Dear Church Family,
Happy Thanksgiving! I hope everyone is able to enjoy some time with family and friends, remembering and enjoying every good and perfect gift from our Father above (James 1:17), even and especially for our 'effectual calling.'
Beginning with chapter ten of the Westminster Confession of Faith, we take up an examining of the application of Christ’s redemptive work in the believer. Though this is the beginning of a series of chapters that deal with the application of Christ’s saving work in the believer, it’s important understand that this application is rooted in – and made sure by – God’s decree of election in eternity past. We saw this in our study of chapter of three of confession, but it bears repeating.
God appoints the elect unto glory, and so He also appoints and ensures the means of their obtaining that glory: they are redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved (WCF 3.6; Romans 8:30). This list of the means by which God redeems the elect provides the outline of the topics in the next several chapters of the confession. So, we begin with ‘effectual calling.’
1. The Definition of Effectual Calling (WCF 10.1)
According to Merriam-Webster, ‘Effectual’ simply means “producing a desired result or effect.” So, when we speak of God’s ‘effectual calling,’ we mean that when He calls a person to Himself, He is successful in doing so. Because He is sovereign and all-powerful, when God calls someone to salvation, it works.
As Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet indicates (Matthew 22:1-14), there is a difference between the external (or universal) call by which men proclaim the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ and the internal (or effectual) call by which God rescues people from the domain of darkness and transfers them to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:13-14): “many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14).
According to Scripture, God effectually calls those whom He has chosen by doing certain things. He enlightens their minds (1 Corinthians 2:10-13), takes away their heart of stone and gives them a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26), renews their wills, determining them to that which is good (Deuteronomy 30:6), and effectually draws them to Jesus Christ (John 6:44-45).
In all of this, we find by the saving and special grace of God, that those whom God effectually calls come to Him freely and willingly. God’s people freely volunteer to come to Him (Psalm 110:3) because God has made them new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). Thus, Jesus declares, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37).
2. What Effectual Calling Isn’t (WCF 10.2)
Because there is often some confusion concerning how God’s election relates to His effectual calling, and because man is wont to cling to his claims of independence and self-determination, some clarifications with regard to effectual calling are in order.
First – as we’ve already seen – God’s effectual calling is based in His own free choice, not man’s. He does not look forward in time to see who it is that might choose Him or do good works and then base His calling upon their own work or merit. Rather, God’s choice is according to His own (mysterious or unknown) purpose (Romans 9:11).
Second, man is entirely passive when He is quickened (or made alive) by the Holy Spirit, and thus enabled to answer God’s call and embrace the grace offered him. God saves according to His holy calling, not according to our works or anything that we have done or will do (2 Timothy 1:9). We can take no credit – not even a little bit – for our salvation.
3. Effectual Calling and Those Uncapable of Being Outwardly Called
The third paragraph of chapter ten of the confession addresses those who are uncapable of being outwardly called, specifically elect infants dying infancy and the mentally handicapped (those without the cognitive ability to understand or profess faith in Christ). One of the most difficult and heart-wrenching sorrows for a parent is the loss of a child. In seeking to understand the spiritual state and eternal destiny of such, there are several theories.
On the one hand, some believe that all infants dying in infancy and the mentally handicapped are elect and therefore saved. Those who think this way often argue that these particular instances are the actual evidence of God’s election. On the other hand, some believe that infants dying in infancy and the mentally handicapped are unable to obtain salvation because they lack the intellectual ability to express faith, thus limiting God’s saving work to the reasoning ability of the individual.
Unfortunately, the Scriptures do not give us a clear answer regarding the salvation of infants dying in infancy or the mentally handicapped; however, we do know some things about the work of God in salvation that helps us to formulate some answers. First, we know that the elect are saved by Christ through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, and that the Spirit works when, where, and how He pleases (John 3:3-8). Second, we know that in the Scripture’s teaching on salvation, the emphasis is on the power of God’s call (Acts 2:38-39).
Thus, we may say with the confession that elect infants dying in infancy and those elect persons who are uncapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit (WCF 10.3). We may not go beyond the teaching of Scripture – which is relatively silent on this issue – but we may speak in terms of election: God regenerates and saves all those whom He elects. And, we may find comfort and rest in the grace and love of God who causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
4. Effectual Calling and the Non-Elect
Continuing to root effectual calling in God’s decree of election, the last paragraph of this chapter in the confession speaks to how the doctrine of effectual calling relates to those who are non-elect. At this point, it might go without saying, but there are at least three points in this paragraph.
First, even though they may hear the outward call of the gospel in the ministry of the Word, those who are not elect will not respond and cannot be saved. This point is made very clear in Jesus’ explanation of the meaning of the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:18-23). There are those who hear the word and may perhaps even seem to respond, but either do not believe or eventually fall away. In Jesus’ parable, these who fall away are the seed sown beside the road, on rocky places, and among the thorns. Others, however, will hear the word and then respond and bear fruit (receive the blessings and benefits of salvation). These who hear and bear fruit are the seed sown on the good soil.
Second, there are those who have never heard the gospel or the word preached. Even though some may seek to live good lives according to the light of nature or sincerely follow the tenets of their own religion, those in this category, may not be saved because they are not of the elect. There are many passages of Scripture that speak to the necessity of the preached Word and salvation through Jesus Christ alone (Romans 1:18-20; Acts 4:12; John 14:6; Romans 10:12-14).
Third, to teach or maintain that the non-elect or those who do not profess faith in Christ may be saved is something which is damaging to the Christian faith. The Apostle Paul warns that those who preach a different gospel then that which he preached, are actually preaching a different gospel; and therefore, it is not good news, at all. That person is to be accursed (Galatians 1:6-8). Likewise, the Apostle John warns that anyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ is not to be listened to or received for they participate in evil deeds (2 John 1:9-11). These are strong warnings that we must heed and follow.
The salvation of God’s people begins in eternity past when God the Father chose a people for Himself (John 10:29-30); their names are written in the book of life from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8; 17:8). In the fullness of time, God the Son was born of a woman and born under the Law in order or redeem for Himself a people (John 3:16; Galatians 4:4-5; Titus 2:14).
Thus, for those whom God chose and for whom Christ died, God redeems and saves. Beginning with effectual calling, we can be confident that He who began a good work in us will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). That is truly something to be thankful for!
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch