The Common Operations of the Spirit



The Puritans on God’s Tender Spirit



Order of Contents

Bavinck & Cunnigham on the Compatibility of Resistible and Irresistible Grace
Order of Quotes

Quotes  (60+)



Introduction – Travis Fentiman

The common operations of the Spirit are the effects, benefits, drawings and gifts of God’s Spirit on all people, elect and reprobate alike.  They are especially significant in their relation to the Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel, whereby the Holy Spirit, sincerely, lovingly and ineffectually, woos, draws, motions, prods, strives and wrestles with reprobates to bring them to Christ.  Such persons do not yield to these drawings, but perversely resist and overcome them to their eternal damnation.  

While God’s Word teaches the doctrine of irresistible grace, it also teaches that there is resistible grace: Acts 7:51Gen. 6:3; 1 Thess. 5:19Eph. 4:30; Gen. 32:24-29Rom. 6:13; 2 Chron. 30:8Isa. 63:101 Pet. 3:19-202 Cor. 6:1-2; Hos. 9:15; 2 Sam. 7:15Heb. 6:4-6; Heb. 10:29; Jonah 2:8; Acts 3:26; John 5:34,40Ps. 81:13-16; Deut. 5:29; Deut. 32:29; Isa. 48:18Isa. 5:4.  Irresistible grace and resistible grace are mutually compatible and complimentary.  Irresistible grace relates to God’s secret and always efficacious dealings with his creatures as He is absolutely sovereign over all that He has made.  Resistible grace relates to His revealed will and His personal relations with His finite creatures.

Note that the common operations of the Spirit are not simply incidental and purposeless.  God is a purposeful being and has purposes for all of his actions and benefits.  Thus, note in almost all of the quotes below that the language of purpose is used, that these operations and benefits are for the purpose of drawing people (including the reprobate) to Christ.

That irresistible grace, as used by reformed divines, was never meant to deny resistible grace, see Herman Bavinck and William Cunningham on the origin of the term ‘irresistible grace’ immediately below.  For testimony from historic reformed figures that the revealed will of God expresses His will, desire, pleasure and wish, see here.

The 60+ quotes from the 1500’s and 1600’s below are indicative of the general tenor of the reformation and puritanism, and thus help to interpret what is meant by the Westminster Standards when they mention the “common operations of the Spirit” in relation to the call and offer of the Gospel.  The Assembly’s Directory of Public Worship says that these “offers” are “invitations,” express “God’s goodness, forbearance and longsuffering,” and are proffered by “motions of his own Holy Spirit.”  Compare also WCF 10:4 on the common operations of the Spirit in the call of the Gospel with LC #68 on the same, and LC #105 on resisting and grieving the Spirit.  For more, see The Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel in the Westminster Standards.

For a convicting, but tenderizing and enlivening sermon on not resisting, but nurturing the motions of God’s tender Spirit, see English puritan, Jeremiah Dyke’s sermon, ‘Of Quenching and Not Quenching of the Spirit’ (d. 1620).  The Old School Presbyterian, Robert Kerr also has a sermon entitled, ‘The Striving Spirit’ (1896) on Gen. 6:3, ‘My Spirit shall not always strive with man’ in Southern Presbyterian Pulpit, pp. 255-262.



The Compatibility of Irresistible and Resistible Grace

On the Compatibility of Irresistible and Resistible Grace   

Herman Bavinck and William Cunningham are quoted on the origin and history of the term ‘Irresistible Grace’, that it was never meant to deny resistible grace.  William Shedd closely describes and synthesizes the two concepts in the Holy Spirit’s workings upon men called by the Gospel.



Order of Quotes  60+ Theologians

** – denotes a member of the Westminster Assembly

Jerome  †420                                                                              Thomas Brooks  †1680
Geneva Bible  1560                                                                Stephen Charnock  †1680
John Calvin   †1564                                                                        John Bunyan  †1688
William Ames  †1633                                                                    John Collinges  †1691
David Dickson  1635                                                                         John Flavel  †1691
Jeremiah Dyke  †1639                                                                      Philip Henry  †1696
Mr. Downame and Mr. Reading  1645                                        Matthew Barker  †1698
Jeremiah Burroughs  †1646  **
The Westminster Assembly  1645-7 
 **                                   Obadiah Hughes  †1704
The Westminster Standards  1645-7  **                                            John Howe  †1705
Directory of Public Worship                                                      Thomas Doolittle  †1707
Larger Catechism                                                                  Wilhelmus A’Brakel  †1711
Confession of Faith                                                                      Matthew Henry  †1714
Thomas Gataker  †1654  **                                                     Samuel Rosewell  †1722
Mr. Smallwood  1658                                                                       William Tong  †1727
James Durham  †1658                                                 Zechariah Merrill  † early 1700’s
John Ley  †1662  **                                                                    Thomas Boston  †1732
John Mayer  1664                                                                    Ebenezer Erskine  †1754
Anthony Burgess  †1664  **                                                      Asahel Nettleton  †1844
Joseph Alleine   †1668                                                           Thomas Chalmers  †1847
Thomas Vincent  1669                                                               William C. Burns  †1868
.                                                                                                 James Buchanan  †1870
John Trapp  †1669                                                                     Robert Candlish  †1873
William Greenhill  †1671  **                                                          Charles Hodge  †1878
George Swinnock  †1673                                                                 A.A. Hodge  †1886
Edward Pearse  †1674(?)                                                                   Robert Kerr  1896
Edward Reynolds  1676  **                                                     John L. Girardeau  †1898
Thomas Manton  †1677                                                                      J.A. Hodge  †1901
Matthew Poole  †1679                                                                    Louis Berkhof  †1957
John Brown of Wamphray  †1679                                                            R.A. Finlayson
William Gurnall  †1679
Stephen Charnock  †1680




Jerome  347 – 420

The Exegetical Labors of the Reverend Matthew Poole, vol. 1: Genesis 1-9, Translated by the Rev. Steven Dilday, Culpeper, Virginia, Master Poole Publishing, 2007.  The quote below is the words of puritan Matthew Poole (1624–1679) from his Synopsis Criticorium.

Gen. 6:3 – “And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man…”

Not severity, but mercy, Jerome wishes to be observed in this place.




The Geneva Bible Notes

“And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man”

Gen. 6:3

(d) Because man could not by won by Gods leniency and patience by which he tried to win him, he would no longer withhold his vengeance.



John Calvin

Commentary on Hebrews

“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance”

Heb. 6:4-6

And that this may be better understood, let us suppose a contrast between the gifts of God, which he has mentioned, and this falling away.  For he falls away who forsakes the word of God, who extinguishes its light, who deprives himself of the taste of the heavens or gift, who relinquishes the participation of the Spirit. Now this is wholly to renounce God. We now see whom he excluded from the hope of pardon, even the apostates who alienated themselves from the Gospel of Christ, which they had previously embraced, and from the grace of God; and this happens to no one but to him who sins against the Holy Spirit. For he who violates the second table of the Law, or transgresses the first through ignorance, is not guilty of this defection; nor does God surely deprive any of his grace in such a way as to leave them none remaining except the reprobate.

…To all this I answer, That God indeed favors none but the elect alone with the Spirit of regeneration, and that by this they are distinguished from the reprobate; for they are renewed after his image and receive the earnest of the Spirit in hope of the future inheritance, and by the same Spirit the Gospel is sealed in their hearts. But I cannot admit that all this is any reason why he should not grant the reprobate also some taste of his grace, why he should not irradiate their minds with some sparks of his light, why he should not give them some perception of his goodness, and in some sort engrave his word on their hearts. Otherwise, where would be the temporal faith mentioned by Mark 4:17?  There is therefore some knowledge even in the reprobate, which afterwards vanishes away, either because it did not strike roots sufficiently deep, or because it withers, being choked up. (98)

“Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?”

The Spirit of grace.  He calls it the Spirit of grace from the effects produced; for it is by the Spirit and through his influence that we receive the grace offered to us in Christ.  For He it is who enlightens our minds by faith, who seals the adoption of God on our hearts, who regenerates us unto newness of life, who grafts us into the body of Christ, that He may live in us and we in Him. He is therefore rightly called the Spirit of grace, by whom Christ becomes ours with all his blessings.  But to do despite to Him, or to treat him with scorn, by whom we are endowed with so many benefits, is an impiety extremely wicked. Hence learn that all who willfully render useless his grace, by which they had been favored, act disdainfully towards the Spirit of God.



William Ames

Conscience with the Power and Cases Thereof

Book 1, Chapter 26

14. The inward offer is a spiritual enlightening, whereby those promises are propounded to the hearts of men, as it were by an inward wordJohn 6:45, Whosoever has heard of the Father and has learned, comes to me. Eph. 1:17.  That he might give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation, the eyes of your mind being enlightened, that ye may know what is that hope of your calling.

15. This also is sometime, and in a certain manner granted to those that are not elected. Hebrews 6:4 & 10:29; Mat. 13:20.

16.  If anyone oppose himself out of malice to this illumination, he commits a sin against the Holy Ghost, which is called unpardonable, or unto death. Heb.6:6 & 10:29; 1 John 5:16; Matt 12:32.

[Notice that Ames says the offer is not only outward but inward as well, and in a certain manner to the reprobate, who opposes it.  One can only oppose something if something is exerting force upon them in a certain direction.  In this case it is resistible.]

Book 2, Chapter 9

Concerning this Spirit the first Question is, what a man ought to do that he may obtain the lively act, and sense of it?

3.  He ought to open the doors of his heart that the Spirit may enter in, Ps. 24:7Rev. 3:20.  That is to call off his mind from earthly things and to raise it upwards and to prepare himself, by all means to entertain the motions of the Spirit.



David Dickson, 1583-1662

Therapeutica Sacra, 1664

Book 1, Chapter 3

“Wherefore, whosoever in the preaching of the Gospel, are charged and commanded to repent, to believe in Christ, or turn unto God, they are commanded also to use all these external means [“hear a Sermon preached, to read the Scripture, to be informed by Catechizing, and conference of Religion…”] whereby they may be informed of the duty required, and of the means leading thereunto; in the exercise of which external means, they may meet with sundry common operations and effects of God’s Spirit, before they be regenerate or converted, whereof the use may be sound not only in, but also after, conversion; And if any man shall refuse, slight or neglect to follow these preparatory exercises, which may prepare him for conversion, he is inexcusable before God and man, and guilty of rejecting of the offer of reconciliation, yea guilty of resisting of the Holy Ghost, of which sin and guiltiness the holy martyr Stephen charges the misbelieving Jews, 

8. As for the regenerate man, he it is who in the acknowledgement of his sinfulness and deserved misery, and of his utter inability to help himself, does cast away all confidence in his own parts, and possible righteousness of his own works, and flees to Christ offered in the Gospel…”

[Notice how Dickson rightly interprets “resisting the Holy Ghost” in Acts 7:51 as referring to the Holy Spirit’s ineffectual drawings of the reprobate to Christ in the offer of the Gospel, which are resisted and overcome by hardened sinners.  One cannot resist something unless it is drawing them.]


Book 1, Chapter 6

“Together with these external means, serving for drawing on the covenant and going on in it, the common operations of God do concur; common to all the called, both elect and reprobate, and gifts common to both, are bestowed, such as illumination, moral persuasion, historical, dogmatic and temporary faith, moral change of affections, and some sort of external amendment of their outward conversation, saving grace being the special gift of God to His own.”

[Note that the external means of salvation are for the purpose of drawing men indiscriminately into the Covenant of Grace, and with this the operations of the Spirit concur.  

“Concur” was a technical word, as it is expressed in the theological doctrine of Concurrence.  “Concurrance” means that both God and external means are both simultaneously acting together, neither of which would happen if both did not act.  

Dickson is rightly affirming that the external means not impose a moral obligation on persons, nor that they are simply intended by moral purpose for the reprobate, but that the Spirit of God ineffectually and sweetly draws the reprobate by motions, proddings, and pullings to saving faith in Christ, by illumination, persuasion, etc, though it is resisted and defeated by them.] 


