Irresistible Grace

Calvinism 101: Session 12

Irresistible Grace and the Conversion of Augustine


Where through so many years was my freedom of will? – Augustine, Confessions, Book IX.1


How do We Become Christians?


Augustine’s Confessions, his spiritual autobiography, is a great illustration of the doctrine of irresistible grace.


The Dilemma of Total Depravity


  • And you were dead in the trespasses and sins…by nature children of wrath” (Eph 2:1, 3)
  • “…no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Rom 3:11)
  • “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” (Gen 6:5; cf. 8:21)
  • For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God,” (Rom 8:7-8)

  • And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God…6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” (2 Cor 4:3-4, 6)

  • “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” I was afraid you might hear my prayer quickly, and that you might too rapidly heal me of the disease of lust which I preferred to satisfy rather than suppress. – Augustine, Confessions, Book VIII.17


Can God’s Grace Be Resisted?


  • “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you,” (Acts 7:51).
    • Of course God’s grace can be resisted—it is constantly!
  • “In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:16-17)

  • The burden of the world weighed me down with a sweet drowsiness such as commonly occurs during sleep. The thoughts with which I meditated about you were like the efforts of those who would like to get up but are overcome by deep sleep and sink back again…Though at every point you showed that what you were saying was true, yet I, convinced by that truth, had no answer to give you except merely slow and sleepy words: ‘At once’—‘But presently’—‘Just a little longer, please.’ But ‘At once, at once’ never came to the point of decision, and ‘Just a little longer, please’ went on and on for a long while. (VIII.12)


  • I sighed after such freedom, but was bound not by an iron imposed by anyone else but by the iron of my own choice. The enemy had a grip on my will and so made a chain for me to hold me a prisoner…By these links, as it were, connected one to another…a harsh bondage held me under restraint. The new will, which was beginning to be within me a will to serve you freely and to enjoy you, God, the only sure source of pleasure, was not yet strong enough to conquer my older will, which had the strength of old habit. So my two wills, one old, the other new, one carnal, the other spiritual, were in conflict with one another, and their discord robbed my soul of all concentration. – VIII.10


God’s Irresistible Grace


  • “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” (2 Cor 4:6)

  • “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will,” (2 Tim 2:24-26)

  • For from that direction where I had set my face and towards which I was afraid to move, there appeared the dignified and chaste Lady Continence, serene and cheerful without coquetry, enticing me in an honourable manner to come and not hesitate. To receive and embrace me she stretched out pious hands, filled with numerous good examples for me to follow…And she smiled on me with a smile of encouragement as to say: ‘Are you incapable of doing what these men and women have done? Do you think them capable of achieving this by their own resources and not by the Lord their God? Their Lord God gave me to them. Why are you relying on yourself, only to find yourself unreliable? Cast yourself upon him, do not be afraid…I threw myself down somehow under a certain fig tree, and let my tears flow freely…For I felt my past to have a grip on me. It uttered wretched cries: “How long, how long is it to be?” ‘Tomorrow, tomorrow.’ ‘Why not now? Why not an end to my impure life this very hour?’ – VIII.27-28

  • “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44)

  • When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” (John 6:60-65)

  • “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:47)

A Definition from the Canons of Dort:


The fact that others who are called through the ministry of the gospel do come and are brought to conversion must not be credited to human effort, as though one distinguishes oneself by free choice from others who are furnished with equal or sufficient grace for faith and conversion (as the proud heresy of Pelagius maintains). No, it must be credited to God: just as from eternity God chose his own in Christ, so within time God effectively calls them, grants them faith and repentance…Moreover, when God carries out this good pleasure in the elect, or works true conversion in them, God not only sees to it that the gospel is proclaimed to them outwardly, and enlightens their minds powerfully by the Holy Spirit so that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God, but, by the effective operation of the same regenerating Spirit, God also penetrates into the inmost being, opens the closed heart, softens the hard heart, and circumcises the heart that is uncircumcised. God infuses new qualities into the will, making the dead will alive, the evil one good, the unwilling one willing, and the stubborn one compliant. God activates and strengthens the will so that, like a good tree, it may be enabled to produce the fruits of good deeds. – Canons of Dort 4.11


As I was saying this and weeping in the bitter agony of my heart, suddenly I heard a voice from the nearby house…saying and repeating over and over again ‘Pick up and read, pick up and read.’ At once my countenance changed, and I began to think intently whether there might be some sort of children’s game in which such a chant is used. But I could not remember having heard of one. I checked the flood of tears and stood up. I interpreted it solely as a divine command to me to open the book and read the first chapter I might find…So I hurried back to the place where Alypius was sitting. There I had put down the book of the apostle when I got up. I seized it, opened it and in silence read the first passage on which my eyes lit: ‘Not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts.’ (Rom 13:13-14). I neither wished no needed to read further. At once, with the last words of this sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart. All the shadows of doubt were dispelled. – VIII.29


Irresistible Grace Makes Us Willing


“One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul,” (Acts 16:14).


Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,” (Luke 24:45).


“And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true,” (1 John 5:20)


Where through so many years was my freedom of will? From what deep and hidden recess was it called out in a moment? Thereby I submitted my neck to your easy yoke and my shoulders to your light burden…Suddenly it had become sweet to me to be without the sweets of folly. What I once feared to lose was now a delight to dismiss. You turned them out and entered to take their place, pleasanter than any pleasure but not to flesh and blood, brighter than all light yet more inward than any secret recess, higher than any honor but not to those who think themselves sublime. – IX.1