“Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound that Saved a Wretch Like Me” vs. “Prevenient Grace, How Fair the Sound, that calls all Sinners Equally”

Posted: April 18, 2008 by Rick Hogaboam in Calvinism, Discipleship/Sanctification, From the Heart, Worship
Tags: , , , ,

I don’t want to be totally obnoxious…but I was thinking about the beloved Hymn “Amazing Grace” and was wondering how a theological Arminian could really sing it.

Traditional Arminian theology believes in “prevenient grace”…essentially meaning that God exerts a measure of grace towards all sinners. Some would even say that God works equally in His grace towards all. Such a view understands that God has done all that he can do to save sinners and it is entirely left up to sinners on how they will respond. Generally, an Arminian would not admit that God does more to save one sinner over another because it would be unfair.

Being the case…how can an Arminian truly sing that God’s grace is “amazing”? I believe that it is amazing precisely because I hated God and wanted nothing to do with Him and it is He who made the decisive change in my heart by awakening new affections within for God. The fact also remains that God has done more to save certain sinners than others. This is clear throughout redemptive history. God called Abraham instead of placing a want ad for all to read. God calls sinners and does show love freely to those whom He wills. The story of Israel itself is proof that God favored Israel precisely because they were unworthy and chose to make them a special people.

I was a wretch and was saved. An Arminian would admit that we are morally bankrupt…although some have taken a Pelagian view that we are not fully tainted by Adam’s sin and simply need a “spark” to ignite good will within. I believe that we are completely tainted by Adam’s sin and stand guilty and under the wrath of God. There is nothing we can do in and of ourselves. We need an imputed righteousness that comes from outside of ourselves. We need a mediator. I am a wretch. Some Arminians don’t believe that they are “wretches”, but instead capable of belief and righteousness that is pleasing to God. I rather believe that faith itself is a gift from God and that we can’t boast in works, nor even our faith.

I have heard it said…”The only think I contribute to my salvation is the sin that makes it necessary”. It is a humbling reality indeed and it is this humbling reality that stirred John Newton’s heart and pen to render the words,

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me…”

  1. Interesting take brother. Tell us more about prevenient grace; the way you describe it sounds like universalism.

  2. “Servant of Christ” –
    I think you will find the following link helpful: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prevenient_grace

    Prevenient grace isn’t universalism. Wesleyan/Arminian theology understands prevenient grace as God’s saving initiative towards all. It is still up to sinners on whether they will receive this love or not.

    Essentially, such a doctrine views all of humanity as having a fair shot at salvation…all equally loved by God. This love, however, does not affect salvation. This is where it is not like universalism in one respect.

    Universalism understands God’s love to be effectually redemptive in nature for all.

    Calvinism understands God’s love to be effectually redemptive in nature for those whom God has chosen to lavish His special love upon.

    Wesleyan/Arminianism understands God’s love to NOT be effectual for the salvation of any…but rather as “initiatory” for all…only awaiting the sinner’s approval.

    Calvinists would say that Jesus did in fact save sinners on the cross.

    Universalists would say that Jesus will save all sinners through the cross.

    Wesleyan/Arminians would say that Jesus died on the cross to make salvation possible for all, but not effectual for any.

    I would encourage you to read the following introduction by theologian J.I. Packer to Purtian theologian John Owen’s treatise “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ” (http://www.lgmarshall.org/Owen/packer_deathintro.html).

    I hope all this answers some questions…but also know that it raises even more. Blessings on your continued understanding of our great and awesome God!!!

  3. Todd Mason says:

    Every time I hear or sing “Amazing Grace” these two lines always stand out to me.

    ’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
    And grace my fears reliev’d;

    It is gift of God’s grace that He teaches us to see our sin as terrible and His grace that turns our hearts to the only cure, Jesus Christ.

  4. Yes…we live in the tension of fear and assurance. We have an advocate that has pleaded for us with His life and continues to plead for us with His intercession. We have been saved by “amazing grace” and are being sanctified by “amazing grace”.

  5. A man of the Greek! Thanks for all of the detail you provided but if you would allow, I would differ with some of the ideas you presented in your original post. Prevenient grace is the same gracious extension from God that both Calvinist and Arminians see as preceding regeneration in the Ordo Salutis. That grace is extended to the elect (with recognition here that Cal / Arm have a different interpretation of who the ‘elect’ are.) Since both groups accept and apply the concept of the total depravity of humankind, the grace that provides salvation is solely of God. This is why Arminians, as you question, can sing that God’s grace is truly amazing.

    Blessings brother, good looking family you have there.

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