David J. Engelsma is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of South Holland, Illinois.
As it comes to the sinner, whether elect or reprobate, the preaching of the Gospel is a call to the sinner. Not only does the Bible name the saving summons to the elect “the call,” but it also describes the preaching itself, unaccompanied by the secret operation of the Spirit in the heart of the hearer, as a “call.” Jesus teaches that the preaching by God’s servants is a call in Matthew 22:14: “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Indeed, the entire parable of the marriage of the king’s son, of which verse 14 is the conclusion, teaches this, for, throughout, the parable speaks of the king’s call to men to “come unto the marriage.” “Bid” and “bidden,” in our translation, are ‘call’ and ‘called.’ Every man who comes under the Word of God, whether Jew under the old covenant (Matt. 22:3-7) or Gentile under the new covenant (Matt. 22:9-13), is called. Also those who refuse to come to the marriage, and perish for their folly, were called. Exactly this is the statement of verse 14: many more are called than are elect and saved.
All are called unto salvation: “come unto the marriage” (Matt. 22:4).
All are called by God Himself. The king represents God, even as the marriage feast for the son, with its bounties, is the salvation that God prepares in Jesus. It is the king who sends out his servants to call men; the servants announce that the king is saying to the hearers, “I have prepared my dinner . . . come” (Matt. 22:4); the king punished those who were careless about the call, with a wrath that indicates that those fools have held his call, his dinner, and his son in contempt.
The call that consists of the preaching alone, unaccompanied by the secret drawing of the Holy Spirit within a man, can and must be sharply distinguished from the saving call, which, as was pointed out in the previous article, consists of both the preaching and the inner, converting work of the Spirit. Scripture sharply distinguishes between them. It does so in the very passage that insists that the preaching alone is a serious call of God to every hearer, never to be taken lightly—Matthew 22: 1-14. The distinction is made by the contrast between the call of many, on the one hand, and the election of only a few, on the other hand:
1. Whereas the call that proceeds from election intends the salvation of every one called, the call by the preaching alone is not motivated by any purpose, intention, will, or desire of God for the salvation of the one who is called. For the man called only by the preaching is not chosen; and election is the will, or purpose, of God unto salvation.
2. Whereas the call that proceeds from election has its origin in, and breathes, the love of God for every one called, the call by the preaching alone is not extended by God to the man to whom it comes out of any love that God has for him. For the man is not chosen; and election is simply God’s choosing love.
3. Whereas the call that proceeds from election is gracious, displaying Father’s favorable attitude towards His children and conveying to the elect the power that delivers from sin and death, the call by the preaching alone is not grace to the one so called. Neither does it manifest God’s favorable attitude towards him; nor does it carry to him the irresistible power that saves from sin; nor does it benefit him that he has been called. For the man is not chosen; and election is itself a decision God made in the favorable attitude He had towards a sinner (II Timothy 1:9) and the source of the power of salvation, as well as of all spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3, 4).
4. Whereas the call that proceeds from election infallibly saves every one who is called, the call by the preaching alone saves no one who is so called, indeed is incapable of saving anyone. For the sinner, dead in his trespasses and sins, is not chosen; and it is election that effects the salvation of the sinner, by the calling. Election is not a dead plan that merely decrees that some sinners will be saved. Election is the living, mighty, effectual will of God that saves sinners, operating by means of the call. The clear implication ofMatthew 22:14 is that the few, comparatively, who come to Christ, come because they are chosen by God.
What, then, is the call of the Gospel that consists only of the preaching to one who is not chosen, i.e.; the reprobate? Jesus’ teaching about this call, in the parable of Matthew 22:1ff., is clear:
1. It is God’s setting before a man, in the Word preached, His Son in the fullness of His Person and saving work, as well as the fact and fullness of the finished work of salvation from sin, in the crucifixion and resurrection of this Son. The servant tells the man that the king has prepared his dinner and that all things are ready (Matt. 22:4).
2. It is God’s making known to a man that the way in which sinners receive and enjoy this salvation is the way of coming to Jesus Christ in true faith, which faith clothes the guilty sinner with the wedding garment of the righteousness of Jesus (Matt. 22:4, 11-13).
3. It is God’s announcing to him the promise that everyone who comes will be received into the bliss and glory of participation at the divine marriage festival, as well as the warning that everyone who rejects the call will be damned, including the man who rejects the call by a false coming, i.e., a “coming” that despises the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ, but goes about to establish its own righteousness. The man who refuses to come to Christ does so, not because he has any fear that one who comes might not be received, but because he “makes light” of the marriage and is not willing to come (Matt. 22:3, 5).
4. It is God’s imperative to a man—the divine command—to come, i.e., believe in Jesus. The king says to the man, “come unto the marriage” (Matt. 22:4). God confronts him with his solemn duty. The man has no option to decline, as one has the option to decline an invitation to an earthly wedding. To decline, as many do, is to incur the wrath of God, for one has thus committed the enormous sin of not believing on the only begotten Son of God (Matt. 22:7, 13; cf. John 3:18). The man himself is fully and solely to blame for refusing to come. He knows it to be his own fault, as is evident from the speechlessness of the man without a wedding garment (Matt. 22:12).
One thing that this important passage of Scripture does not teach is that those who are called have the ability to obey the command to come to the marriage, i.e., the ability to believe on Jesus. They actively willnot to come (literally translated, verse 3 reads: “and they willed not to come”); but it is neither stated nor implied that they were able to will otherwise.
Nor does the parable teach that it is God’s purpose (intention, desire, or wish) that those who reject the call come to Christ, and be saved. It is His command that they come. It by no means follows from this that it is also His purpose that they come. If this did follow, the call would be a frustrated effort by God to save men and women whom He loves and whose salvation He desires. But the parable explicitly denies this; indeed, if we take the conclusion of the parable as expressing the central truth of the parable, Jesus’ main teaching here is a denial that the call goes out to all who hear as an expression of God’s love for all and with the divine purpose of saving all. For, of the called, many are not chosen!
Positively stated, the heart of the parable is this: although many others hear the preaching and are confronted by the preaching’s command to repent and believe, God’s purpose with the preaching of the Gospel is the salvation only of a “few,” namely, those whom He eternally elected in Christ; although many others hear of the love of God for sinners, in that He gave His only begotten Son for their redemption, the love of God that proclaims the Gospel is a love for only a “few,” namely, the elect.
Summing up, the Protestant Reformed Churches find in Holy Scripture a doctrine of the call containing these elements:
1. The preaching of the gospel by the church is the living, authoritative Word of God, the very voice of the risen Jesus Christ (Romans 10:14ff.).
2. God will have His gospel preached in all the world in order to gather His chosen church by the salvation of every elect person (John 6:37ff.).
3. The call to the elect is effectual unto their salvation by the inner, converting work of the Holy Spirit upon their hearts, minds, and wills, in perfect fulfillment of God’s purpose of love, in the decree of election.
4. The effectual, saving call, consisting of preaching accompanied by the inner work of the, Spirit, must be sharply distinguished from the preaching alone, unaccompanied by any regenerating operation of the Spirit. This latter is also a call, a call of God. But it is not directed to those to whom it comes out of divine love for them; nor does it express God’s purpose that they be saved; nor does God give them His Spirit in their hearts, as the preaching comes to them. This call confronts men with their duty, exposes their depravity, renders them inexcusable, and hardens them in their awful rebellion against God.
Holding this Biblical doctrine of the call, the Protestant Reformed Churches are constrained to repudiate the “well-meant offer of the gospel.”
(to be continued)