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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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

The Lord Opened Her Heart (Acts 16:14)

One of the places in Scripture that teaches effectual calling (irresistible grace) and the sovereignty of God in regeneration is Acts 16:14, where Luke writes this about Lydia: “The Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul (NASB).”  I appreciate Richard Sibbes’ comments on this text:

“…As our hearts are shut and closed up naturally, so God, and God alone, opens the heart, by his Spirit in the use of the means. God opened Lydia’s heart.

God hath many keys. He hath the key of heaven to command the rain to come down. He hath the key of the womb; the key of hell and the grave; and the key of the heart especially. ‘He opens, and no man shuts; and shuts and no man opens’ (Rev. 3:7). He hath the key of the heart to open the understanding, the memory, the will, and affections. God, and God only, hath the key of the heart to open that. It is his prerogative. He made the heart, and he only hath to do with the heart. He can unmake it, and make it new again, as those that make locks can do. And if the heart be in ill temper, he can take it in pieces, and bring it to nothing as it were, as it must be before conversion; and he can make it a new heart again.

It is God that opens the heart, and God only. All the angels in heaven cannot give one grace, not the least grace. Grace comes merely (only) from God. It is merely (only) from God. All the creatures in the world cannot open the heart, but God only by his Holy Spirit. For nature cannot do above its sphere, as we say, above its own power. Natural things can do but natural things. For nature to raise itself up to believe heavenly things, it cannot be. Therefore as you see vapors go as high as the sun draws them up, and no higher, so the soul of man is lift up to heavenly things by the power of God’s Spirit. God draws us and then we follow. God, I say, only openeth the heart.

Richard Sibbes, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, vol. 6 (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; W. Robertson, 1863), 523–524.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Hammond, WI

Effectual Calling and Regeneration in the 2nd Century

Apostolic Fathers, The, 3rd ed.: Greek Texts and English Translations (This is a repost from February, 2013)

2 Clement is an early sermon or “word of exhortation” that was written around 100 AD (or possible around 130 AD).  It was probably not written by Clement, but by an anonymous presbyter.  Michael Holmes calls it “the oldest surviving complete Christian sermon outside the New Testament.”

The sermon opens with an exhortation to “think of Jesus Christ as we do of God.”  The preacher then states that since Christ has suffered so greatly for us to save us, we owe him our praise.  Here’s how he explains this salvation (in 1:7-8).

“Our minds were blinded, and we worshiped stones and wood and gold and silver and brass, things made by humans; indeed, our whole life was nothing but death.  So while we were thus wrapped in darkness and our vision was filled with this thick mist we recovered our sight, by his will laying aside the cloud wrapped around us.”

“For he had mercy upon us and in his compassion he saved us when we had no hope of salvation except that which comes from him, even though he had seen in us much deception and destruction.  For he called us when we did not exist, and out of nothing willed us into being.”

These are great phrases that describe God’s sovereign grace in effectual calling and regeneration.  The Apostle put it this way: God…gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist (Rom 4.17).  Even when we were dead in our trespasses [he] made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved (Eph 2:5).  We can’t be 100% sure, but it does seem like the author of 2 Clement was thinking about Romans 4:17 when he wrote these words.

This passage from 2 Clement is a great reminder that the Protestant Reformers didn’t make up the doctrines of grace; they stood in line with the historic Christian church, and on the shoulders of the Apostle Paul.

The above quote from 2 Clement can be found in The Apostolic Fathers, 3rd edition, edited and translated by Michael W. Holmes.

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

Second Clement, Effectual Calling, and Regeneration

2 Clement is an early sermon or “word of exhortation” that was written around 100 AD (or possible around 130 AD).  It was written not by Clement, but by an anonymous presbyter.  Michael Holmes calls it “the oldest surviving complete Christian sermon outside the New Testament.”

The sermon opens with an exhortation to “think of Jesus Christ as we do of God.”  The preacher then states that since Christ has suffered so greatly for us to save us, we owe him our praise.  Here’s how he explains this salvation (in 1:7-8).

