The Need for an Effectual Call (Hoekema)

Saved by Grace I really like these reflections by Anthony Hoekema on the effectual call of God.  Hoekema first gives an objection, then a clear answer and an illustration.  This post is a bit longer than my usual ones, but it’s not too tough to read/follow – and it’s comforting!

A final objection which could be raised is that the doctrine of effectual calling violates the paradox of divine sovereignty and human responsibility that was discussed earlier. I there pointed out that since human beings are both creatures and persons, they are at the same time both totally dependent on God and able to make responsible decisions. This means that God does not deal with us as robots but as persons. This also means that both God and believers are involved in the process of salvation; in faith, repentance, sanctification, and perseverance both God works and we work. If this is so, the objector affirms, why do you say that effectual calling is exclusively the work of God and not in any way the work of man? If the human being is both a creature and a person, why is not effectual calling a work in which both God and man are active? Does not effectual calling as you have defined it mean that God is now treating us as robots rather than as persons?

So much for the objection. What shall we say in reply? The answer to this objection depends on one’s anthropology—one’s view of the natural state of man after the Fall. 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.

So let us praise God for the marvel of effectual calling!

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.

Anthony Hoekema, Saved by Grace, p. 90-91.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

It Is The Lord Who Sends Afflictions (Chrysostom)

 I ran across this great quote from Chrysostom on God’s sovereignty in affliction.  These are his comments on Job 2:10: “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and not receive evil?” (Geneva Bible).  It’s worth reading a few times!

This text means that if we actually experienced only misfortunes, we would still need to bear them. God is Master and Lord. Does he not possess the power to send us anything? Why did God provide us with our goods? He did not do so because we deserved them. God was absolutely free to send us only afflictions. If he has also granted us goods, why do we complain? Notice how [Job] does not speak anywhere about faults or good actions but only says that God has the power to do whatever he wants. Recall your former happiness, and you will have no problem in bearing the present difficulties. It is sufficient, as our consolation, to know that it is the Lord who sends them to us. Let us not speak about justice and injustice.

 Manlio Simonetti and Marco Conti, eds., Job, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 13.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Evil and God’s Sovereignty (Blocher)

 Some of the more difficult texts in Scripture include those verses that seem to say God is involved in evil.  For example, in 1 Samuel 16:14 we read, “Now the Spirit of the Lord had turned away from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him” (NET).  Of Eli’s wicked sons we read that they “would not listen to their father, for the LORD had decided to kill them” (1 Sam. 2:25 NET).

What are we to make of these kinds of texts in light of Scripture’s clear teaching that God hates evil, is perfectly and perpetually good, and is too pure to look on sin (cf Prov. 6:16-19; Mk. 10:18; Hab. 1:13, etc.)??  I appreciate how Henri Blocher explained this based on God’s sovereignty, which Scripture also teaches:

The Augustinian and Reformed tradition maintains that in one sense God ‘wills’ evil, he decides that evil shall occur.  Calvin, though he at times uses it, objects to the term permission; he considers it to weak, suggesting a God who is a mere spectator.  In reality, he declares, God goes so far as to move the will of those who do evil.  Many are scandalized at this.  Journet blames Calvin bitterly for speaking of ‘willing.’ He can tolerate only the language of ‘permission.’  Berkouwer criticizes his own tradition on the same points: even Bavinck, he argues, ought not to have stated that God in a certain manner ‘wills’ evil.

We are obliged to refute the accusation: first of all because the audacity of writers of Scripture, such as Paul or Ezekiel, puts the boldest of Calvin’s expressions in the shade; our quotations above [from Scripture] bear that out.  And then why should we argue about words?  ‘Having the authority to prevent, and the power, when God allows it, is that not as good as if he did it?’ (Calvin).  There is little to gain in rejecting the verb ‘to will’ so long as you do not deny divine sovereignty.  Berkouwer is obliged to concede that sin is never committed ‘outside (praeter) the will of God’; is that not the admission of a certain will?  In vain does Journet attempt to pit Calvin against Augustine on this point.  One may as well take one’s position from the stern candor of Scripture: if evil occurs under the rule of God, then his will is involved.

The assurance of the absolute sovereignty of God contributed to ‘the fear of the LORD,’ which is so rare amongst people, even Christians, in our day.  It fostered humble faith, it poured the balm of consolation. Racked with illness, Calvin repeated, ‘You are crushing me, Lord, but I am content that it comes from your hand.’  It [the fear of the Lord] alone can bring peace, beyond that of forgiveness, for having done irreversible wrongs, for even that is in the hand of God, etiam peccata (‘including sins’).  By including that in his plan, he relieves us of the intolerable care of having the final responsibility (cf Gen. 45:8).  He is the First and the Last. Our God reigns.

