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Part Four: The Doctrine of The Application of The Work of RedemptionV. Calling in General and External Calling
V. Calling in General and External Calling
A. REASONS FOR DISCUSSING CALLING FIRST.
The question of the relative order of calling and regeneration has frequently been discussed, and the discussion has often suffered from a lack of discrimination and a resulting misunderstanding. The terms "calling" and "regeneration" were not always used in the same sense. Consequently, it was possible to maintain, without inconsistency, on the one hand that calling precedes regeneration, and on the other, that regeneration is prior to calling. We shall briefly consider (1) the representations found in Scripture and in our confessional standards; (2) the order generally followed by Reformed theologians; and (3) the reasons that may be advanced in favor of a separate discussion of the external calling through the Word, as preceding both regeneration and internal calling.
1. THE BIBLICAL REPRESENTATION. The Biblical order is chiefly indicated in a few well known passages. There is first of all the vision of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37:1-14. While Ezekiel prophesied over the dry bones of the house of Israel, the breath of life came into them. This passage refers to the civil restoration and the spiritual revival of the house of Israel, and probably also contains a hint respecting the resurrection of its dead. It represents the prophetic word as preceding the origin of the new life of the people of Israel. Naturally, this does not yet mean that the former was causally related to the latter. . . . A very instructive passage is found in Acts 16:14, which speaks of the conversion of Lydia. During the preaching of Paul the Lord opened the heart of Lydia to give heed to the things that were spoken by the apostle. It is clearly intimated that the opening of the heart is preceded by the external, and is followed by the internal calling. The unity of the twofold calling is clearly seen. . . . The statement of Paul in Rom. 4:17 is also frequently quoted in this connection, but can hardly be considered relevant, because it does not refer to either the external or the internal calling by the preaching of the Word of God, but either to the creative fiat of God, by which things are called into being, or to His command issued to things that are not, as though they were, and reaching even the dead. . . . Another passage is found in James 1:18, "Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures." It can hardly be doubted that the word of truth mentioned here is the word of preaching, and the assumption is that this word precedes the new birth and is in some sense instrumental to it. . . . And, finally, there is a well known passage in I Pet. 1:23, in which the apostle speaks of believers as "having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which liveth and abideth." In view of verse 25 the word here referred to can hardly be anything else than the word of the gospel preached among the readers. This word of Peter too implies that the word of preaching precedes regeneration and is instrumentally connected with it. In view of these passages the conclusion is perfectly warranted that in the case of adults external calling by the preaching of the word generally precedes regeneration. Whether they also warrant the assertion that internal calling is prior to the implanting of the new life, is a question that need not be considered at this point.
2. THE VIEW REPRESENTED IN OUR CONFESSIONAL STANDARDS. Our confessional standards also imply that in the case of adults the preaching of the word precedes regeneration, but it should be borne in mind that they do not use the word "regeneration" in the limited sense in which it is employed to-day. The Belgic Confession says in Art. XXIV: "We believe that this true faith, being wrought in man by the hearing of the Word of God and the operation of the Holy Ghost, doth regenerate and make him a new man, causing him to live a new life, and freeing him from the bondage of sin." Faith is wrought in man by the hearing of the Word and, in turn, works regeneration, that is, the renewal of man in conversion and sanctification. The Canons of Dort contain a somewhat more detailed description in III and IV, Articles 11 and 12: "But when God accomplishes His good pleasure in the elect, or works in them true conversion, He not only causes the gospel to be externally preached to them, and powerfully illumines their minds by His Holy Spirit, that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God, but by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit He pervades the innermost recesses of the man; . . . And this is the regeneration so highly celebrated in Scripture and denominated a new creation: a resurrection from the dead; a making alive, which God works in us without our aid. But this is nowise effected merely by the external preaching of the gospel, by moral suasion, or such a mode of operation that, after God has performed His part, it still remains in the power of man to be regenerated or not, to be converted or to continue unconverted," etc. In these articles the words "regeneration" and "conversion" are used interchangeably. It is quite evident, however, that they denote the fundamental change in the governing disposition of the soul as well as the resulting change in the outward manifestations of life. And this change is brought about not merely, but at least in part, by the preaching of the gospel. Consequently this precedes.
3. THE ORDER GENERALLY FOLLOWED BY REFORMED THEOLOGIANS. Among the Reformed it has been quite customary to place calling before regeneration, though a few have reversed the order. Even Maccovius, Voetius, and Comrie, all Supralapsarians, follow the usual order. Several considerations prompted Reformed theologians in general to place calling before regeneration.
a. Their doctrine of the covenant of grace. They considered the covenant of grace as the great and all-comprehensive good which God in infinite mercy grants unto sinners, a good including all the blessings of salvation, and therefore also regeneration. But this covenant is inseparably connected with the gospel. It is announced and made known in the gospel, of which Christ is the living center, and therefore does not exist without it. Where the gospel is not known the covenant is not realized, but where it is preached God establishes His covenant and glorifies His grace. Both the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the covenant precede the saving operations of the Holy Spirit, and the believer's participation in the salvation wrought by Christ.
b. Their conception of the relation between the work of Christ and that of the Holy Spirit. The Anabaptists failed to do justice to this relation. Christ and His redemptive work are presented to us in the gospel. And it is from Christ, as the Mediator of God and man and as the meritorious cause of our salvation, that the Holy Spirit derives everything which He communicates to sinners. Consequently, He joins His work to the preaching of the gospel and operates in a saving way only where the divine message of redemption is brought. The Holy Spirit does not work apart from the Christ presented in the gospel.
c. Their reaction against the mysticism of the Anabaptists. The Anabaptists proceeded on the assumption that regeneration effected not merely a renewal of human nature, but an entirely new creation. And this being so, they regarded it as impossible that anything belonging to this natural creation as, for instance, the human language in which the Word of God is brought to man, could in any way be instrumental in communicating the new life to sinners. As they saw it, regeneration eo ipso excluded the use of the Word as a means, since this was after all only a dead letter. This mystical tendency was strongly opposed by Reformed theologians.
d. Their experience in connection with the spiritual renewal of adults. While it was a settled opinion that covenant children who die in infancy are reborn and therefore saved, there was no unanimous opinion as to the time when those who grew up became partakers of the grace of regeneration. Some shared the opinion of Voetius that all elect children are regenerated before baptism, and that the new life can, even in adults, remain concealed for many years. The great majority, however, were loath to take that position, and held that the new life, if present, would reveal itself in some way. Experience taught them that many gave no evidences of the new life until after they had heard the gospel for many years.
4. REASONS FOR A SEPARATE DISCUSSION OF EXTERNAL CALLING AS PRECEDING REGENERATION.
a. Clearness of presentation. External and internal calling are essentially one; yet they can and should be carefully distinguished. A dispute may arise respecting the one that does not directly concern the other. It may be doubted, whether internal calling logically precedes regeneration in the case of adults, while there is no uncertainty whatsoever in this respect concerning the external calling through the gospel. Hence it may be considered desirable to treat of the external calling first, and then to take up the discussion of internal calling in connection with that of regeneration.
The preparatory nature of external calling..
If we proceed
on the assumption that the
deals with the effective application of the redemption wrought by
feel at once that the external calling by the Word of God can, strictly
speaking, hardly be
called one of its stages. As long as this calling does not, through the accompanying
operation of the Holy Spirit, turn into an internal and effectual calling, it
has only a
preliminary and preparatory significance. Several Reformed theologians
speak of it as a
kind of common grace, since it does not flow from the eternal
election and the saving
grace of God, but rather from His common goodness; and since, while it
produces a certain illumination of the mind, it does not enrich the
heart with the saving
grace of God.
The general nature of external calling.
While all the
other movements of the Holy
Spirit in the
terminate on the elect only, the external calling by the gospel has
a wider bearing. Wherever the gospel is preached, the call comes to the
elect and the
reprobate alike. It serves the purpose, not merely of bringing the elect
to faith and
conversion, but also of revealing the great love of God to sinners in
general. By means
of it God maintains His claim on the obedience of all His rational
creatures, restrains the
manifestation of sin, and promotes civic righteousness, external
morality, and even
outward religious exercises.
B. CALLING IN GENERAL.
Since external calling is but an aspect of calling in general, we shall have to consider this briefly before entering upon a discussion of external calling.
1. THE AUTHOR OF OUR CALLING. Our calling is a work of the triune God. It is first of all a work of the Father, I Cor. 1:9; I Thess. 2:12; I Pet. 5:10. But the Father works all things through the Son; and so this calling is also ascribed to the Son, Matt. 11:28; Luke 5:32; John 7:37; Rom. 1:6(?). And Christ, in turn, calls through His Word and Spirit, Matt. 10:20; John 15:26; Acts 5:31,32.
