EFFECTUAL CALLING DEFINED AND DISTINGUISHED
By Tom Ross, Pastor
Galatians 1:15-16 declares: "But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me…"
The effectual call is an aspect of God's sovereign grace wherein He draws and summons His sheep out of darkness and deadness into light and life by an irresistible power. In the effectual call God causes sinners who were at one time deaf and blind to the gospel and unwilling to come to Christ, come most willingly, gladly receiving Him as Lord and Saviour. The effectual call is discriminate and personal in the sense that it comes only to those who the Father elected and the Son died for.
The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith defined effectual calling in the following way:
"Those whom God hath predestinated unto life, He is pleased, in His appointed, and accepted time, effectually to call by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin, and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds, spiritually, and savingly to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his Almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace. This effectual call is of God's free, and special grace alone not from anything at all foreseen in man, nor from any power or agency in the creature, co-working with His special grace, the creature being wholly passive therein, being dead in sins and trespasses, until being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it; and that by no less power, then that which raised up Christ from the dead." 1
Effectual calling is in complete harmony with the previous three points of the doctrines of grace. In fact, all the doctrines of grace stand or fall together. If every man is totally depraved, corrupt, and naturally unwilling to come to Christ, God must do a powerful inward work to change the sinner's disposition and draw him to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Jesus makes this fact abundantly clear in John 6:44 which states: "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day." If "there is none that seeketh after God" (Rom. 3:11), then God trust seek the elect sinner, enlightening and revealing to him the Lord Jesus Christ as II Corinthians 4:6 states: "For God, who com mended the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." Because God, according to His own free will and love elected certain individuals unto salvation, it follows that He will not leave them in their sins but draw them to Himself. Election and effectual calling go hand in hand as the Scriptures attest. In fact the effectual call is the consequence of God's eternal election. Psalms 65:4 states: "Blessed is the man whom thou choosest (election), and causest to approach unto thee (effectual calling), that he may dwell in thy courts..." Jeremiah 31:3 states: "The LORD bath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an ever lasting love (election): therefore with loving- kindness have I drawn thee (effectual calling)." John 6:37 states: "All that the Father giveth me (election) shall come to me (effectual calling)..." Romans 8:30 further illustrates this blessed link between election and effectual calling: "Moreover whom he did predestinate (election), them he also called (effectual calling): and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified." Because Jesus Christ died to actually purchase and redeem His sheep, thereby finishing the work that His Father gave Him to do, it follows that every one whom He died for must of necessity be brought to salvation through the gospel.
John Gill wrote:
They (the called) are such who are re deemed by Christ; vocation, follows redemption, and is the certain consequence of it; "I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine" (Isa. 43:1). Election, redemption, and vocation, are of the same persons; those whom God has chosen in Christ, are redeemed by Christ; and who are chosen and redeemed, are sooner or later, called; and the reason of their being called, is because they are redeemed; "I will hiss for them, and gather them; for I have redeemed them" (Zech. 10:8) 2
It is only in this light that we can under stand what Jesus meant in John 10:16: "And other sheep I have which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd." A similar passage is found in Acts 18:9-10 which states: "Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city." Jesus Christ had already died and purchased many out of the city of Corinth, whom God would call through the gospel preaching of the Apostle Paul! It is blessedly true, that those who Christ died for will infallibly be brought to salvation through the effectual call of God as I Peter 3:18 implies: "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust (particular redemption), that he might bring us to God (effectual calling), being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit."
THE EFFECTUAL CALL DISTINGUISHED FROM THE GENERAL CALL
Perhaps you have often wondered why one person responds to the gospel in repentance and faith, while another person under the same circumstances scornfully rejects the gospel of Christ. Have you ever questioned why one person is saved and another is lost? What is it that causes some men to repent and believe, while others, with the same external privileges, reject the gospel and continue in impenitence and unbelief? Why is it that two men sitting in the same pew respond differently when the gospel is preached? One is softened and the other hardened. One is called out of darkness into God's marvelous light, while the other remains blinded in his sin. Who or what is it that makes the difference?