Book 3, Chapter 6

“Thirdly, the Lord makes use of this outward and common covenanting with all receivers of the offer, as a mean to draw the confederate in the letter, to be confederate in the spirit; for, the faith which he requires as the condition of the covenant, he works in the elect, if not before, or with the external covenanting, yet undoubtedly after, in a time acceptable, and that by the ordinary means, the use whereof is granted to all confederate externally: and so as common illumination is a mean to that special, spiritual and saving illumination; and dogmatic or historical faith, is a mean unto saving faith; and external calling, is a mean of effectual calling, So external covenanting in the letter, is a mean most fit, and accommodate to make a man a covenanter in the spirit.”

[Notice how Dickson rightly teaches that reprobates coming externally into the Covenant of Grace is intended by God to draw them to receiving Christ savingly offered therein.  The common operations and gifts of the Spirit are intended to draw the reprobate to saving faith in Christ and eternal life.]



Jeremiah Dyke, 1584 – 1639

‘Of Quenching and Not Quenching of the Spirit’

2.  Secondly, the Spirit of God quenched in the motions thereof, may be quenched forever.  The Spirit of God moves in your heart, and solicits you to believe, to repent, etc.  You put Him off as Felix did Paul, When you have more convenient leisure you will hear more of him, you neglect and disregard his counsels, and motions, and so you have quenched the Spirit.  Well, what can you tell whether ever He will come to you anymore, whether ever you shall hear that voice behind you anymore.  It may be that He will never solicit you more.  A neglected motion may be the last motion that ever He will makeSo when we neglect and quench the Spirit of God in the motions thereof, who can tell whether ever the Spirit of God will do him that favor anymore?  Whether He will ever dart any of those sparks of that heavenly fire into his heart or no? When he has so foolishly quenched them.  The quenching of the Spirit may justly provoke Him to cease his work and to stir no more.



Mr. Downame and Mr. Reading

The Westminster Annotations

1st edition, 1645, compiled by Dr. Donald Maclean

Rev. 3:20 – “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

[Christ knocks] At the door of men’s consciences, both by outward means and inward motions, Ps. 16:7, as one desirous of admittance; Cant. 5:2.


3rd edition, 1657

I stand at the doorAs attending and waiting, with much patience, Cant. 5:2

And knockAt the door of men’s consciences, both by outward means, and inward motions, Ps. 16:7, as one desirous of admittance, Cant. 5:2.

Hear my voiceNot give me bare hearing, but hearken to what I say, John 5:29; Heb. 3:7; Ps. 97:7

OpenTo receive and entertain Me by faith; not in his house, but in his heart, John 3:11,12.



Jeremiah Burroughs  †1646  **

Gospel Reconciliation, or Christ’s Trumpet of Peace to the World, 1657, reprinted by Soli Deo Gloria, 1997, pp. 316-7

The Fourth Doctrine Propounded in Chapter 45: that God and Christ are exceedingly willing and desirous to be reconciled with sinners.

Chapter 74, The Fourteenth Argument

This argues God’s willingness to be reconciled, that the Lord is thus pleading with you.  And let me speak to everyone in this place who has felt God pleading thus with them.  Know that the Lord, by this work of His, strives with you to bring you to be reconciled to Him.  This is nothing other than the striving of the Spirit of God Himself with you, though perhaps you think this is troublesome to you.  Many men and women, when they have their consciences pleasing thus, think it is troublesome.  Oh, wretched man or woman that you are, this work of conscience is nothing but God pleading with you to save your soul.  You have stood against His Word which has been preached to you, and now God seeks you, the other way; by His Spirit He appeals to your own conscience, so that you may be brought in to be reconciled to Him.  But when God has no mind to be reconciled, then says God to conscience, ‘Let him alone,’ and then the sinner goes on with a hard heart and blesses himself that his conscience is quiet.  Oh, no, no; conscience is quiet, but God has left laboring any more with you.



The Westminster Assembly, 1644-1646  **

From Alexander Mitchell and John Struthers, Minutes of the Sessions of the Westminster Assembly of Divines (London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1874), p. lix

“A committee, apparently of English members only, prepared and brought up for discussion (p. 369) the following questions and answers:–

‘Q. Do all men equally partake of the benefits of Christ?

A. Although from Christ some common favors redound to all mankind, and some special privileges to the visible Church, yet none partake of the principal benefits of His mediation but only such as are members of the Church invisible.

Q. What common favors redound from Christ to all mankind?

A. Besides much forbearance and many supplies for this life, which all mankind receive from Christ as Lord of all, they by him are made capable of having salvation tendered to them by the gospel, and are under such dispensations of Providence and operations of the Spirit as lead to repentance.’

These questions and answers were first agreed to be discussed, and then referred back to a Committee with which the Scotch Commissioners were associated.”

[The proposed questions and answers did not end up in the Larger Catechism.  There were various changes and modifications to them until the fruit of the discussions appeared finalized as LC # 68 below.]



Westminster Directory for Public Worship  **

Of Publick Prayer before the Sermon.

“which sins of ours receive many fearful aggravations, we having broken all the commandments of the holy, just, and good law of God, doing that which is forbidden, and leaving undone what is enjoined; and that not only out of ignorance and infirmity, but also more presumptuously, against the light of our minds, checks of our consciences, and motions of his own Holy Spirit to the contrary, so that we have no cloak for our sins; yea, not only despising the riches of God’s goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering, but standing out against many invitations and offers of grace in the gospel; not endeavoring, as we ought, to receive Christ into our hearts by faith, or to walk worthy of him in our lives.” 

[According to the Directory, some people presumptuously act contrary to the motions of the Holy Spirit.  That is, the Holy Spirit acts upon them in one direction, and they successfully resist such motions in going the contrary direction.  Then, notice that the Directory quotes the language of Rom. 2:4 (interpreting it in a Sincere Free Offer sense), which says,

Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness and forebearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?

These motions (according to Rom. 2:4 which the Directory quotes) are for the purpose of leading these people to repentance, which people (according to the Directory) yet stand out against the invitations and offers of the gospel.  See also the Westminster Confession of Faith, 10:4 on the common operations of the Spirit in the call of the Gospel with Larger Catechism #68 on the same and #105 on resisting and grieving the Spirit.]



Westminster Larger Catechism  **

68. Are the elect only effectually called?

All the elect, and they only, are effectually called; although others may be, and often are, outwardly called by the ministry of the word, and have some common operations of the Spirit; who, for their willful neglect and contempt of the grace offered to them, being justly left in their unbelief, do never truly come to Jesus Christ.

[See the note on WCF 10.4 and the Directory of Public Worship below.]

105. What are the sins forbidden in the first commandment?

The sins forbidden in the first commandment, are… slighting and despising God and his commands; resisting and grieving of his Spirit



The Westminster Confession of Faith  **

Ch. 10.4

“Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet they never truly come unto Christ, and therefore cannot be saved…”

[Note that the common operations of the Spirit are connected to the call of the ministry of the Word, and thus refer to the non-salvific, non-effectual, but sincere drawings, motions, and suasions of the Holy Spirit on the reprobate that he should embrace and believe on Christ in the Gospel.  One of the proof-texts in the WCF is Heb. 6:4,5.  Compare Larger Catechism #105, which speaks of resisting and grieving the Holy Spirit.  “Resisting” means actively opposing a force that would draw one to a given end.  “Grieving” conveys going against the sincere good pleasure and will of someone.  Compare the Directory of Public Worship above.]



Thomas Gataker  **

[The Westminster Annotations, 3rd edition, 1658]

Isa. 65:1-2 – “…I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name.  I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts;”

I said, behold Me, behold Me, unto a nation that was not called by my name… For some [interpreters] take them [these words] as spoken in  way of invitation to the Gentiles, as if God did thereby call upon them, to look after Him, and come into Him, as Isa. 45:22, or tender, and offer Himself unto them, (as the prophet of God, Isa. 6:8) being ready to entertain them, and make them his people, which before they were not, Deut. 32:21; Hos. 2:14; Rom. 9:25, and this way our [King James] Version seems to incline… “Lo, lo”, or as it is frequently rendered, Here am I, here am I, Gen. 22:1,7,11 and 27:18, Isa. 6:8, and it is the voice of God returning a gracious answer unto the suits and supplications of those that seek to Him by prayer; here am I at hand, ready to hear and help.  So Isa. 58:9, ‘When thou shalt cry, He will say, Lo I’; or ‘here I am’: and it is doubled, to imitate his forwardness to hear and grant their requests: whereof see, verse 24…

I have spread out mine hands all the day unto a rebellious people. Or, a refractory people, Jer. 5:23, that would be no means be reclaimed, verse 12.  Isa. 66:4; Jer. 7:13 and 11:7,8…

After their own thoughtsFollowing not the motions and directions of my word, and Spirit; but led by their own minds and lusts…



Mr. Smallwood

[The Westminster Annotations, 3rd edition, 1658, as the end of the quote demonstrates Smallwood is speaking of conversion]

The Song 5:2 – “…it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night.”

It is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me.  This is another sudden apprehension, and sensible acknowledgement of the Church’s, to which she is quickened and excited by the strong and mighty calls and pulsations, by which Christ endeavors to awaken her;  whose voice she cannot but know and confess, though she be not so dutiful as she ought to be in obeying it; and therefore she does here aggravate and bewail her fault, which is so much the greater because of his importunity, and tender vehemency for admission: For when Christ calls, and knocks, and begs at the door of our souls to enter, what vile ingratitude is it to shut Him out?  When He solicits and entreats so many ways; by his Word and ministers; by his rods and corrections (which have their voice, Mic. 6:9) by his mercies and kindness, but chiefly by the constant admonitions, and provocations, and motions of his Spirit; what inexcusable, obstinate madness is it to deny and drive Him away?  Is anything so worthy to be harbored there, as He is?  And is it not an incomparable honor, that He will vouchsafe to come under our roof? Whosoever is shut out, sure he deserves an hospitable reception, who will come and sup with such as we are, and brings his feast along with him.  Aperi Christo sed extraneis claude, seculo claude, etc. [translated: Open to Christ, but to outsiders, shut, shut the world], drive away and banish all things else, but give Him the best lodging.  It is demanded, Can we open? Is it in our power?  Has not He the keys Himself, and is not He the door Himself?  Does not He shut and none can open?  Yes, but when He bids you to open, He lends you a key; and when He infuses grace and says, He enables you to open.  It is his gift, but your grace; his inspiration, but your improvement: And oh! How blessed are they that are but his Turn-keys, his Door-keepers Is there a greater honor, or happiness than to co-operate with God, in that which of all others is the most God-like work, the salvation of souls?



James Durham

An Exposition of the Ten Commandments, on breaking the Second Commandment

27. When there is any quenching of convictions, or the motions, or stirrings of affection wakened up by the Word

30. When we do not make use of Promises offered in Preaching, and directed by God to us by an Authorized Ambassador, and do not so lay weight on them as from Him.

31. When we reject the many sweet offers of the Gospel, and come not to the Marriage of the King’s Son.

32. When we do grieve Gods Spirit who presses it upon us.

Commentary on the Song of Solomon

“I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night.”

Song 5:2

[Durham understands the Bride to be the visible church.  Thus the sincere and well-meant offers of grace are made to gospel hearers alike for the purpose of conversion, including the unconverted and reprobate, as is clear from Durham’s citation of the conversion of Lydia, those in Ps. 81 who would not hear but clung to their idols, Durham’s language of begetting faith, the Word being rejected, that such common operations of the Spirit are not saving, are sometimes frustrated forever, etc.]

Therefore it’s his voice or word that not only calls, but knocks, implying some force it had upon her: By voice is understood the Word, as Chap. 2:8,10, yet, as backed with the Spirit and power, and as commended thereby to the conscience, 1 Cor. 2:4, and convincingly demonstrated to be the very voice of Christ; yet, so as rods inward and outward, and other means may have their own place, being made use of by Him, yet still according to the word.  

His great end [purpose] for which he knocks, is in that word open; which, as it implies her case, that her heart was in a great measure shut upon him, and that by some carnal indisposition He was kept out of it, and was not made welcome; So it requires the removing of all that stopped his way, and the casting open of the heart by faith to receive his Word, and by love to receive himself…

This opening then, imports the removing of every thing that marred fellowship with Christ, and the doing of every thing that might dispose for enjoying of it, as awaking, rising, etc. all which follows in the 4th verse, and while He commands to open, He calls for the entertaining of fellowship with Him, which now is by her drowsiness interrupted: Which two parts of the verse put together, hold forth,

1. That Christ’s own Bride may shut the door on him, and so make a sad separation betwixt him and her.

2. Christ’s word is the great and ordinary external mean, whereby he knocks at men’s hearts, and which he makes use of for begetting faith in them.

3. That in a believers secure condition, there will be sometimes more than ordinary convictions, stirrings and motions by the Word.

4. That the Word of God, backed with power, will reach the securest heart and affect it.

5. That believers will discern Christ’s voice and call, when their condition is very low.

6. It will be refreshful to them to have Him knocking; she looks on it as a kindly thing, even to have his knock bearing-in convictions, challenges, or somewhat else on her; though it please not her flesh, yet in as far as she is renewed, it will be the voice of her Beloved to her.

7. Christ has a way of following his own, even when they are become secure; and sometimes then, will make his call, challenges or convictions pursue more hotly and pressingly than at other times.

8. When Christ knocks and presses hardest, it’s for our own good, and it’s a token of love in Him to do so; for, there is nothing more deplorable, than when He says to one under indisposition, and in an evil case, let him alone.

9. When Christ calls by his Word, it is then our duty to open to him, and to receive him; and this can no more be slighted without sin, than prayer, mortification and other commanded duties; can be neglected or slighted without sin.

10. Christ may call very pressingly, and his Word may have some work on the conscience and affections of hearers, and they be some-way affected with it, and yet the Word be rejected, and the heart not made open to Christ; as here she sleeps still notwithstanding; and the following verse confirms it.

11. There are some operations of the Spirit, which though they be more than a common work on the generality of hearers, yet are not saving, and may be, and often are, even by believers frustrated for a time, and by others for ever; for, this knocking gets a refusal, verse 3.  So deceiving, beguiling and dangerous are common motions to rest on, when the finger of gracious Omnipotency is not applied, as verse 4.

12. Christ’s design when he knocks fastest, is friendly, and yet it sometimes says, things are not right: This is the end of all his knocking and speaking to a people, and then it is plainest when he speaks most powerfully.



John Ley  **

[The Westminster Annotations, 3rd edition, 1657.  Ley originally authored Genesis in 1645; it was revised in 1655 by John Richardson]

Gen. 6:3 – “And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh…”

My Spirit.

That is, the Spirit of God, or of Christ, in those few good men who lived in that corrupt and incorrigible age; by which Spirit suggested good motions to the souls and consciences of sinful men, which they resisted and rejected.

Not always strive.

As before by Noah’s preaching, admonishing, reproving, protecting against the wickedness of the times; and striving with the stubbornness of the world, 1 Pet. 3:18,19, and by the inward operations of God’s Spirit urging the conscience to repentance for sin, and reformation of life: thus for God not to strive, is a judgment; as not to chastise and correct for amendment, Isa. 1:5; Hos. 4:4; and this He here threatens, being weary of their rebellious obstinacy, which moves Him to make a final resolution for their utter ruin: yet sometimes He professes He will not strive, in mercy to mankind, Isa. 57:16



John Mayer

Commentary upon all the Prophets, 1652, p. 421-22, as excerpted in Reformation Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament, Vol. 12, Ezekiel, Daniel, ed. Carl Beckwith, 2012, p. 105.   

Answer: He offers him grace and pardon for all that is past to turn him; indeed, He counsels him to turn, and entreats him, by his benefits seeks to lead him to repentance.  Indeed, more than all this, He knocks at the door of his heart by his Spirit.  Who can say then, but that it is true, which is here said, He delights not in his dying?



Anthony Burgess  **

Spiritual Refining: or A Treatise of Grace and AssurancePart 1, Sermon 66, “Showing that the Damnation of Wicked Men is unpleasing to God, and that which He delights not in.” 1652p. 403-408, reprint edition: Ames, Iowa, 1990.  This quote was compiled by Tony Byrne.

“As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?”

Ezekiel 33:11

Fifthly, Gods unwillingness that the wicked should perish, appears in those internal means, and inward works of God’s Spirit, that are vouchsafed to many:
God thinks it not enough to give the word, and the ordinances, and thus outwardly to knock at the door; but He also opens the door in some measure.  Hence come those convictions of conscience, those illuminations of the understanding, and many such secret motions of God’s Spirit, that if possible, the soul might at last bewail its sins, and turn unto God.  It’s true, thus far God does not go with every one, neither are all admitted unto such favor, but many within the means of grace, have their hearts thus continually beaten upon, and their consciences thus convinced and smitten: And therefore such who shall yet retain their natural pravity and wickedness, when so many remedies shall be applied, argue the greater obstinacy, and judgement of God upon them.



Joseph Alleine

A Sure Guide to Heaven : or an Earnest Invitation to Sinners to Turn to God, in Order to Their Eternal Salvationp. 140

O come in while it is called today, lest you should be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin; lest your day of grace should be over, and the things that belong to your peace should be hid from your eyes.  Now mercy is wooing of you.  Now Christ is waiting to be gracious to you, and the Spirit of God is striving with you.  Now ministers are calling, now conscience is stirring; now the Market is open, and oil may be had, you have opportunity for the buying.  Now Christ is to be had for the taking.  Oh! strike in [close the deal and make good] with the offers of grace.  Oh! now or never.  If you make light of this offer, God may swear in his wrath you shall never taste of his Supper, Luke 14:24.


Direction 13:  Strike in [close the deal] with the Spirit when He begins to work upon your heart.  When He works convictions, O do not stifle them, but join in with Him, and beg the Lord to carry on convictions to conversion.  Quench not the Spirit; do not out-strive Him; do not resist Him.  Beware of putting out convictions by evil company, or worldly business.  When you find any troubles for sin, and fears about your eternal state, beg of God that they may nevver leave you till they have wrought off your heart throughly from sin, and wrought it over to Jesus Christ.  Say to Him, Strike home, Lord, leave not the work in the midst.  If you see that I am not yet wounded enough, that I am not troubled enough, wound me yet deeper, Lord.  O go to the bottom of my corruption, let out the life-blood of my sins.  Thus yield up yourself to the workings of the Spirit, and hoist your sails to his gusts.

p. 169

Beloved, now the Holy Spirit is striving with you.  He will not always strive.  Have you not felt your heart warmed by the word, and been almost persuaded to leave off your sins, and come in to God?  Have you not felt some good motions in your mind, wherein you have been warned of your danger, and told what your careless course would end in?  It may be that you are like young Samuel, who when the Lord called once and again, he knew not the voice of the Lord, 1 Sam. 3:6,7, but these motions and items are the offers, and essays [testings, trials], and calls, and strivings of the Spirit.  O take the advantage of the tide, and know the day of your visitation.

p. 171-172

You put a slight upon the God that made you; you reject the bowels and beseechings of a Saviour, and will be found resisters of the Holy Ghost, Acts 7:51, if you will not now be prevailed with to repent and be converted.



Thomas Vincent  1669  

The Conversion of a Sinner, Explained and Applied, a sermon on Eze. 33:11, 1669, in The Puritans on Conversion, reprinted Soli Deo Gloria, 1990, pp. 105-7

5.  God calls upon sinners to turn to Him by the internal voice and motions of His Spirit

There is a twofold call of the Spirit: more common and more special.

1. More common, and so many are called which never are thoroughly converted. It was the common work of the Spirit which made Felix tremble, which brought Agrippa within a step of Christianity and caused Herod to do many things.  Multitudes of unregenerate ones have felt the waters stirred, the Holy Ghost moving them to conversion, and have readily proffered His aid and assistance, and perhaps, for awhile, they have been led by Him.  But then they have refused to let go of some lust or vanity which He has bid them abandon.  They would not turn their spiritual sloth into serious diligence about the concerns of their immortal souls, and so by disregarding His motions, and by slighting His help, they have made the Spirit to go away in grief who came in love to work upon them.

2. There is a call of the Spirit which is more special and efficacious… 



John Trapp

Commentary on the Bible

“And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also [is] flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.”

Gen. 6:3

Verse 3.  ‘My Spirit shall not always strive‘, that is, I’ll consult no longer, but resolve to ruin them, as some gloss it; or, I’ll pull the sword out of the sheath, the soul out of the body, as others gather out of the Hebrew word here used.  But they do best, in my mind, that sense it thus: My Spirit – whereby I hitherto “went and preached,” by Noah and other patriarchs, to those “spirits” (once in pleasure, now) “in prison,” [Ecclesiastes 11:9 1 Peter 3:18-19] but prevailed not – shall not always strive with perverse men by preaching, disputing, convincing, in the mouths of my servants, whom I have sent unto them; nor in their own minds and consciences, by inward checks and motions, which they have made no good use of. Delicata res est Spiritus Dei [a delicate thing is the Spirit of God]. Grieve it once, and you may drive it away for ever. It “bloweth where it listeth,” and will not be at your whistle.



William Greenhill  †1671  **   

‘What Must and Can Persons Do Towards their Own Conversion’, on Eze. 18:32, in Puritan Sermons, vol. 1, p. 47

It is in men’s power to lay to heart what wrong an infinite, blessed, holy God has by their sins, what mercies they keep from them, how greatly they defile them, what miseries and mischiefs they bring upon them, what a weight of wrath hangs over their heads for them!  They may consider what checks of conscience they have stifled, what motions of the Spirit they have withstood, what precious seasons of grace they have neglected and slighted; what pains they have taken to satisfy a lust, how dear it has cost them; how careless they have been of their souls, what a separation their sins have made between God and them!…



George Swinnock  †1673

The Door of Salvation Opened by the Key of Regeneration, in his Works, 5:140-1, Banner of Truth edition.  This quote was compiled by Tony Byrne.

Now the Son of the ever blessed God tenders Himself to you with many entreaties, goes after you up and down, night and day, knocking at the door of your heart, with all his graces, comforts, and fruits of his death, by the ministry of his word, the motions of his Spirit, multitudes of temporal and spiritual mercies; but you, unworthy wretch, slights both Him and his precious attendants, and esteems your shop and stock, your corn and carnal comforts, far before Him…



Edward Pearse, 1633(?) – 1674(?)

The Great Concern, or A Serious Warning to a Timely and Thorough Preparation for Death (London: Printed for J. Robinson, at the Golden Lyon in St. Paul’s Church-Yard; and B. Aylmer at the three Pigeons in Cornhill, 1674), 73–75.  The two quotes below were compiled by Tony Byrne

“4. A change from the offers of Grace, to the Revelations of Wrath: Shall thy loving kindness be declared in the grave, or thy faithfulness in destruction (says the Psalmist) in Psalm 88:11.  True in the 1 Pet. 3:19-20, we read of Christ’s preaching by his Spirit to the Spirits in Prison, that is, to souls in Hell: But mark, when was it that he preach’d to them? not when in prison, but in the days of Noah, when they lived in the world.  There is never an offer of grace and love made to souls in the Grave; while life lasts, the soul hears the joyful sound: And O the sweet offers, the gracious tenders, the loving invitations, that are made to him of Christ, of Grace, of Eternal Life and Love! O the wooings, the meltings, the entreatings, the allurings of Divine Love to and over the soul! but when death comes, farewell all these, farewell all the sweet offers of Christ, and all the blessed motions of the Spirit; then there’s nothing but wrath revealed, and wrath shall come on the neglecting soul to the uttermost.

