As a Reformed Christian I believe we, as sinners, are saved by God’s sovereign grace. But what exactly does this term mean?
God is all-knowing and all-powerful. He is the uncaused causer. God has always existed. He has no beginning and no end. Everything that happens in our vast universe is either caused by Him or allowed by Him for His own intentions and purposes. This happens in perfect accordance with His will, which is perfect, and it happens precisely when He so wishes it. (Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 8:6). Our triune God is the sole omnipotent ruler of this universe and every other place in existence. He has absolute power and authority. We exist solely due to His will and are sustained according to His good pleasure.
God is sovereign in creation: He created our vast universe, He created our planet Earth, and He created us, humans.
God is sovereign in divine providence (everything happens for a reason and in fulfillment of a purpose that is known only by God).
God is sovereign in our redemption as sinners. Reformed theology teaches that God is in control of our salvation. We believe it is God acting alone Who has chosen people for redemption (before the foundation of our world), it is God who quickens a soul and regenerates them, and it is God who enables man to believe the Gospel. These acts are strictly monergistic (God acting alone) and do involve man’s cooperation (synergism).
He predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.Ephesians 1:5–6
We Reformed believe that God’s sovereign grace is irresistible. When God decides to save a person and call them to Christ, in an instant in time, there is nothing they can do to resist. It’s like a dead person in the ER being shocked back to life by a defibrillator. The deceased person cannot resist. We are spiritually dead and unable to choose God in our natural sinful fallen state.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of GodEphesians 2:8
I should mention that God’s grace is wholly and totally unmerited. There is no achievement, quality, or other types of markers that make us deserving of grace. As sinners, we deserve an eternity in Hell. There is nothing a person can do to earn or merit God’s saving grace. Our good works are like filthy rags Scripture tells us.
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.Isaiah 64:6
The law condemns us (no human can keep it perfectly except Christ), yet grace offers us salvation. Because of God’s sovereign grace, we have imputed Christ’s perfect righteousness (which is required to be saved and escape our just condemnation) while our sins are imputed to Him.
Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the moreRomans 5:20
We are justified by God’s grace. It is the thing that allows us to have a right standing before a perfect, holy, and righteous God.
The 5 points of Calvinism (TULIP) which define Reformed soteriology (how we are saved) are known as the Doctrines of Grace!
and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ JesusRomans 3:24
Here is a good article expounding on the Doctrines of Grace:
The Reformed theology of grace, as articulated in the Canons of Dort, informed and influenced the spirituality of the Puritans. These Canons of Dort, also called the Five Articles against the Remonstrants, consist of doctrinal statements adopted by the Synod of Dort in 1618–19 against the Five Articles of the Remonstrants:
- Conditional election based on foreseen faith
- Universal atonement
- Partial depravity of man
- Resistible grace
- The possibility of lapsing from grace
The Synod’s response to these five articles came to be known as “The Five Points of Calvinism” or “Doctrines of Grace”:
- Unconditional election
- Limited atonement
- Total depravity
- Irresistible grace
- Perseverance of the saints
These doctrines highlight the sovereign and gracious work of God in salvation (see The Doctrines of Grace by Boice and Ryken). For the Reformed, grace is a favor that God sovereignly and freely bestows on those who do not deserve it; in fact, they deserve the exact opposite. Grace rests on God’s eternal election without foreseen faith, its ground is the person and finished work of Christ, and its efficient cause is the Holy Spirit. With this grace, man is given the ability to repent and believe. And as a recipient of God’s unwavering favor, man will persevere until the end. There is significant diversity among the Puritan heirs of this Reformed view of grace; there were strong Calvinists like Thomas Goodwin, moderate Calvinists like Richard Baxter, and even Arminian Calvinists like John Goodwin. Nevertheless, these five points of doctrine are the broad lines of the Puritan understanding of grace, which impacted their spirituality in various ways.
What follows are five effects that the Reformed theology of grace had on Puritan spirituality in general.
1. Puritan spirituality flowed from God’s work, not mere human effort.
The Puritans recognized that we do not merit God’s favor, and in fact merit his condemnation. Their view on depravity and grace is clear in the Westminster Confession, in which the Puritan divines maintain that man by his fall has totally lost his ability to choose any spiritual good for his salvation. Their emphasis on total depravity underlined the necessity of God’s sovereign grace in salvation. Hence, as Gleason and Kapic have noted, the spirituality of the Puritans was “predominantly Augustinian” in its emphasis on human depravity and sovereign grace (see their The Devoted Life). Yet this Reformed emphasis on election, depravity, and grace did not stop the Puritans from freely and sincerely offering the gospel to all sinners. In their preaching and writing they called sinners to repentance and faith (see, for instance, John Bunyan’s Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ).