The person who believes in sovereign grace says it is God who makes the difference as Paul told the Corinthians: "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). The Arminian, on the other hand, will say that man's free-will, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, causes him to be saved. The Arminian operates on the false supposition that God is "trying" to save every body, so He is obligated to give everyone an equal "chance" to be saved. The Calvinist, on the other hand, affirms that the Holy Spirit works only on the elect in a saving way. The difference between the two systems of theology lies in the fact that the Arminian sees no distinction between the general, outward, universal call and the inward, personal, effectual call. The general call sincerely goes out to all men indiscriminately, whereas the effectual call goes to the elect only.
The general call of God is universal in its scope and is manifested in several ways. Creation is a form of the general call to show man that He is accountable to his Creator. Psalms 19:1-4 states: "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world." All men everywhere are commanded to repent (Acts 17:30) because it is man's duty to worship, love, and obey the Creator.
God's providence in the government of this world is a form of the general call. Every time someone dies it is a reminder that man is a sinner and serves as a warning, that each man must be prepared to meet his Maker. Every time a baby is born it is a testimony that someone is in control of life. Man's conscience acts as a form of the general call as Romans 2:14-15 declares: "For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another."
The gospel message, declared through preaching or the written word, is a form of the general call. We are commanded by the Lord: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). As obedient believers we ought to exhaust all scriptural means to see that this command is carried out. The changed life of a believer who has been saved by the grace of God is another form of the general call to the lost world of mankind. We are said to be epistles written with the Spirit of God, known and read of all men (II Cor. 3:2-3).
Yet all these forms of the general call go unheeded without the Spirit effectually working in man "both to will and do of his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13). Paul told the believers at Thessalonica: "Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost..." The general call of the gospel preached by men in word only will not save. It must be attended by the special power of the Holy Ghost working in the heart, convincing of sin, and drawing the sinner to Christ. Thus the general call is external, whereas the effectual call is internal. The gospel call is given by men through preaching, whereas the effectual call is a mysterious and sovereign work of God in the heart and mind of man.
J.L. Dagg stated:
"Had God bound himself, by rule to give an equal measure of grace to every human being, and to leave the result to the unaided volition of men, the extraordinary success which marked the first period of Christianity would not have existed. It must be ascribed to the efficacious grace of the Holy Spirit, whom the Saviour promised to send after He should go to the Father. To the power of the Spirit, the success of the world in all ages, must be attributed…" 3
The general call is further distinguished from the effectual call by the fact that it is always resisted, whereas the effectual call is never resisted. Proverbs 1:24-25 illustrates the response to the general call: "Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; But ye have set at naught all my counsel, and would none of my reproof." Acts 16:14 illustrates the response of the effectual call: "And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul." Another passage which vividly illustrates the difference between the general and effectual call is the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13. The same seed, the Word of God, is sown on all four types of soil. Yet the first three types of soil brought forth no fruit unto eternal life. The last type of soil which received the seed was fruitful because the Spirit had previously plowed the ground, effectually planted the seed and saw to it that it brought forth fruit. In the first three types of soil the common call is demonstrated in word only. In the last type of soil the effectual call is demonstrated; it was a saving, fruitful call wrought by the power of the Holy Spirit. Philippians 1:6 corresponds with this interpretation: "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ."
C.D. Cole wrote:
"Bunyan illustrates the difference between the general and the special call by the barnyard hen. She has a general cluck to which little attention is given, and she has a special cluck for her biddies when the hawk is about to swoop down upon them, the cluck that brings them flying to find protection under her wings. So God has a special call that brings His lost sheep to find shelter and safety beneath the spreading wings of Calvary... The general call is like the father calling Johnny to get up early in the morning. He says "okay doke", turns over and goes back to sleep. The call did not bring him out; it had no effect on him. The special call is the father coming in thirty minutes later. He pulls the cover off and puts on the cowhide. This is effectual and brings Johnny out." 4
A failure to see the difference between the general and effectual call brings reproach upon the power and majesty of God. If the two calls are one in the same then God must be likened to Darius the Babylonian king who wanted to deliver Daniel from the lions den, but was powerless to do so. The God the Arminians preach is vainly trying and hoping for all men to be saved, and decide for Christ. He is defeated and stripped of His sovereignty and omnipotence.