2. VOCATIO REALIS AND VERBALIS. Reformed theologians generally speak of a vocatio realis, as distinguished from the vocatio verbalis. By this they mean the external call that comes to men through God's general revelation, a revelation of the law and not of the gospel, to acknowledge, fear, and honour God as their Creator. It comes to them in things (res) rather than in words: in nature and history, in the environment in which they live, and in the experiences and vicissitudes of their lives, Ps. 19:1-4; Acts 16:16,17; 17:27; Rom. 1:19-21; 2:14,15. This call knows nothing of Christ, and therefore cannot lead to salvation. At the same time it is of the greatest importance in connection with the restraint of sin, the development of the natural life, and the maintenance of good order in society. This is not the calling with which we are concerned at present. In soteriology only the vocatio verbalis comes into consideration; and this may be defined as that gracious act of God whereby He invites sinners to accept the salvation that is offered in Christ Jesus.
3. DIFFERENT CONCEPTIONS OF THE VOCATIO VERBALIS. The
is, as the
term itself suggests, the divine call that comes to man through the
preaching of the
Word of God. According to Roman Catholics it can also come to man
administration of baptism. In fact, they regard the sacrament as the
means in bringing man to Christ, and ascribe a decidedly subordinate
the preaching of the gospel. Not the pulpit, but the altar is central
with Rome. In course
of time considerable difference of opinion became apparent on the
question, why the
gospel call proves efficacious in some cases and not in others. Pelagius
explanation for this in the arbitrary will of man. Man has by nature a
perfectly free will,
so that he can accept or reject the gospel, as he sees fit, and thus
either obtain or fail to obtain the blessings of salvation. Augustine, on the
other hand, ascribed the difference
to the operation of the grace of God. Said he: "The hearing of the
divine call, is
produced by divine grace itself, in him who before resisted; and then
the love of virtue
is kindled in him when he no longer resists." Semi-Pelagianism
sought to mediate
between the two and to avoid both the Augustinian denial of free will
and the Pelagian
depreciation of divine grace. It assumed the presence of the seeds of
virtue in man,
which of themselves tended to bear good fruit, but held that these needed
fructifying influence of divine grace for their development. The
grace necessary for this
is given to all men gratuitously, so that they are with the aid of it
able to accept the
gospel call unto salvation. The call will therefore be effective
provided man, aided by
divine grace, accepts it. This became the prevailing doctrine of the
Church. Some later Roman Catholics, of whom Bellarmin was one of the
important, brought in the doctrine of congruism, in which the acceptance
of the gospel
call is made dependent on the circumstances in which it comes to man. If
these are congruous, that is, fit or favorable, he will accept it, but if not,
he will reject it. The
character of the circumstances will, of course, largely depend on the
prevenient grace. Luther developed the idea that, while the law worked
gospel call carried with it the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit
is in the Word, and
therefore the call is in itself always sufficient and in its intention
always efficacious. The
reason why this call does not always effect the desired and intended
result lies in the
fact that men in many cases place a stumbling block in the way, so that,
after all, the
result is determined by the negative attitude of man. While some
Lutherans still speak
of external and internal calling, they insist on it that the former
never comes to man
apart from the latter. The call is essentially always efficacious, so
that there is really no
room for the distinction. Luther's strong insistence on the efficacious
character of the
gospel call was due to the Anabaptist depreciation of it. The
Anabaptists virtually set
aside the Word of God as a means of grace, and stressed what they called
word, the "inner light," and the illumination of the Holy
Spirit. To them the external
word was but the letter that killeth, while the internal word was spirit
and life. External
calling meant little or nothing in their scheme. The distinction between
internal calling is already found in Augustine, was borrowed from him by
thus made prominent in Reformed theology. According to Calvin the gospel
call is not
in itself effective, but is made efficacious by the operation of the
Holy Spirit, when He
savingly applies the Word to the heart of man; and it is so applied only
in the hearts and
lives of the elect. Thus the salvation of man remains the work of God
from the very
beginning. God by His saving grace, not only enables, but causes man to
gospel call unto salvation. The Arminians were not satisfied with this
virtually turned back to the Semi-Pelagianism of the Roman Catholic
According to them the universal proclamation of the gospel is
accompanied by a
universal sufficient grace, —— "gracious assistance actually and
sufficient to enable all men, if they choose, to attain to the full
possession of spiritual
blessings, and ultimately to salvation."
C. EXTERNAL CALLING.
The Bible does not use the term "external," but clearly speaks of a calling that is not efficacious. It is presupposed in the great commission, as it is found in Mark 16:15,16, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned." The parable of the marriage feast in Matt. 22:2-14 clearly teaches that some who were invited did not come, and concludes with the well-known words: "For many are called, but few chosen." The same lesson is taught in the parable of the great supper, Luke 14:16-24. Other passages speak explicitly of a rejection of the gospel, John 3:36; Acts 13:46; II Thess. 1:8. Still others speak of the terrible sin of unbelief in a way which clearly shows that it was committed by some, Matt. 10:15; 11:21-24; John 5:40; 16:8,9; I John 5:10. The external call consists in the presentation and offering of salvation in Christ to sinners, together with an earnest exhortation to accept Christ by faith, in order to obtain the forgiveness of sins and life eternal.
