Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,
says Yahweh of Hosts. Zechariah 4:6
Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the King of Glory may come in! Who is this King of Glory?
Yahweh of Hosts: He is the King of Glory. Psalm 24:9-10
Rev. Donald C. Elifson, my former pastor, loved music--and especially the great hymns of the faith. He liked a number of the hymns by Charles Wesley, and would often say that Charles was a much better hymn writer than theologian.
Now Pastor Elifson was a Calvinist, while the Wesley brothers were Arminians. Of course, John Wesley was more of a theologian than Charles, but both were ministers and advocates of that theological position.
In one of his sermons, Charles Spurgeon once made quite an insightful comment. He said that every Arminian is a Calvinist when it comes to his own salvation. Whether that's universally true or not, it was certainly true of Charles Wesley. I submit that there is no better statement by anyone anywhere on how salvation takes place than that given by Charles Wesley in his great hymn, "And Can It Be That I Should Gain?" It is pure, unadulterated Calvinism!
Many have engaged in nitpicking by drawing attention to the phrase, "emptied himself of all but love." (For a discussion of Phil. 2:7, see "The Person of Christ: the Kenotic Theory.) However, every verse of this great hymn is filled with deep and profound theology.
There are actually six verses to Wesley's hymn. Most hymnals pick and choose, and some even omit the most surprising verse of all--verse four in which Wesley testifies to his own experience of salvation. In this verse, he offers perhaps the best poetic description of how salvation takes place according to Calvinism.
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.
Look at what Wesley is saying here:
Do you see the tulip here? Wesley had no power to respond to the gospel until God quickened him. The former is "total depravity" and the latter is "divine election." No one can be saved apart from these acts of God. After God's "quickening ray" regenerated Charles' spirit, he awoke, his chains fell off, and his heart was free! So he arose and followed his Savior. That is "irresistible grace." As a result, Wesley can say in verse six,
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th'eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
This description of how salvation takes place is pure Calvinism. According to Ephesians 2:1-5, men are dead in sins, living in "the lusts of the flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind" (verses 1-3). "Dead": unable to respond to God's offer of salvation. "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together in Christ--by grace you have been saved" (verses 4-5). You were dead, but God chose you because he loved you and made you alive. That is how and why you came to Christ. So the next time you sing, "And Can It Be That I Should Gain?" think about what you are singing.
Perhaps you're reading this and thinking, "What if God didn't choose me?" But the very fact that you're expressing this concern implies that God has chosen you!
"His sovereign love is rich and free.
If for others, why not for me?"
Why not make your salvation sure today? "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved."
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