5. A Change from fair probabilities to utter Impossibilities of Life and Salvation; a sad change still: Now is the accepted time, now is the day of Salvation; now, and not hereafter, 2 Cor. 6:2.  Now there is a fair probability of the worst of Sinners to be saved, if they will look after Salvation, and mind their eternal Concerns; Christ is both able and willing to save: To save was the end of his coming into the World, and of all he did and suffered here, 1 Tim. 1:15.  Now they are besought and entreated to be reconciled to God, 2 Cor. 5:19,20, but when Death comes, that changes these fair probabilities into utter Impossibilities of Life and Salvation.  Therefore mark: Now (says the Apostle) is the day of Salvation; that is, now whilst Life lasts, and while the Gospel is preached.”


A Beam of Divine Glory (London: Printed by J. D. for Jonathan Robinson, at the Goldon Lion in St. Pauls Church-yard; and Brabazon Aylmer at the three Pigeons in Cornhil, 1674), 33.

“Indeed there are common Gifts, and Gifts of a mere outward Calling, which God, out of a common love and bounty, gives to men; and these many times he recalls, they not improving them…” 




Edward Reynolds  **

The Life of Christ, from his Three Treatises, 1631

Secondly, we must from hence be exhorted to take heed of usurping Christ’s honor to ourselves, of being our own rule or way.  The Lord is a jealous God, and will not suffer any to be a self-mover, or a god unto himself.  It is one of God’s extremest judgments to give men over to themselves, and leave them to follow their own rules.  When He has first woo’d men by his Spirit, and that is resisted; enticed them by his mercies, and they are abused; threatened them with his judgments, and they are mis-attributed to second causes; cried unto them by his prophets, and they are reviled; sent his own Son to persuade them, and He is trampled on and despised: when He offers to teach them, and they stop their ears; to lead them, and they pull away their shoulder; to convert them, and they hardened their heart; when they set up mounds against the Gospel, as it were to non-plus and pose the mercies of God, that there may be no remedy left; then after all these indignities to the Spirit of Grace, this is the judgement with which God uses to revenge the quarrel of his Grace and Covenant, to leave them to the hardness and impenitency of their own hearts, to be a rule and way unto themselves.  My people would not hearken to my voice, and Israel would none of me.

[Reynolds below is describing Christ’s offers, wooings and entreaties both before and after conversion, which is clear from the beginning and end of the quote]

We see then, to conclude all, what an absolute necessity lies upon us of having Christ, because with Him we have All things, and can do all things: without Him we are poor and can do nothing.  And the more necessary the duty, the more sinful the neglect: especially considering that Christ withholds not Himself, but is ready to meet, to prevent, to attend every heart that in truth desires Him.  If a man have a serious, simple, sincere will, to come wholly to Christ, not to be held back from him by His dearest and closest corruptions, by the sweetest pleasures, or strongest temptations, which can allure or assault him, he may draw near unto Him with boldness, and assurance of acceptation: he has a call, Christ invites [Margin Note: Rev. 22:17], yea entreats him, and therefore he may come: he has a command, Christ requires it of him, and therefore he must come.  

And now when we have Christ, how careful should we be to keep Him; how tender and watchful over all our behaviors towards Him, lest He be grieved and depart again.  The Spirit of the Lord is a delicate spirit, most sensible of those injuries which his friends do Him.  Let us therefore take heed of violating, afflicting, discouraging, grieving this Spirit (which is the bond of all our union and interest with Christ) in any of those his sacred breathings and operations upon the Soul.  But when He teaches, let us submit and obey, receive the belief and the love of His Truth: when He promises, let us neither distrust nor despise, but embrace as true, and admire as precious, all the offers which He makes to us: when He contends with our lusts in His Word and secret suggestions, let him not always strive, but let us give up our fleshly affections to be crucified by Him: when He woos and invites us, when He offers to lead and to draw us, let us not stop the ear, or pull away the shoulder, or draw backward like froward children, or cast cold water in the face of Grace, by thwarting the motions, and rebelling against the dictates thereof, but let us yield our selves unto Him, captivate all our lusts, and consecrate all our powers, and submit all our desires to His rule and government; and then when He has been a Spirit of union, to incorporate us into Christ’s Body; and a Spirit of unction, to sanctify us with His Grace, He will undoubtedly be a Spirit of comfort and assurance, to seal us unto the day of our full redemption.



Thomas Manton, Manton wrote a dedicatory letter to the Westminster Confession  ** shortly after it was published, which is printed in many of the editions of the Standards.


Vol. 12, Sermons Upon Romans 8, Sermon 8, p. 288

2.  God’s gracious invitation of lost sinners to Christ, which properly is his calling them, is either external or internal; external by the word, internal by his Spirit.

[1.] External, by the commands and promises of the word, requiring such duties from them, and assuring them of such blessings upon obedience.  Thus Wisdom’s maidens are sent forth to invite guests to her palace, Prov. 4:2; and the king’s servants to call them to the marriage-feast, Matt 22:9; and so far they prevail in their message, that many present themselves.  God would not leave us to a book, but has appointed a living ministry, 2 Cor. 6:10.

[2.] Internal, not only by the word, but by his Spirit, and the checks of their own conscience, which is a nearer approach of his grace and power to us By the motions of his Spirit; how else could it be said, Gen. 6:3, ‘My Spirit shall not always strive with man’?  and Acts 7:51, ‘Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost’?  And also by their consciences soliciting them to the performance of their duty, and challenging them for the neglect of it.  It is natural duty: Rom. 2:14,15, ‘The Gentiles do by nature the things contained in the law; these, having not the law, are a law to themselves, which show the works of the law written in their hearts; their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts in the meanwhile accusing or excusing one another.’  And for acceptance of the gospel-covenant: 1 John 3:20,21, ‘If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart and knows all things; if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God.’

3.  This external and internal calling may be ineffectual or effectual.

[1.] The ineffectual call consists in the bare tender and offer of grace, but it is not entertained.  God may knock at the door of the heart that does not open to Him; knock by the word, knock by the motions of the Spirit and checks of conscience; so ‘many are called, but few are chosen,’ Matt 22:14.  There is not the fruit of election, nor are these the called according to purpose.

[2.]  The effectual call is when God changes the heart, and brings it home to Himself by Jesus Christ…

Volume 21, p. 463-479, Two sermons on Eze. 18:23.  This quote was compiled by David Ponter.  

Sermon 1:

“Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?”

Eze. 18:23

He manifests the more grace and goodwill to our salvation, and that He is more ready to pardon than to punish, in that He waits so long on the sinner’s choice: Rom. 9:22, ‘What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long‑suffering the vessels of wrath filled to destruction?’  He tarries the sinner’s leisure till the day of patience be quite spent ere [before] He executes this threatening of the new covenant; and offers men all this while many helps and advantages, enticing them by his mercies, awing them by his judgments, persuading them by his word, drawing them by his Spirit, knocking at the door of their hearts by the serious impressions of his grace, and awakening them by the stings and checks of their own consciences; all which are so many signs and evidences that He takes no pleasure in the death of sinners, as the prejudiced world thinks, but does all that becomes Him to do, as a prudent and gracious lawgiver (though not all that He could do as an almighty God) and sovereign disposer of his grace; and if He should do that, the world would never be put upon choice and trial, and obedience would be a matter of necessity and constraint, not of willing acceptation; and men may as well quarrel at this as that He has not made them all angels.

Sermon 2

God made man upright, gave him a righteous law, which, when broken, that all hopes might not be cut off, He sent his Son: Rom. 8:3, ‘God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh,’ to be the foundation of a new covenant; offered you grace in Him, pardon of all your sins past, to help you in the course of obedience for time to come; moved you by powerful arguments, not by low and cheap considerations, but those of the greatest weight, the joys of heaven, the torments of hell; called upon you often by the ministry, knocked at your hearts as well as your ears by his Spirit; waited for your amendment for many years, tried you by mercies if they could melt you, by afflictions if they would reduce you to a sense of your duty.  But all this will not do; yet you are still alive, and these means continued.  What shall God do more?  Now why are you not converted? Others are wrought upon by the same means and turned to the Lord, and have entered in by the strait gate, and framed their desire to walk in the narrow way.  They have not offers more rich, or free, or particular.  God has not told them of a hotter hell or a better heaven, or another or a more taking gospel.  God speaks to you and them in the same terms, with the same grace and favor, and makes the door wide enough to get in.

Volume 10, Several sermons upon Matthew 25

To refuse the Father’s riches of wisdom and grace, the Son’s self-denial and sufferings, is the greatest ingratitude that can be.  When all the labours and wooings of the Spirit are in vain, it is the greatest spite we can do to God; it is the greatest profaneness to set light by holy things, especially this great mystery, when we do not think it worthy our care and thoughts, Mat 22:5.”



Matthew Poole

Poole’s English Annotations of the Holy Bible

 “And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man”

Gen. 6:3

Strive with man, or, contend, or, debate in or against men, as it has hitherto done, by inward motions and suggestions in the minds and consciences of wicked men, or by the mouths and ministry of that small remnant of holy men, and particularly of Noah, who protested against and contended with the world of the ungodly, and by their doctrines, admonitions, threatenings, and examples, endeavoured to bring them to repentance: 1 Peter 3:19; or dispute with, or concerning, or because of men, i.e. whether I should destroy or save him, as God disputes with or about Ephraim, Hosea 11:8.



John Brown of Wamphray  

Christ the Way the Truth and the Life, Chapter 6, 1677

7.  This looking out to Jesus for faith, comprehends those things:

7.  A lying open to the breathings of his Spirit, by guarding against every thing (so far as they can) that may grieve or provoke Him, and waiting on Him in all the ordinances, He has appointed, for begetting of faith; such as reading the scriptures, hearing the word, conference with godly persons, and prayer etc.

[Brown is describing common motions of the Spirit before conversion that are resistible]

8.  A waiting with patience on Him, who never said to the house of Jacob, seek me, in vain, Isa. 45:19, still crying, and looking to Him, who has commanded the ends of the earth to look to him; and waiting for Him, who waits to be gracious, Isa. 30:18, remembering that they are all blessed that wait for Him, ibid., and that there is much good prepared for them, that wait for Him, Isa. 64:4.

9.  The soul essaying thus to believe, in Christ’s strength, and to creep when it can not walk or run, would hold fast what it has attained, and resolve never to recall any consent, or half consent, it has given to the bargain, but still look forward, hold on, wrestle against unbelief, and unwillingness; entertain every good motion of the Spirit for this end, and never admit of any thing, that may quench its longings, desires, or expectation



William Gurnall  †1679

The Christian in Complete Armor, 1:116-7

God speaks with sinners through his messengers.  They come for God’s purpose, and their words, counsels, exhortations, and reproofs are his.  When sinners reject the words which God’s ministers bring in his name, they are actually striving with the SpiritThey are wrestling with Christ as if He were present.  When God comes to reckon with sinners, it will prove just so.  God will remind them of his striving and their unkind resistance.  The Spirit strives with the consciences of men, debating in their own hearts the case against them, and shows man his sin in all its ugly colors.  He does this so well that the creature can sometimes smell the very fire and brimstone about him, and makes him feel at present in a temporary hell.  At other times, he parleys and works with them, and makes gracious overtures and offers of the gospel to them.  He opens a door of hope and woos and beseeches them to throw down their rebellious arms and come to Christ for life.  He reveals how Christ is in a present disposition to embrace their first motion towards mercy.  The Spirit follows the sinner from place to place, and from time to time suggesting such encouragements.  Many, however, cast off the Spirit’s hands in resistance.  This carries such malignity in it, that some have felt the horror of the unpardonable sin, even though their condition is not final.  Take heed, however, sinners, how you respond to the Spirit when He comes knocking at the door of your hearts.  Open at this knock, and He will be your guest; you will have his sweet company.  Repulse Him, and you have not a promise He will knock again.  If once He stops striving with you, unhappy man, you are lost forever.  Without the Spirit you lie like a ship on dry ground.  It is the Spirit that is both the tide and the wind that sets the soul afloat to carry it on.



Stephen Charnock  †1680

A Discourse of the Efficient of Regeneration, in The Works of Stephen Charnock, vol. 3, James Nichol, 1865, p. 221

3.  Can you not cherish, by consideration, those motions which are put into you? There is not a man but the Spirit strives with, one time or other, Gen. 6:3.  Has not man a power to approve any good counsel given him, if he will?  Have you not had some supernatural motions lifting you up towards God, and pressing obligations upon you, to walk more circumspectly?  Why might you not have cherished them, as well as smothered them?  Why could you not have considered the tendency of them, as well as have considered how to divert and drown them, by engaging in some sensual lust?  Was the power of consideration lost?  No; you could not then have cast about in your minds, by what means you should be rid of them, or how you should resist themHave you not willfully rejected them, even when consideration has been revived at a sermon?  And yet you did industriously let that good motion die for want of blowing up the spark, by following on the consideration which was raised upon its feet.  When you have ‘begun well, who did hinder you’ from a further obedience?  ‘This persuasion comes not of Him that calls you,’ Gal. 5:7,8.  There was no necessity upon you, to fortify yourselves in your corrupted habits against the attempts of the Spirit.  Could you not as well have fallen down before the throne of grace, to have begged grace to second them, as kicked at them, and spurned them away?  Was it want [lack] of power to do otherwise?  Or was it not rather your own obstinate willfulness?  Since I appeal to you, whether your own consciences have not tugged at you, and spurred you on at such seasons, why could you not then beg of God, that such a good motion might not have departed out of your coasts?  Because a man cannot renew himself, therefore to lie down in sluggishness is not the design of this doctrine.



Thomas Brooks  

The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, in his Works, volume 3, page 194

Use 4.  If Christ be so rich, Oh! then, open to Christ when He knocks.  Christ knocks by his word, and He knocks by his rod; He knocks by his Spirit, and He knocks by his messengers, and He knocks by conscience.  Oh, open to Him! for He is very rich.  Though you shut the door against a poor man, yet you will open it to one that is rich; and why not then to Christ, who would fain have entrance? Rev. 3:20, ‘Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to Him, and will sup with Him, and He with me.’

page 206

[7.]  Seventhly, Get this principle rooted in you, That it is the delight of Christ to give poor sinners an interest [legal right] in Himself.

He is not only able to do it, but it is his delight to do it.  Christ’s soul is in nothing more.  Witness his leaving his Father’s bosom; witness his laying down his crown; witness those many sufferings and deaths that He went through in this world; witness those gospel acclamations, Mark 16:16, Rev. 22:17; witness those persuasive exhortations and gracious impetrations [obtaining by asking or petition] and entreaties, Isa. 53:11, Matt 11:28, 2 Cor. 5:20; witness divine injunctions and comminations [threatening of divine vengeance], 1 John 5:23, Matt 11:21; witness those pathetical lamentations, Matt 23:37, Luke 19:42, Ps. 81:13; and witness the inward motions and secret excitations of his blessed Spirit, Gen. 6:3, all which speak out his great willingness and delight to save poor sinners; so in Ps. 40:7,8, ‘I delight to do thy will, O my God; thy law is in my heart;’ or, as the Hebrew has it b’tok m’ee, ‘It is in the midst of my bowels.’  Now mark, the will of the Father was the salvation of sinners.  This was the will of the Father, ‘That Jesus Christ should seek and save them that are lost,’ Matt 18:11.  Now says Christ, ‘I delight to do thy will, O my God;’ it is the joy and rejoicing of my heart to be a-seeking  and a-saving lost sinners.  When Christ was an hungry, He went not into a victualling house [a house of eating], but into the temple, and taught the people most part of the day, to show how much He delighted in the salvation of sinners, etc.

[Footnote: Christ did so much delight, and his heart was so much set upon the conversion and salvation of the Samaritans, that He neglected his own body to save their souls, as you may clearly see in John 4.]



Stephen Charnock

On the Goodness of God, Discourse 13, in The Existence and Attributes of God (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 2: 285–287.
1. How affectionately does He invite men!  What multitudes of alluring promises and pressing exhortations are there everywhere sprinkled in the Scripture, and in such a passionate manner, as if God were solely concerned in our good, without a glance on his own glory!  How tenderly does He woo flinty hearts, and express more pity to them than they do to themselves!  With what affection do his bowels rise up to his lips in his speech in the prophet, Isa. 51:4, “Hearken to me, O my people, and give ear unto me, O my nation!”  “My people,” “my nation!”—melting expressions of a tender God soliciting a rebellious people to make their retreat to Him.  He never emptied his hand of his bounty, nor divested his lips of those charitable expressions.  He sent Noah to move the wicked of the old world to an embracing of his goodness, and frequent prophets to the provoking Jews; and as the world continued, and grew up to a taller stature in sin, He stoops more in the manner of his expressions.  Never was the world at a higher pitch of idolatry than at the first publishing the gospel; yet, when we should have expected Him to be a punishing, He is a beseeching God.  The apostle fears not to use the expression for the glory of divine goodness; “We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us” (2 Cor. 5:20).  The beseeching voice of God is in the voice of the ministry, as the voice of the prince is in that of the herald: it is as if Divine goodness did kneel down to a sinner with ringed hands and blubbered cheeks, entreating him not to force Him to re-assume a tribunal of justice in the nature of a Judge, since He would treat with man upon a throne of grace in the nature of a Father; yea, He seems to put Himself into the posture of the criminal, that the offending creature might not feel the punishment due to a rebel.  It is not the condescension, but the interest, of a traitor to creep upon his knees in sackcloth to his sovereign, to beg his life; but it is a miraculous goodness in the sovereign to creep in the lowest posture to the rebel, to importune him, not only for an amity to Him, but a love for his own life and happiness: this He does, not only in his general proclamations, but in his particular wooings, those inward courtings of his Spirit’s, soliciting them with more diligence (if they would observe it) to their happiness, than the devil tempts them to the ways of their misery: as He was first in Christ, reconciling the world, when the world looked not after him, so He is first in his Spirit, wooing the world to accept of that reconciliation, when the world will not listen to him.  How often does he flash up the light of nature and the light of the word in men’s hearts, to move them not to lie down in sparks of their own kindling, but to aspire to a better happiness, and prepare them to be subject to a higher mercy, if they would improve his present entreaties to such an end!  And what are his threatenings designed for, but to move the wheel of our fears, that the wheel of our desire and love might be set on motion for the embracing his promise?  They are not so much the thunders of his justice, as the loud rhetoric of his good will, to prevent men’s misery under the vials of wrath: it is his kindness to scare men by threatenings, that justice might not strike them with the sword: it is not the destruction, but the preserving reformation, that He aims at: He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked; this he confirms by his oath.  His threatenings are gracious expostulations with them: “Why will ye die, O house of Israel” (Eze. 33:11)?  They are like the noise a favorable officer make in the street, to warn the criminal he comes to seize upon, to make his escape: he never used his justice to crush them, till He had used his kindness to allure them.  All the dreadful descriptions of a future wrath, as well as the lively descriptions of the happiness of another world, are designed to persuade men; the honey of his goodness is in the bowels of those roaring lions: such pains does Goodness take with men, to make them candidates for heaven.
[3] How meltingly does He bewail man’s willful refusal of his goodness!  It is a mighty goodness to offer grace to a rebel; a mighty goodness to give it him after he has a while stood off from the terms; and astonishing goodness to regret and lament his willful perdition.  He seems to utter those words in a sigh, “O that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my way” (Ps. 81:13)!  It is true, God has not human passions, but his affections cannot be expressed otherwise in a way intelligible to us; the excellency of his nature is above the passions of men; but such expressions of himself manifest to us the sincerity of his goodness: and that, were He capable of our passions, He would express Himself in such a manner as we do: and we find incarnate Goodness bewailing with tears and sighs the ruin of Jerusalem (Luke 19:42).  By the same reason that when a sinner returns there is joy in heaven, upon his obstinacy where is sorrow in earth.  The one is, as if a prince should clothe all his court in triumphant scarlet, upon a rebel’s repentance; and the other, as if a prince put himself and his court in mourning for a rebel’s obstinate refusal of a pardon, when he lies at his mercy.  Are not now these affectionate invitations, and deep bewailings of their perversity, high testimonies of Divine goodness?  Do not the unwearied repetitions of gracious encouragements deserve a higher name than that of mere goodness?  What can be a stronger evidence of the sincerity of it, than the sound of his saving voice in our enjoyments, the motion of his Spirit in our hearts, and his grief for the neglect of all?  These are not testimonies of any want of goodness in his nature to answer us, or unwillingness to express it to his creature.  Has He any mind to deceive us, that thus entreats us? The majesty of his nature is too great for such shifts; or, if it were not, the despicableness of our condition would render Him above the using any.  Who would charge that physician with want of kindness, that freely offers his sovereign medicine, importunes men, by the love they have to their health, to take it, and is dissolved into tears and sorrow when He finds it rejected by their peevish and conceited humor?



John Bunyan

I begin with present Mercy and present Justice. That which I call present Mercy, is that Faith, Light, Knowledge, and taste of the good Word of God, that a man may have, and perish. This is called in Scripture, Believing for a while, during for a while, and rejoicing in the Light for a season.  Now I call this Mercy, both because none (as men) can deserve it, and also because the proper end thereof is to do good to those that have it. But I call it present Mercy, because those that are only blessed with that, may sin it away, and perish; as did some of the Galatians, Hebrews, Alexandrians, with the Asians, and others.  But yet observe again, I do not call this present Mercy because God has determined it shall last but a while absolutely; but because it is possible for man to lose it, yea [it is] determined he shall, conditionallyHeb. 6:4,5; 2 Pet. 2:20; Matt 13:22; Lk. 8:13; John 5:35; Cor. 12:7Gal. 5:4; Heb. 12:15,16; 1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:18 & 1:15; Heb. 12:25.



John Collinges, was one of the men who finished Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible.  Poole died after completing Isa. 58.

Matthew Poole’s English Annotations on the Holy Bible

“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”

Rev. 3:20

There is a double interpretation of this text, each of them claiming under very valuable interpreters; some making it a declaration of Christ’s readiness to come in to souls, and to give them a spiritual fellowship and communion with himself; others interpreting it of Christ’s readiness to come to the last judgment, and to take his saints into an eternal joyful fellowship and communion with himself: hence there is a different interpretation of every sentence in the text.

I stand at the door; either, in my gospel dispensations, I stand at the door of sinners’ hearts; or, I am ready to come to judge the world.

And knock, by the inward monitions and impressions of my Spirit, or my ministers more externally; or, I am about to knock, that is, I am ready to have the last trump sounded.

If any man hear my voice, and open the door; that is, if any man will hearken to the counsels and exhortations of my ministers, and to the monitions of my Spirit, and not resist my Holy Spirit; or, if any man hath heard my voice, and opened his heart to me.



John Flavel, 1627-1691

Christ Knocking at the Door of Sinners’ Hearts; or, A Solemn Entreaty to Receive the Savior and His Gospel in This the Day of Mercy (New York: American Tract Society, 1850), p. 97.  This quote was compiled by Tony Byrne.

“If you look into 1 Peter 3:19-20, you there find that Christ “went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah.” The meaning of which is, that in the days before the flood, Christ by his Spirit strove [Gen. 6:3] with the disobedient and rebellious sinners in the ministry of Noah, who then were living men and women as we are, but now are “spirits in prison,” that is, damned souls in hell, for their disobedience…”

Works, 11:27-29

Christ has prepared the only remedy to cure his wounds, but he will not allow Him to apply it… Many poor wretches now in the way to hell are making every effort to cast themselves away.  Christ restrains them along the way by convictions, but they overcome them.  They accept a cure for anything but their souls. 



Philip Henry 

An Exposition upon the First 11 Chapters of Genesis, p. 166

“And the Lord said, My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh.”

