We all understand that word. We use it every day. We call our kids into the house and expect them to come. At least that’s the plan. Or you call your husband for dinner and wonder why he doesn’t come. We call our friends on the phone and hope they will pick up and not leave it to the answer machine.
It gets a little more important when a church calls a pastor. I was working in an Engineering office in Mackay when I got a call from a Baptist church in Murwillumbah NSW. When we arrived for the induction service the local Mayor was present – the local Federal & State MP’s were there – most of the local ministers were present. That was one serious call. It didn’t happen that way when I began here, but it was a serious call nevertheless.
If you are called by your boss, and you value your job, then such a call is very compelling. I remember as a kid being called to the Headmaster’s office. That was a call I could not ignore. I knew I had been reported for fighting in the school yard. Some of you have received a summons for a court appearance. A summons is a call you really should not ignore unless you desire a visit from law officers. A subpoena is an even stronger call than a summons. A subpoena is a summons commanding the person designated to appear under a penalty for failure to do so.
There are those calls which are minimum type calls …to the table, or to the phone. More serious calls …from your boss, or from a church, or a Headmaster’s office or a summons from a court or a subpoena with a threat for non-response. These are all calls that have different levels of compulsion.
But in all those cases you can still choose to ignore them. You can resist any of those calls and go on your way and do what you want. But God’s Word reveals a call, a summons that cannot be ignored and it cannot be resisted. It is the unyielding summons from God. It is a subpoena to appear before Him in His court for the purpose of being declared righteous. God in effect says “Come, and stand before Me, and receive this declaration that you are just; all your sins are forgiven; you are set free from any judgment or any condemnation.
It is a call that justifies. It is a call that God decided upon in eternity past. It comes according to His purpose not ours. It is a call that comes to those who are predestined to receive that call; to those who are elect; those who are chosen. It is a call that sets into motion an unbroken chain of events that begins with justification and ends with eternal glory.
Theologians have called this call an effective call, an efficacious call, a determinative call, a decisive call, a conclusive call, an operative call and an irresistible call. In a few weeks time we will be looking at it in our weekly Bible Studies on Basic Christian doctrine, in Spurgeon’s catechism, and there it is called an “effectual call”. It is the call to salvation. It is the divine summons. It is the divine subpoena; not for judgment; not for punishment, but so that you can be declared righteous, free from condemnation, forgiven. It is the call to salvation.
Can it be resisted? Is there such a thing as non-compliance? Well verse 30 says, “Whom He predestined, these He called.” So this call is limited to those who are the elect. We’re not talking here about the general call of the gospel – it goes out to everybody – “whosoever wills…! whosoever believes…!” that is a call that goes out generally, and we are commanded to preach it wherever we can. It is a broad sweeping gospel call. There are many people who may respond to it. Like the parable of the sower and the seed, the responses may vary. Some may respond quickly, but their religion dies out just as quick. Others respond with great joy and zeal, then give up when it all becomes too hard. Then some respond with real commitment, but later become bogged down with worldly interests and other commitments, and their religion is choked to death.
These are all what we call, the general call of the gospel. It is what is referred to in Matthew 22, “Many are called but few are chosen.” We’re not talking about the general call of the gospel, we are talking about the call that comes to those who are predestined, and this call results in genuine faith and repentance. That is why it is called an effectual call. It has the required effect.
It is the type of call we read of in Acts 16, where it says of Lydia, “The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.” The effect was her conversion. It is the type …. Isa 50:5 “The Lord GOD has opened My ear; And I was not rebellious”.
Let me tell you two things about this call. Two things we ought to remember. If we don’t remember anything else, we need to remember these two things about this call – this effectual call.
It is the beginning of the work of God in a person’s heart. Take Abraham for example. When God called Abraham in Gen.12 – that was the beginning of His work in the heart of Abraham and that is what made His call effective.
It was once popular in our country, for most people to want to be regarded as a Christian. To sit at the Lord’s Table and to attend services regularly. A person was more liable to receive worldly promotion & social respect. In just the same way that persons became Freemasons because it promoted them in business. Many joined churches for that reason. It was socially acceptable. But that does not explain why Abraham became a believer in the true God. He was a pagan, and he lived in a pagan culture, but when God’s call came to him, he could not remain the same.
It was not because Abraham was discontented, and needed a change. People sometimes become discontented with the world; it becomes empty for them. They seem to prosper for a while and then, suddenly things begin to go wrong. Their loved ones begin to die, they get aches and pains, and the world goes flat. They lose their enjoyment of the world. They become absolutely discontented, and they need a change, and they will try anything.
How often do we hear of popular actors and actresses, who achieve worldly fame and success, but suddenly the bottom drops out of their world, and their riches, their mansions, and their popularity leave them feeling empty. As Mel Gibson said, ‘When I got to the top, I found there was nothing there.” Just as the Bible says – “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!” But it was not for that reason that Abraham became a believer.
Nor did he become a believer because somebody suggested it to him. A believer cannot make any other person a believer. He may talk to another about Christ, but he cannot give him the effectual call. There are some who are good at talking and are stronger minded than others. They can make psychological believers of others. Some church circles have a way of manipulating & pressuring people to make them think that they are true believers.
It has always been a matter of concern to Christian parents. We never pressured our children. We just had a simple rule. ‘As long as you live under our roof, and depend on us for food & clothing & shelter, you do what we do. You will join in family devotions, learn the catechism, and attend church with us.’ But we never put personal pressure on them! Our children accepted that, but it was always a concern to us, that family discipline is not the effectual call of God.