Lorraine Boettner wisely observed:
"If, as Arminians say, God is earnestly trying to convert every person, He is making a great failure of His work; for among the adult population of the world up to the present time, where He is succeeded in saving one He has let perhaps twenty-five fall into hell. Such a view sheds little glory on the Divine Majesty... If God does not effectually call, we may imagine Him saying, "I will that all men should be saved; nevertheless, it must finally be, not as I will but as they will." Furthermore, if God actually stood powerless before the majesty of man's lordly will, there would be but little use to pray for Him to convert any one. It would then be more reasonable for us to direct our petitions to the man himself." 5
The effectual call of God is one of the most important truths taught In the Holly Scriptures. It is in the effectual call that the eternal purpose of God in election is brought to fruition. It is in the effectual call that Christ's work of redemption is applied to the sheep that He laid down His life for. It is in the effectual call that the power of God is manifested in drawing a sinner from a life of sin, rebellion, and darkness unto a life of holiness, obedience, and light. Were it not for the effectual call of God every man would perish in his sins. Every man would refuse the sweet strains of the gospel in the general call and consider the cross of Christ as foolishness. It is in the effectual call that God miraculously slays the natural enmity of man's will, overcomes his inherent depravity and enables him to flee to Christ for refuge and protection. It is for these reasons we now want to examine the characteristics and properties of the effectual call.
1. First and foremost, the effectual call is of God and not man. God alone has the power to make the gospel effectual in the hearts of dead sinners. As Christians we are responsible to preach the gospel to every creature and pray that God will do a work of grace in the heart. Yet, all our preaching, pleading, and praying cannot and will not save even one soul. "Salvation is of the Lord' (Jonah 2:9), and it is for this reason why the effectual call can be attributed to God alone. I Corinthians 3:6-7 illustrates this truth beautifully: "I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase."
Lorraine Boettner wrote:
"Mere human efforts are unavailing. If a crop of wheat is to be raised, man can do only the most external and mechanical things toward that end. It is God who gives the increase through the sovereign control of forces which are entirely outside the sphere of man's influence. Likewise, in regard to the soul it matters not how eloquent the preacher my be, unless God opens the heart there will be no conversion. Here especially man does only the most external and mechanical things and it is the Holy Spirit who imparts the new principle of spiritual life." 6
When a person truly understands that God is responsible for the effectual call, all the gimmicks, gadgets, and psychological trickery that men have resorted to in our day will be regarded as futile. Special days do not bring men to Christ, God does. Long invitations, "altar calls", and emotional appeals do not bring men to Christ, God does. It is for this reason that Paul stated in I Corinthians 2:4-5: "And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." One of the reasons why false professions are abundant and church memberships are loaded with lost people is because men have resorted to false and unscriptural methods of evangelism attempting to help God out. We are to preach with all our might but we must depend entirely upon God to draw wayward sinners to Christ. By so doing we exalt God's way of salvation and truly understand what Jesus meant in John 6:44 which states: "No man can care to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day."
There are several passages of Scripture that attribute the effectual call to God. Romans 1:6 states: "Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ." I Corinthians 1:9 declares: "God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord." Galatians 1:15 states: "But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace." I Thessalonians 2:12 declares: "That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory." Hebrews 3:1 states: "Wherefore , holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus." Finally, I Peter 5:10-11 states: "But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."
2. The effectual call of God is powerful, invincible, and irresistible. In fact, the same power that was exerted in the resurrection of Christ is displayed in the effectual call as Ephesians 1:18-20 states: "The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places."
Arminians falsely assert that the power of man' s free will can and does overcome the saving power of God. They preach that God has done all He can do and is now waiting upon man to make the final decision and apply the redemption of Christ. They argue that God will not infringe upon the impenetrable fort of man's free will, that man alone must accept or reject Christ without being compelled or forced by God.
I agree with Augustus Toplady who wrote:
"The person with power to accept or reject as he pleases must say: "No, thou didst not finish the work of redemption which was given thee to do; thou didst indeed a part of it, hut I myself must add something to it or the whole of thy performance will stand for naught." 7
Arminians may teach such foolishness, but the Scriptures do not. In fact the opposite is true. When God comes in great power to save a sinner that He elected and Christ died for, not all the powers of Hell and man combined could prevent the Holy Spirit from drawing him to Christ. Psalms 110:3 affirms this statement: "Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power." Daniel 4:35 states: "And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?"
