A caricature of Calvinism takes issue with the doctrines of election and “irresistible” grace. It imagines a case in which a certain individual – we’ll call him Kirk – does not want to be saved. Kirk loves sin and never looks beyond it. Although he has heard the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, he has no interest in it. But God has elected this person. So, although Kirk does not want to be saved, he is nevertheless dragged by the scruff of his neck into heaven “kicking and screaming,” a reluctant convert.
On the other hand, a second individual – let’s call her Keri – wants to be saved. Every time Keri hears the Gospel, she is enraptured by it. Whenever an invitation is given, she is the first one out of her seat. But God has not elected her. She wants to be saved, but she cannot be saved. God says, “Keri, this salvation of mine through Christ is not for you. It is for others. You must remain where you are. You cannot come to heaven.”
This is a misunderstanding of Calvinism, for in election and “irresistible” grace God does not disregard or act contrary to the will of any man or woman. Rather, He regenerates the individual, and as a result, a will is born that now desires what the old will previously despised. Before, Kirk hated Christ. Now he loves him and comes willingly when the Gospel is preached. Again, if Keri desires to come, it is not in spite of God’s predetermination but because of it.
One commentator says: When [people are] made over again … they come running irresistibly because they would not have it any other way. You can put all kinds of obstacles in their path, but they are men of violence. They are going to take the kingdom by force! When they find this pearl, they are going to sell everything they have and get it. That hidden treasure is going to be theirs. They are going to have, because they hunger and thirst after righteousness.
I begin this way because the prior work of God in a person’s heart is the underlying presupposition of the parables of the treasure and the pearl. These parables describe the kind of people who have already been made alive in Christ. To use the imagery of the first two parables, they are the ones in whom the seed of the Gospel has already been planted and is beginning to bear fruit. In the first, a man finds a treasure in a field. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Mt.13.44) In the second, Jesus describes a merchant looking for pearls. “When he found one of great value, he went away and sold all that he had and bought it” (v.46).
The point of these parables lies in the nature and the resulting action of those who discover the treasure, which is the Gospel. In these matters the man who discovered the treasure and the merchant who found the pearl are identical. They make every effort to possess what they discovered. There is a contrast that should not be overlooked, however. The man who found the hidden treasure was apparently not looking for it – his discovery was what we would call an accident – but in the case of the merchant, the finding of the pearl was the result of a long and faithful quest.
That contrast aptly describes the past experiences of people who find salvation. Some were not particularly anxious to find Christ – in fact, they were not even very interested in religion. They were going on their way when suddenly an unexpected thing confronted them: the Gospel. They had never really heard it before. They were not seeking it. But there it was, and at once, with that insight granted by God’s internal work of regeneration, they saw that this was a prize of far greater value than anything that had ever come into their lives previously. They saw themselves as sinners in need of a Savior. They saw Jesus as that Savior. They recognized that if they had Him, they had all else besides. So, they turned to Him and believed, on the spot. Their case illustrates Isaiah’s words: “I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me” (Is.65.1).
The other type of person is one who had sought God, though he had found the way difficult. It could be said of him as it is said in this hymn:
I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek him, seeking me;
It was not I that found, O Savior true;
No, I was found of thee.
But this person did not know during those years of seeking that God was seeking him as well. Those were dark years. At times he nearly despaired, but then suddenly the pearl of great price was before him, and he laid everything else aside to secure that most valued object. These are the people of whom Jesus spoke when he said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you” (Mt.7.7).
Here is where the main lessons of the two parables are to be found, for although the early experiences of these two men were different, once they had come upon the treasure, which is the Gospel, they acted in similar ways. What did they do? They recognized the value of what they had found, and then determined to have it.