What is the Doctrine of Prevenient Grace?


“Prevenient grace” is the grace given by God that precedes the act of a sinner exercising saving faith in Jesus Christ. The term “prevenient” comes from the Latin and means ”to come before.” In a sense, every one believes in the necessity of God’s grace prior to a sinner’s conversion. In the reformed line of thinking, grace that has to do with salvation, is irresistible when God decides he wants to save. Prevenient grace in the Arminian line of thought is the grace by which God draws all (all as in the totality of every single human ever born or ever will be born) men unto himself, but that ultimately the decisive decision whether to accept or not, is up to the individual. There are basically two differing views on prevenient grace among orthodox Arminians. The first, which is probably the more classical is that, this drawing or pre-salvation work happens through the preaching of the gospel. And that as the gospel is preached, the Holy Spirit works in a persons heart and mind (prevenient grace), because if this didn’t happen, no one would ever accept Christ, but as the Holy Spirit works (prevenient grace) through the preaching of the gospel, the bondage to sin has been broken, and the person can accept Christ if they want to. The other view among Arminians on prevenient grace has a little closer relation to what the reformed doctrine of common grace looks like. Though the one big difference as we will see is that prevenient grace has to do with salvation and common grace, though flowing from the cross is not grace that results in salvation, though in some ways like this view of prevenient grace could aid in opening peoples eyes to who Christ is. This second view of prevenient grace which is held mostly among Wesleyans, is that, because of the first coming and atoning work of Christ, God has dispensed a universal prevenient grace that fully negates the depravity of man. Thus, man is now in a neutral state. Those who adhere to this position assert that because of Christ’s promises that speak of “all men” being drawn (John 12:32) and the “world” being convicted (John 16:8) after His sacrifice, it means that the prevenient grace we experience today was something purchased by Christ’s work on the cross. So in other words, this view of prevenient grace is saying that all of the goodness of this world, what we would typically call common grace is being used by God to call sinners to faith and repentance in Christ. The major disagreement and point of contention is not so much the idea of God drawing sinners through the means of natural revelation (nature, life, things outside of scripture) and special revelation (the word), it is actually in the effectiveness of God’s calling, and who or what salvation is riding on. The Calvinist says, that yes, men and women can resist God’s call and often do, everyday continuously, but that when God says, “enough is enough”. Somewhat like the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus. His grace is sufficient, and efficient, it will break down all barriers, and will woo and overcome all resistance. God’s grace in the Calvinist mind will effect what it sets out to do. Much in the same way that the world was created, or Lazarus was raised from the grave. That is, what God called forth, happens. On the other hand, in the Arminian view, though they say that God’s grace is needed for salvation, his call can always be resisted, there is never a point where it cannot be, and that ultimately, the decisive finisher of salvation is the individual. It always, ultimately lies within the individuals power to accept or reject. Prevenient grace never guarantee’s salvation. Thus, the effectiveness of this type of grace is always determined by man and not by God. In the Arminian view of grace, it can never result in salvation. It only ever just helps, giving the possibility of salvation. I think the person who believes in prevenient grace does not quite understand the extent, or totality of the affects of sin. We are not just a little sick with sin. We are not even 99.9% sinful, with a wee little bit, say maybe 01% goodness. We are totally sinful. Every part of our being is sinful. Apart from Christ, sin is not just what we do. Sin is who we are. So, to say that we just need some help to come to Christ, even if it is almost all the help, is not helpful. We don’t just need help. We need a miracle. We need to be made new.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17) We don’t just need prevenient grace to help us almost all the way there, but then the ultimately deciding factor, be our wills, and our desires, and our decision. We need the ultimate deciding factor to be God, and his efficacious saving grace. We need God to do to us and to others, much the same thing he did in the beginning when he called forth, and said “let there be light” and there was light. We need him to do that to our ears and our eyes. We need him to call forth efficaciously, meaning what he calls for to happen, he causes to happen. Like when he called Lazarus forth from the grave. We need him to do that to us. We need him to as he calls forth to us through the preaching of the gospel, that what he calls for and commands for us to see and hear and love, that he causes or gives us the ability to see, and hear and love. Our only hope is that God would override our moral inability, that he would break through our bondage to our sin nature and give us a new nature. One that loves God, and sees him as precious, and beautiful.

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:9) Apart from God’s efficacious grace, we can be told about Jesus all day, by the best teachers, preachers or evangelist, that know how to say everything just the right way and will not matter one bit. In fact many people saw Jesus when he was walking the earth. He preached to many people. Many people saw his miracles. Many people saw him raise people from the dead. Yet, not all believed. At the end of his life he hardly had any followers. And the same with the Apostles. They preached and performed miracles as well. Not everyone believed. In fact, most people probably didn’t. Oh yes, there has been ebbs and flows of people coming to Christ throughout history. But apart from a God, efficaciously and sovereignly calling a person to himself there is no way a person can come to Christ. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (John 6:44) Unregenerate people are described as blind in the bible (John 12:39-40, 2 Corinthians 4:3-4). Unregenerate people are described as deaf in the bible (Matthew 13:13). Unregenerate people are described as dead in the bible (Ephesians 2:5). We are told in order to enter the kingdom of God we have to be born again (John 3:3). Well, we cannot un-blind ourselves, we can’t un-deaf ourselves, we can’t cause ourselves to come to life from the dead, and we can’t make ourselves to be born. It seems as if all these analogies are used for a reason. To show our complete in utter dependence on God in salvation. There might be many reasons why it is like this. Not sure. Maybe whatever sin is, it is a lot more powerful than we give it credit for. Look at Adam, who was the very best of us. If anyone could have not given into sin, surely you would have thought it was him. Living in a perfectly good world, in perfect communion with God, yet he sinned. Maybe sin is a lot more powerful than we think. We need God to crush it for us. We are utterly dependent on him. Unless he does it, we are doomed. And also, because of this, he gets all the glory. No human, no angel, no any kind of creature will be able to boast before God that the ultimate decisive reason they are in heaven is because of themselves. God and God alone is the only reason anyone is ever saved. It’s his salvation. He does with it what he wants. Not only did Jesus not go to the cross with his fingers crossed, but the Holy Spirit does not call lost sinners by the haphazard luck of having his fingers crossed either. There is a definiteness to how God does things. He is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Therefore prevenient grace must be rejected.