If God could be resisted in the effectual call by the sinner what would prevent the sinner from resisting God in the Day of Judgment? We could just as well conclude that if God can be resisted in the call to salvation, the sinner could just as easily resist God's summons of wrath and doom at the Great White Throne of Judgment. God's power is equally exerted and manifested in both salvation as well as judgment. Furthermore if man can resist the power of God in salvation we must conclude that men are more powerful than God and have the ability to thwart the purposes of God. Such assertions are utter nonsense in light of Job 23:13-14 which states: "But he is in one mind, and who can turn him? And what his soul desireth, even that he doeth. For he performeth the thing that is appointed for me: and many such things are with him."
The fact that God irresistibly and effectually calls to salvation is illustrated in the usage of the word draw. The same word for draw as it relates to the effectual call in John 6:44 is used in John 21:6, 11 where Peter draws 153 fish to shore. Edwin Palmer commented thusly on this passage:
"Such a fishnet cannot resist Peter as he drags it ashore. It is helpless and passive; it cannot fight back. It is the same word that is used of Peter when he draws his sword to out off the ear of Malchus (John 18:10), or of Paul and Silas being dragged into the market place (Acts 16:19), or of Paul being dragged by a mob out of the temple (Acts 21:30). In each of these cases, the object is drawn irresistibly. The sword cannot resist Peter, nor Paul the mob. Neither can those whom the Father has given to Jesus resist the Father as He draws them. Every single one that the omnipotent Father gives to Jesus will come to Jesus. It is as certain as Jesus' word is certain." 8
C.D. Cole wrote concerning the power of the effectual call:
"This call has the power of God behind it. It is the mighty Spirit of God working in grace to make the sinner see his helpless state and the value of the blood of Christ. To successfully resist this call would mean that the sinner is mightier than God. There was death and corruption in Lazarus to keep him from responding to Christ's command to come forth. But there was power from God that overcame all natural obstacles. There is likewise much in the sinner to resist the Gospel call, but in the effectual call of the Spirit this resistance is overcome. The effectual call is a Divine call that startles the careless sinner into concern; a call that enlightens the sin-darkened understanding; a call that opens the sin-closed heart to receive Christ as Lord and Saviour. Apart from the work of the Spirit the word of the Spirit will be rejected. Unless the Holy Spirit creates light within the soul, the light within the Book will not be seen. The power of conversion is not in the inspiration or perspiration of the preacher, but in the illumination and regeneration of the Spirit." 9
3. The effectual call is special and personal. As stated previously, the general call of the gospel goes out to all men indiscriminately, but the effectual call comes to God's sheep individually and personally. Jesus spoke of the personal nature of the effectual call several times in John 10 when He said: "To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.. .And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd... My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me (verses 3, 16, 27)."
When we consider the personal nature of the effectual call it ought to humble our hearts to think that out of the multitudes who hear the gospel preached, God called us into the fellow ship of His Son. There was absolutely nothing in us that God saw that moved Him to call us to salvation. We were equally repulsive and rebellious, yet in sovereign grace and power He called us out of darkness into His marvelous light! I Corinthians 1:26-27 states: "For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the thins which are mighty." Jesus stated the same humbling truth in Matthew 11:25-26: "At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight."
How we need to praise and magnify the name of the Lord for personally calling us to salvation. If we would have been left to ourselves we never would have repented of sin and trusted in Christ. We would still see no beauty in the One who is "Altogether Lovely". We would still consider the preaching of the cross to be foolishness. We would still have the wrath of God abiding on us throughout eternity. It was God who made us to differ from the multitudes of lost men and women, calling us, not in Word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost (I Thess. 1:5). We ought to humbly and grate fully echo the words of the hymn writer, Issac Watts:
"Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
Thus far we have defined effectual calling and distinguished it from the general call. We have examined the characteristics of the effectual call and proved it to be the call of God Him self, inwardly working upon His sheep in a powerful and irresistible way through the means of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit. It is now appropriate for us to examine the results that attend the effectual call as they are illustrated in the Scriptures.
1. The effectual call produces in the sinner a genuine willingness to come to Jesus Christ for salvation, pardon, and cleansing from sin. Prior to this special inward work of grace the sinner always rejected the gospel message as Psalms 58:3-5 declares: "The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies. Their poison is like the poison of a serpent: they are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear; Which will not hearken to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely." In the effectual call of God the ears of the sinner are opened, enabling them to hear and hearken to the voice of the Good Shepherd whom they no longer resist but willingly follow (John 10:27). Their eyes are miraculously opened to see their sin and corruption as well as the power and glory of the cross of Christ.
Often when people speak of effectual calling or irresistible grace they have the idea that God saves sinners against their will. What actually happens is that God, in mighty power slays the natural enmity of man's will, enabling him to freely choose Christ and willingly come to Him in repentance and faith. Song of Solomon 1:4 states: "Draw me, we will run after thee." This is precisely what happened to me when God effectually called me to Christ. The day before I was saved, I was unwilling to part with my sins and embrace Christ as my Prophet, Priest, and King. Yet, the day that God effectually drew me in great power I came most freely and willingly, desiring Christ as Lord and Saviour more than anything else in the world.
This truth may be illustrated by the account of the salvation of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus in Acts 9. He was threatening and seeking to slaughter the followers of the Lamb which prompted him to obtain authority from the chief priest to apprehend and bind them. As Saul walked on the road to Damascus his heart was filled with hatred and malice for Christ and His disciples. He was bent on persecuting the saints and destroying the religion of Christ as he journeyed. Yet in great power God changed the will of Saul enabling him to hear the voice of the Son of God and cry out: "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do" (Acts 9:6). Saul most willingly submitted himself to the Lord Jesus Christ and was greatly used of the Lord!
Edwin Palmer stated this aspect of the effectual call best when he wrote:
"By nature man is like a person who loves to eat rotten, moldy, wormy apples out of the garbage can, or who likes to sit in the dirt and eat ashes. It is possible for God to change such a person's makeup so that he will love filet mignon and artichokes instead of ashes, and so that he will crave for a bowl of fresh fruit instead of a moldy apple. In a similar way, God changes the heart of man from evil to good. By nature man loves sin and everything that is going to bring him unhappiness and eternal punishment. By irresistible grace God does not leave the heart unchanged and thus drag man into heaven against his will. No, God regenerates the man, changes his nature, and radically alters his character so that man now is truly sorry for his sin and loves God. Now, with his heart changed, he abhors the things he used to do. Now Christ is the fairest among ten thousand. Christianity now becomes exciting. He freely, eagerly seeks God. This is how the irresistible, efficacious grace of God works." 10
2. Another result of the effectual call is that the nature and state of the sinner is changed dramatically. He is changed from dead ness to life, from darkness to light, and from bondage to freedom. Several Scriptures allude to this change. John 5:24 states: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word and believeth on him that sent me, hath ever lasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life." Galatians 5:13 declares: "For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty..." I Peter 2:9 states: "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light."
This resulting new life of liberty and light produced by the effectual call is best illustrated by the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11. Lazarus had been dead three days. He was bound and wrapped in grave clothes. His body had begun to decay and corrupt giving off a stench. There was a stone rolled over his tomb. He was in a helpless and deplorable condition apart from Christ. The physical condition of Lazarus is a spiritual description of the natural man prior to the effectual call. He is dead in trespasses and sins, corrupt in the sight of God, with a stone of rebellion rolled over his heart and mind. He is in darkness and ignorant of spiritual things. Christ in great power cried with a loud voice: "Lazarus, come forth." The result of that effectual call is recorded in John 11:44 which states: "And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave clothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin, Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go." What a dramatic change was produced in the life of Lazarus because of the call of the Lord! The same change is produced in all of God's sheep who in time hear their Shepherd's voice and enter into the abundant life of light and liberty.
3. Another result of the effectual call is that it inducts us into the glorious fellowship of Jesus Christ. I Corinthians 1:9 states: "God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord." Prior to our calling we drank of' the bitter streams of a world of sin. We were "by nature the children of wrath", following the "course of this world" and out of fellowship with God. Our companions were the men of the world who "loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (John 3:19). But God called us out of the world into communion and fellowship with Christ.
