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PREVENIENT GRACE MAY NOT LEAD TO JUSTIFICATION
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
A sermon preached on Lord’s Day Evening, August 6, 2006
“The goodness of God leadeth
thee to repentance"
Dr. Henry C. Thiessen said,
All Calvinists believe in common [prevenient] grace (H. C. Thiessen, Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1971 reprint, p. 155).
He is right of course. Dr. W. G. T. Shedd, a full Calvinist, said,
There is a grace that goes before regenerating grace and makes the soul ready for it. It is common or prevenient grace (W. G. T. Shedd, Ph.D., Dogmatic Theology, P and R Publishing, 2003 reprint, p. 775).
In other words, prevenient grace is,
“The goodness of God [which] leadeth thee to repentance”
Therefore, the working of prevenient grace leads the sinner to the place where he is convinced of sin and receives salvation in Christ. The word “prevenient” means “going before, preceding; as prevenient grace” (Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary Unabridged, p. 1426). Thus, prevenient grace is the grace of God that leads a man to trust Christ.
“The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance”
But you must not think that the workings of prevenient grace in your life means that you are justified by Christ and converted. Prevenient grace prepares your soul for justification and conversion. But that is all it does. In this time of “decisionism” many poor, lost souls think they are saved, although they have never been justified by Christ and are not converted. They have been led toward conversion by the grace of God, but they have not yet been converted. There are a number of illustrations of this in the Bible. Tonight we will look at two of them.
I. First, prevenient grace in the life of Abraham.
Please turn to Genesis 12:1-4.
“Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee” (Genesis 12:1).
Now drop down to Genesis 12:4.
“So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him…” (Genesis 12:4).
This is a clear case of the working of prevenient grace in the life of the patriarch Abraham. Abraham did what God told him to do and separated from his pagan homeland and his godless family. But he was by no means justified and converted.
This insight was given to me in a sermon by my friend, Dr. John S. Waldrip, pastor of Calvary Road Baptist Church in Monrovia, California. Dr. Waldrip pointed out in that sermon, titled, “Sinners Seeing Christians’ Sins,” that it is an
undeniable fact that when Abraham came out of Ur of the Chaldees [he came out] by faith (ibid.).
Hebrews 11:8 tells us this in no uncertain terms:
“By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went” (Hebrews 11:8).
That verse tells that Abraham obeyed God and left his wicked, pagan land and relatives “by faith.” But it was not saving faith! Abraham was still an unconverted man, he had not yet been justified by faith, and would not be converted for another ten years. It was a full decade later that he was justified by faith and converted. He was led toward salvation by prevenient grace, but he was not yet saved. Please turn to Genesis 15:5-6. Let us stand and read these verses aloud.
“And he [God] brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:5-6).
You may be seated.
Dr. Waldrip said, “The Bible is very clear, from Genesis 15:6, as well as Romans 4:3 and Galatians 3:6, that Abraham was justified” and converted here, ten years after he was,
“By faith…called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance” (Hebrews 11:8).
He had a certain amount of faith, given to him by God’s prevenient grace, to leave his homeland and wicked, idolatrous family members. And Abraham “obeyed; and he went out” (Hebrews 11:8). But he was not yet converted. He was not yet justified of his sins before the eyes of a holy God. Romans 4:3 makes that very clear. Abraham was not justified until, ten years later, when
“Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3).
Galatians 3:6 tells us the same thing,
“Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Galatians 3:6).
Both Romans 4:3 and Galatians 3:6 are quotations from Genesis 15:6,
“And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).
Now, let us apply that. It means that you can have, by prevenient grace, enough faith to believe and do a great many things – and yet not be justified and converted. Abraham left his homeland, filled with idolatry, by faith. He separated from his wicked, idolatrous family by faith. But it was not saving faith. It was faith that came from prevenient grace, the grace that “goes before, preceding” grace that converts a man, and justifies him in the sight of a holy God.
I wonder if this speaks to you tonight? You may have been given enough prevenient grace to see the wickedness of the world. You may have been given enough prevenient grace to see that you must live separately from wicked companions. You may have been given enough prevenient grace to pray and read the Bible every day, and to be in church on Sunday. I have no doubt that many of you have enough faith, given by prevenient grace, to see those truths in the Bible and to some extent obey them. But that’s as far as it goes. Like Abraham, you are still not justified in the sight of God. Like Abraham, you are still not converted. Like Abraham, you are still lost and on the way to Hell!
For ten years Abraham was under prevenient grace, but he was not yet justified. Are you in this condition tonight? If you are, you are not yet saved. You have not yet been justified by Christ.
II. Second, prevenient grace in the life of King Herod.
Please turn to Mark 6:20. Many of you are like King Herod, when he heard the preaching of John the Baptist,
“and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly” (Mark 6:20).
But Herod was never converted. He never was justified in the sight of God. In his heart, he never stopped rebelling against God. He never yielded to God’s Spirit. He “did many things” under prevenient grace, but he never yielded to conviction of his sin. He never came to Jesus by faith.
Did he hear John preach about Christ? Of course! John the Baptist’s great preaching theme was,
“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
But Herod did not come to Christ. Herod resisted Christ, and did not come to Him. And Herod died unjustified, without receiving the forgiveness of his sins by Christ, or the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Herod hardened his heart and died in an unjustified state, even though he had been under prevenient grace for a long time, and even though he had heard many gospel sermons, and even though he “did many things” and heard the gospel “gladly” (Mark 6:20).
I fear that some of you are in the same condition as Herod. He heard the preaching. He “did many things.” But he was never justified by Christ. Abraham also did many things, such as leaving Ur of the Chaldees. But Abraham went on to be justified by faith in Christ.
May I ask you, if you were to die tonight, which man would you resemble? Would you be in a justified state by coming to Christ, like Abraham? Or would you be in an unjustified state by refusing to come to Him, like King Herod? If you are in the second state, our original text applies to you. Please turn back to Romans, chapter 2, verse 4. Let us stand and read verses 4 and 5 aloud.
“Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Romans 2:4-5).
You may be seated.
Which will it be for you? Will you be like Abraham, who
“believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6)?
Or will you be like Herod, who heard the sermons, but “despised the riches of his goodness” and hardened his “impenitent heart,” refusing to come to Christ by faith, and receiving the judgment of God on “the day of wrath”?
(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan:
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Giffith:
“Amazing Grace" (by John Newton, 1725-1807).
THE OUTLINE OF
PREVENIENT GRACE MAY NOT LEAD TO JUSTIFICATION
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
“The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance" (Romans 2:4).
I. Prevenient grace in the life of Abraham, Genesis 12:1, 4;
II. Prevenient grace in the life of King Herod, Mark 6:20; John 1:29;