Throughout the ages, the church has had to contend for the faith over against many wrong conceptions of the Scriptures. Man, who would exalt self rather than God, sinfully has set forth doctrines that attempt to confuse. But the Bible is simple and clear, and the simple truth of the Scriptures has always brought comfort and strength to God’s children. When there is an attempt to introduce error into the midst of the church it is introduced by the setting forth of their devious tenets in the most abstract and confusing language possible. Certainly this has been true whenever the call of God unto salvation has been taught by those who would lead astray. But it need not be! It must not be! Scripture very clearly and simply sets forth the truth of God’s gracious call unto salvation. In this article we briefly set forth this truth, precious to God’s kingdom people. For it is good to be reminded anew of the precious tenets of our Reformed faith.
When we do consider, the call of God unto salvation, we must understand that this doctrine stands on the Scriptural truths of God’s sovereign and eternal election, and in time upon the truth of regeneration. Scripture teaches us that regeneration is the first work of God in the child of God after his conception and natural birth. It is through regeneration that the elect receive new hearts and they are given the spiritual ability to see and receive the things of God’s kingdom. Further this work of regeneration is alone God’s work in His chosen ones by the operation of His Spirit in their hearts. In our new and spiritual birth, God by the Spirit of Christ implants in our hearts the seed of faith, ingrafts us into the body of Christ, and gives us the ability to see the things of His kingdom and to believe. So that spiritually-ethically we are made alive, who were by nature dead; and we become principally new creatures. This wondrous work is solely of God’s grace!
Now in the second place, God does not so renew His Church and then leave them in the darkness of sin and death. But God calls those He has quickened. He calls them out of the darkness of sin and death, and into the marvelous light of His covenant communion and fellowship in Christ. It is now to this efficacious (effectual and working and powerful) calling of our God that we turn our attention.
Turning then to the calling unto salvation we take note at the outset that God is a calling God. He speaks and it comes to pass. We read this literally in Rom. 4:17: “(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations) before him whom he believeth, even God, Who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.” God calls powerfully, irresistibly. God called into being the heavens and the earth and all that is therein. “He spake and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.” Ps. 33:9. God’s word is powerful, and when He speaks, that Word causes things to happen. Again we read in Scripture, “Through faith we understand that the worlds were ‘framed by the Word of God, so that the things which are seen, were not made of things which do appear.” Heb. 11:3. This word God speaks in and through Christ, and by the power of His Word He continues to uphold and govern all things, cf. Heb. 1:3.
It surely is peculiar then that, when we come to God’s call unto salvation, man so often will attempt to change all of this. When speaking of God’s calling unto salvation, man so often desires to deny the sovereign and efficacious power of God’s word. Throughout the ages men have attempted to destroy the sovereign working of God’s grace unto salvation. There have been attempts made to take the glory of God unto man. And the church has had to defend the truth over against such attacks. Unto this end the church has been called by Christ the King of His church.
With respect to the calling, the attack against the truth, and thus against the glory of God, has come in the form of a denial of God’s powerful, irresistible call unto salvation in Christ. Those of this false conception say that God’s word, when concerned with man, really is not irresistibly powerful. Rather, they contend, when God calls His church through Christ, God really wants to save all men, head for head. They say that God wants all who hear His word to repent and believe. Thus, after all, the call of God unto salvation is, according to them, dependent upon man.
But this above position is outright heresy! Be not deceived!
The truth is that when God through Christ and by His Spirit calls His Chosen, they believe, repent of their sins, and are saved. And just as powerfully and irresistibly as God called creation unto existence, so He calls His elect church in Christ out of darkness into the light. of His covenant fellowship. God in Christ gathers His church by an effectual call, and those He calls are partakers of His covenant fellowship and promise unto salvation. They are saved! Thus we read in Acts 2:39: “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Christ is given from eternity sheep over which He is Shepherd. And because they are His sheep, He calls them by name. And as He calls them efficaciously, they hear His voice and follow Him, and no man shall pluck them out of Christ’s hand. Read John 10:27ff. Further, this is the testimony also in II Timothy 1:9: “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.”