Gen. 6:3

Three things are to be observed in this speech:

1. God’s resolution not always to strive with man by his Spirit. My Spirit has striven a great while; it shall strive yet a little longer; but it shall not strive always.  The Holy Spirit is a striving Spirit with the children of men; striving them away from sin, and to bring them to God; striving by the checks of their own consciences, but the ministry of the Word, by the rebukes of Providence; striving by one fair warning after another to reclaim the sinner.  Have not we ourselves experienced these strivings?—something within us that has whispered in an hour of temptation, “Do not this abominable thing which the Lord hates?”  ‘Twill be our wisdom to hearken to such whispers, and to close with them, striving against sin.  Heb 12:4.  If the Spirit of God be resisted in its strivings, and quenched in its motions, though it may strive long, yet it will not strive always.  ‘Tis a principle with men not to be always persuading those with whom they cannot prevail; neither will the blessed Spirit do so.  If Ephraim be joined to idols, is it not a righteous thing with God to say, Strive no more with him, let him alone?  Hosea 4:17What guest will stay long there where he is not welcome?  Is it not wisdom then to improve these strivings while we have them?



Matthew BarkerPuritan Sermons, 1659-1689, vol. 4, p. 204

7. Lastly. Impenitency under the gospel is attended with the greatest resistance of the Spirit.—Greater than in former times.  There is more of the Spirit [that] goes along with the gospel-ministration, than with any before it; and there cannot be a disobedience to the gospel, without resisting that Spirit that goes along with it.  Upon some the Spirit prevails, and brings them to repentance; and in others He is resisted; and some resist to that degree, that they are said to offer “despite unto the Spirit of grace.” (Heb. 10:29)…



Obadiah Hughes, d. 1704, was one who finished Matthew Poole’s English Annotations on the Holy Bible.  Poole died after completing Isa. 58.

“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance”

Heb. 6:4-6

Verse 5

‘And the powers of the world to come’; thus some of them were affected with the powerful doctrines of the gospel, concerning the final judgment, as their natural conscience was wrought on by the Spirit in the word, that they feel it as it were begun in them, the sparks of the wrath of God having set their consciences in a light flame for their sins, as in a Felix, Acts 24:25.  As on the other hand, being acquainted by the Spirit in the word, of Christ’s being a Redeemer, to save them from the wrath to come, and to instate them into happiness, beyond what is attainable on earth; self-love doth externally close with the revelation and apply it to itself, as Balaam did, Numbers 23:10.  All these five instances are the workings of the Holy Spirit on corrupt nature for its improvement, and in their falling from these supernatural operations, they do sin in tanto against the Holy Ghost.

“Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?”

Heb. 10:29

‘And hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace’; injuring, wronging, despising, greatly grieving, not a creature, but God the Spirit, the quickening Spirit of dead sinners, who fits them for union to God, and in order to it, unites him to Christ and his God, animates it; who graciously communicated to these apostates the knowledge natural and supernatural which they had and abused, Hebrews 6:5, by the desertion of the assemblies, where he manifested his gifts and graces.  They reject Him with them, and treat his gifts and motions as if they were the delusions and impostures of an evil spirit; and this willfully done out of malice to Christ, and abhorrence of his church and religion.  A sin like the devil’s, for them to forsake God loving, Christ redeeming, his blood justifying, his Spirit renewing, and so willfully refuse to be saved, and expose themselves to the severest punishment God can inflict on such sinners, and they do deserve.



John Howe, 1630-1705

“The Living Temple” in The Works of the Rev. John Howe (New York: John P. Haven, 1838), 1:105, on 1 Pet. 3:18-20.  This quote was compiled by Tony Byrne.

When it was said concerning the old world before the flood, [Gen. 6:3] “My Spirit shall not always strive with man,” it is implied, it had been constantly and generally striving, until then; but that it was now time, by the holy, wise, and righteous judgment of Heaven, to surcease, and give them over to the destruction which ensued.  Which text, ’tis true, some interpret otherwise; but if we will allow that of the 1 Pet. 3:18-20, to mean that, while Noah, that preacher of righteousness, did it externally, Christ was, by his Spirit, inwardly preaching to that generation, who were now since in the infernal prison; not while they were so, (which the text says not) but in their former days of disobedience on earth; this place will then much agree with the sense, wherein we (with the generality of our interpreters) take the other.



Thomas Doolittle

From Puritan Sermons, vol. 4, p. 1-2

My trembling heart is still solicitous as to what other word this word ‘eternal’ might be prefixed.  This regarding myself, or those that hear me this day, when they and I, who, through the long-sufferance of God are yet in this present and temporal world, but shall be in that eternal world?  Shall it be ‘eternal damnation’ in that eternal world?  How?  After so many pleadings of Christ, strivings of the Spirit, tenders of mercy, wooings of grace, calls of ministers, warnings of conscience, admonitions of friends, waitings of patience?  All of which offered us a fair probability of escaping eternal damnation.  Oh dreadful words!  Can more terror be contained, can more misery be comprehended in any two words, than in ‘eternal damnation’?



Wilhelmus A’Brakel

The Christian’s Reasonable Service, trans., by Bartel Elshout, (Ligonier, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publ., 1992).  This quote was compiled by David Ponter


The Distinction Between External and Internal Call

Concerning this calling a distinction is made between an external and an internal call.  They both proceed from God, occur by means of this Word, pertain to the same matters, and are presented equally to all.  Both calls are addressed to human beings who by nature are the same.  They are, however, distinguishable.  The one functions externally only by means of the Word, to which also the Holy Spirit does join Himself in His common operation, resulting in common illumination and historical faith.  The other, however, penetrates the very heart of man, powerfully illuminating it with wondrous light, revealing spiritual mysteries to man in their essential form, and powerfully inclines the will to embrace those mysteries in Christ, and to the obedience of faith.


(2) We must make a distinction between the objective of God–He who works–and the objective of His work: the gospel.  The very nature of the gospel is suited to lead man unto salvation, as it sufficiently reveals to him the way unto salvation and stirs him to be persuaded to believe.  The gospel is not to be blamed when all who hear it are not saved; rather, man himself is the guilty one. He is to be blamed if he does not desire to be taught and led.




Matthew Henry

Commentary on the Bible

“And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man”

Gen. 6:3

This comes in here as a token of God’s displeasure at those who married strange wives; He threatens to withdraw from them his Spirit, whom they had grieved by such marriages, contrary to their convictions: fleshly lusts are often punished with spiritual judgments, the sorest of all judgments.  Or as another occasion of the great wickedness of the old world; the Spirit of the Lord, being provoked by their resistance of his motions, ceased to strive with them, and then all religion was soon lost among them.  This He warns them of before, that they might not further vex his Holy Spirit, but by their prayers might stay Him with them. Observe in this verse,

I. God’s resolution not always to strive with man by his Spirit.  The Spirit then strove by Noah’s preaching (1 Pt. 3:1920) and by inward checks, but it was in vain with the most of men; therefore, says God, He shall not always strive.

Note, 1. The blessed Spirit strives with sinners, by the convictions and admonitions of conscience, to turn them from sin to God.  If the Spirit be resisted, quenched, and striven against, though He strive long, he will not strive always, Hos. 4:17.  Those are ripening apace for ruin whom the Spirit of grace has left off striving with.

II. The reason of this resolution: For that he also is flesh, that is, incurably corrupt, and carnal, and sensual, so that it is labor lost to strive with him. Can the Ethiopian change his skin? He also, that is, All, one as well as another, they have all sunk into the mire of flesh.

Note, 1. It is the corrupt nature, and the inclination of the soul towards the flesh, that oppose the Spirit’s strivings and render them ineffectual.  When a sinner has long adhered to that interest, and sided with the flesh against the Spirit, the Spirit justly withdraws his agency, and strives no more.  None lose the Spirit’s strivings but those that have first forfeited them.

“…ye do always resist the Holy Ghost…”

Acts 7:51

…if they [the Jewish ecclesiastical assembly] will not admit the testimony of the gospel to them, it shall become a testimony against them.

I. They, like their fathers, were stubborn and willful, and would not be wrought upon by the various methods God took to reclaim and reform them; they were like their fathers, inflexible both to the word of God and to his providences.

II. They, like their fathers, were not only not influenced by the methods God took to reform them, but they were enraged and incensed against them: You do always resist the Holy Ghost.

1. They resisted the Holy Ghost speaking to them by the prophets, whom they opposed and contradicted, hated and ridiculed; this seems especially meant here, by the following explication, Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?  In persecuting and silencing those that spoke by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost they resisted the Holy Ghost.  Their fathers resisted the Holy Ghost in the prophets that God raised up to them, and so did they in Christ’s apostles and ministers, who spoke by the same Spirit, and had greater measures of his gifts than the prophets of the Old Testament had, and yet were more resisted.

2. They resisted the Holy Ghost striving with them by their own consciences, and would not comply with the convictions and dictates of them. God’s Spirit strove with them as with the old world, but in vain; they resisted Him, took part with their corruptions against their convictions, and rebelled against the light.  There is that in our sinful hearts that always resists the Holy Ghost, a flesh that lusts against the Spirit, and wars against his motions; but in the hearts of God’s elect, when the fullness of time comes, this resistance is overcome and overpowered, and after a struggle the throne of Christ is set up in the soul, and every thought that had exalted itself against it is brought into captivity to it, 2 Co. 10:4, 2 Co. 10:5.  That grace therefore which effects this change might more fitly be called victorious grace than irresistible.

III. They, like their fathers, persecuted and slew those whom God sent unto them to call them to duty, and make them offers of mercy.

1. Their fathers had been the cruel and constant persecutors of the Old-Testament prophets (v. 51): Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?  More or less, one time or other, they had a blow at them all.  With regard even to those that lived in the best reigns, when the princes did not persecute them, there was a malignant party in the nation that mocked at them and abused them, and most of them were at last, either by color of law or popular fury, put to death; and that which aggravated the sin of persecuting the prophets was, that the business of the prophets they were so spiteful at was to show before of the coming of the just One, to give notice of God’s kind intentions towards that people, to send the Messiah among them in the fullness of time. Those that were the messengers of such glad tidings should have been courted and caressed, and have had the preferments of the best of benefactors; but, instead of this, they had the treatment of the worst of malefactors.

IV. They, like their fathers, put contempt upon divine revelation, and would not be guided and governed by it; and this was the aggravation of their sin, that God had given, as to their fathers His law, so to them his gospel, in vain [2 Cor. 6:1, “receive not the grace of God in vain.”].

2. They received the gospel now, by the disposition, not of angels, but of the Holy Ghost,—not with the sound of a trumpet, but, which was more strange, in the gift of tongues, and yet they did not embrace it.  They would not yield to the plainest demonstrations, any more than their fathers before them did, for they were resolved not to comply with God either in his law or in his gospel…



Samuel Rosewell,1679-1722, Rosewell was one of the men who finished Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible.  Henry died after completing Acts.

“And grieve not the holy Spirit of God”

Eph. 4:30

In what follows it is intimated that those corrupt passions of bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, and malice, grieve this good Spirit.  By this we are not to understand that this blessed Being could properly be grieved or vexed as we are; but the design of the exhortation is that we act not towards him in such a manner as is wont to be grievous and disquieting to our fellow-creatures: we must not do that which is contrary to His holy nature and His will; we must not refuse to hearken to His counsels, nor rebel against his government, which things would provoke Him to act towards us as men are wont to do towards those with whom they are displeased and grieved, withdrawing themselves and their wonted [habitual, usual] kindness from such, and abandoning them to their enemies.  O provoke not the blessed Spirit of God to withdraw his presence and his gracious influences from you!



William Tong, 1662-1727, was one of the men that finished Matthew Henry’s Commentary.  Henry died after completing Acts.

“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance”

Heb. 6:4-6

1. He shows how far persons may go in religion, and, after all, fall away, and perish for ever, v. 4, v. 5.

(1) They may be enlightened. Some of the ancients understand this of their being baptized; but it is rather to be understood of notional knowledge and common illumination, of which persons may have a great deal, and yet come short of heaven.  Balaam was the man whose eyes were opened (Num. 24:3), and yet with his eyes opened he went down to utter darkness.