John Gill stated:
"The internal call, is a call of persons from fellowship with the men of the world, to fellowship with Christ;... it is like that of the call of Christ to his church, Cant. 4:8: Come with me from Lebanon, and a call to forsake the vanities, pleasures, and profits of the world, and the company of the men of it, and go along with him, and enjoy communion with him: as Abraham was called out of his country, from his kindred, and his father's house; so saints are called to forsake their own people, and their father's house; to relinquish the soci ety of their former companions, and to have no fellowship with ungodly men: ...the people of God are called to better company, to communion with God, Father, Son, and Spirit; to fellowship with one another; to converse with saints, the excellent in the earth, in whom is all their delight." 11
This call to fellowship may be illustrated best in the account of the salvation of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:5-7 which states: "And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house (a personal, hastening, humbling, necessary call). And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, that he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner." Formerly Zacchaeus had been a crooked publican, a wealthy man of the world, in fellowship with corruption and sin. Yet Jesus called him, humbled him and fellowshipped with him over dinner. How glorious it is to be called from a life of empty companionship to sup and fellow ship with Christ, a fellowship that causes "our heart to burn within us" (Luke 24:32) as Jesus opens to us the Scriptures.
4. The effectual call of God also results in a life of peace with God as well as the peace of God. I Corinthians 7:15 states: " . . . but God hath called us to peace." The peace referred to is both legal as well as experimental. It is legal in the sense that we are justified from all sin and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us when we are drawn to faith in the gospel as Romans 5:1-2 states: "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God." It is an experimental peace in the sense that the Spirit inwardly gives to us a peace of mind and conscience which we had never known or experienced before while we were lost and undone.
John Gill described this experimental peace thusly:
"Such as are effectually called by the Spirit and grace of God, are called to peace; to internal peace, to peace of mind and conscience; which men, in a state of nature, are strangers to; for there is not peace to the wicked: but God calls his people to it, and blesses them with it; with a peace which passes all understanding; with mace in the midst of the tribulations of the world; with a peace which the world can neither give nor take away; and which arises from the blood and righteousness of Christ, and is part of that kingdom of God which is within them, into which they are brought at effectual vocation." 12
The peace to which we are called may best be illustrated in Mark 5 where Jesus called the demoniac of Gadara to salvation. He had an unclean spirit and dwelt among the tombs. He was wild, unruly, and untamed. He was caught in the snare of the devil being tormented day and night. He was without hope, without Christ, and without peace. Such is the spiritual condition of every man to some degree prior to the effectual call of God. Then Jesus came and cast out the demons and called the man who no one thought could ever be tamed to a life of peace, joy and usefulness. Mark 5:15 states: "And they care to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid." This man experienced the "peace of God, which passeth all understanding" (Phil. 4:7).
5. Another result of the effectual call is that it is a call from uncleanness to holiness. The effectual call of God is the elect's induction to sainthood. I Corinthians 1:2 states: "Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours." Arminians often charge those who believe the doctrines of grace with preach ing a doctrine that leads to licentiousness. Yet we believe that God calls His elect to a life of holiness and progressive sanctification. Those who do not possess fruits of holiness have never been effectually called of God.
The effectual call is described as a holy calling in II Timothy 1:9 which states: "Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began." The effectual call is holy in its source as well as the results that it produces. Several other Scriptures affirm this blessed truth. I Thessalonians 4:7 declares: "For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness." I Peter 1:15 states: "But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation." II Peter 1:3 states: "According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue."
The call to holiness is illustrated in John 8 when the woman who was caught in the act of adultery was brought to Jesus for judgment by the scribes and Pharisees. She was unclean and filled with sin, deserving of God's judgment just as every one of us were before we were drawn to salvation in Christ. After all her accusers departed, not willing to cast the first stone, realizing that they were not without sin, it is recorded: "When Jesus had lifted up him self, and saw none but the woman, he said into her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more." What miraculous power is demonstrated in the effectual call to holiness! A woman whose previous course of life was one of debauchery and uncleanness was called to a life of holiness by the grace of God. "And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God" (I Cor. 6:11).
