Grace Before Grace Upon Grace

From “John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity:
A Plain Exposition of His Teaching on Christian Doctrine”
by Thomas C. Oden, 1931–2016

The saving work of God begins not by our being attentive to prevening grace, but by grace that attends us and awakens our attentiveness. The focus is not first of all upon our cooperative initiative by which we imagine ourselves coming early to God, pleading to cooperate. Rather, the initiative comes from grace prevening prior to our first awakening to the mercy and holiness of God.

Prevenient grace elicits the first wish to please God, the first dawn of light concerning his will, and the first slight transient conviction of having sinned against him. Grace works ahead of us to draw us toward faith, to begin its work in us. Even the first fragile intuition of conviction of sin, the first intimation of our need for God, is the work of preparing, prevening grace, which draws us gradually toward wishing to please God. Grace is working quietly at the point of our desiring, bringing us in time to despair over our own righteousness, challenging our perverse dispositions, so that our distorted wills cease gradually to resist the gifts of God.

Grace works antecedently to conversion to convict freedom of its fallenness, and its need for a radical reversal, repentance, a reversal that is only possible in view of God’s justifying grace, which meets us on the cross, of which we in time may become aware. At each stage, we are called to receive and respond to the grace being incrementally given. Prevenient grace does not justify, but readies for justification, giving us the desire for faith, which is the one condition of justification.

The chief function of prevenient grace is to bring the person to a state of nonresistance to subsequent forms of grace. Prevenient grace is that grace that goes before us to prepare us for more grace, the grace that makes it possible for persons to take the first steps toward saving grace.

Prevening grace leads toward convicting grace, which begins not with our self-initiated determination to repent but by the grace that elicits a determination to repent. Prevenient grace brings one to the point of attentiveness to one’s own sinfulness. asking for works meet for repentance. That does not mean that works evidencing repentance are justifying works since no work justifies, but that the threshold of grace is being entered by penitence.

Convicting grace enables one to grow toward repentance, toward greater knowledge of oneself as sinner, aware of how far away from God one is. Convicting grace brings one to despair over one’s own righteousness under the law. and leads to repentance, which turns around one‘s intentionality.

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