The Necessity of Effectual Calling (Or: We Need a Miracle!)

Saved by Grace by [Hoekema, Anthony A.] This is a very helpful discussion of effectual calling/regeneration:

If you believe that the natural state of human beings today is that of moral and spiritual neutrality, so that they can do good or bad as they please (the Pelagian view), you will not even feel the need for an effectual call or for regeneration. If you believe that our natural state is one of spiritual and moral sickness, but that we all still have the ability to respond favorably to the gospel call (the Semi-Pelagian view), you will not need an effectual call. If you believe that, though we are partially or totally depraved, God gives to all a sufficient enabling grace so that everyone who hears the gospel call is able to accept it by cooperating with this sufficient grace (the Arminian view), you will not feel the need for an effectual call. But if you believe that we are by nature totally dead in sin, and therefore unable to respond favorably to the gospel call unless God in his sovereign grace changes our hearts so that we become spiritually alive (the Reformed view), you will realize how desperately you need God’s effectual call. The view last described, I believe, most faithfully reflects biblical teaching.

Let me use an illustration. Let us suppose that you are drowning within earshot of friends on the shore. You cannot swim. Wishing to respect your integrity as a person, and wanting to enable you to help yourself as much as possible, one of your friends standing on the shore, an excellent swimmer, shouts to you that you should start swimming to shore. The advice, though well-meant, is worse than useless, since you can’t swim. What you need, and need desperately, is for your friend to jump in and tow you to shore with powerful strokes, so that your life may be saved. What you need at the moment is not just advice, good advice, even gracious advice—you need to be rescued!

This, now, is our situation by nature. We are lost sinners. We are dead in sin. Being dead in sin, we cannot make ourselves alive. Since we are dead in sin, our ears are deaf to the gospel call and our eyes are blind to the gospel light. We need a miracle. This miracle occurs when God in his amazing grace calls us effectually through his Spirit from spiritual death to spiritual life, from spiritual darkness into his marvelous light. After we have been made spiritually alive, we can once again become actively involved in the process of our salvation—in repentance, faith, sanctification, and perseverance. But at the very beginning of the process, at the point where, being spiritually dead, we need to become spiritually alive, we need nothing less than a miraculous rescue from the murky waters of sin in which, if left alone, we would drown. This is what happens in the effectual call.

Anthony A. Hoekema, Saved by Grace (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 91.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

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He Does Really and Actually Save!

Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 2 What does Reformed theology teach about the extent of Christ’s atonement?  Francis Turretin (d. 1687) explained definite atonement well:

“The common opinion of the Reformed is that Christ – from the mere good pleasure of the Father – was appointed and given as a Redeemer and head, not to all men, but to a certain number of men.  By the election of God, these compose his mystical body.  For these alone, Christ, in order to fulfill the decree of election and the counsel of his Father, was willing and determined to die, and also to add to the infinite price of his death a most efficacious and special intention to substitute himself in their place and to acquire faith and salvation for them.”

Turretin then  went on to mention the texts in Scripture that talk about Christ’s death being for “his people,” “his sheep,” “his friends,” “his church,” and “his body” (Mt. 1:21, Eph 5:23, Jn 10:15, Jn 15:13, etc.).  Turretin also noted how the acquisition and application of redemption are inseparable from the extent of it.  In other words, Jesus redeemed his people and applied redemption to the same ones, his elect.

“It is gratuitous [unwarranted] to say that Christ is the Savior of those for whom salvation is indeed acquired, but to whom it will never be applied.  Even the very word ‘to save’ denotes the actual communication of salvation, and Christ is Jesus, not only because he is willing and able to save and because he removes all obstacles out of the way of salvation, but because he does really and actually save his people, not only by his merit acquiring salvation for them, but also efficaciously applying it to them, which was the intent of God in sending Christ and the end of his mission (as the angel clearly intimates by the imposition of the name ‘Jesus’).

Jesus is not possibly a Savior; he’s not a potential Redeemer.  He actually saves and is a true Redeemer!

The above quotes are found in volume 2 of Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 458 & 461.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

“One Grain of Arminianism” A. Toplady

The Works of Augustus M. Toplady (6 vols.) I’ve recently been enjoying the writing of Augustus Toplady (d. 1778).  As you may know, Toplady wrote “Rock of Ages” and “A Debtor to Mercy Alone.”  He was a defender of the doctrines of grace and debated John Wesley’s Arminianism.  Here are a few sections from his sermon on Ps. 115:1 (Not to us, LORD, not to us, but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. NIV).  In this first section, he compares idolatry to relying on one’s works/righteousness for justification:

But let me ask, If it be so very absurd to worship the work of other men’s hands; what must it be to worship the works of our own hands? Perhaps you may say, “God forbid that I should do so.” Nevertheless, let me tell you, that trust, confidence, reliance, and dependence for salvation, are all acts, and very solemn ones too, of divine worship: and upon whatsoever you depend, whether in whole, or in part, for your acceptance with God, and for your justification in his sight; whatsoever you rely upon, and trust in, for the attainment of grace or glory; if it be any thing short of God in Christ, you are an idolater to all intents and purposes.

Here’s a note on God’s glory in salvation:

And thus will it be, when God has accomplished the number of his elect, and completely gathered in the fullness of his redeemed kingdom. What, do you think, your song will be, when you come to heaven? Blessed be God, that he gave me free-will; and blessed be my own dear self, that I made a good use of it? O no, no. Such a song as that was never heard in heaven yet, nor ever will, while God is God and heaven is heaven. Look into the Book of Revelation, and there you will find the employ of the blessed, and the strains in which they sing. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God, by thy blood, out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation (a). There is discriminating grace for you! Thou hast redeemed us out of every kindred, etc. that is, from (b) among the rest of mankind. Is not this particular election, and limited redemption?

Finally, here’s Toplady on the “rust” of self-righteous pride and how we lose it when we enter glory:

I will venture to assert, that not one grain of Arminianism ever attended a saint into heaven.  If those of God’s people, who are in the bonds of that iniquity, are not explicitly converted from it, while they live and converse among men; yet do they leave it all behind them in Jordan (i. e. in the river of death) when they go through. They may be compared to Paul, when he went from Jerusalem to Damascus, and the grace of God struck him down: he fell, a free-wilier; but he rose a free-gracer. So, however the rust of self-righteous pride (and a cursed rust it is: may God’s Spirit file it off from all our souls) however that rust may adhere to us at present; yet, when we come to stand before the throne, and before the Lamb, it will be all done away, and we shall sing in one full, everlasting chorus, with elect angels and elect men, Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us.

Augustus M. Toplady, The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 3 (London: Richard Baynes, 1825), 163-4, 168-9.

shane lems
hammond, wi

Receiving Christ?

The Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms Once upon a time, in a Reformed church, a visiting pastor used the phrase “receive Christ” in a sermon.  Some people afterwards said the man was Arminian because he used the phrase in a positive way.  On a similar note, I’ve heard Calvinists explain that we can’t use the term “accept Jesus” because it’s an Arminian phrase.

Now, I’m not an Arminian, but I think it is perfectly fine to use those phrases in the right context.  We can affirm total depravity, bondage of the will, irresistible grace, and also use the above phrases (accept/receive Christ) in a biblical and Reformed way.  Scripture doesn’t use those exact phrases, but it does use that kind of language.

For example, God’s people are called to “accept” the words of God’s wisdom and instruction as well as his discipline (Prov. 4:10, 19:20, Zeph. 3:7).  Jesus says that those who “accept” the word will bear fruit (Mk 4:20).  Unbelievers do not “accept” the things of God’s Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14).  This is why the Westminster Confession says that the principle acts of saving faith include “accepting” Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life (WCF 14.2).  Used in the correct Biblical and confessional way, it isn’t Arminian to talk about accepting Christ and his benefits.

What about receiving Christ?  The Westminster Confession also says that a principle act of saving faith includes “receiving” Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life (WCF 14.2).  The Confession gets this language from Scripture.  For example, in John 1:11-12 we learn that some people did not “receive” Christ, but those who did “receive” him (that is, who believed in his name), he gave the right to become God’s children.  James talks about “receiving” the word with meekness (James 1:21).  Abraham “received” God’s promises (Heb. 11) and the Thessalonian Christians “received” the word as God’s word, not man’s (1 Thes. 2:13; cf. 1:6).  Paul said that just as we have “received” Christ Jesus the Lord, we should also walk in him (Col. 2:6).