“Our minds were blinded, and we worshiped stones and wood and gold and silver and brass, things made by humans; indeed, our whole life was nothing but death.  So while we were thus wrapped in darkness and our vision was filled with this thick mist we recovered our sight, by his will laying aside the cloud wrapped around us.”

“For he had mercy upon us and in his compassion he saved us when we had no hope of salvation except that which comes from him, even though he had seen in us much deception and destruction.  For he called us (ekalesen) when we did not exist (ouk ontaj), and out of nothing (ek mh ontoj) willed us into being.”

These are great phrases that describe God’s sovereign grace in effectual calling and regeneration.  The Apostle put it this way: God…gives life to the dead and calls (kalountoj) into existence the things that do not exist (ta mh onta wj onta) (Rom 4.17).  Even when we were dead in our trespasses [he] made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved (Eph 2:5).

This passage from 2 Clement is a great reminder that the Protestant Reformers didn’t make up the doctrines of grace; they stood in line with the historic Christian church, and on the shoulders of the Apostle Paul.

The above quote from 2 Clement can be found in The Apostolic Fathers, 3rd edition, edited and translated by Michael W. Holmes.

rev shane lems

Christopher Love: Assurance of God’s Effectual Call

Christopher Love (d. 1651) , whom I’ve posted on before, had some of his sermons on 2 Peter 1.10 published.  The title is A Treatise of Effectual Calling and Election (Morgan: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1998).  This is a helpful book which deals with, of course,  assurance of effectual calling and election.  One very clear thing Love stresses is that assurance comes from the ordinary means of grace (p.32-33).  He instructs the reader to the “outward ministry” and not “raptures and revelations, by divine inspirations and extraordinary ways of working…this is not God’s usual method” (Ibid.).   More: those who do not utilize God’s “ordinary means” of calling sinners (preaching the gospel) are in a “sad” and undesirable state (p. 65-66).

In a highly pastoral tone, Love warns against false assurance that one has been called by God.  However, he also tenderly gives comfort to those who are effectually called and fighting for that comfort and assurance.  He lists these:

1) Jesus Christ effectually calls a poor sinner before that sinner looks after [to] Jesus Christ.  Here is mercy and here is a ground of comfort, that though we are first in…transgression, Christ is the first in suing out reconciliation. 

2) Jesus Christ has effectually called you when he has left many thousands in the world of better parts, better dispositions, more natural good and less evil in them than you have in yourself. 

3) God, in calling your soul and bringing you into a state of grace, does it freely for his own name’s sake, not for something in you. 

4) Those who are the most sensible of their own vileness, and see the most want and necessity of Jesus Christ, they of all people are most likely to have been called by him.  This is most comfortable to you who are drooping Christians, who hang down your heads under the sense of sin…this is the end for which Christ came into the world, to call you to glory.

5) A man may be elected by God from all eternity, and yet may live a long time in a course of sin before he calls him.  Yet before he dies, he shall be called.

6) A man may be effectually called when, in his own estimation, he cannot find any real and sound evidence of his vocation.  2 Peter 1.9 speaks of this, a Christian who is “blind” to his name written in the book of life.

7) A man may have a firm assurance that he has been effectually called, and yet neither know the time when, nor the manner how, nor the instrument by whom he was called.  This is a very comforting conclusion.  There are some who press conversion so high that if a man cannot tell the time when or the manner how, or the sermon by which he was called, they say he is not yet converted; they are in error.

8 ) Those who are effectually called by Christ shall be kept by Christ so that they do not fall from their call, but will be brought to the state of glory.

9) When Christ has an intent to call a poor sinner, neither their poverty nor their impiety shall hinder the call of Jesus. 

10) Though no one can pry into the decrees of God about election and reprobation, yet if you can make good your effectual call, you may be sure of your election and salvation.  You don’t pry into the bosom of God, but the bosom of his word, such as Romans 8.29.

The book points the reader to Jesus, his word, and the preaching of the word to explain what effectual calling is all about, and how the Christian can be certain he has been called by God to salvation.

shane lems

sunnyside wa