Calvinist, R.C. Sproul, states: “I don’t see why an Arminian...even bothers to preach the gospel. He must have a lot more confidence in the power of the gospel than I have, because I don’t believe that the power of the gospel ever will bring to repentance the person who is not born again!” (R.C. Sproul, Interact Tapes: Romans #48 [Rom 9:14-16], emphasis mine)
Sproul writes: “The Reformed view of predestination teaches that before a person can choose Christ his heart must be changed. He must be born again.” (Chosen By God, p.72, emphasis mine)
Sproul adds: “A cardinal point of Reformed theology is the maxim: ‘Regeneration precedes faith.’ Our nature is so corrupt, the power of sin so great, that unless God does a supernatural work in our souls we will never choose Christ.” (Chosen By God, pp.72-73, emphasis mine)
As I see it, anyone can submit to God, confess their sins before Him and say, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!,” such as with the thief on the cross. (Luke 23:42) However, in order to live the Christian life of knowing God’s will, seeking God’s will and following God’s will, one must be made into the Born Again, regenerated “new creature” (2nd Corinthians 5:17), as described by Paul.
According to Calvinism, just because the Gospel is not received by all, in no way diminishes its power, since those whose heart is right, repent by it, while those whose heart is wrong, are condemned by it. 2nd Corinthians 2:14-16 states: “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life.” According to Calvinism, the heart of man, in its natural state, does not receive the Gospel as an “aroma from life to life,” unless the heart is first changed, and that being by an Irresistible Grace, where one is made preemptively Born Again. The Arminian criticism of Calvinism is that the power of the Gospel is ultimately therefore dwarfed by the dynamite power of Irresistible Grace, which alone is able to change the heart of man. Notice how John Calvin explains the power of the Gospel without being accompanied by an Irresistible Grace:
John Calvin writes: “The minister’s teaching and speaking does no good unless God adds his inward calling to it. ... Preaching alone is just a dead letter, and we must beware lest a false imagination, or the semblance of secret illumination, leads us away from the Word on which faith depends.” (Acts: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.278, emphasis mine)
Calvin adds: “For as in His creation of the world God has poured forth upon us the brightness of the sun and has also given us eyes with which to receive it, so in our redemption He shines forth upon us in the person of His Son by His Gospel, but that would be in vain, since we are blind, unless He were also to illuminate our minds by His Spirit. Thus his meaning is that God has opened the eyes of our understanding by His Spirit to make us able to receive the light of His Gospel.” (Calvin’s Commentaries: II Corinthians, Timothy, Titus, Philemon, p.57, emphasis mine)
According to John Calvin, the Gospel without Irresistible Grace is “in vain.” This is what he recognized about his theory.
Calvin writes: “Now let Pighius asseverate that God wills all to be saved, when not even the external preaching of the doctrine, which is much inferior to the illumination of the Spirit, is made common to all.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.109, emphasis mine)
“Much inferior.” This is a comparison between two powers, and obviously John Calvin recognizes that the real power in his theory is in the preceding grace that makes receiving the Gospel, irresistible.
John Calvin writes: “In a word, Paul indicates that all clamorous sounding of the human voice will lack effect, unless the virtue of God works internally in the heart.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.104, emphasis mine)
In other words, according to Calvin, the preaching of the Gospel is clanging symbols if the hearer is not preemptively made Born Again in order to believe.
Calvin writes: “Preaching only finds faith in people when God inwardly calls those he has chosen and draws to Christ those who were already his own (John 6:37).” (Acts: Calvin, Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.229, emphasis mine)
Adrian Rogers explains: “Spiritual blindness makes beggars of us all. ... The blind need more than light in order to see. ... I used to think, as a young preacher, that what you had to do to get people saved is just to tell them how to be saved. Just turn on the light. But it doesn’t matter how much light there is, or the person is blind because he cannot see it. It takes more than light, it takes sight. And a person who is blind cannot see the light, no matter how strong the light is or how pure the light is. It takes more than preaching to get people saved. That’s the reason I frequently say to you, I can preach truth, but only the Holy Spirit can impart truth. That is the reason why we must be a praying church. That’s the reason you must be a spirit filled soul winner. That is the reason that we must have the anointing, because we are dependent upon God to open blinded eyes to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It takes more than light, it takes takes sight. We need to understand that nobody can be argued into the kingdom of heaven. Nobody can be educated into the kingdom of heaven. I’m not against letting the light shine. You must let the let shine. You must preach. But remember, there is another dimension.” (Jesus is God’s Answer to Man’s Darkness: John 20:30, emphasis mine)
That other dimension to which Adrian Rogers refers, is the dimension of Sight, being the preceding work of the Holy Spirit, who convicts the world of its sin (John 16:8), pricks (Acts 26:14), pierces (Acts 2:37) and opens hearts to respond to the Gospel. (Acts 16:14) The other dimension is the dimension of Light, being the Gospel. Both are indeed necessary. The real question is whether the preceding grace of the Holy Spirit is an Irresistible Grace, or a resistible, Prevenient Grace, as taught by Arminianism. In fact, this is what sets aside the arguments of Total Depravity. For once you concede that the Holy Spirit intervenes, then the nature of His intervention trumps all discussion of Total Depravity. The real question, therefore, is does the Holy Spirit bring a person to the point of being able to receive or reject Him, or does the Holy Spirit make the decision for a person, thus making it irresistible? Logically speaking, why would it be impossible that the sight of the Holy Spirit and the light of the Gospel could enable a lost person to make a one way or the other decision to receive Christ? Almost instinctively, a Calvinist will answer that “because man is so depraved, God must....” However, that argument is a double-edged sword, because it is not merely a statement of man’s inability, but also of God’s inability to successfully use a hypothetical Prevenient Grace, if God had wished to do so. Therefore, it would have been better if Calvinists admitted that God could, hypothetically speaking, use a Prevenient Grace in order to bring a person to repentance, if He had wanted to, while insisting that God had preferred to use another method (namely Irresistible Grace, all with the intention that it would bring God greater glory). However, admitting to a logical possibility for its bitter rival, Arminianism, may prove too much for the Calvinist to handle. Nevertheless, it is the Calvinist who ultimately teaches a weak-God, who is helpless to remedy the situation apart from an Irresistible Grace.
Here are two Blog discussions on this topic: