God Has Called You: On Effectual Calling (Murray)

Scripture teaches that a person dead in sin will remain dead in sin unless God graciously gives him or her new life in Christ (Eph. 2:5).  In theological terms, we say God effectually calls his elect and regenerates them by the power of his Spirit and word.  God is the author of this gracious, sovereign, effectual call.  John Murray explains it well:

“‘God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9).  ‘…[God] …called us with a holy calling’ (2 Tim. 1:8-9).  In this respect calling is an act of God’s grace and power just as regeneration, justification, and adoption are.  We do not call ourselves, we do not set ourselves apart by sovereign volition any more than we regenerate, justify, or adopt ourselves.  Calling is an act of God and of God alone.  This fact should make us keenly aware how dependent are upon the sovereign grace of God in the application of redemption.  If calling is the initial step in our becoming actual partakers of salvation, the fact that God is its author forcefully reminds us that the pure sovereignty of God’s work of salvation is not suspended at the point of application any more than at the point of design and objective accomplishment.  We may not like this doctrine.  But, if so, it is because we are averse to the grace of God and wish to arrogate to ourselves the prerogative that belongs to God.  And we know where that disposition had its origin.”

John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, p. 110.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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Before You Sought Him (Bernard)

It’s not for nothing that in his Institutes John Calvin cited Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153) more than a few times.  The doctrines of grace were not absent in the Medieval era!  One very bright spot of Bernard’s writings is “Sermon 84” on the Song of Songs.  This sermon is on Songs 3:1: “On my bed night after night I sought him whom my soul loves” (NASB).  In it Bernard talks about seeking and finding the Lord.  He starts like this:

“It is a great good to seek God; I think nothing comes before it among the good things the soul may enjoy. It is the first of its gifts and its ultimate goal.”

Bernard then explains that the soul seeking God finds unending joy in abundance.  It’s not like joy and desire are gone once a person finds God.  But there’s more to it.

“Now see why I have said this as a preliminary. It is so that every soul among you which is seeking God will know that He has gone before and sought you before you sought Him. Otherwise you may turn a great good into a great evil for yourself. For from great goods can arise evils no less great, when we treat as our own the good things God gives and act as though they were not gifts, not giving God the glory (Lk 17:18).”

In other words, Bernard says it is important to realize that God seeks us before we seek him.  If we don’t understand this, we’ll rob God of his glory:

“If someone says, “Perish the thought, I know that it is by the grace of God that I am as I am” (1 Cor 15:10), yet is eager to take even the smallest credit for the grace he has received, surely he is a robber and a thief (Jn 10:1)? Let such a man hear this, “Out of your own mouth I judge you, wicked servant” (Lk 19:22). What is more wicked than for a slave to usurp his master’s glory?”

Instead, Bernard wrote, ‘The soul seeks the Word, but she has first been sought by the Word.”  And where does the soul get the will to seek?  “From the visitation of the Word, who has already sought her.”

“That seeking has not been in vain, because it has made the will active, without which there can be no return [to God]. …’Seek your servant’ [the Psalmist] says [Ps. 119:176], so that he who has been given the will may also give the power to act…”

Here’s the heart of it – which sounds like Augustine (“I would not have sought You unless You had first sought me”).

“I have sought,” she says, “him whom my soul loves” (Sg 3:1). This is what the kindness of Him who goes before you urges you to do, He who both sought you first and loved you first (1 Jn 4:10). You would not be seeking Him or loving Him unless you had first been sought and loved. You have been forestalled not only in one blessing (Gn 27:28) but in two, in love and in seeking. The love is the cause of the seeking, and the seeking is the fruit of the love; and it is its guarantee. You are loved, so that you may not think that you are sought so as to be punished; you are sought, so that you may not complain that you are loved in vain. Both these sweet gifts of love make you bold and drive diffidence away, and they persuade you to return and move you to loving response. Hence comes the zeal, the ardor to seek him whom your soul loves, for you cannot seek unless you are sought and now that you are sought you cannot fail to seek.”

I know it’s a rich paragraph; you may have to read it again!  Basically, Bernard is highlighting the divine initiative and priority of the sovereign grace of God.  He loved and chose us before we loved and chose him.  And no one can come to Christ unless God sovereignly draws him (John 6:44). But, as Bernard said (echoing Scripture’s teaching), “now that you are sought, you cannot fail to seek!”

The above quotes are found in Bernard of Clairvaux, Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works, ed. John Farina, trans. G. R. Evans, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1987).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Christ Calls First (Effectual Calling)

Christopher Love (d. 1651), a Welsh Presbyterian pastor, wrote an excellent book on effectual calling and election.  His main text was 2 Peter 1:10 (Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble. NASB).  In one section of this book, he talks about the comforts of effectual calling:

Jesus effectually calls a poor sinner before that sinner looks unto Jesus.  Should God require heaven upon the condition that you who had been first in the transgression should be first in seeking reconciliation, we would never have the enmity between God and us ended.  But behold, here is mercy and here is a ground of comfort, that though we are first in that transgression, Christ is the first in suing out reconciliation.  Jesus effectually calls poor sinners before they either call or look unto him at all (Is. 65:1).

Here you see, that Jesus goes out first to call you before you go out to call him.  And oh, what comfort this is!  Christ does not stay away until you call out to him; but he looks upon you before you look upon him.

We read that Matthew the publican was looking after his money, and, at that time, Jesus was looking after Matthew’s soul.  We read this of the disciples: while they were fixing their nets and looking after their fish, Jesus took the occasion with the hook of the gospel to catch them.  We read that Paul, while he was breathing out persecution against the church and raging with anger against the saints, was called to be a saint.

So this is very comforting.  God first looks after a sinner in his effectual calling before a sinner looks after Christ.  God first looks upon you, enlightens you by a sermon, and seizes your conscience by a command before you look unto him.

Or, in the sweet words of two great hymns:

I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew;
He moved my soul to seek him seeking me;
It was not I that found O Savior true; no I was found of thee.

and

Tis not that I did choose the, for Lord that could not be;
This heart would still refuse thee, hadst though not chosen me!

(The above quotes by Christopher Love are – slightly edited – found in Effectual Calling and Election, chapter 4.)

shane lems
hammond, WI

He Left All (?) To Follow Jesus

Chorus of Voices: The Reception History of the Parables In chapter 5:27-29 Luke records the story of Jesus calling Levi (Matthew) away from his tax booth. Levi answers the call by standing up, leaving everything, and following Jesus.  What does it mean to “leave everything?”  We may have heard guilt-trip type sermons on this before, always making us think we haven’t really “left all.”  However, in the story, Luke tells us that after being called, Levi went home and threw a huge (and no doubt expensive!) party for a bunch of people (Jesus included).  So what does it mean that Levi “left everything” if he still had a good size home and enough money to host a large feast?  I appreciate Calvin’s words on this:

Luke 5:29. “And Levi made him a great banquet.” This appears to be at variance with what Luke relates, that he “left all”: but the solution is easy. Matthew [Levi] disregarded every hindrance, and gave up himself entirely to Christ, but yet did not abandon the charge of his own domestic affairs.

When Paul, referring to the example of soldiers, exhorts the ministers of the word to be free and disentangled from every hindrance, and to devote their labours to the church, he says: “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of life, that he may please the commander” (2 Tim. 2:4.) He certainly does not mean, that those who enroll themselves in the military profession divorce their wives, forsake their children, and entirely desert their homes; but that they quit their homes for a time, and leave behind them every care, that they may be wholly employed in war. In the same manner, nothing kept Matthew [Levi] from following where Christ called; and yet he freely used both his house and his property, as far as the nature of his calling allowed.

Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 1, pp. 399–400). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

shane lems

Luther and Wingren on Vocation

Product Details Since I’ve been doing reading on vocation lately, I thought I’d share this great quote by Martin Luther followed by the commentary of Gustaf Wingren.  It has to do with how vocation is related to “love thy neighbor.”

“If you are a craftsman you will find the Bible placed in your workshop, in your hands, in your heart; it teaches and preaches how you ought to treat your neighbor.  Only look at your tools, your needle, your thimble, your beer barrel, your articles of trade, your scales, your measures, and you will find this saying written on them.  You will not be able to look anywhere where it does not strike your eyes.  None of the things with which you deal daily are too trifling to tell you this incessantly, if you are but willing to hear it; and there is no lack of such preaching, for you have as many preachers as there are transactions, commodities, tools, and other implements in your house and estate; they shout this to your face, ‘My dear, use me toward your neighbor as you would want him to act toward you with that which is his.’”

Here’s Wingren’s commentary:

“Thus a Christian finds himself called to drab and lowly tasks, which seem less remarkable than monastic life…and other distractions from our vocations.  For him who heeds his vocation, sanctification is hidden in offensively ordinary tasks, with the result that it is hardly noticed at all that he is a Christian.  But faith looks on simple duties as tasks to which vocation summons the man; and by the Spirit he becomes aware that all those ‘poor, dull, and despised works’ are adorned with the favor of God ‘as with costliest gold and precious stones.’  The monk is always uncertain about his works; but in work which really contributes to the neighbor’s well-being and is commanded by God, peace and certainty are found” (p. 72-73).

Though it isn’t the easiest book to read, Gustaf Wingren’s Luther On Vocation is a wonderful resource on the topic of Christian vocation.  And the above quotes are some great words to remember: when we go about our daily Christian life of faith – whether in the home, tractor cab, or office (etc.) – we can serve our neighbor and be sure that God is pleased with us and glorified in what we do.

rev shane lems

The God of the Mundane

Product DetailsTo bring God glory and honor, the Christian doesn’t have to change the world or do all sorts of spectacular things for the good of the Kingdom.  A follower of Christ can serve the Lord well in an obscure, behind-the-scenes, everyday manner (whether trimming lawns or teaching driver’s education).  Christians can please God without ever doing anything special or extraordinary.  To live “a quiet life” (1 Tim. 2.2) is to live a Christian life.

So argues Matthew Redmond in The God of the Mundane.  In a world of fame, glamor, stardom, and super-sizing, this book broadcasts a message every ordinary Christian needs to hear: you can serve God well right where you’re at.  “This little book is not a call to do nothing.  It is a call to be faithful right where you are, regardless of how mundane that place is” (loc. 1102).

“It is encouraging that there is a God of the mundane, because lives are just that – mundane.  This is good news for those who have tried trying to live fantastically.  And this is spectacular news for those who have been tempted to think their lives escape the notice of God because they are decidedly not spectacular” (loc. 245).

Redmond isn’t ambiguous in speaking of vocation: “[The Apostle Paul] never asks [the recipients of his epistles] to stop being who they are.  He never challenges them to go anywhere.  We don’t even get hints that lead us to believe he is making them feel guilty for living in comparative comfort compared to his lack of it.  That’s weird.  And it’s weird because this is so common in our pulpits and in conferences held for zealous college students” (loc. 291).

I appreciate Redmond’s breakdown of how the guilt of doing nothing in life works:

Stage One: I feel guilty about doing nothing.  Stage Two: Therefore I must get on with something obviously significant.  Stage Three: Now we judge others by this standard.  If they are not doing something obviously significant then we automatically say to ourselves or to them and certainly to others, ‘They are not serious about their faith!  If they were, they would do…’” (loc. 712).

What is Redmond’s radical call?  There is no radical call.  That’s the point.

“Be nobody special.  Do your job.  Take care of your family.  Clean your house.  Mow your yard.  Read your Bible.  Attend worship.  Pray.  Watch your life and doctrine closely.  Love your spouse.  Love your kids. Be generous.  …Expect no special treatment.  And do it all quietly” (loc. 1096).

I highly recommend this book for average Christians who think they are doing nothing for Christ.  If you feel like your job in hospital billing, irrigation, or basketball coaching isn’t good enough, get this book.  The God of the Mundane is sort of a modern-day application of Luther’s excellent discussion of vocation coupled with his theology of suffering (not glory!).  This book might go against the flow of some things you’ve heard in evangelical circles, but it’s a good counterpoint that is definitely needed.  (By the way, you can get it for under $5 on Kindle.)

Matthew Redmond, The God of the Mundane (n.l. Kalos Press, 2012).

rev shane lems

sunnyside wa

Radically Ordinary

Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream One major and glaring weakness in David Platt’s bestselling book, Radical, is his failure to discuss vocation – the places and positions God has called his people to in this life.  I do agree with Platt that the church in the United States is much too “Americanized” and some of us need to get off the couch and take our faith much more seriously, but I don’t appreciate his guilt trip that might lead readers away from their God-given vocation.  As one friend of mine said, Platt would have done well to deal with Paul’s epistles, specifically the application sections.  And might it also be said that Platt’s huge vision is somewhat American itself (i.e. focus on the big, extraordinary, and glamorous)?

Not every Christian is called to be a missionary and sell everything he/she has.  All Christians should be ready to give an answer for their hope in Christ (1 Pet. 3:14), but not every Christian is called to be a pastor, teacher, or evangelist (Eph. 4.11).  There are modern-day Timothy’s, but there are also modern-day Lydia’s.

So what is vocation?  Gene Veith says it well – in a Luther-like way:

“Though [God] could give [daily bread] to us directly, by a miraculous provision, as he once did for the children of Israel when he fed them daily with manna, God has chosen to work through human beings, who, in their different capacities and according to their different talents, serve each other.  This is the doctrine of vocation” (p. 14).

Veith goes on to say that God could just create new humans from the dust, but instead he chose to create new life through a mother and father, and calls them to raise children in love.  He could just heal people without any means, but instead, he has gifted certain people to work as doctors, lab technicians, and pharmacists.  He could put a sort of force field around people, but instead he has given us soldiers and policemen to protect us.  This is vocation: God calls his people to different tasks and jobs in which they can serve their neighbors and glorify God in doing so.  Veith: “The purpose of vocation is to love and serve one’s neighbor” (p. 39).

“…Vocation is played out not just in extraordinary acts – the great things we will do for the Lord, the great success we envision in our careers someday – but in the realm of the ordinary.  Whatever we face in the often humdrum present – washing the dishes, buying groceries, going to work, driving the kids somewhere, hanging out with our friends – this is the realm into which we have been called and in which our faith bears fruit in love.  We are to love our neighbors – that is, the people who are actually around us, as opposed to the abstract humanity of the theorists.  These neighbors constitute the relationships that we are in right now, and our vocation is for God to serve them through us” (p. 59).

If you’re a Christian mother raising messy kids, or if you’re a Christian father who drives for UPS, don’t feel guilty that you aren’t “radically” serving the Lord.  Sure, you should pray for missionaries and support them as you can, but God has put you where you are.  You’re not a “lesser” Christian because you haven’t sold everything and gone overseas for six months or more.  You run into your neighbors every day, and your duty is to love and serve them in your vocation, where the Lord has put you.  And he is glorified when you do so.

If you’ve read Radical, please read Veith’s God at Work to learn a more balanced approach to the Christian life.  There are no guilt-trips in Veith’s book and it is a more edifying and encouraging approach to serving God and neighbor.  And remember Luther’s teaching: “A maid is more godly than a monk.”

Maybe someone should write a book on how “ordinary” Christians glorify God in their “ordinary” life – but would people purchase a book about regular Christians who stock the shelves of Safeway, clean hotel rooms, sell car parts, or fix laptops?

shane lems