6. The final result of the effectual call is that it is a call to grace and eternal glory. I Thessalonians 2:12 states: "That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory." The effectual call ultimately leads to the happiness and bliss of the glorified state in which we will be completely conformed to the image of our blessed Lord. I Thessalonians 5:23-24 affirms this truth: "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it."
What God began in the effectual call will culminate in a glorious transformation of our body, soul, and spirit at the coming of Jesus Christ. This is the hope and anticipation of every blood-washed saint. This is what we look for and anxiously wait for. Until then we ought to echo the prayer of Paul for the Ephesians: "That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom, and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints"
The doctrine of effectual calling has always been met with opposition from the Arminian and Pelagian camps. Most of the objections raised against this blessed truth are more philosophical than scriptural. Many of the objections raised against the effectual call are similar to those raised against the doctrine of election, which objections have already been dealt with in a previous chapter. Nevertheless, it is important to answer some of the more specific charges voiced against the effectual call of God.
It is the opinion of the writer that any objection raised against the sovereignty and power of God in salvation is an attempt to dethrone God and strip Him of His majesty and dominion. The reason why men object to sovereign grace is because of the innate desire of the natural man to share the glory and credit for salvation. Men are still posing the age-old question: "Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" (Matt. 19:16) Eternal life is not obtained by doing good things, it is a wonderful gift bestowed upon unworthy sinners according to the good pleasure of the "God of all grace." (I Pet. 5:10)
1. The most common objection raised against the effectual call questions the sincerity of God in the general call. The line of argument generally followed is: "If God has already purposed who is going to be saved before the world began and determined to call only the elect, then how could the general call of the gospel be sincere? Why would God invite sinners who He already knows will not respond because of their total depravity?"
This objection arises out of a common mistake Arminians and Pelagians often make. They misunderstand statements made in the Scriptures addressing man' s responsibility to mean that man has moral ability. Yet, the responsibility of man does not imply the moral ability of those who are "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1). Because God is a righteous Judge it is right for Him to call upon men to repent and believe the gospel.
J.L. Dagg answers this objection in the following way:
"It has been asked, for what purpose does God send his outward call to the non-elect, since it will be ineffectual, unless accompanied with His omnipotent grace. We might as well ask for what purpose does God give men His law, when they will not obey it; or why does He institute a moral government over them, when they will not submit to it. In stead of demanding God's reasons for what He does, it becomes every man rather to inquire, what reason he can render to God, for violating His holy law, and rejecting the call of His gospel. We may be sure that God will do right, and will be able to vindicate His ways before the intelligent universe; and we should regard our propensity to call in question the wisdom and righteousness of His procedure, as an alarming evidence of our want of sub mission to His will." 13
The objection calls into question the sincerity of God which in reality is charging God with hypocrisy. It is an attempt to bring God down to the level and inadequacy of man. God Himself answers such blasphemy in Isaiah 55:8-9 which states: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." Men may certainly be insincere in dealing with one another, but God is never insincere in His dealings with men. The very fact that God has commanded that the gospel be preached to every creature is a demonstration of His common goodness and benevolence toward all men. He does this in spite of the reply of the natural man when confronted with the gospel who says: "We will not have this man to reign over us" (Luke 19:14). It is the height of folly and madness to charge God, who is perfectly holy and just, with insincerity in the general call.
2. The second objection to the doctrine of effectual calling is the idea that God violates the free will of man. Often Arminians will make statements such as: "There is one area in your life that God will never touch your will. He will never cause you to believe. That's your job. Only you can do it. God has done all that He can do, now it's up to you to decide for Christ and make Him Lord of your life."
Such an objection falsely supposes that man's will is free to choose either good or evil. In reality, the will of man was violated and ruined by sin in the fall of Adam. Now man's will is free only in the sense that it is free to follow the natural passions of a heart that is "full of madness", and a mind that is at "carnal enmity against God". Man's will is bound by a fleshly nature that in no way, shape, or form is able to please God or give birth to spiritual affec tions. Romans 8:8 states: "So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God." Man's will is a servant to his sinful nature and therefore is incapable to make right decisions concerning the gospel. Romans 6:20 states: "For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness."