2. Puritan spirituality was grounded in Christ.
Because Christ is the basis of grace, union and communion with him is often foregrounded, and meditating on Christ is one way this manifests in spirituality. Thus, the Puritans wrote lengthy meditations on Christ. Take, for example, Samuel Rutherford’s collection of letters in The Loveliness of Christ and Thomas Goodwin’s The Heart of Christ in Heaven toward Sinners on Earth. Likewise, with this view of grace, the Puritans avoided exalting excessively the physical humanity of the Savior, as seen in certain strains of Roman Catholicism with its emphasis on the Eucharist. Instead the Puritans recognized it was Christ himself who worked salvation and thus whom the heart must love and adore.
3. Puritan spirituality saw the Spirit’s work in the soul as the effectual cause of grace.
Despite our deadness in sin, the Spirit regenerated us, planting the seed out of which a life of grace would bloom. Indeed, the need for regeneration by the Spirit became a dominant theme in Puritan spirituality. To illustrate this, Thomas Goodwin, author of The Work of the Holy Spirit in Our Salvation, once said that at regeneration the Spirit quickened, enabled, and inclined the soul so as to believe and repent. The Puritans believed that all spirituality resulted from the Spirit’s prior work in the soul. It is immediately upon regeneration that man becomes a cooperator with the Spirit, yet this is always in response to the Spirit’s work. Thus, the Puritans stressed the Spirit’s role not only in conversion but also in sanctification. To give an example, they emphasized the role of the Spirit in prayer, realizing that apart from the Spirit we cannot pray in such a way pleasing to God (see Bunyan’s I Will Pray with the Spirit).
4. Puritan spirituality emphasized the Trinity’s work in election, redemption, and sanctification.
This trinitarian emphasis is clearly seen in John Owen’s Communion with God, a work that is not really about prayer but about the doctrine of the Trinity. Owen teaches the Christian that a life of spirituality is about communing with each one of the members of the Trinity in the proper way, each one being the object of our adoration, affection, and prayer. As Rutherford expressed it, “I do not know which person of the trinity I love the most, but this I know, I love each of them and I need them all.”
5. Puritan spirituality treasured God’s preserving grace.
The Puritans spent a lot of time on assurance of faith, on its objective grounds and its subjective marks. They attempted to balance a firm trust in what God has done and is doing, without becoming presumptuous, while also identifying the subjective marks without causing those subjective feelings in the soul to simply become the reason for assurance of faith. For instance, according to Joel Beeke in his book Living for God’s Glory, the delegates at the Synod of Dort recognized that Arminian theology threatened the believer’s eternal security and assurance in God’s sovereign grace. Why? Because according to the Remonstrants you can lose your salvation. By understanding the Reformed theology of grace, the Puritans could enjoy assurance of faith because they knew that God would preserve them for eternity.
Sadly, some historians such as David Bebbington think that the Puritans held the position that assurance is rare. This, Bebbington argues, is in contrast to the evangelical belief which maintains that assurance is normal (see his Evangelicalism in Modern Britain). Scholars such as Beeke and Michael Haykin have challenged Bebbington’s view and convincingly argue that the Puritans practiced and taught assurance of faith (see Beeke’s Quest for Full Assurance and Haykin’s coedited book The Advent of Evangelicalism). That the Puritans preached and taught assurance of salvation is clear. For example, Baxter exhorted his congregation not to sit down without assurance, meaning they should not rest until they were assured of God’s saving grace in their lives. “To all who love Christ sincerely,” said William Pinke, “God presently gives an everlasting assurance of salvation.”
Thomas Brooks expressed his assurance of faith this way: “I am wholly His . . . I am eternally His.”https://www.reformation21.org/blog/doctrines-of-grace-and-puritan-spirituality
Christ told us how we can do nothing until God the Father calls/draws us:
- “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him” (John 4:23).“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).“No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (John 6:65).“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all” (John 10:27–29).“I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people [Jew and Gentile alike] to myself” (John 12:32).
“Grace” is more than mercy and love, it superadds to them. it denotes, not simply love, but the love of a sovereign, transcendly superior, one that may do what he will, that may wholly choose whether he will love or no. There may be love between equals, and an inferior may love a superior; but love in a superior, and so superior as he may do what he will, in such a one love is called grace: and therefore grace is attributed to princes; they are said to be gracious to their subjects, whereas subjects cannot be gracious to princes. Now God, who is an infinite Sovereign, who might have chosen whether ever He would love us or no, for Him to love us, this is grace.Thomas Goodwin
The Kingdom of grace is nothing but…. the beginning of the Kingdom of glory; the Kingdom of grace is glory in the seed, and the Kingdom of glory is grace in the flower; the Kingdom of grace is glory in the daybreak, and the Kingdom of glory is grace in the full meridian; the Kingdom of grace is glory militant, and the Kingdom of glory is grace triumphant…. the Kingdom of grace leads to the Kingdom of glory.Thomas Watson
Grace and glory differ very little; the one is the seed, the other is the flower; grace is glory militant, glory is grace triumphant.Thomas Brooks
As rivers, the nearer they come to the ocean whither they tend, the more they increase their waters, and speed their streams; so will grace flow more fully and freely in its near approaches to the ocean of glory.John Owen