(2) They may taste of the heavenly gift, feel something of the efficacy of the Holy Spirit in his operations upon their souls, causing them to taste something of religion, and yet be like persons in the market, who taste of what they will not come up to the price of, and so but take a taste, and leave it.  Persons may taste religion, and seem to like it, if they could have it upon easier terms than denying themselves, and taking up their cross, and following Christ.

(3) They may be made partakers of the Holy Ghost, that is, of his extraordinary and miraculous gifts; they may have cast out devils in the name of Christ, and done many other mighty works. Such gifts in the apostolic age were sometimes bestowed upon those who had no true saving grace.

(4) They may taste of the good word of God; they may have some relish of gospel doctrines, may hear the word with pleasure, may remember much of it, and talk well of it, and yet never be cast into the form and mould of it, nor have it dwelling richly in them.

(5) They may have tasted of the powers of the world to come; they may have been under strong impressions concerning heaven, and dread of going to hell. These lengths hypocrites may go, and, after all, turn apostates. Now hence observe,

[1.] These great things are spoken here of those who may fall away; yet it is not here said of them that they were truly converted, or that they were justified; there is more in true saving grace than in all that is here said of apostates.

“Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?”

Heb. 10:29

Observe, There is a kind of sanctification which persons may partake of and yet fall away: they may be distinguished by common gifts and graces, by an outward profession, by a form of godliness, a course of duties, and a set of privileges, and yet fall away finally.  Men who have seemed before to have the blood of Christ in high esteem may come to account it an unholy thing, no better than the blood of a malefactor, though it was the world’s ransom, and every drop of it of infinite value.

(3) Those have done despite unto the Spirit of grace, the Spirit that is graciously given to men, and that works grace wherever it is,—the Spirit of grace, that should be regarded and attended to with the greatest care,—this Spirit they have grieved, resisted, quenched, yea, done despite to Him, which is the highest act of wickedness, and makes the case of the sinner desperate, refusing to have the gospel salvation applied to him.  Now he leaves it to the consciences of all, appeals to universal reason and equity, whether such aggravated crimes ought not to receive a suitable punishment, a sorer punishment than those who had died without mercy? But what punishment can be sorer than to die without mercy? I answer, To die by mercy, by the mercy and grace which they have despised. How dreadful is the case when not only the justice of God, but his abused grace and mercy call for vengeance!

“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.”

Rev. 3:19

5. Here is added great and gracious encouragement to this sinful [unconverted, as is made clear by the larger context] people to take the admonition and advice well that Christ had given them, v. 19, v. 20. He tells them,

(1.) It was given them in true and tender affection: Whom I love, I rebuke and chasten. You may think I have given you hard words and severe reproofs; it is all out of love to your souls.  I would not have thus openly rebuked and corrected your sinful lukewarmness and vain confidence, if I had not been a lover of your souls; had I hated you, I would have let you alone, to go on in sin till it had been your ruin.’’ Sinners ought to take the rebukes of God’s word and rod as tokens of his good-will to their souls, and should accordingly repent in good earnest, and turn to him that smites them; better are the frowns and wounds of a friend than the flattering smiles of an enemy.

“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”

Rev. 3:20

(2.) If they would comply with his admonitions, he was ready to make them good to their souls: Behold, I stand at the door and knock, etc., v. 20. Here observe,

[1.] Christ is graciously pleased by his word and Spirit to come to the door of the heart of sinners; he draws near to them in a way of mercy, ready to make them a kind visit.

[2.] He finds this door shut against him; the heart of man is by nature shut up against Christ by ignorance, unbelief, sinful prejudices.

[3.] When he finds the heart shut, he does not immediately withdraw, but he waits to be gracious, even till his head be filled with the dew.

[4.] He uses all proper means to awaken sinners, and to cause them to open to him: he calls by his word, He knocks by the impulses of his Spirit upon their conscience.



Zechariah Merrill was one of the men who finished Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible.  Henry died after completing Acts.

on 1 Pet. 3:18-20

II. The apostle passes from the example of Christ to that of the old world, and sets before the Jews, to whom he wrote, the different event of those who believed and obeyed Christ preaching by Noah, from those that continued disobedient and unbelieving, intimating to the Jews that they were under a like sentence.  God would not wait much longer upon them.  They had now an offer of mercy; those that accepted of it should be saved, but those who rejected Christ and the gospel should be as certainly destroyed as ever the disobedient in the times of Noah were.

1. For the explication of this we may notice,

(1) The preacher—Christ Jesus, who has interested himself in the affairs of the church and of the world ever since he was first promised to Adam, Gen. 3:15.  He went, not by a local motion, but by special operation, as God is frequently said to move, Gen. 11:5; Hos. 5:15Mic. 1:3.  He went and preached, by His Spirit striving with them, and inspiring and enabling Enoch and Noah to plead with them, and preach righteousness to them, as 2 Pet. 2:5.

2. From the whole we learn that,

(1) God takes exact notice of all the means and advantages that people in all ages have had for the salvation of their souls; it is put to the account of the old world that Christ offered them his help, sent His Spirit, gave them fair warning by Noah, and waited a long time for their amendment.



Thomas Boston  †1732

‘Cautions Against Quenching the Spirit’, Sermon on 1 Thess. 5:19, in Works

p. 130-131

1.  There is a total and a partial quenching of the Spirit.  A total quenching is when the Spirit is quite extinguished, his motions and impressions on the soul quite erased so as there remains not one spark among the ashes. Thus Saul and other graceless men have quenched the Spirit, and this ends in giving them up to the lusts of their own hearts.  ‘My Spirit’, says God, shall not always strive with men [Gen. 6:3].  And this Spirit departed from Saul.

We may quench the Spirit in others, even as one may put out the fire in another person’s house.  “But woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.”…

p. 135

Lastly, the salvation or damnation of your neighbor, may, for ought you know, depend upon it.  If you cherish the Spirit in others you may be the instruments of the salvation of a soul.  And remember “that he who converts the sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.”  If you quench the Spirit in them, you know not if ever the holy fire may be rekindled, after you have put it out, and so the blood of their souls may be required at your hand.

p. 149

Finally, you may lose your souls by quenching the Spirit.  “And Jesus said unto him, No man having put his hand to the plough, and looking back is fit for the kingdom of heaven.  Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.”  And it will heat the furnace of hell one seven times more, to think that once you were not far from the kingdom of God.  Amen.



Ebenezer Erskine

‘God in Christ, A God of Love’, a sermon on 1 John 4:16, in The Whole Works of the late Rev. Ebenezer Erskine, vol. 1, pp. 280-281.  This quote was compiled by Rev. Sherman Isbell.

First, I say, let us view the love of a God of love, in the different kinds of it.

2, He has a love, not only of benevolence, but of beneficence; He not only wishes you well, but does well unto you.  O Sirs! many a good turn has He done you, particularly you who are members of the visible church; He gives you line upon line, precept upon precept; He makes you to hear the joyful sound, the voice of the turtle; many a minister has He sent you; many an offer of Christ, and of life through Him, has He made to you; many a time has He knocked at thy door, by word, by conscience, and the motions and whispers of his Spirit; so that He may say to us, as He did of his vineyard, Isa. 5:4, “What could have been done more for them, that I have not done?”  And because of your obstinacy in unbelief and sin, He may challenge you as he did Israel, and say, Micah 6:3, “O my people, what have I done unto thee, and wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me.  Was I ever a barren wilderness, or a land of darkness?”  Thus, I say, God’s love of benevolence and beneficence is, in some respects, extended unto all.



Asahel Nettleton  †1844

‘Despisest Thou the Riches of God’s Goodness?’ in Asahel Nettleton: Sermons from the Second Great Awakening, 1995, International Outreach, pp. 152-3

The riches of divine mercy appear in sending the Holy Spirit to convince of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment to come.  One would think, that after sinners had rejected the free offers of salvation, God would make no further exertions to save them from deserved wrath.  But to all this, He has superadded the strivings of the Holy Spirit.  This is God’s last effort to save sinners.

‘God’s Spirit will not Always Strive’ in Asahel Nettleton: Sermons from the Second Great Awakening, 1995, International Outreach, pp. 440-1

“And the Lord said, my Spirit shall not always strive with man.’

Gen. 6:3

I.  That the Spirit does strive with men is evident from the whole tenor of the gospel. Every one who prays, admits the fact, that the Spirit has access to the minds of men.

The Spirit strives with men, not merely to show them their guilt and danger; but to show them their need of a Savior, and to incline them to come to Christ.  When they see their need of Christ, they are unwilling to come to Him.  “Ye will not come to Me that ye might have life.”  “No man can come unto Me, except the Father which has sent Me draw him.”  Now the Spirit comes to draw reluctant hearts.  If it were not for this awful reluctance of the sinner to come to Christ, this drawing would not be necessary.



Thomas Chalmers

“On the Nature of the Sin Unto Death”, a sermon on 1 John 5:16, in Sermons, vol. 4 of Select Works of Thomas Chalmers, 1845, Edinburgh, pp. 645-6, 648-50, this quote was compiled by Rev. Sherman Isbell

He has found out and He has published a way of salvation; and a message of peace is made to circulate round the world; and all who will are made welcome to partake of it; and the Spirit, urging every one to whom the word of salvation is sent to turn unto Christ from their iniquities, plies [diligently works] them with as much argument and holds out to them as much light, and affects the conscience of one and all of us with as much power, as ought to constrain us to the measure of accepting the Saviour, and relinquishing for Him the idol of every besetting sin and of every seducing vanity.  But if we will not be constrained, it is the mode of His procedure with every human soul, gradually to cease from His work of contesting with them.  And He will not always strive.  And to him who has the property of yielding to His first influences, more will be given.  And to him who has not, there will even be taken away from him such influences as he may have already had.  And thus it is that the way of the Spirit, with the conscience of man, harmonizes with all that we feel and all that we experience of the workings of this conscience.  If often stifled and repressed, it [conscience with the Spirit] will at length cease to meddle with us….

They had got beyond that irrecoverable point we have so much insisted on.  They had tried the Spirit of God to the uttermost, and He had ceased to strive with them.



William C. Burns

A Letter to the people in the Highlands of Perthshire, Scotland, in the Sermons of William C. Burns, Banner of Truth edition, p. 202-203.  This quote was compiled by Rev. Colin Maxwell.

Arise and come to Jesus now.  He is crying, Come unto me, I will in no wise cast you out.  The Father is ready to receive you into his family.  The Spirit is striving with you, did you not resist Him and grieve Him away.  Halt no longer between two opinions…  Yield yourself then, to the Lord as a lost sinner, and He will not cast you out.  You have seen individuals around you, perhaps some of your own friends or companions, fleeing to Jesus: why did not follow them?  Are you resolved to be left behind in Sodom and to perish in the flames?

