“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,
for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
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Surely Romans 8:28 is one of the most oft-quoted passages by both the child of God and the merely religious. Despite the naturalist’s contention that our lives are just a running collection of chance and matter, most sense deep down (perhaps at the birth of one’s child or perhaps at the death of a great person) that there is purpose in our lives and in the fabric of the universe. We lay hold of this verse in our trust that there is a God and He is working out his plan for this world… and for my life… according to his all-knowing time table and according to his all-good nature.
However, upon a second look, we see that the great promise of Romans 8:28 has at least two per-requisites before one might claim it for himself. First of all, this promise is only for those who love God (see previous post). Secondly, this promise is only for those who are called. Thomas Watson in All Things for Good points out that although love is first mentioned in this verse, it is not first wrought. Instead, firstly, we must be called of God before we can love God. “Calling is made the middle link (Rom. 8:30) between predestination and glorification; and if we have this middle link fast, we are sure of the two other ends of the chain.”
A. (p. 104) There are six things observable about calling:
1. (p. 104) A distinction about calling.
a. There is an outward calling. This is God’s blessed tender of grace in the gospel, his parleying with sinners when He invites them to come in and accept of mercy. This external call is insufficient to salvation, yet sufficient to leave men without excuse. “Many are called, but few chosen” (Mt. 20:16).
b. There is an inward calling. God wonderfully overpowers the heart and draws the will to embrace Christ. This is, as Augustine said, an effectual call. God, by the outward call, blows a trumpet in the ear; but by the inward call, He opens the heart as He did the heart of Lydia (Acts 16:14). The outward call may bring men to a profession of Christ; but the inward call brings them to a possession of Christ. The outward call curbs a sinner, the inward call changes him.
2. (p.105) Our deplorable condition before we are called.
a. We are in a state of vassalage – at the command of Satan, as the ass is at the command of the driver.
b. We are in a state of darkness (Eph.5:8). A man in the dark is full of fear, he trembles every step he takes.
c. We are in a state of impotency. No strength to resist a temptation or grapple with a corruption. Nay, there is not only impotency, but obstinacy (“Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost”, Acts. 7:51.) Besides indisposition to do good, there is actual opposition to it.
d. We are in a state of pollution – the heart is the devil’s forge where the sparks of lust fly.
e. We are in a state of damnation. We are born under a curse. The wrath of God abideth on us (John 3:36).
This is our condition before God is pleased by a merciful call to bring us near to Himself and free us from that misery in which we were before engulfed.
3. (p.106) The means of our effectual call. The usual means which the Lord uses in calling us is not by raptures and revelations, but is:
a. By his Word. The voice of the Word is God’s call to us. When the Word calls from sin it is as if we heard a voice from heaven.
b. By his Spirit. This is the loud call. The ministers of God are only the pipes and organs; it is the Spirit blowing in them that effectually changes the heart. So it is not the seed of the Word that will effectually convert, unless the Spirit puts forth his sweet influence. God’s Spirit is to be implored that He would put forth his powerful voice and awaken us out of the grave of unbelief.
4. (p. 106) The method God uses in calling of sinners.
The Lord does not tie himself to a particular way or use the same order with all. Such as have had godly parents and have sat under the warm sunshine of religious education often do not know how or when they were called. The Lord did secretly and gradually instill grace into their hearts as the dew falls unnoticed on drops. They know by the heavenly effects that they are called, but the time or manner they know not.
Others are more stubborn and knotty sinners. God uses more wedges of the law to break their hearts; He deeply humbles them and shows them they are damned without Christ. Then having ploughed up the fallow ground of their hearts by humiliation, He sows the seed of consolation. He presents Christ and mercy to them and draws their wills, not only to accept Christ, but passionately to desire and faithfully to rest upon Him. This call, though it is more visible than the other, is not more real. God’s method in calling sinners may vary, but the effect is still the same.
5. (p. 107) The properties of this effectual calling.
a. It is a sweet call. The freedom of the will is not taken away, but the stubbornness of it is conquered. (“Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power,” Ps. 110:3.)
b. It is a holy call. “Who has called us with a holy calling” (2 Tim. 1:9). This call of God calls men out of their sins; by it they are consecrated and set apart for God. They who are effectually called are separated from sin and consecrated to God’s service. Holiness is the badge and livery of God’s people. Let not any man say he is called of God that lives in sin. Let not the merely moral person say he is effectually called. What is civility without sanctity? It is but a dead carcass strewed with flowers.
c. It is an irresistible call. When God calls a man by his grace, he cannot but come. When He says, “Let there be light,” there was light, and when He says, “let there be faith,” it shall be so. If God will call a man, nothing shall lie in the way to hinder – difficulties shall be untied, the powers of hell shall disband. “Who hath resisted his will?” (Rom 9:19).
d. It is a high call. “I press on toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God” (Phil. 3:14). It is a high calling because we are called to high exercises of religion – to die to sin, to be crucified to the world, to live by faith, to have fellowship with the Father (1 John 1:3). It is a high calling because we are called to high privileges, to justification and adoption, to be made co-heirs with Christ.
e. It is a gracious call… free grace. That God should call some and not others; some taken and others left; one called who is of a more rugged, morose disposition, another of sharper intellect, of a sweeter temper, rejected… here is free grace. That the poor should be rich in faith, heirs of a kingdom (Js 2:5), and the nobles and great ones of the world for the most part rejected… this is free and rich grace. “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight” (Mt. 11:26). That under the same sermon one should be effectually wrought upon, another no more moved than a dead man with the sound of music; that one should hear the Spirit’s voice in the Word, another not hear it… behold, here is distinguishing grace!
f. It is a glorious call. “Who hath called us unto his eternal glory” (1 Pet. 5:10). God calls us first to virtue and then to glory. God would have us part with nothing for him but that which will damn us if we keep it.
g. It is a rare call. Few are savingly called. “Few are chosen” (Mt. 22:14). Few, not collectively, but comparatively. Many have the light brought to them, but few have their eyes anointed to see that light. And in those climates where the Sun of Righteousness does shine, there are many who received the light of the truth without the love of it. There are many formalists, but few believers. There is something looks like faith which is not. The hypocrite’s faith will break with the hammer of persecution. Most men shape their religion according to the fashion of the times.
h. It is an unchangeable call. When God calls a man, He does not repent of it. This is the blessedness of a saint – his condition admits of no alteration. God’s call is founded upon his decree and his decree is immutable. Acts of grace cannot be reversed.
6. (p.112) The end of our effectual calling is the honor of God – “That we should be to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:12).
The Lord will have some in all ages who shall oppose the corruptions of the times, bear witness to his truths, and convert sinners from the error of their ways. They who have been monuments of God’s mercies will be trumpets of his praise.
These considerations show us the necessity of effectual calling. Without it, there is no going to heaven. We must be “made meet for the inheritance” (Col. 1:12). What gives this meetness, but effectual calling? The high calling is not a thing arbitrary or indifferent, but as needful as salvation. It is called a creation (Col 3:10) and a man can no more convert himself than a dead man can raise himself.
Objection: Some say the will of natural man is not dead, but asleep, and God by persuasion does only awaken us and then the will can obey God’s call and move of itself to its own conversion (Armenianism).
Answer: Every man is by sin bound in fetters (“I perceive that thou art in the bond of iniquity,” Acts 8:23). It is insufficient to persuade a man in fetters to go. There must be a breaking of his fetters and setting him free before he can walk. So it is with natural man – he is fettered with corruption. Now the Lord by his converting grace must not only file off his fetters, but give him legs to run too or he can never obtain salvation (Reformed theology).
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B. (p. 113) An exhortation to make your calling sure.
“Give diligence to make your calling sure” (2 Pet. 1:10). This is the great business of our lives – to get sound evidences of our effectual calling. Do not rest in baptism. Do not be content that Christ has been preached to you. Do not satisfy yourselves with an empty profession. But labor to evidence to your souls that you are called of God.
