginning to never-ending, it is sovereign power, effectual, irresistible grace that saves.
And though I can preach that now and we can grasp something of that right now, it is not going to be until we get to heaven (when that fullness of grace has accomplished all of its work and all sin is removed from us and we are able to see with such clear eyes) that we will be able to look back upon our life and really understand fully what sovereign grace has done for us.
And, brothers and sisters, we are going to be absolutely overwhelmed at what grace has done for us wretched, rebellious, dust creatures. We are now already, of course, but in that day, we are going to see it so much more clearly. We will be able to look back and see that every second of our lives there was wave upon wave of grace that preserved, that kept. We will be able to look back at the beginning of our spiritual existence and see so clearly, if we were raised in a covenant home, that that grace was given to us from our earliest days. If we were taken out of an unbelieving or weak home, God who carved me out of the mass of humanity unto Himself from all eternity, used this irresistible grace to give me new life, to bring the Word, to draw me to His side. We will see waves and waves of grace crashing into our hearts and lives one after the other, preserving us if it began early, preserving us in those teenage years when there were crossroads in our life when Satan’s attacks were so strong. It was grace that kept me. Grace every day after that when Satan launched his attacks upon us. God’s Word ridden by the Spirit of Christ was brought home to our souls, giving us the strength to keep from despair, to keep from temptation. We will see that it was grace that enabled us to carry the load of trials and difficulties, even though, when we were experiencing it, it did not feel like there was so much grace there. There was heaviness upon us. But we will be able to look back and see waves upon waves, every moment of grace upon us. When the pain and sorrow was so great and we said, “I don’t know how I can carry on with this, Lord,” we will see that the Spirit came and said, “You can’t, but here, here is another wave and more waves, every day, every moment, of grace to sustain you, my child.” We will see it so clearly that every second it was grace, all of grace.
Can you imagine how that will fuel our praise of Him, then? All our salvation will come home to us with such clarity and we will see then that all of it, from predestination to glorification, was not only of an irresistible grace, but was of an irresistible grace to bring us to the praise of the glory of His grace. All eternity will not be long enough to give Him that praise for grace. O, that marvelous, loving, merciful, sovereign, sweet, irresistible grace. Start singing of it now, child of God, and never, ever stop for time unending.
Let us pray.
Father in heaven, we are thankful for grace. To Thee be praise for it. We can see it now, Father, we can. By Thy Spirit, even by an irresistible grace, we can see it. How much more, then, by what we see, we praise Thee for it, overwhelmed by Thy graciousness to us. We are so undeserving. Preserve and keep us every day forward until the fullness of life comes home to us in Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.