But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood.
One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians comments: “The call of the prophet is not the call to salvation but to service. Paul uses the language of Jeremiah to describe his own call. John the Baptist is a bit different, but not as much as people often believe. He also is called as a prophet from the womb and is set apart as the Preparer. While I believe all three of these men were ‘saved’ in the common sense of the term, their call did not necessitate their salvation. God can even use unrighteous prophets for his purpose.” (SEA, emphasis mine)
Examples like these (i.e. Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Paul) do Calvinism no good, unless they:
(1) establish a limited elect body,
(2) identify the individual as part of that limited elect body.
God can do anything that He wants, with whomever that He wants, but that, in and of itself, does not establish a limited number of those that God desires to save. There is a systemic flaw in Calvinism, in which Calvinists approach any given text with the presupposition of 5-Point system, and thus when reading this text, or any other, the text is matched up to a particular point in the presupposed system. Therefore, it is no longer about Sola Scriptura but about Sola 5-Point System.
John Calvin comments: “The Lord spoke in the first chapter of Jeremiah a little differently from Paul so far as the words go, but in the same sense: ‘Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee; I gave thee to be a prophet to the nations’ (I.5). For when he was not yet even begotten, God had sanctified Paul to the office of apostle, just as also Jeremiah to the office of prophet. But He is said to separate us from the womb because we are sent into the world for this purpose, that He may accomplish in us what He has decreed. The calling is delayed till its proper time, when God has adapted us for the task which He commands us to undertake. Paul’s words may therefore be resolved thus: ‘When it pleased God to reveal His Son by me, who called me as he had separated me.’ He wanted to show that this calling depended on the secret election of God, and that he was ordained as apostle, not because he had fitted himself for undertaking such an office by his own industry or because God had discerned that he was worthy of having it bestowed upon him, but because, before he was born, he had been set apart by the secret purpose of God.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, p.20, emphasis mine)
John Calvin asks: “What, before he was born, had Paul that deserved so high an honour?” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, p.20, emphasis mine)
Absolutely nothing, but with such a great gift, comes great responsibility, and accountability.
Calvin adds: “Paul benefited from innumerable gifts of God before he was called to faith in Christ, and he could have tasted God’s fatherly kindness through these, as he had been brought up from infancy in the teachings of the law. But Paul remained in darkness so that he had no sense of God’s kindness until the Spirit enlightened his mind, and Christ came as a witness and pledge of God the Father’s grace. For without Christ, we remain strangers to the Father’s grace. So Paul is saying that God’s loving-kindness is revealed only by the light of faith.” (1 & 2 Timothy & Titus: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, pp.202-203, emphasis mine)
Calvin’s phrase “until the Spirit enlightened his mind,” was intended to convey Irresistible Grace, but the reality is that the Holy Spirit had been convicting Paul for some time, but Paul had been resisting God: “And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’” (Acts 26:14) The reality is that Paul remained in darkness, until Jesus confronted him (along the road to Damascus), and once again, with such a great gift, comes great responsibility and accountability.
Calvinist, James White, comments: “When did Paul come into relationship with Jesus Christ? Was it when he ‘chose’ to ‘accept Jesus’? No, it was when God was pleased to reveal His Son in Paul. Not before, not after. God chose the time and the place and the method, and when that time came, no power in heaven or on earth could stop Him from accomplishing His purpose in Paul’s life. Indeed, how could it be otherwise?” (Debating Calvinism, p.205, emphasis mine)
Paul first came into a saving relationship with Jesus when Jesus met him along the road to Damascus, in which three days after, Paul remained blind, and went without food and water, pondering the events that had shaken the foundations of his life. (Acts 9:8-9) In terms of when God was pleased to reveal Jesus to him, that presumably occurred during the three years that Paul was studying in Arabia (Galatians 1:18), when he began to receive revelations of Christ: “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:11-12)
White continues: “What if Paul had continued in his rebellion, despite being struck blind? Are we to imagine God wringing His hands, wondering what He was going to do now, since the very missionary He was going to use to bring the message to a major portion of the world just refused to ‘cooperate’?” (Debating Calvinism, p.205, emphasis mine)
What was true of Jeremiah, a prophet of God, is likely also potentially true of Jonah as well, another prophet of God. In the case of Jonah and Jeremiah, both were resistant to their calls. Both Jeremiah and Jonah said no. Jeremiah said, in effect: “God, you tricked me. I don’t want this message any longer.” As for Jonah, we know what he did, upon receiving God's orders. In either case, God worked with both of them. In Jonah’s case, God had to take a more extreme measure, by providing a storm and a whale to change his mind. In terms of Paul, he adds that he was not disobedient to his call, but was faithful, so that God’s grace toward him was not in vain.
1st Corinthians 15:10: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”
2nd Corinthians 6:1: “And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain.”
White concludes: “And so at the appointed time He drew Saul of Tarsus, who had surely not ‘disposed himself’ to eternal life, into union with Jesus Christ. He took out the heart of stone and gave him a heart of flesh. Paul could no more stop this divine resurrection than Lazarus could have stopped the Messiah from commanding Him to come forth.” (Debating Calvinism, p.205-206, emphasis mine)
First, of all, Jesus never cited the raising of Lazarus as an illustration of the spiritual state of man. Lazarus was physically dead, whereas Saul of Tarsus was spiritually dead. The Gospel can be heard by a spiritually dead person, and receive “faith” from it (Romans 10:17), because of its supernatural properties, being “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12), whereas a physically dead person cannot hear anything at all, because their soul, that is, their consciousness, lies elsewhere. (Luke 16:19-31) Dead in sin, simply means being lost, separated from God, judged and condemned in sin, that is, if you remain in Adam. Compare with Ephesians 2:1. Nevertheless, James White infers an unconscious, preemptive Regeneration (i.e. Calvinistic Irresistible Grace), that is involuntary, unconscious and unilateral. Yet, what really happened was that Jesus met Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, while on his way to murder Christians, and Jesus convicted him of his actions, and enlightened him to the fact that not only was he not right with God, but that he was also directly fighting against God, both inwardly and outwardly. Having been blinded, and remaining so for three days, Paul prayed and fasted while en route to Ananias, whom Jesus directed to restore his sight, upon which time he then received (three days later) the spiritual surgery of Regeneration, being sealed with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13), in being made into a new creature in Christ, as per 2nd Corinthians 5:17. In contrast, Calvinism is about a preemptive heart-transplant, rather than about God working on the unregenerate heart, opening it, pleading with it, convicting it, piercing it, and goading it.
In summary, Calvinists must read Irresistible Grace into Galatians 1:15-16, which is simply not there. The real challenge of Calvinism is just how much Calvinists are forced to presume upon Scripture, and Calvinists wield an arsenal of philosophical tools in order to accomplish this, in their aggressive pursuit of “Reformation,” i.e. converting Christians to Calvinism.