It was not until they left home for Uni or work or marriage that we saw the answer to many prayers. Even though they were tempted by the world they could not ignore the fact, that at some point in their upbringing, God had called them. But there are many, who for some reason – perhaps social or family pressure – or family tradition, keep up a pretence. And very often they live in daily fear they have no real faith at all. But they are too proud to admit it. And many a person has gone into a lost eternity with nothing but the empty shell of a profession.
We should never press people into making a Christian profession. We should press them as God presses them. We should preach the Word of God. Urge them to strive to enter in at the narrow gate; urge them to consider God’s promises – “you shall seek Me and find Me when…!” – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean…!” We should tell them all that, but we should always leave the outcome in the hand of God.
Why? Because God who made the world, and sustains the universe, is perfectly able to call His chosen people at the time of His choosing. Just as Paul said – “when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, He called me through His grace.” Well, you know, before that, Paul had been a blasphemer and a persecutor, but a God’s appointed time, he could not ignore the call of God – it is a Divine call.
To refer to Abraham again…! How did Abraham know that it was God who called him! He knew by the impression the call made upon his mind. He knew that it was not the voice of man even though he had never heard God’s voice before.
Compare Abraham’s case with that of Matthew. He was sitting at a table receiving taxes; working for the Romans. This was his job. All of a sudden, a Man, who was passing by looked at him and said, ‘Come, leave it all and follow me,’ and immediately he obeyed the call. Why did that happen!
Look at it again, but this time at two fishermen, James and John. They were mending their nets in their boat. The same Man passed by, and He said to them what would normally be thought of as ridiculous: ‘Leave everything; leave your livelihood, and come and follow me. I do not make any promises. I will not give you houses or riches; but come and follow me.’ Immediately they left their father and their boats and followed Him. Why did they do that?
Or let me refer you back again to Paul. One moment he was dedicated to one thing, namely, the extinction of Christianity. He was pursuing his object in journeying to Damascus. He heard a voice from heaven speaking to him, and immediately he answered, ‘Lord, what will You have me to do! Lord, I will do anything you want. What is it!’ The Lord told him. We all know the kind of life he led from that day forward. Why did he become obedient so suddenly! How was his mind changed all at once? How, in a moment of time, did he become the very opposite of what he was when his journey began?
All these changes came about by the authoritative call of God. When that call of God comes to our hearts, it persuades the reason. It moves the will. It affects the heart. It renews the whole man. Jesus called it being born again. The same gospel says this new birth does not depend on blood relations or human will power, it is all brought about by God Himself.
It is the authoritative call of God. As it says in Psa.110 – “My people shall be willing, in the day of my power.” Or as the NIV has it, “My people shall be volunteers.” The authority of God brings about that change. The soul is drawn out in love to God. All the questions are shelved, and they are replaced by trust.
Because there are certain expectations placed upon us, simply because we do not call ourselves. Listen to the word of God – Eph.4:1 “I …beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called.” It is because this call is from God, we are responsible to observe the effect of it. Peter expresses it this way – “Make your calling and election sure.”
We all know the hymn Amazing Grace. It was 1779 when John Newton wrote that hymn. Not everyone knows the story behind the man. He was born in 1725 and died in 1807. Newton was raised in a Christian home in which he was taught verses of the Bible, but his mother died when he was only six-years-old and he was sent to live with a relative who hated the Bible and mocked Christianity.
Newton ran away to become a sailor. He was wild and was known for being able to swear for two hours without ever repeating himself. He was press-ganged into the British Navy but he deserted, was captured and beaten publicly. He managed to switch to the Merchant Navy and went to Africa. In his memoirs he wrote “I went to Africa for one reason only, that I might sin my fill.’
He fell in with a Portuguese slave trader who treated him like a slave. This man often went away on slaving expeditions and when he was gone his power passed to his African wife, the chief woman of his harem. She hated all white men and vented her hatred on John Newton. He says that for months he was forced to grovel in the dirt eating his food from the ground like a dog. He was beaten mercilessly if he touched it with his hands. He barely escaped with his life.
He joined a British ship making its way up the coast to England. When the captain of the ship learned that Newton knew something about navigation from his experience in the British Navy, he became ship’s mate. He abused the privilege. One day when the captain was ashore, Newton broke out the ship’s supply of rum and got the whole crew drunk. He was so drunk himself that when the captain returned he struck him on the head, and Newton fell overboard and would have drowned if one of the sailors hadn’t quickly hauled him back.
Near the end of one voyage as they were approaching Scotland, the ship ran into bad weather and was blown off course. Water poured in, the ship began to sink. Newton was sent down into the hole to pump water. The storm lasted for days and he was terrified. He was sure the ship would sink and he would drown. But in the hold of the ship as he desperately pumped water, the God of all grace whom he had tried to forget but who had never forgotten him brought to his mind Bible verses he had learned as a child from his mother. At that moment God called him. He was born again in the hold of the ship.
That call of God was not without effect. He made “his calling and election sure.” He was deeply transformed. He began to study theology and eventually became a preacher and a hymn writer. So you know when he wrote “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,” he was thinking back to when the call of God’s grace awakened him. And ever since then, believers have been singing of Amazing Grace, because it was grace, and grace alone, that singled us out to receive that call. Amen.