Preventing Grace and Freedom

Maybe I’ve got too much thinking time on my hands but I’ve been thinking about John Wesley’s ideas about pre-venient (he often called it preventing) grace.

It seems he thought about freedom not in the sense of free-will (though this is important) but in the freedom we have to allow God to work in our lives.

So in the example (I’ve nicked this from Dr K Collins – this is my version of his illustration, no doubt his is better) of an alcoholic who after being dry for several months one day goes to a bar and has several drinks and then goes and knocks someone over and kills them on the way home. Is this person responsible for their actions? Generally we would say yes they are. Why? Because there was a point at which they could have done something different. Although there is an illness and great temptation and lack of control from the alcohol there was a point at which they had the chance to behave in a different way. Wesley believed that this chance was that the person could have made use of God’s preventing grace to avoid drinking.

This preventing grace is offered to everyone – not just the faithful.

And this is what Wesley would mean by the freedom not to sin. Not the idea that we have choices (that is free will and an important part of understanding faith) but that we have a choice to allow God’s preventing grace to help us.

Pre-venient grace (or preventing grace) is the loving character of God that acts before we ever do anything. Seen in the creation of everything before God creates people. Seen in the birth of a child whose soul is made by God prior to any interaction with people after birth. God acts first. One of the reasons we Methodists are ready to baptise infants – God acts first and we respond.

So God offers us a chance not to sin through his grace and we are free to take up the offer or reject it (sadly too often we simply reject it).

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