Irresistible Grace and Matthew 23:37

by Bryan Sharp

In Matthew 23:37 Christ proclaims:

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!"

Jesus is bemoaning the fact that the people of Jerusalem will be lost in spite of God's desire to save them. These people refused to accept the grace God offered.

The doctrine of Irresistible Grace is the teaching that the people God has chosen to save are unable to refuse salvation. The elect are saved by the direct operation (on their hearts?) of the Holy Spirit without an appeal to their reasoning abilities by the gospel. This mystical doctrine is another consequence of Total Hereditary Depravity. If men cannot even want to do good, yet God has determined to save them, God must force men to be saved.

The idea of Irresistible Grace, like all Calvinism, is also based on the belief that nothing happens without God making it happen. Calvin wrote:

(There are) those who attribute … a government (to God) which consists in giving an impulse and general movement to the machine of the globe and each of its parts, but does not specially direct the action of every creature. It is impossible, however, to tolerate this error. For, according to its abettors, there is nothing in this providence, which they call universal, to prevent all the creatures from being moved contingently, or to prevent man from turning himself in this direction or in that, according to the mere freedom of his own will.1

His belief is reproduced in the Westminster Confession of Faith when it states, "God from all eternity, did … unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass" (Chapter 3, Paragraph 1). This is similar to many people's ideas of an unchangeable destiny. Calvinism teaches that everything is fixed, from whom we will marry, to when we will die and even the words we speak. Thus Calvinism also teaches our salvation or damnation is part of our unchangeable destiny that we are powerless to affect.

Aside from denying man's free will, the doctrine of Irresistible Grace makes a mockery of personal responsibility, makes God unjust and both contradict the Bible and render it useless. From our text, we have already seen that Christ contradicts this doctrine, and instead, teaches that man does indeed have the power to resist God's efforts to save him. So the remainder of this lesson will deal with personal responsibility and the justice of God.

Personal responsibility and justice in punishment imply free will. For example, if I chain my dog to a tree and tell him to stay, it is incorrect for me to think he is obedient when he stays by the tree. He has no choice in the matter. Similarly, if I chain my dog to a tree and then call him, it is incorrect for me to think he is disobedient when he stays by the tree. Once again, he has no choice. There is neither obedience nor disobedience in either situation. My dog is not responsible for his actions, but only does what he is forced to do. Furthermore, it would be unjust and cruel of me to punish my dog for staying where he is chained. Calvinistic theory likens man to this dog and God to the person who will force some to obey His commandments while forcing others to disobey. Calvinism goes further, though, by claiming that even though we have no control over our actions, we are still responsible for our actions and that God is just for rewarding or punishing us accordingly. Calvinism makes a mockery of both personal responsibility and God's justice.

God wants to save everyone (II Peter 3:9), but will force salvation on no one, (Matthew 23:37). Rather than succumbing to hopelessness because nothing we do will ever make any difference, we should rejoice and be thankful that God has given us the power to affect where we will spend eternity. Rather than living in fear of a capricious god who has no sense of justice, we should live with confidence in our salvation because we realize that one day the world will be judged righteously. And rather than despairing because of the wrong which now exists, we should encourage one another with the realization that one day, everything will be as it ought to be.

  1. John Calvin. Beveridge, Henry, Esq. Trans. Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1. Christian Classics Ethereal Library at Calvin College, 27 May 1999.
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