[The following is a reply I made in a discussion on Pelagius and grace with a couple of Reformed Anglicans]
It is argued, at least by [a], that “[Pelagius] taught that human beings apart from grace can do what God requires”. Also [b] adds “Pelagius hated the idea of divine favor towards some, so the grace you describe, Machina, would have to be universal (according to Pelagius).”
Then we pointed out that Pelagius argued in fact for the necessity of divine grace and assistance for us to have faith and do good works in his gracious provisions of a “good household, sound upbringing, and discipline and teaching.” Given the number of broken homes, families in poverty and absence of sound biblical teachings in many a households, we can hardly call this grace “universal” but instead very particular, and some might even say, rare to the point of even “special”.
Then in the “no true scotsman” fashion, it is argued that this is not the “true” or “special” grace which Pelagius is allegedly guilty of denying but in fact merely a “common grace”. (Although again we might wonder how “common” this grace is given the number of dysfunctional homes in the world and the even rarer presence of loving homes and sound biblical teachings in many a households!)
It is further then argued that “The issue is man’s ability to respond to general grace on his own. Pelagius would say it is possible for man, by nature, to be saved by responding to grace in faith. ” Thus, the question becomes whether the grace which Pelagius argues we are in need of is merely that of “natural” or “general” grace or something more “special”.
To this I asked if the grace of being able to hear the true preaching of the Gospel is itself a matter of common or special grace. Then once more, the terms are gerrymandered when it is argued that this is in fact “common” grace, although how on earth one reconciles the true preaching of the Gospel, the product of special revelation rather than general or natural revelation, with “common” or “general” grace, I have not the faintest idea. It seems that the knowledge of the Gospel and biblical truths is the par excellence of the reception of very special and particular grace, not that of universal or general grace. But you are allowed to change your terms as you please.
As the meaning of “common grace” continues to expand in this discussion to encompass more and more acts of God and that of “special grace” shrinks (like the “true scotsman” constantly being redefined as the discussion proceeds), now “common grace” is qualified as that which is “mediated” and that “Special (or particular) grace is the work of the Spirit directly in an individual so that he can respond with faith to common grace.” Thus, special grace has nothing to do with special revelation, with rare gifts of empirical or material conditions for faith and good works, but is narrowly defined to mean simply this very narrow point.
It is here where I am content to simply point out that the “Protestant” reformers were not uniform in its assent as to the necessity of this “Special (particular) grace” which works, by the Spirit, directly in an individual. In fact, Luther condemned this sort of direct unmediated “special grace” as mere enthusiasm.
And in those things which concern the spoken, outward Word, we must firmly hold that God grants His Spirit or grace to no one, except through or with the preceding outward Word, in order that we may [thus] be protected against the enthusiasts, i.e., spirits who boast that they have the Spirit without and before the Word…
All this is the old devil and old serpent, who also converted Adam and Eve into enthusiasts, and led them from the outward Word of God to spiritualizing and self-conceit, and nevertheless he accomplished this through other outward words.
For even those who believe before Baptism, or become believing in Baptism, believe through the preceding outward Word, as the adults, who have come to reason, must first have heard: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, even though they are at first unbelieving, and receive the Spirit and Baptism ten years afterwards. 8] Cornelius, Acts 10:1ff , had heard long before among the Jews of the coming Messiah, through whom he was righteous before God, and in such faith his prayers and alms were acceptable to God (as Luke calls him devout and God-fearing), and without such preceding Word and hearing could not have believed or been righteous. But St. Peter had to reveal to him that the Messiah (in whom, as one that was to come, he had hitherto believed) now had come, lest his faith concerning the coming Messiah hold him captive among the hardened and unbelieving Jews, but know that he was now to be saved by the present Messiah, and must not, with the [rabble of the] Jews deny nor persecute Him.
Therefore we ought and must constantly maintain this point, that God does not wish to deal with us otherwise than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. It is the devil himself whatsoever is extolled as Spirit without the Word and Sacraments.
Thus, this so called “common grace” “mediated” by the true preaching of the Gospel is the par excellence of special grace and the workings of the Spirit, not mysterious “direct” and “unmediated” grace which works directly upon the soul. And it is these true preaching and teachings of the Gospel which Pelagius insists is necessary for righteous and faith, as does Luther. I think this is honestly “special” enough and more importantly, “orthodox” enough for me.
As I said before, I don’t agree with everything Pelagius says, I disagree for example with his arguments about natural ability and his denial of original sin and concupiscence, etc. But if he exalts natural ability too high, it’s only because he has a higher view of what we call “common” or “natural” gifts as themselves acts of God’s grace and he refuses any grace and nature split. Thus, he is not guilty at all of denying grace, he merely disagrees with where the boundaries between natural ability and “special” grace are to be found.