In the effectual call God simply slays the natural enmity of man's will enabling him to willingly trust in the finished work of Christ. If God did not effectually call, no one would come! The gospel message would go unheeded and every sinner would rush headlong into Hell. The root of this objection is again the mistake of equating man's responsibility with his moral ability.
Christopher Ness answers this objection best when he states:
"Irresistible grace takes not away that natural liberty which the will hath by creation, but the depravity of it only; knocking off its fetters, but not destroying its nature. We never enjoy our will so much as when God's will over rules ours. If man can determine his own will, and destroy the liberty of it, then much more God who is the maker thereof. To will is from nature, to will well is from grace; spiritual fruit must spring from a spiritual root." 14
"Not all the outward forms on earth,
3. The third objection against effectual calling arises out of the false idea that the Holy Spirit works on all men in the same way, giving sufficient light to believe if only the natural man chooses to do so. You will often hear Arminian preachers exhorting sinners not to sin away their "day of grace," or to be careful that they don't cross over the imaginary line when God no longer will deal with them or strive with them. The main Scripture for these assertions is John 1:7 which states: "That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world."
The light that God gives to every man is the light of conscience which makes every man ac countable to God. It is not some spark of divinity that each man possesses that enables him somehow to choose Christ if the spark is fanned just right. The light spoken of in this verse is not to be restricted solely to spiritual illumination (c.f. Matt. 6:23).
A.W. Pink comments:
"In what sense, then, is Christ as "the life" the "light of men?" We answer, In that which renders men accountable creatures. Every rational man is morally enlightened. All rational men "show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness" (Rom. 2:15). It is this "light", which lightens every man that cometh into the world, that constitutes them responsible human beings... the natural man is a responsible being before God, to Whom he shall give an account of himself; responsible, because the work of God's law is written in his heart, his conscience also bearing witness, and this, we take it is the "light" which is referred to in John 1:4 and the "lighteneth" in John 1:9." 15
When the idea that the Holy Spirit exerts the same amount of spiritual influence upon each man is taken to its logical conclusion then man himself must be the moving cause of salvation. Thus, the new birth necessarily hinges upon the will or the intellect of the natural man which is contrary to John 1:13 which states: "Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
4. The fourth objection to effectual calling is the assertion that the Holy Spirit may be resisted as in Acts 7:51 which states: "Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye." The Arminians loudly assert that this verse teaches that men can and do resist the power of the Holy Spirit in salvation.
Acts 7:51 must be interpreted in light of Nehemiah 9:30 which states: "Yet many years didst thou forbear them, and testifiedst against them by thy spirit in thy prophets: yet would they not give ear..." It is true that the sinner always resists the external ministry of the Holy Spirit when they reject the Word which He inspired or when they persecute the prophets through whom He spoke. When men reject the gospel they are rejecting the message inspired by the Holy Spirit in the Word of God. What Stephen was referring to was the rejection of the general call of God to repentance, not the effectual call to salvation.
Andrew Fuller put it best when he stated:
"I conceive there is what may be termed an indirect influence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, having in spired the prophets and apostles, testified in and by them, and often without effect.. .The message of the prophets being dictated by the Holy Spirit, resistance of them was resistance of Him. It was in this way, I conceive, that the Spirit of God strove with the antediluvians, and that unbelievers are said always to have resisted the Holy Spirit." 16
C.D. Cole once stated:
"A dear brother once remarked that I did not believe the sinner could resist the Holy Spirit. I replied that I believed that the sinner did nothing but resist the Holy Spirit until his resistance was overcome by the Holy Spirit. The preached Word is the objective ministry and the indirect influence of the Holy Spirit, and this the dead sinner rejects and resists because it is foolishness to him. Our Lord told Nicodemus that except a man be born from above he cannot see or understand the Kingdom of God. The indirect influence of the Spirit in the Word is resisted until overcome by the direct influence of the Spirit in quickening ... The objective ministry of the Spirit is resisted, but not the subjective. When the distinction is made the truth of man's impotence and the Spirit's omnipotence is conserved, otherwise we have the creature mightier than the Creator." 17
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Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church
6939 County Road 15
Chesapeake, Ohio 45619