December 21, 2008

In Praise Of Prevenient Grace"

"And can it be that I should gain"
Charles Wesley

Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature's night
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light
My chains fell off, my heart was free
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

This verse is declaring the wonder of prevenient grace not the new birth. It is praising the enabling grace of God whereby a sinner rises to his feet to make a choice to follow Christ. If a Calvinist sings this song he has to change not the words but the sense of the verse. The Wesley brothers kindly requested that anyone of nonsensical theology please note in the margin or at the bottom of the page that they are not a part of such "dog­ger­el" men who would seek to mend their theology. I beg leave to men­tion a thought which has been long up­on my mind, and which I should long ago have in­sert­ed in the pub­lic pa­pers, had I not been un­will­ing to stir up a nest of horn­ets. Ma­ny gen­tle­men have done my bro­ther and me (though with­out nam­ing us) the hon­our to re­print ma­ny of our hymns. Now they are per­fect­ly wel­come to do so, pro­vid­ed they print them just as they are. But I de­sire they would not at­tempt to mend them, for they are real­ly not able. None of them is able to mend ei­ther the sense or the verse. There­fore, I must beg of them these two fa­vours: ei­ther to let them stand just as they are, to take things for bet­ter or worse, or to add the true read­ing in the mar­gin, or at the bot­tom of the page, that we may no long­er be ac­count­a­ble ei­ther for the non­sense or for the dog­ger­el of other men. -John Wesley

Naturally in our day of "it doesn't really matter what you believe anyway" such issues are of no importance. The next time you sing this hymn in Church, unless you just sing praise choruses, remember who wrote it and make a mental note that this is not the new birth nor regeneration but a Wesleyan song about prevenient grace leading to a sinner exercising his will to decide for Christ.

Now if you are saying, "Charles, you are making a mountain out of a molehill. This is just theology and when I worship in church it comes from my heart and as long as I am sincere that is all that matters to God." Remember this we must seek to worship God not just in spirit but truth.

edited to add I found this song in the hymnal at my church yesterday. When the SBC sings this song it is sung in praise of divine enablement that causes a person to rise and make a choice for Christ. When my pastor gives an altar call he assumes that those coming forward have been enabled to come and accept Christ. As a Calvinist I bow my head and pray that the regenerate will come forward confessing their sins. I am also praying for the unregenerate to remain seated until they are called! Salvation does have a protocol. Without this there is confusing destruction evidenced by churches filled with unregenerate members.

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