Chapter 10: Of Effectual Calling
This entire chapter is about the Calvinistic doctrine that has been called Irresistible Grace. Unfortunately, that has been misunderstood to mean that men never disobey and resist God, but that is not how the phrase has been historically defined. Rather, it means that the resistance which natural man always has to the Spirit (Acts 7:51) is overcome when God decides to save a person.
The material in this chapter has a connection with what we have already dealt with. There would be no effectual calling if there was no predestination, so that should be kept in mind. Predestination is dealt with in chapter 3, so I will not make a case for predestination here, but will take it for granted.
§1 Those whom God hath predestinated unto life, he is pleased in his appointed, and accepted time, effectually to call
- Those whom God 1 hath predestinated unto life, 2 he is pleased in his appointed, and accepted time, 3 effectually to call, 4 by his Word 5 and Spirit, 6 out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; 7 enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God; 8 taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; 9 renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; 10 yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace. 11
- Rom. 8:28-29
- Rom. 8:29-30; 9:22-24; 1 Cor. 1:26-28; 2 Thess. 2:13-14; 2 Tim. 1:9
- John 3:8; Eph. 1:11
- Matt. 22:14; 1 Cor. 1:23-24; Rom. 1:6; 8:28; Jude 1; John 5:25; Rom. 4:17
- 2 Thess. 2:14; 1 Peter 1:23-25; James 1:17-25; 1 John 5:1-5; Rom. 1:16-17; 10:14; Heb. 4:12
- John 3:3, 5-6, 8; 2 Cor. 3:3, 6
- Rom. 8:2; 1 Cor. 1:9; Eph. 2:1-6; 2 Tim. 1:9-10
- Acts 26:18; 1 Cor. 2:10, 12; Eph. 1:17-18
- Ezek. 36:26; Jer. 31:33
- Deut. 30:6; Ezek. 36:27; John 6:44-45; Eph. 1:19; Phil. 2:13
- Ps. 110:3; John 6:37; Rom. 6:16-18
Called by the Word and Spirit
It is the Word of God–the precious Gospel, which comes to us, which is the message of salvation used by the Spirit to awaken us to newness of life. God has ordained to call His elect people through the means of preaching the Gospel. Notice that the Confession says effectually call because there are two types of calling: 1) the general call and 2) the effectual call. By the general call of the Gospel, we mean the simple preaching of the Gospel to all who are able to hear and understand the proclamation. In this sense, all who are able to hear (or read) and understand the call of the Gospel are invited but are not supplied with the Spirit to make them willing to accept the Gospel. This is the case in Matthew. 22:14, which I believe is the only explicit instance on which this “general call” is based. Clearly, our Lord there distinguishes between those who are called and those who are chosen. A lot of people are called, in the sense of Matthew 22:14, but few people are chosen. The effectual call is the call of the Gospel proclamation used by the Spirit to cause us to be born again. We don’t merely hear the Gospel, but the Spirit applies the message of the Gospel to our life and grants us the ability to accept the call of the Gospel and respond positively. It is in this sense that most passages that speak of God’s calling are concerned with. My favorite passage on the effectual calling of the Spirit and the Gospel proclamation is in 2 Thessalonians 2–
2Thess 2:13-14 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In contrast to those to whom God sends delusions because they refuse to love the truth (2Thess. 2:11-12), Paul praises and thanks God because He has chosen the Thessalonians. He always gives thanks to God for their salvation. He is thankful that they're beloved and they are elect. God's choice was made in eternity as is elsewhere clear in Paul (Eph. 1:4-5, or if the alternative option is more correct: “Some manuscripts chose you from the beginning”), but the application of that work begins with the effectual calling. In verse 14 Paul says that they were called to be saved, but how were they called? The answer is through the proclamation of the Gospel by Paul and his companions. It is by means of the Gospel, which Paul elsewhere says is the “power of God for salvation” (Rom. 1:16), that God called us to be saved. He called us for a purpose, we are to obtain the glory of our Lord, we are to be co-heirs with Him.
For those who object to election on the basis that it invalidates evangelism, please consider this passage. Both election and evangelism are contained in the text with no hint of contradiction. In fact, God's sovereign election is praised! God elected and God sent the Gospel through Paul to the Thessalonians to bring them to saving faith.
Do you wonder why when the Gospel is proclaimed some people mock and others receive the Savior? To some, the Gospel is utter foolishness. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1–
1Cor 1:22-24 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Jews demanded signs from the Lord Jesus and likewise from His disciples. The idea of a crucified Messiah just couldn't fit their expectations and theology. On the other hand, the Greeks seek wisdom, they seek σοφία (sophia), they’re known for their love of philosophy. But even to the Greeks the preaching of Christ crucified is foolishness, but more troubling is talking to them about resurrection (see Acts 17:32)! To both of these groups, the message of the cross is foolishness (1Cor. 1:18). But there is something different in verse 24. Paul explains the problem that Jews and Greeks have with the message of the cross and then follows that in verse 24 with a “but.” Yes, it is true that He is a stumbling block and foolishness to these groups, but there is another group. Those who are called. Who are they? Well, they are the ones who see the Lord Christ as He is, not a stumbling block nor folly, but the power and wisdom of God. What is then the difference in the third group? Nothing in themselves, it is merely in the fact that God has called them. Paul is speaking of two groups, each group containing both Jews and Gentiles (or Greeks), but the second group has something different about it. They’re not merely “Jews and Gentiles,” but they are he called (and elected) Jews and Gentiles.
Those Jews and Greeks who had heard the message of the cross preached and concluded that it is folly and a stumbling block were outwardly (general) called, but the Jews and Greeks in verse 24 were called internally, effectually and especially by the Sovereign Holy Spirit so that they see Christ as He is. It is the calling of God which made the difference between the groups in verses 22-23 and 24. This effectual call came to the believers through the preaching of the Gospel and brought them to faith.
Another very clear passage on the special and effectual call of God is Romans 8:28-30, which we have discussed in chapter 3 when dealing with Unconditional Election. Many more passages speak of our calling, which you may look at as: Romans 1:6; 8:28-30; 9:24; 1 Corinthians 1:9; Galatians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:12, 14; 2 Timothy 1:9; Hebrews 3:1; 1 Peter 2:9, 21; 2 Peter 1:10; Revelation 17:14.
It is with all this in mind that the Lord Jesus says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (John 6:63). If it was not for the sovereign operation of the Spirit the message of the cross would be folly to us, but according to the Father’s eternal purpose, it pleased the Spirit when we heard the Gospel to regenerate us and raise us up from spiritual death and make us willing to receive the Lord Jesus and see Him as our only hope in life and death. Our nature has to be changed and we have to be made new creatures to be able to respond to the Gospel positively. The Lord Jesus says, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). You have to be born again to see and be able to choose the kingdom. You cannot see or choose the kingdom unless you have been born again. This is all the work of the Spirit of God as the Lord says, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” referring back to the promise of the New Covenant in Ezekiel 36:25-27. Entering and seeing the kingdom is the same thing. We need to be born again by the Holy Spirit to be able to do that.
Thanks, glory, honor, and praise be to the mighty Spirit of God who has caused us to be born fr...