1. THE ELEMENTS COMPRISED IN IT.
a. A presentation of the gospel facts and of the doctrine of redemption. The way of redemption revealed in Christ must be set forth clearly in all its relations. God's plan of redemption, the saving work of Christ, and the renewing and transforming operations of the Holy Spirit, should all be interpreted in their mutual relations. It should be borne in mind, however, that a mere presentation of the truths of redemption, no matter how well done, does not yet constitute the gospel call. It is not only fundamental to it, but even constitutes a very important part of it. At the same time it is by no means the whole of that call. According to our Reformed conception the following elements also belong to it.
b. An invitation to accept Christ in repentance and faith. The representation of the way of salvation must be supplemented by an earnest invitation (II Cor. 5:11,20) and even a solemn command (John 6:28,29; Acts 19:4) to repent and believe, that is to accept Christ by faith. But, in order that this coming to Christ may not be understood in a superficial sense, as it is often represented by revivalists, the true nature of the repentance and the faith required should be clearly set forth. It must be made perfectly clear that the sinner cannot of himself truly repent and believe, but that it is God who worketh in him "both to will and to work, for His good pleasure."
c. A promise of forgiveness and salvation. The external call also contains a promise of acceptance for all those who comply with the conditions, not in their own strength, but by the power of the grace of God wrought in their hearts by the Holy Spirit. They who by grace repent of their sins and accept Christ by faith receive the assurance of the forgiveness of sins and of eternal salvation. This promise, it should be noticed, is never absolute, but always conditional. No one can expect its fulfilment, except in the way of a faith and repentance that is truly wrought by God.
From the fact that these elements are included in
external calling, it may readily be
inferred that they who reject the gospel not merely refuse to believe
certain facts and
ideas, but resist the general operation of the Holy Spirit, which is
connected with this
calling, and are guilty of the sin of obstinate disobedience. By their
refusal to accept the
gospel, they increase their responsibility, and treasure up wrath for
themselves in the
day of judgment, Rom. 2:4,5. That the above elements are actually
included in the
external calling, is quite evident from the following passages of
Scripture: (a) According
to Acts 20:27 Paul considers the declaration of the whole counsel of God
as a part of the
call; and in Eph. 3:7-11 he recounts some of the details which he had
declared unto the
readers. (b) Examples of the call to repent and believe are found in
such passages as
Mark 1:15; John 6:29; II Cor. 5:20. (c) And the promise is contained in the
passages, John 3:16-18,36; 5:24,40.
2. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF EXTERNAL CALLING.
a. It is general or universal.
This is not to
be understood in the sense in which it was
maintained by some of the old Lutheran theologians, namely, that that call
came to all the living more than once in the past, as, for instance, in
the time of Adam, in
that of Noah, and in the days of the apostles. McPherson correctly says:
call of this kind is not a fact, but a mere theory invented for a
The general character of this calling is also taught in the
Canons of Dort.
b. It is a bona fide calling. The external calling is a calling in good faith, a calling that is seriously meant. It is not an invitation coupled with the hope that it will not be accepted. When God calls the sinner to accept Christ by faith, He earnestly desires this; and when He promises those who repent and believe eternal life, His promise is dependable. This follows from the very nature, from the veracity, of God. It is blasphemous to think that God would be guilty of equivocation and deception, that He would say one thing and mean another, that He would earnestly plead with the sinner to repent and believe unto salvation, and at the same time not desire it in any sense of the word. The bona fide character of the external call is proved by the following passages of Scripture: Num. 23:19; Ps. 81:13-16; Prov. 1:24; Isa. 1:18-20; Ezek. 18:23,32; 33:11; Matt. 21:37; II Tim. 2:13. The Canons of Dort also assert it explicitly in III and IV, 8. Several objections have been offered to the idea of such a bona fide offer of salvation. (1) One objection is derived from the veracity of God. It is said that, according to this doctrine, He offers the forgiveness of sins and eternal life to those for whom He has not intended these gifts. It need not be denied that there is a real difficulty at this point, but this is the difficulty with which we are always confronted, when we seek to harmonize the decretive and the preceptive will of God, a difficulty which even the objectors cannot solve and often simply ignore. Yet we may not assume that the two are really contradictory. The decretive will of God determines what will most certainly come to pass (without necessarily implying that God really takes delight in all of it, as, for instance, in all kinds of sin), while the preceptive will is man's rule of life, informing him as to what is well pleasing in the sight of God. Furthermore, it should be borne in mind that God does not offer sinners the forgiveness of sins and eternal life unconditionally, but only in the way of faith and conversion; and that the righteousness of Christ, though not intended for all, is yet sufficient for all. (2) A second objection is derived from the spiritual inability of man. Man, as he is by nature, cannot believe and repent, and therefore it looks like mockery to ask this of him. But in connection with this objection we should remember that in the last analysis man's inability in spiritual things is rooted in his unwillingness to serve God. The actual condition of things is not such that many would like to repent and believe in Christ, if they only could. All those who do not believe are not willing to believe, John 5:40. Moreover, it is no more unreasonable to require repentance and faith in Christ of men than it is to demand of them that they keep the law. Very inconsistently some of those who oppose the general offer of salvation on the basis of man's spiritual inability, do not hesitate to place the sinner before the demands of the law and even insist on doing this.
3. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF EXTERNAL CALLING. The question may be asked, why God comes to all men indiscriminately, including even the reprobate, with the offer of salvation. This external calling answers more than one purpose.
a. In it God maintains His claim on the sinner. As the sovereign Ruler of the universe He is entitled —— and this is a matter of absolute right —— to the service of man. And though man tore away from God in sin and is now incapable of rendering spiritual obedience to his rightful Sovereign, his wilful transgression did not abrogate the claim of God on the service of His rational creatures. The right of God to demand absolute obedience remains, and He asserts this right in both the law and the gospel. His claim on man also finds expression in the call to faith and repentance. And if man does not heed this call, he disregards and slights the just claim of God and thereby increases his guilt.
b. It is the divinely appointed means of bringing sinners to conversion. In other words, it is the means by which God gathers the elect out of the nations of the earth. As such it must necessarily be general or universal, since no man can point out the elect. The final result is, of course, that the elect, and they only, accept Christ by faith. This does not mean that missionaries can go out and give their hearers the assurance that Christ died for each one of them and that God intends to save each one; but it does mean that they can bring the joyful tidings that Christ died for sinners, that He invites them to come unto Him, and that He offers salvation to all those who truly repent of their sins and accept him with a living faith.
c. It is also a revelation of God's holiness, goodness, and compassion. In virtue of His holiness God dissuades sinners everywhere from sin, and in virtue of His goodness and mercy He warns them against self-destruction, postpones the execution of the sentence of death, and blesses them with the offer of salvation. There is no doubt about it that this gracious offer is in itself a blessing and not, as some would have it, a curse for sinners. It clearly reveals the divine compassion for them, and is so represented in the Word of God, Ps. 81:13; Prov. 1:24; Ezek. 18:23,32; 33:11; Amos 8:11; Matt. 11:20-24; 23:37. At the same time it is true that man by his opposition to it may turn even this blessing into a curse. It naturally heightens the responsibility of the sinner, and, if not accepted and improved, will increase his judgment.
d. Finally, it clearly accentuates the righteousness of God. If even the revelation of God in nature serves the purpose of forestalling any excuse which sinners might be inclined to make, Rom. 1:20, this is all the more true of the special revelation of the way of salvation. When sinners despise the forbearance of God and reject His gracious offer of salvation, the greatness of their corruption and guilt, and the justice of God in their condemnation, stands out in the clearest light.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY: In what cases do the Reformed assume that regeneration precedes even external calling? How do they connect external calling up with the doctrine of the covenant? On what grounds did the Arminians at the time of the Synod of Dort assert that the Reformed churches could not consistently teach that God seriously calls sinners indiscriminately to salvation? How do Roman Catholics conceive of the calling by the Word? What is the Lutheran conception of calling? Is it correct to say (with Alexander, Syst. Theol. II, pp. 357 ff.) that the Word by itself is adequate to effect a spiritual change, and that the Holy Spirit merely removes the obstruction to its reception?
LITERATURE: Bavinck,; Geref. Dogm. IV, pp. 1-15; ibid., Roeping en Wedergeboorte Kuyper, Dict. Dogm., De Salute, pp. 84-92; Mastricht, Godgeleerdheit III, pp. 192-214 à Marck, Godgeleerdheid, pp. 649-651; Witsius, De Verbonden III, c. 5; Hodge, Syst. Theol II. pp. 639-653; Dabney, Theology., pp. 553-559; Schmid, Doct. Theol., pp. 448-456; Valentine Chr. Theol. II, pp. 194-204; Pope, Chr. Theol. II, pp. 335-347; W. L. Alexander, Syst. of Bibl. Theol. II, pp. 357-361.