Hence we conclude that God’s calling His church by the Spirit of Christ is also the sovereign work of God’s grace in saving His elect. Thus, they who were no people are made the people of the living God. It is God’s sovereign, effectual, and. irresistible work of grace that calls from sin unto salvation!
However, it is well that we take time to answer several questions that often arise because of this truth of the Scripture. Such questions as, How does God so call His church? or, To whom does God send the gospel call? etc.
The first question we consider is the following: How does God call His Church in Christ? Our answer to this question must be this: by the preaching of Christ! It is through the preaching of Christ that God is pleased to gather His elect church unto salvation. This is the clear testimony of Romans 10:14-15. “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him (of) whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach, except they be sent?” Also in the Old Dispensation essentially it was the same preaching of Christ through which it pleased God to gather the Church. Only, then, it was the preaching of types and shadows, the sacrifices, etc. But the types and shadows always pointed to the fulfillment by the promised Seed, the Christ. God calls the church through the preaching of Christ!
It is true that God also reveals Himself through His creation. But this revelation is such that, apart from the Scriptures, the creation only reveals God’s wrath against all ungodliness. And it is such a revelation that it leaves man without excuse, cf. Rom. 1:18-20. Thus it is alone by the preaching of Christ that God brings His elect out of darkness into the marvelous light of His covenant fellowship.
The next question it is good to consider is this: whom, does God call through the preaching? It is obvious that in no way can it be said that God calls everyone. Even in the broadest use of the term “calling,” this cannot be! There are many men and women who have been born, lived, and died without ever hearing the gospel of Christ. And this is not by chance, but by the will of God! And in the way of their sin, as they stand before the testimony of God in creation, they are left without excuse in judgment!
But what of the rest of men? Does God call generally to the rest? When we consider this question, we must make a distinction between the call of the preached gospel in an external sense, and that call which comes inwardly to the regenerated heart of God’s elect. Both elect and wicked come under the sound of the gospel, when it is preached. This is true even in the church where it is manifest from place to place, and time to time. Jesus taught more than once that there were tares in the midst of the wheat. And the Spirit through the apostle Paul points out to us in Rom. 9, that not all are Israel which are of Israel. Now because of this, both elect and wicked alike hear the same sound of the gospel. They hear the command to repent and believe. This hearing of the sound of the gospel is sometimes referred to by the Scripture as a call of God. It we call the “external call,” as we make a distinction. But remember that, when speaking of this, God’s Word says, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” Matt. 22:14. Only God’s elect remnant are gathered under the preaching unto glory. They alone hear the call and obey. They are saved, for God irresistibly calls them out of darkness into the light.
But, what then of the wicked. Is God’s word lacking power? God forbid that we should ever say this! Paul says in Rom. 9:6, responding to the same thought, that it is not as though the Word of God had taken none effect. God’s Word always has effect! And the Spirit goes on to point out to us in Romans 9 that the Word proclaimed serves God’s eternal decrees of election and reprobation. Isaiah teaches us that the Word never goes out to return void. The preaching has the effect by God’s counsel and purpose to harden the wicked in their sin. The preaching according to God’s purpose is also a savor of death unto death to the wicked. II Cor. 2:15-16. When Christ is purely preached, many stumble at the Word. And Scripture points out to us that unto this end they were appointed by God. See I Peter 2:8. Thus God uses His Word to harden the hearts of the wicked unto greater damnation. But, wondrous grace of God!
God’s beloved church in Christ He saves through the preaching of the gospel of Christ. This call is very particular. It is personal, and it saves! It is the work of God’s grace, and it is rooted in God’s eternal love and mercy for His church in Christ: The result of this call of God applied by the Spirit of Christ to their hearts is redemption and glory. It is only for His elect in Christ. Thus we read, “But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and He that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not; for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.” Those called are those redeemed in the blood of Christ. They are the chosen. And God’s Word further says that those whom God calls He also justifies, and whom He justified, them He also glorifies, cf. Rom. 8:28ff. When God so calls His church there is salvation. His sheep hear His voice and they do follow Him. For God has given them to His Beloved Son, and no man can pluck them out of His hand! Gracious, calling God!
May all our praise be given unto Him!