Henri Blocher, Evil and the Cross, p. 95-96.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Absolute Sovereignty and Supremacy of God (Hodge)

The Works of Charles Hodge (29 vols.) Charles Hodge left behind several hand written sermons he gave on various passages from Romans.  They are quite good to say the least!  I just finished his sermon called “Glory of Salvation” based on Romans 11:33-36.  At one point in the sermon he says that these words of Paul have to do with the “absolute supremacy and sovereignty” of God”:

“The truth here contemplated is presented under two aspects. 1) God is absolutely independent of his creatures and 2) We can in no way place God under any obligation to us. When it is said that God is independent of his creatures, it is not meant merely that they are not necessary to his perfection or happiness but that in his knowledge, determinations and acts, he needs no counsellor and receives no aid. He does not derive knowledge from his creatures, He does not know things because they are, but they are, because he knows and determines them to be. His determinations also are not suspended on the acts of his creatures, but the acts of the creature on his determinations for he foreordains whatsoever comes to pass. This is only saying that the concatenation [interconnection] of events is not determined by fate, nor by blind unconscious nature, nor by chance, nor by the finite knowledge and wayward will of man, but by the infinite intelligence, wisdom goodness and power of God. He governs all his creatures and all their actions in a way consistent at once with their nature and his own perfections.

And finally, he is independent of his creatures because the ultimate ground or reason of all his acts is in himself and not in them. The final ground of all he does is the good pleasure of his will, that will however, is the sum of all wisdom and excellence. In saying, therefore, that the grounds of God’s acts are in himself and not in the creature, we only say they are determined by infinite wisdom and goodness.

And when, in reference to the other aspect of the truth here contemplated, we say that men can place God under no obligation, it is not meant merely that they owe their existence and all their powers to Him, but that they can merit nothing, and of themselves do nothing that places God under any obligation to grant them his favour. It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.

 Charles Hodge, “Glory of Salvation,” in Select Sermons of Charles Hodge (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

He Inclines Their Wills (Augustine)

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1.5: Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings In 1 Kings 12 Solomon’s son Rehoboam had just become Israel’s new king.  Israel begged him to lighten the yoke of hard service.  To make a longer story short, Rehoboam flatly refused and told them that he’d instead add to the hard service (1 Ki 12:11, 14).  Scripture gives us this insight in the middle of the story: So the king did not listen to the people; for it was a turn of events from the Lord, that He might establish His word, which the Lord spoke through Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat. (1 Ki 12:15 NASB).

While reflecting on this passage and others like it, Augustine (d. 430) wrote some helpful comments concerning God’s sovereign will, man’s actions, and divine grace:

Who can help trembling at those judgments of God by which He does in the hearts of even wicked men whatsoever He wills, at the same time rendering to them according to their deeds? Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, rejected the salutary counsel of the old men, not to deal harshly with the people, and preferred listening to the words of the young men of his own age, by returning a rough answer to those to whom he should have spoken gently. Now whence arose such conduct, except from his own will? Upon this, however, the ten tribes of Israel revolted from him, and chose for themselves another king, even Jeroboam, that the will of God in His anger might be accomplished which He had predicted would come to pass. For what says the Scripture? “The king hearkened not unto the people; for the turning was from the Lord, that He might perform His saying, which the Lord spake to Ahijah the Shilonite concerning Jeroboam the son of Nebat.” All this, indeed, was done by the will of man, although the turning was from the Lord.

Read the books of the Chronicles, and you will find the following passage in the second book: “Moreover, the Lord stirred up against Jehoram the spirit of the Philistines, and of the Arabians, that were neighbours to the Ethiopians; and they came up to the land of Judah, and ravaged it, and carried away all the substance which was found in the king’s house.” Here it is shown that God stirs up enemies to devastate the countries which He adjudges deserving of such chastisement. Still, did these Philistines and Arabians invade the land of Judah to waste it with no will of their own? Or were their movements so directed by their own will that the Scripture lies which tells us that “the Lord stirred up their spirit” to do all this? Both statements to be sure are true, because they both came by their own will, and yet the Lord stirred up their spirit; and this may also with equal truth be stated the other way: The Lord both stirred up their spirit, and yet they came of their own will. For the Almighty sets in motion even in the innermost hearts of men the movement of their will, so that He does through their agency whatsoever He wishes to perform through them, even He who knows not how to will anything in unrighteousness. 

After listing other similar passages in Scripture, Augustine comments again:

From these statements of the inspired word, and from similar passages which it would take too long to quote in full, it is, I think, sufficiently clear that God works in the hearts of men to incline their wills whithersoever He wills, whether to good deeds according to His mercy, or to evil after their own deserts; His own judgment being sometimes manifest, sometimes secret, but always righteous. This ought to be the fixed and immoveable conviction of your heart, that there is no unrighteousness with God. Therefore, whenever you read in the Scriptures of Truth, that men are led aside, or that their hearts are blunted and hardened by God, never doubt that some ill deserts of their own have first occurred, so that they justly suffer these things. Thus you will not run counter to that proverb of Solomon: “The foolishness of a man perverteth his ways, yet he blameth God in his heart.” Grace, however, is not bestowed according to men’s deserts; otherwise grace would be no longer grace.9 For grace is so designated because it is given gratuitously.

 Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on Grace and Free Will,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Peter Holmes, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 462-3.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015