Rev. Key is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hull, Iowa.
The second aspect of the Holy Spirit’s work in our salvation is that of the calling. The calling is that work of God bringing the regenerated sinner into the consciousness of his salvation in Christ Jesus. Through the Spirit of Christ the triune God addresses the elect, regenerated sinner by the Word of the gospel, enlightening the understanding and drawing him out of darkness into the light of life.
When we continue the figure of the seed (of regeneration), as we considered from I Peter 1:23-25, the calling can be compared to the rain and sunshine which fall upon that seed and “call” it to life and growth. The effect of the saving calling of God is also to bring the elect sinner into the fellowship of Jesus Christ (I Cor. 1:9), and thus into the consciousness of his salvation, including all that has to do with life and godliness (II Pet. 1:3).
It is important to understand that we are speaking now of the effectual and saving calling, one aspect in what is sometimes called the golden chain of salvation.
There is also an external aspect of that call which we must consider.
But we are speaking specifically of the Holy Spirit’s work in our salvation, a work in our hearts, a work in our minds, a work that gives us the conscious participation of Christ’s fellowship in God’s covenant of grace.
That call has several beautiful characteristics, reflecting the amazing and beautiful nature of God’s work in our salvation.
The saving call is irresistibly powerful. It is the same powerful word by which God called the universe into existence. “For God, who commanded 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” (II Cor. 4:6). The same God who “calleth those things which be not as though they were” is the one who quickens the dead (Rom. 4:17).
By the power of His Word God calls irresistibly. Apart from that Word, no man will come. Of that we are reminded in John 6:44: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” But the one whom God draws is drawn irresistibly. It isn’t a matter of God casting out His Word and waiting to see if man might accept it. By the saving call He draws. He draws irresistibly. Christ said it. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).
But let us not be mistaken. That irresistible call, that powerful drawing unto Himself, is not a matter of God drawing us like we might draw water through a straw. We aren’t sucked into the life of heaven as helpless molecules. Nor are we dragged into heaven kicking and screaming in rebellion. God works His call in us whom He created rational, thinking creatures. God draws us by making us willing. We are made willing by His call, so that we come. He calls His sheep irresistibly, so that they hear His voice and follow Him.
That points us to a second characteristic of this saving calling. The calling is gracious. It comes to those who belong to the chief Shepherd, who is Christ.
Again, bear in mind, we are speaking not merely of the external call, not merely of the means by which God calls His people. We are speaking of the saving calling.
The gracious character of the saving calling is clearly taught in II Timothy 1:9. There the inspired apostle points us to the power of God “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 very origin of the calling is grace—”given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.”
Notice, that grace is in Christ Jesus. That is always the case! There is no grace apart from Christ!
God looked upon us in Christ with a view to calling us into His fellowship. The call is gracious in giving us to see that Savior. The call in itself—again, the saving calling—is a mighty, saving power, bestowing upon us all good in Christ. The end of that calling is eternal life (I Tim. 6:12) and the kingdom and glory of our blessed God and Savior (I Thess. 2:12). It is by His gracious work in calling us, that God by His Holy Spirit gives us peace (Col. 3:15) and the blessedness of true spiritual freedom (Gal. 5:13).
All these things remind us that the saving calling is also particular. No, no, we don’t preach only to the elect. Don’t confuse now the external call of the gospel with that subject that we are now considering—the saving call. The external call of the gospel, the preaching of God’s Word, is proclaimed promiscuously, wherever God in His good pleasure sends it. There are many who come under the external call to repentance and faith who do not come under the power of the saving calling.
The saving calling is particular. It works salvation in God’s elect and regenerated people. Romans 8:28 tells us that “whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified.” It draws them to the consciousness of their blessed redemption.
That truth is further expounded by the apostle inRomans 9, where in verses 22 and following Paul points to the sharp distinction between “the vessels of wrath” whom God has “fitted to destruction,” and “the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory.” Those vessels of mercy, writes the inspired apostle, are we whom God has called.
The same distinction is made in I Peter 2:9, where the calling is spoken of in terms of being brought out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. Those who are called, those who are given to see the light of Christ, are those who belong to that “chosen generation,” that “royal priesthood,” that “holy nation,” that “peculiar people.” They are, in other words, the elect in Christ Jesus. And they stand in sharp distinction from those who do not receive that saving calling, but who rather, according to verse 8, “stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.”
The saving calling is also immutable, unchangeable. God never goes back on His Word. We read in Romans 11:29that “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” That confirmsRomans 8:29. Whom He calls, God most certainly justifies, and whom He justifies, He unquestionably also glorifies.
This is true because God’s Word is sure.
His Word, after all, is God’s living voice in and through Jesus Christ.
That ties the surety of the saving calling back to its irresistible power. The Spirit works by the Word. But that Word is not merely the speech of men. It is not even the written Word of the Scriptures. But it is the personal Word of the living God.
Christ is the one who calls. There is a reason why the Son of God, Jesus Christ, is named “the Word.” “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:3, 4). He is the one who calls powerfully and irresistibly out of darkness. His is the light which dispels the darkness in our hearts and minds.
Christ speaks the saving calling, with His Spirit working that Word in our hearts.
Christ is the one who says (John 10:27), “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” His sheep don’t merely hear about Him. They hear Him. They hear Him by means of the preaching of the gospel.
So we are brought to the consideration of the external aspect of the calling that we must continue in our next article, God willing.
How does God call His people? He calls them externally through the preaching of the gospel and internally through the operation of the Holy Spirit in their hearts.
By means of the physical preaching of the gospel to our physical hearing, Christ speaks His Word. With His Holy Spirit working in our hearts, He speaks powerfully, efficaciously. He calls savingly. So He brings us to a consciousness of our blessed relationship with Him.