In summary, while the above phrases might sometimes be used in an Arminian way that emphasizes free will and rejects the bondage of sin and irresistible grace, it is also possible to use these phrases in a biblical and Reformed way – those terms are confessional!  We don’t want to reject Arminianism to the extent that we go too far the other way into hyper-Calvnism!  Again, here’s the section of the Westminster Confession I quoted above:

“The principle acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.”  WCF 14.2

shane lems
hammond, wi

‘Kept for Jesus’ by Sam Storms: A Review

Kept for Jesus: What the New Testament Really Teaches about Assurance of Salvation and Eternal Security Will I fall away from Jesus?  This is one question that sometimes comes up in the Christian life – and it is addressed in the Bible.  Sam Storms discusses this topic in his new book, Kept for Jesus (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015).  This book isn’t an exhaustive explanation of perseverance (preservation) of the saints; rather, it is specifically a discussion of the texts in the New Testament that teach this truth.  Storms also takes some time to deal with the difficult texts that seem to teach Christians can fall away.  In this volume, Storms frequently quotes and builds upon the work of contemporary Baptist theologians such as John Piper, Tom Schreiner, and Wayne Grudem.

There are eleven chapters in this book (covering just over 190 pages).  In the first chapter, Storms talks about perseverance in John 6 and 10.  In the second chapter, he talks about some tough texts in Matthew – specifically the “Lord Lord” text from Matthew 7, blasphemy against the Spirit in Matthew 12, and the parable of the soils in Matthew 13.  Chapter 3 is Storm’s exposition of the vine text in John 15.  The next chapter (4) is where he discusses the steadfast love of God in Romans 5 and 8; in chapter 5 he discusses Romans 8 in more detail.  1 and 2 Corinthians is the focus of chapter 6, specifically 1 Cor. 1:4-9, 11:27-32, and 2 Cor. 1:21-22.  Difficult texts (Heb. 6 and 2 Cor 13) is what Storms writes about in chapter 7.  Storms talks about perseverance in other epistles in chapter 8, and in chapters 9-10 he works through some difficult texts (e.g. Rom. 11:22, 2 Cor. 6:1-2, James 5:19-20, etc).  The final chapter asks and answers the question: “Can a Christian commit the sin unto death?”

I have to admit the overall structure of this book seemed a bit random – I was hoping it would have a more unified outline or structure.  It sort of read like a collection of articles instead of an outlined book.  Another minor critique worth noting is that though the subtitle mentions “assurance,” there isn’t a whole lot of space devoted to it.   Storms also made the common mistake of equating “Reformed” and “Calvinism” in the introduction (p. 14); not to nitpick, but it is important to remember that there is a whole lot more to Reformed theology than Five Points!  This becomes evident since Storms doesn’t talk about (for just two examples) the covenant of grace or the intra-trinitarian covenant (which both show up in the NT).

I don’t want to be too critical, however, because the book is specifically only meant to be a defense of perseverance of the saints in New Testament passages.  Storms wasn’t out to write a Reformed systematic defense and description of perseverance in this book, so I can’t critique him for not doing so!  I especially appreciated the section where Storms talks about the unforgivable sin; his treatment was superb and pastoral.  His chapter on love from Romans texts was also very helpful and edifying – God’s love in Christ means nothing can separate the sheep from the Shepherd!  There are some obvious strengths to this book, and I’m glad to have read these sections I just mentioned.  Though some “difficult” texts weren’t discussed in much detail, the ones that he discussed in detail were explained pretty well.

If you’ve read other books on perseverance that discuss these key texts or if you’ve read quite a few other books on this topic, you might not need this one.  [Also, I’m not sure “convinced” Arminians would all appreciate this book because at times Storms notes what Arminians teach but does not cite his claims.]  However, if you need a Calvinist resource that discusses NT texts about perseverance, this is one to get!  It’s not overly difficult (though it isn’t structured for a book club/reading group) or too lengthy, and it has some good explanations of the truth that no one can snatch Christ’s sheep out of his hand.