1. (p. 114) Consider how sad your case is if you are not effectually called:
a. If you are not effectually called, you are strangers to God. “At that time ye were without Christ, strangers to the covenants of promise” (Eph. 2:12). If you are strangers, what language can you expect from God but this, “I know you not!”
b. If you are not effectually called, you are enemies. You are heirs to all the plagues written in the book of God. Though your resist the commands of the law, you cannot flee from the curses of the law.
Question: Is there any hope of my being called? I have been a great sinner.
Answer: Great sinners have been called (ex: Paul). God loves to display his free grace to sinners. Therefore be not discouraged. You see a golden cord let down from heaven for poor trembling souls to lay hold upon.
Question: How shall I know I am effectually called?
Answer: He who is savingly called is called out of himself; not only out of sinful self, but out of his righteous self as well. “Not having mine own righteousness” (Phil. 3:9). He whose heart God has touched by his Spirit lays down the idol of self-righteousness at Christ’s feet. He uses morality and duties of piety, but does not trust to them. This self-renunciation is, as Augustine says, the first step to saving faith.
2. (p.115) He who is effectually called has a visible change wrought. He is altered from what he was before. His body is the same, but not his mind… he is another spirit. “And such were some of you; but ye are sanctified, but yea re justified” (1 Cor. 6:11). Grace changes the heart in three ways:
a. There is a change wrought in the understanding. The first work of God in the creation of the world was light… so it is in the new “Whereas I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). He sees such evil in sin and excellency in the ways of God as he never saw before. Indeed, this light which the blessed Spirit brings may well be called a marvelous light. “That ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). It is a marvelous light in six respects:
(1) It is marvelous light in that it is strangely conveyed – from above, from the Sun of Righteousness himself.
(2) It is marvelous in its effect. This light does that which no other light can – it makes a man perceive himself to be blind.
(3) It is marvelous light because it is more penetrating. Other light may shine upon the face; this light shines into the heart and enlightens the conscience (2 Cor. 4:6).
(4) It is marvelous light because it sets those who have it a marveling. They marvel at themselves, how they could be contented to be so long without it. They marvel that their eyes should be opened and not others. They marvel that though they hated and opposed this light, yet it should shine in the firmament of their sols. This is what the saints will stand wondering at to all eternity.
(5) It is marvelous light because it quickens. It makes alive those who “were dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). Therefore, it is called the “light of life” (John 8:12).
(6) It is marvelous light because it is the beginning of everlasting light. The light of grace is the morning-star which ushers in the sunlight of glory.
Can you say that this marvelous light of the Spirit has dawned upon you when you were enveloped in ignorance and did neither know God nor yourself – suddenly a light from heaven shined round about you?
b. There is a change wrought in the will. The will, which before opposed Christ, now embraces Him. The regenerate will answer to every call of God as the echo answers to the voice. “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6). The will now becomes a volunteer; it enlists itself under the Captain of Salvation.
c. There is a change in the conduct. He who is called of God walks directly contrary to what he did before. He walked before n envy and malice, now he walks in love; before he walked in pride, now in humility. Truly, natural men must have a gracious change while they live or a cursed change when they die.
(1) He who is effectually called of God esteems this call as the highest blessing. A carnal person can no more value spiritual blessings than a baby can value a diamond necklace. He who is enlightened by the Spirit counts holiness his best heraldry and looks upon his effectual calling as his preferment.
(2) He who is effectually called of God is called out of the world. It is a “heavenly calling” (Heb. 3:1). Godly man, though his body be from the earth, the sparkling of his affections is from heaven. His heat is drawn into the upper region, as high as Christ. He not only casts off every wicked work, but every earthly weight. He is not a worm, but an eagle.
(3) He who is effectually called is diligent in his ordinary (earthly) calling. Religion does not seal warrants to idleness. Christians must not be slothful. A slothful person becomes a prey to every temptation. He who is called of God, as he works for heaven, so he works in his trade.
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Watson, Thomas. “Effectual Calling.” All Things for Good. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1986. 104-118. Print.