James Buchanan

The Office and Work of the Holy Spirit, Chapter 5, The Work of the Spirit in Convincing the Conscience, p. 138-140, 1842 edition

Even in the case of men who are never savingly converted, conviction of sin may not be the mere fruit of natural conscience, but the effect of a common work of the Spirit on their minds.  Many seem to suppose that the Spirit of God never operates except where He accomplishes the whole work of conversion; but there are not a few passages in Scripture which seem to imply, that souls which are never converted, may nevertheless be the subjects of His convincing power.  They are convinced and reproved, not only be the light of natural conscience, not only by the outward light of God’s Word, but by the inward application of that truth to their consciences by the power of the Spirit of God.  It is surely not unreasonable to believe that the Spirit of God may operate on their minds in the same way and to the same extent, although for a very different end, as Satan does, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience; presenting the truth even as Satan presents falsehood, applying the motives of conversion even as Satan urges the allurements of sin, while the sinner’s mind is left to make its choice.  Accordingly we read of unrenewed men, who under a common work of the Spirit, were once ‘enlightened, and tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,’ [Heb. 6:4] who, nevertheless, were not renewed unto repentance, or thoroughly converted to God, of some ‘who sin willfully after they have received the knowledge of the truth,’ and who, on that account, are described as ‘doing despite unto the Spirit of grace.’ [Heb. 10:29]  Such persons were not savingly converted, for none who have been renewed and sanctified by the grace of the Spirit, will ever fall away, or come into condemnation; but they did share, notwithstanding, in that work of the Spirit which is ordinarily preparatory to conversion, they may have had some knowledge, some conviction, some impressions from the Spirit of grace, and these are in their own nature good and useful, having a tendency and fitness as a means to prepare their minds for a greater change; and if they fail to subdue their wills to the obedience of Christ, they will serve, at least, to make it manifest, that nothing but their own willingness stood in the way of their being saved.  When such convictions decay and die without saving fruit, it is because they are not suitably improved or submissively followed; for it is the law of Christ’s kingdom, that one talent suitably improved, procures another, while the neglect of it incurs its forfeiture, for

‘to him that has shall be given, and he shall have more abundantly; but from him that has not, shall be taken away that which he has.’ [Matt 25:29]

‘For the earth which drinks in the rain that comes oft upon it, and brings forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receives blessing from God; but that which bears thorns and briers is rejected, and is near unto cursing, whose end is to be burned.’ [Heb. 6:8]

It appears, then, that the minds of unconverted men may be the subjects of conviction, of which the Spirit of God Himself is the author; and that they are responsible, not only for the light of natural conscience, nor only for the light of God’s Word, but for that light and those convictions which the Spirit may awaken in their souls.  And if this common operation of the Spirit stops short of conversion, it is not because the same motives are not presented to their minds, as to those of other men who are savingly changed, but from their own stubbornness in resisting these motives, and because their will stands out against the work of the Spirit.  Here lies the radical difference betwixt the converted and the unconverted: both may be subjects of a convincing work of the Spirit; but in the one the will is stubborn and refuses to yield, while in the other, the will is by God’s sovereign grace effectually subdued, so as to concur with his holy design; so that a real willingness to be renewed and sanctified is the characteristic  mark of a new creature.  Hence those in whom the conscience is convinced, while the will is unsubdued, are thus described,

‘But they rebelled, and vexed his Holy Spirit; therefore He was turned to be their enemy, and He fought against them.’ [Isa. 63:10]

‘Ye stiff-necked, and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost.’ [Acts 7:51]

And the apostle warns even the professing followers of Christ, in these solemn words,

Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God.’ [Eph. 4:30]

Quench not the Spirit.’ [1 Thess. 5:19]

page 145

With one class, conviction of sin stops short of thorough conversion.  Such conviction was salutary in itself, and had a tendency to lead the sinner onward to a happy change; but its power is resisted, its suggestions stifled, its voice drowned by the clamor of unruly passions.  Such convictions are like the startling of a man in sleep, who quickly turns himself back on his pillow, and sinks again into lethargy; or like a sudden flash of lightning, exciting momentary awe and terror, but quickly passing, and leaving all in darkness as before.  They may continue for a longer or a shorter period, and may recur at intervals through a long life, but they are ever treated in the same way, and produce no greater effect, they arouse the conscience, but do not conquer the will, they alarm the fears, but do not subdue the heart, they make sin dreadful, but they do not make it hateful to the soul.  It loves sin, and hates its convictions; and, therefore, the former is cherished, while the latter are suppressed.  Oh! it is a fearful case, when God comes so near to the heart, and the heart is thus willfully closed against Him, and such convictions can neither be resisted without incurring guilt, nor stifled without leaving behind them, like a fire that has been kindled and quenched, the black traces of their power, in their withering and hardening influence on the heart.



Robert  Candlish

An Inquiry into the Completeness and Extent of the Atonement, with Especial Reference to the Universal Offer of the Gospel, and the Universal Obligation to Believe, 1845, p. 4

secondly, A system of means and influences fitted to lead men to God, and sufficient to leave them without excuse (Acts 14:15-17, and 17:22-31; Rom. 1:18, and 2:15).  This, since the promulgation of the gospel includes all the ordinances of God’s worship, with the accompanying common operations of the Spirit in them.



Charles Hodge  †1878 

The Way of Life: A Guide to Christian Belief and Experience, 1841, reprinted BOT, 1978, p. 61-2

Chapter 3, ‘Causes of Indifference to the Charge of Sin’

Section 1, ‘Sin, want of consideration, striving against the Spirit

Men, however, are note merely inconsiderate, they often make direct efforts to suppress the rising conviction of guilt and danger. The testimony of God against them is so plain, the authority of his law is so obvious, their want of conformity to it is so glaring, and the influences of the Spirit are so general and frequent, that the conviction of sin can hardly fail to obtrude itself even upon those who in general are the most unconcerned. It is, however, a painful conviction, and therefore, instead of being cherished, it is disregarded or suppressed. The mind refuses to dwell upon the subject, or to examine the evidence of guilt, but either turns to other objects, or, by some act of levity or transgression, grieves away the Spirit of God, and hardens itself in unconcern. This is a frequently occurring experience in the history of most menThey therefore struggle against their convictions, and, in general, master them. This struggle is sometimes short; at others, it is protracted and painful. Victory, however, comes at last, and the soul regains its wonted [accustomed] unconcern. Such persons little know what they are doing. They little suspect that they are struggling to elude the grasp of mercy; that they are striving against the Spirit of God, who would draw them from the paths of destruction, and guide them into the way of life.



A.A. Hodge

A Commentary on the Confession of Faith, 1870
pp. 170-171.  This quote was compiled by Tony Byrne.
“3.  That the sole agent in this effectual calling is the Holy Ghost; that He uses Gospel truth as his instrument; and that, while all sinners are active in resisting the common influences of grace before regeneration, and all believers in co-operating with sanctifying grace after regeneration, nevertheless every new-created soul is passive with respect to that divine act of the Holy Spirit whereby he is regenerated, may all be proved under the following distinct heads :—
(1.)  There are certain influences of the Spirit in the present life which extend to all men in a greater or less degree; which tend to restrain or to persuade the soul; which are exerted in the way of heightening the natural moral effect of the truth upon the understanding, the heart, and the conscience.  They involve no change of principle and permanent disposition, but only an increase of the natural emotions of the heart in view of sin, of duty, and of self-interest.  These influences, of course, may be resisted, and are habitually resisted, by the unregenerated.  The fact that such resistible influences are experienced by men is proved
(a.)  From the fact that the Scriptures affirm that they are resisted. Gen. 6:3; Heb. 10:29.
(b.)  Every Christian is conscious that anterior to his conversion he was the subject of influences impressing him with serious thoughts, convincing him of sin, tending to draw him to the obedience of Christ, which he for the time resisted.  We observe the same to be true of many men who are never truly converted at all.” 
“3. The moral government of God over all men, and especially his government of his Church, includes also, besides an external providence ordering the outward circumstances of individuals, an internal spiritual providence, consisting of the influences of his Spirit upon their hearts.  As “common grace,” this spiritual influence extends to all men without exception, though in various degrees of power, restraining the corruption of their nature, and impressing their hearts and consciences with the truths revealed in the light of nature or of revelation; and it is either exercised or judicially withheld by God at his sovereign pleasure.  As “efficacious” and “saving grace,” this spiritual influence extends only to the elect, and is exerted upon them at such times and in such degrees as God has determined from the beginning.”

Outlines of Theology, 1879, pp. 451-452.

“20.  In what sense is grace irresistible?
It must be remembered that the true Christian is the subject at the same time of those moral and mediate influences of grace upon the will, common to him and to the unconverted, and also of those special influences of grace within the will, which are certainly efficacious. The first class of influences Christians may, and constantly do resist, through the law of sin remaining in their members.  The second class of influences are certainly efficacious, but are neither resistible nor irresistible, because they act from within and carry the will spontaneously with them. It is to be lamented that the term irresistible grace has ever been used, since it suggests the idea of a mechanical and coercive influence upon an unwilling subject, while, in truth, it is the transcendent act of the infinite Creator, making the creature spontaneously willing.”



John Girardeau, 1890

Calvinism and Evangelical Arminianism, part 1, section 3, objection 4

The same line of remark applies to the relation of the moral law to those who have not the gospel.  When God, by the requirements and admonitions of conscience, illuminated and re-enforced by the common operations of his Spirit, convinces them of the duty and the necessity resting upon them to obey it, He cannot intend by these means to assure them of the hope of salvation on the ground of a legal righteousness.

Secondly, with the operation of these natural faculties in the moral sphere the Holy Spirit concurs, in the discharge of what has been called his law-work.  He illuminates the understanding, stimulates the affections, presses upon the conscience the sanctions of the moral law, and directs the attention of the sinner to the provisions of redeeming mercy which are proposed to his acceptance in the gospel.



Robert Kerr  1896

‘The Striving Spirit’ 1896, 7 pages, a sermon on Gen. 6:3, ‘My Spirit shall not always strive with man’, in Southern Presbyterian Pulpit, pp. 255-262.



J. Aspinwall Hodge and A.A. Hodge

The System of Theology Contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, pp. 20-2139, This quote was compiled by Tony Byrne.

“Since the salvation of guilty sinners is absolutely of free and sovereign grace, and must be received as such, the salvation of every man must depend upon a personal election of God.  God offers salvation to all on the condition of faith.  But He gives the faith to those whom He chooses (Eph. 2:8; Matt. 20:16;22:14).  Nevertheless, those who refuse to believe and be saved have only themselves to blame for it, because the only reason they do not believe is the wicked disposition of their own hearts, and because God kindly and honestly invites them and promises salvation by his Word, and draws them by the common influences of his Spirit.”



Louis Berkhof

Systematic Theology, 1951

V. Calling in General and External Calling 



From the fact that these elements are included in external calling, it may readily be inferred that they who reject the gospel not merely refuse to believe certain facts and ideas, but resist the general operation of the Holy Spirit, which is connected with this calling, and are guilty of the sin of obstinate disobedience.  By their refusal to accept the gospel, they increase their responsibility, and treasure up wrath for themselves in the day of judgment, Rom. 2:4,5.

III. Common Grace


c. Special grace is irresistible.  This does not mean that it is a deterministic force which compels man to believe against his will, but that by changing the heart it makes man perfectly willing to accept Jesus Christ unto salvation and to yield obedience to the will of God.  Common grace is resistible, and as a matter of fact is always more or less resisted. Paul shows in Rom. 1 and 2 that neither the Gentiles nor the Jews were living up to the light which they had.  Says [W.G.T.] Shedd: “In common grace the call to believe and repent is invariably ineffectual, because man is averse to faith and repentance and in bondage to sin.”  [Calvinism Pure and Mixed, p. 99.]  It is ineffectual unto salvation because it leaves the heart unchanged.

d. Special grace works in a spiritual and re-creative way, renewing the whole nature of man, and thus making man able and willing to accept the offer of salvation in Jesus Christ, and to produce spiritual fruits.  Common grace, to the contrary, operates only in a rational and moral way by making man in a general way receptive for the truth, by presenting motives to the will, and by appealing to the natural desires of man.  This is equivalent to saying that special (saving) grace is immediate and supernatural, since it is wrought directly in the soul by the immediate energy of the Holy Spirit, while common grace is mediate, since it is the product of the mediate operation of the Holy Spirit through the truth of general or special revelation and by moral persuasion.



R.A. Finlayson  was a professor in the Free Church of Scotland in the 1900’s

Reformed Theological Writings of R.A. Finlayson, 1996, Christian Focus Publications, p. 253

Chapter 5, The Benefits of the Covenant – Efficacious Grace in the Westminster Confession of Faith

1. What is meant by Efficacious Grace?

The [Westminster] Confession makes a distinction between ‘common grace’ and ‘efficacious grace’.  We are not justified, however, in making this a distinction in kind as if common grace was different in quality from saving grace.  Both are the free unmerited favor of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Any distinction that we know of is the result of its operations.  The ministry of the Spirit of God in common grace is often ineffective and fruitless insofar as actual salvation is concerned, whereas effectual grace is an operation of the Spirit which invariably without fail results in salvation.




Related Pages

The Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel

The Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel in the Westminster Standards

Common Grace

The Difference Between Reformed Common Grace and Arminian Common Grace