Sam Storms, Kept for Jesus: What the New Testament Really Teaches about Assurance of Salvation and Eternal Security (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015).

shane lems
hammond, wi

Richard Baxter: A Strange Theological Mix

Richard Baxter (d. 1691) was a pastor and prolific writer who, broadly speaking, was a Puritan.  However, unlike many other Puritans, he rejected some key aspects of Reformed theology.  Here’s how Beeke and Pederson summarize:

“Baxter’s writings are a strange theological mix.  He was one of a few Puritans whose doctrines of God’s decrees, atonement, and justification were anything but Reformed.  Though he generally structured his theology along Reformed lines of thought, he frequently leaned towards Arminian thinking.  He developed his own notion of universal redemption, which offended Calvinists, but retained a form of personal election, which offended Arminians.  He rejected reprobation.  He was greatly influenced by the Amyraldians and incorporated much of their thinking, including hypothetical universalism, which teaches that Christ hypothetically died for all men, but his death only has real benefit to those who believe.  For Baxter, Christ’s death was more of a legal satisfaction of the law than a personal substitutionary death on behalf of elect sinners.”

“Baxter’s approach to justification has been called neonomianism (that is, ‘new law’); he said that God has made a new law offering forgiveness to repentant breakers of the old law.  Faith and repentance – the new laws that must be obeyed – become the believer’s personal, saving righteousness that is sustained by preserving grace.  Baxter’s soteriology, then, is Amyraldian with the addition of Arminian ‘new law’ teaching.  Happily, these erroneous doctrines do not surface much in Baxter’s devotional writings, which are geared mainly to encourage one’s sanctification rather than to teach theology.”

Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson, Meet the Puritans (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006), 66.

shane lems
hammond, wi

An Illustration of Arminianism

When we who are Reformed Christians talk about Arminianism we have to be careful not to set up straw men or be misleading when we explain it.  Telling the truth is, of course, what the 9th commandment is all about.  This is one reason I purchased Why I Am Not A Calvinist by Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell.  I realize that there are different groups within the Arminian camp, and I realize that there is more to Walls and Dongell’s argument than the following illustration.  But it is a good basic illustration that explains Arminian soteriology (partial depravity, unlimited atonement, resistible grace).

“The classical Arminian believes that God steals into the prison and makes it to the bedside of the victim.  God injects a serum that begins to clear the prisoner’s mind of delusions and quell her hostile reactions.  God removes the gag from the prisoner’s mouth and shines a flashlight around the pitch-black room.  The prisoner remains mute as the Rescuer’s voice whispers, ‘Do you know where you are?  Let me tell you!  Do you know who you are?  Let me show you!’

“And as the wooing begins, divine truth begins to dawn on the prisoner’s heart and mind; the Savior holds up a small mirror to show the prisoner her sunken eyes and frail body.  ‘Do you see what they’ve done to you, and do you see how you’ve given yourself to them?’  Even in the dim light, the prisoner’s weakened eyes are beginning to focus.  The Rescuer continues, ‘Do you know who I am, and that I want you for  myself?’  Perhaps the prisoner makes no obvious advance but does not turn away.  The questions keep coming: ‘Can I show you pictures of who you once were and the wondrous plans I have for you in the years to come?’”

“The prisoner’s heartbeat quickens as the Savior presses on: ‘I know that part of you suspects that I have come to harm you.  But let me show you something – my hands, they’re a bit bloody.  I crawled through an awful tangle of barbed wire to get to you.’  Now here in this newly created sacred space, in this moment of new possibility, the Savior whispers, ‘I want to carry you out of here right now!  Give me your heart!  Trust me!”

“This scenario, we believe, captures the richness of the Bible’s message: the glory of God’s original creation, the devastation of sin, God’s loving pursuit of helpless sinners and the nature of love as the free assent of persons.  Here also is room for tragedy, for the inexplicable (but possible) rejection of God’s tender invitation by those who really know better and who might have done otherwise.  Sin shows up in its boldest colors when it recapitulates the rebellion of Eden and freely chooses to go its own way in the face of divine love and full provision.  The tragedy of such rejection is the risk God took in making possible shared love between creature and Creator, the very love shared between the Father and the eternal Son (Jn 17:23-26).”

Even though I very much disagree with this illustration, it is a clear and simple picture of Arminian soteriology from the pens of those who hold these views.

Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell, Why I am Not A Calvinist, p. 69-70.

shane lems
hammond wi