Dear Church Family,
This past Sunday, we continued our Sunday school lessons in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) in questions 67-68. Here is a brief review.
WLC 67 What is effectual calling?
A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s almighty power and grace, whereby (out of his free and special love to his elect, and from nothing in them moving him thereunto) he doth, in his accepted time, invite and draw them to Jesus Christ, by his word and Spirit; savingly enlightening their minds, renewing and powerfully determining their wills, so as they (although in themselves dead in sin) are hereby made willing and able freely to answer his call, and to accept and embrace the grace offered and conveyed therein.
Effectual Calling and Regeneration
In the Westminster Larger Catechism, there is no specific question which deals with regeneration; however, regeneration and effectual calling are shown to be one and the same work of God. Here, in WLC 67, effectual calling is defined as “savingly enlightening” the minds of God’s elect and “renewing and powerfully determining their wills.” God opens the eyes of sinners so that they may turn from darkness to light, from the dominion of Satan to God (Acts 26:18); He removes the heart of stone from our flesh and gives us a heart of flesh, by the indwelling power of His Spirit (Ezekiel 26:26-27). Just so, elsewhere in the Standards, effectual calling is described as one and the same work of regeneration: “They, who are once effectually called and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified…” (WCF 13.1).
Having defined effectual calling, we’ll consider three aspects of this work of God’s almighty power and grace: it’s source, means, and result.
(1) The source of effectual calling is God’s free and special love to His elect. “In love He predestined us to adoption as sons though Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will…” (Ephesians 1:4-5). It was because of His great love for us with which He loved us that He made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5). The source or ground of our effectual calling and regeneration, our being born again and made new creations, is nothing else but God’s lovingkindness and covenant love for His people.
(2) The means by which God effectually calls and regenerates His people is by His Word and Spirit. In the prophetic vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14), Ezekiel is commanded over and over again to prophesy over the bones and speak the word of the LORD to them (Ezekiel 37:4, 9, 12). As Ezekiel declares the word of God, the LORD puts His Spirit with His people and they come to life (Ezekiel 37:14). By His Word and Spirit, God effectually calls and regenerates His people (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).
(3) The result or effect of the Lord’s effectual calling is to make His elect “willing and able freely to answer His call” in the gospel. As Jesus taught Nicodemus, one cannot see or enter the kingdom of God unless he is first born again or born of water and the Spirit (John 3:3-5). While we were dead in our transgressions, God made us alive together with Christ (Colossians 2:13).
WLC 68 Are the elect only effectually called?
A. All the elect, and they only, are effectually called; although others may be, and often are, outwardly called by the ministry of the word, and have some common operations of the Spirit; who, for their wilful neglect and contempt of the grace offered to them, being justly left in their unbelief, do never truly come to Jesus Christ.
WLC 68 describes two kinds of callings: effectual calling and outward calling. As noted above, effectually calling is that work of God in which He savingly regenerates all those who had been appointed to eternal life so that they then willingly and freely answer His call (Acts 13:48). Outward calling is that which men do through the ministry of the Word. Sometimes, we speak of the effectual call of God as the “inward” call of His Spirit, whereas the outward call is the universal call of the gospel proclaimed to all men.
The difference between the effectual call of God and the outward call of men is illustrated in Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet (Matthew 22:1-14). The gospel invitation goes out into the main highways of the world, and some respond to the outward call or invitation; however, in the end, the principle taught in this parable is that “many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14).
Here, the catechism introduces a phrase that is also mentioned in the WCF 10.4: “common operations of the Spirit.” This phrase refers to the this-worldly, temporal benefits which men receive due their hearing and even responding to the outward call of the ministry of the word yet are not effectually called by the Lord and therefore do not have true faith.
There are several illustrations in Scripture regarding the common operations of the Spirit. For instance, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks of those who call Him ‘Lord’ and even cast out demons and perform miracles in His name, but yet do not belong to Him (Matthew 7:21-23). Likewise, there are those who hear the word and immediately receive it with joy, but when affliction and persecution arise, they immediately fall away (Matthew 13:20-21).
The church and individual Christians indiscriminately proclaim the good news of the gospel and free offer of salvation through Jesus Christ to all who would come to Him in faith. This is the outward or universal call of the gospel. At the same time, we praise God that regeneration (or being born again) is not based upon our effectiveness of communication or any virtue in the one who hears. Rather, we proclaim the gospel, knowing that by His Word and Spirit, the Lord will effectually call those who belong to Him unto Himself. For as Jesus taught, “the wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch